The existence of the soul has been a subject of philosophical and metaphysical debate throughout history. While there is no definitive proof of the soul’s existence, there are compelling arguments, such as near-death experiences, that can be made in its favor. In order to present an argument based on subjective experience, I will introduce a hypothetical scenario.

The Self-Replicating Portal

Imagine this situation: your child falls off his bike and breaks his throwing arm. He is supposed to play in the championship baseball game the following day, and his role as the star pitcher is crucial. Now, let’s suppose the machine is invented that can perfectly replicate a person, transferring their DNA, memories, and personality into another body. From a purely materialistic standpoint, nothing is lost in this process. All it requires is for the person to walk through a portal. On one side of the portal is the child with the broken arm, and on the other, there is the new “child” without the broken arm. The replicated person possesses the same physical and mental attributes as the original person. A perfect facsimile.

Speaking of Perfect FacsimilesP52: the Earliest New Testament Manuscript
Get Your Today

The doctor asks if you want your child to be replicated in this manner. In the process of replication, your current child would be painlessly terminated with the flip of a switch, and the old material “self” would disappear. As a parent who is a materialist and doesn’t believe in the existence of the soul, should you agree to this remedy for your child’s broken arm? If there is no soul, one could argue that there is no inherent difference between the original and the replicated person, and therefore the parent should have no issue with this process. But would they? Now, put yourself in the child’s position. What would you be thinking while waiting in the room? Would you truly believe that “you” would emerge from the other side of that portal?

Dr. “Bone” McCoy’s Fear of Transporters

We find this dilemma and popular entertainment. The main protagonist in the excellent (and underrated) movie The Prestige had to wrestle with this. And who can forget Dr. “Bones” McCoy’s fear of transporters in Star Trek? He never knew what was really coming out the other side of the transport and, therefore, hated transporters. And he was an atheist doctor! So, it goes without saying that even individuals who don’t believe in the soul’s existence would likely object to participating in this experience for their child or themselves. They would feel more than just unease or discomfort at the idea of their current material self ceasing to exist, even though their replicated material self would be created.

The Innate Sense of Transcendence

This objection demonstrates that even self-proclaimed materialists believe that human identity and existence entail something beyond the physical body and its attributes. We all have a sense of transcendence, but not everyone is willing to confront its implications. Deep down, individuals instinctively recognize the presence of a unique essence or core self that surpasses the sum of their physical attributes. This essence can be referred to as the soul or by any other name. It is a transcendent aspect of our being that extends beyond physical replication or materialistic explanations.

While this objection doesn’t provide forensic evidence for the existence of the soul, it highlights the limitations of purely materialistic explanations of personal identity. The objection suggests the existence of an intangible quality or essence that defines our individuality, and this essence cannot be captured by the described replication process.

Conclusion

The objection raised by individuals who are fearful of being replicated and having their current body terminated, despite the continuity of their replicated self, implies that there is a deeper aspect of human existence beyond mere physical attributes. When combined with the historical significance of the concept of the soul in various philosophical and spiritual traditions, this objection provides substantial grounds for considering the existence of the soul as an explanation for the essence of human identity and consciousness.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    8 replies to "The Argument for the Existence of the Soul Based on Hypothetical Replication"

    • Bibliophile

      Interesting. I think you might be conflating the soul and the self, which may not necessarily be the same thing, however closely related. Maybe that’s why we take ‘selfies’, and not ‘soulies’; and have ‘soul mates’, but not ‘self mates’?

      Or if we want to ‘go biblical’ – and maybe this will give Chapman Ed a kick! – why was Adam made a living soul, and not a living ‘self’? I’m sure there’s also some interesting Hebrew terminology that could shed some light on the distinction perhaps.

      • Tom F

        “Soul” is an English word translating a Hebrew word. That Hebrew word is nephesh and could mean anything from throat, neck, breath, people/person, or life in addition to “soul” (in the sense of being the seat of feelings and desires AND as equivalent to the Greek ψυχή).

        Context usually makes clear which meaning is intended. The context in Genesis is the creation of the heavens and the earth and all the various creatures (and celestial bodies) that inhabit them. Humans are part of this creation, so here nephesh refers to a person or individual as a whole. Humanity does indeed have an immaterial aspect in addition to a material aspect, but here nephesh is referring to both of those (i.e. the whole person).

        The English word soul also has a range of meaning. It could mean (among several things) the immaterial part of an individual as well a living being (i.e. person). A quick perusal of various English translations reveals that many older translations (e.g. KJV, ASV, JPS, etc) translate nephesh with “soul.” More modern English translations (e.g NIV, ESV, NRSV, CSB, etc) tend to translate with “being,” or “creature,” or “person.”

        Why the change? Because English changed. It is no longer common to refer to people as “souls.” We generally call them people or persons or some other term, but not souls. So, the newer translations reflect the change in English usage.

        Now, in terms of this post CMP seems to be referring to “soul” as the immaterial part of a human. Thus, the point of the post is to point out that even the most materialistic people on the planet still maintain some notion of an immaterial aspect to humanity even though it might be hard for them to realize it.

        • chapmaned24

          Well, there still is a saying that people use. “BLESS HIS SOUL”.

          I noticed that you said what the Hebrew word is, using English Lettering…but when you got to the Greek, you used Greek Lettering.

          The Greek in English Lettering is PSUCKE. And if you transliterate that to Latin, we have “psyche”.

          This leads me to believe that the Hebrew definition is incomplete, not telling the full story.

          The mind gives an autonomy to the creature. Cats think cat thoughts, dogs think dog thoughts, birds think bird thoughts, and humans…yes, we think human thoughts.

          But each creature has a mind of “their own”.

    • chapmaned24

      And Adam became a living THINKER (soul). This is where autonomy of the “living breathing creature” comes in.

      I like to call it, that little voice inside your head, that no one but you can hear. That voice…is YOU. It can speak without vocal cords.

    • Corey Lambrecht

      Fascinating article and related podcast. Will be referring back to this one many times.

    • Ewan Kerr

      The concept of soul that many have today is based on pagan Greek understanding and is not the concept of soul found in the Hebrew Bible..

      • chapmaned24

        Anytime anyone uses the word “PAGAN” in an argument or debate, they lose credibility to me.

        They seem have more knowledge about Pagans than most pagans themselves do.

        However, if what you say is true, then the pagans got it right! Just look at the Strong’s Concordance!

        And I beg to differ that the concpet is not in the bible. It’s all over the place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.