"Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?" (Ecclesiastes 3:21). Who knows indeed! In former times, we might account for such ignorance by attributing it to lack of scientific knowledge and philosophical precision. But how should we now account for the fact that some form of the same question tantalizes our scientists and torments our philosophers? Even the terms "spirit" and "soul" remain ambiguous as used in contemporary thought, with "soul" generally used to designate the metaphysical aspect of the human person in such a way that "spirit" is included. This implies a dualism between a physical and non-physical entity residing in each person which cries out for some explanation in light of recent studies regarding the effect of the brain upon personality characteristics.
Modern science suggests that there is no manifestation of the human personality that is not produced through the brain even though the brain may not be the effective cause. What is it that really makes humans unique amidst all of the creatures of the world if we can now transplant vital organs from animals into humans? What and where is the human soul if we can account for personal and spiritual attributes of the self as manifestations of physical and electrical interactions of the brain? Recent research has suggested that some persons appear to have distinctive brain patterns which might account for their propensity toward religious feelings and belief. If the human brain is considered the source of even our deepest spiritual and personal attributes, what has become of the soul?
Has the concept of a human soul disappeared in the presence of molecular biology, clinical psychology, and computer-driven brain scans? Is the disappearance of the soul a consequence of our world "come of age" or is it we who are lost and our souls doing the searching? Perhaps one indication that humans have a soul is that they appear to be the only creatures on earth that are thinking about it! (Ray S. Anderson 1998). Thomas Moore expresses this malaise dramatically:
The great malady of the twentieth century, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is "loss of soul." When soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away;
it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning. Our temptation is to isolate these symptoms or to try to eradicate them one by one; but the root problem is that we have lost our wisdom about the soul, even our interest in it. (Moore 1992:xi)
Whether we call it spirit or soul, the question remains: what is it that makes humans both precious and perverse? What gives rise to our deepest religious insights but can also plunge us into the depths of guilt and despair? In our primitive condition did we once have a soul that has now disappeared in the presence of molecular biologists, clinical psychologists, and computer-driven brain scans?
These are questions which theological anthropology seeks to answer by examining the biblical account of the creation, from the dust of the ground, of humans who also bear the imprint of the divine image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-7). We will look first of all at some of the biblical terms and concepts which contribute toward a biblical anthropology, especially with regard to the issue of what it means to say that humans have a "soul."
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