Nous

Random thoughts and views of Tim Young

When is the Soul united with the Body?

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At what point does that organism we call a “human being” actually become a human person? A friend and I got into this discussion the other day. Specifically our conversation centered on the issue of when it is that the soul is united with the body and the human organism developing inside the mother can properly be called a person. Personally, I don’t believe that the soul is united with the body at some point after conception…to me that thesis just seems kind of odd. I do freely admit that that thesis is possible, but I’m not too sure it is plausible. It seems to me that the default view we should hold is that when a human being comes into existence, she comes into existence as a complete–albeit immature–human being, body and soul.

Well, what follows is a rough sketch of my very rough thinking on why I lean toward rejecting the ‘soul-body uniting’ thesis: (…and yes I just made that phrase up 🙂 )

Where do I start? I wonder what exactly my soul was doing before God united it with my body? Was it just a disembodied entity somewhere “out there”? If we suppose, for example, that God didn’t unite my soul with my body until three weeks after conception, then where exactly was my soul before God united it with my body, and what exactly was it doing? Well maybe that’s not that great of an objection. Perhaps what we’d want to say here is that my soul hadn’t yet been created. Once God created my soul He united it with my body. In fact, perhaps the concepts “created” and “united” are synonymous in this regard. In any case, maybe the process of life goes something like this: First the human organism developments for n-weeks inside the mother’s womb, then after that time has passed God creates a soul for that organism at which point it becomes an image bearer–a “complete” human being. But why should we suppose that? What would lead us to believe that God waits to make us into, as it were, complete humans? What reason do we have for believing that? It would seem to me that, all things being equal, the more plausible explanation would be that when a human being comes into existence she just is a complete human being—body and soul.

Let’s say that there are two states that a person can be in: He can either be associated with (or “united” to) a soul or he can exist in a state in which body and soul are disassociated ( or “separated”). Let’s call these two states S1 and S2 respectively.

S1 – The state where body and soul are associated or united with each other.
S2 – The state where body and soul are separated or disassociated from one another.

What do we know about S2? Well, I think we have good reason for believing that S2 occurs at death. When we suffer physical death our soul is separated from our body. Or to put it another way, our body dies and our soul continues to have life. Anyone who has died is presumably a disembodied soul that is no longer associated with a body. But here’s the interesting thing: Death is one of the most UNATURAL events that takes place! We were not created to die. Death entered the world as a consequence of sin, and because of sin the whole universe corrodes and decays. When we fell the universe fell with us, and in the end God will redeem us along with all of Creation. That is, in the end God will fix everything; He will put things back the way they are supposed to be. What’s interesting to me is that part of God’s plan to fix everything includes Him raising men bodily. Why do I find this interesting? Well because it means men are not supposed to exist as body and soul “separated.” We’re not meant to be disembodied souls while our bodies decay in the ground. When Christ rose from the dead, He rose bodily , and as He is, so shall we be. So, as human beings we are supposed to exist as a union of body and soul (or body, soul, and spirit if you’re a trichotomist).

Now, what this seems to suggest is that S2 is a completely unnatural state of existence. But what about S1? Well, what we know about S1 follows from what we know about S2. S2 is unnatural, and S1 is completely nature. S1 is how we were meant to exist. If this be the case, then it says a lot for the question, “When is the soul united with the body?” It seems to me that the question presupposes that men start off in S2 and proceed to S1. But as we’ve already seen, we have good reason for supposing that S2 is not the way we are supposed to exist. This being the case, it seems odd to say that we start off in a completely unnatural state and then proceed to our natural one.

Now I do realize that there is a glaring hole in my argument. Namely, it only shows that S2 is unnatural with respect to death. If my argument is successful then it only shows that it is unnatural for a body and soul to be torn apart in that event we called “death.” That is, it shows that only after a body and soul are united is it unnatural for them to be torn apart, but what it doesn’t show is that they didn’t start out that way. It still could be the case that God only unites body and soul after a certain amount of time has passed and that that is completely natural. It’s only when body and soul are united that it becomes unnatural for them to be separated. If this is the case, then we could say that at conception I was just an organism without a soul. However, after n-weeks (we’ll say 3 weeks) God decided to create me a soul, and at that point I became a ‘real’ human being in the image of God. And it is only at that point that it becomes unatural for the body and soul to be seperated.

Now this is true; my argument doesn’t stop that from being a distinct possibility. But my original question was if the thesis is plausible not if it were possible. In other words, the thesis still could be true, but what reason do we have for believing it is true? Why should we believe body and soul start off in a state of separation and are later united? What would prompt us to believe this? I’m really not sure other than to say that it is probably based in Platonic ideas of body and soul. What do you think?

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Written by Tim

March 26, 2009 at 5:14 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Most religions believe that at some point in one’s infancy or childhood, one acquires a soul and when the body dies, the soul does not.
    Me? I simply believe we have souls.

    pochp

    March 26, 2009 at 6:21 pm

  2. Most religions believe that at some point in one’s infancy or childhood, one acquires a soul…

    And oftentimes personhood is ascribed to the soul. But in that case it just seems odd to say that I wasn’t present while my body was a fetus in my mother’s womb, or that I wasn’t present at my birth, both of which would be true if personhood is ascribed to the soul and a soul isn’t acquired until sometime after birth. That just seems counterintuitive ot me…

    Tim

    March 26, 2009 at 6:55 pm


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