The Kissing Argument Against Belief in the Soul

images-2Modern man only believes in things he can see or touch. Unshackled from religion, we are free to embrace the deliverances of science as the whole truth about reality. There are none but physical entities and none but physical causes. The world has been emptied of the divine and the immaterial. In this cultural context, it is unsurprising that many think there are no good reasons to believe in the soul. What is surprising is that a growing number of Christians also deny the reality of the soul.

The Christian denial of the soul is surprising for at least two reasons: (1) the traditional Christian understanding of human nature for over 2,000 years has included belief in the soul; and (2) given the belief in God and angels, there should be no in principle objection to belief in immaterial substances, disembodied minds, and genuine mental entities.

Setting my surprise aside, it is reasonable to ask, are there any good reasons for thinking belief in souls ought to be rejected?[1]  Kevin Corcoran (a Christian physicalist) offers the following as decisive. Let’s call it the Kissing Argument:

(1) I sometimes kiss my wife.

(2) My substantially simple soul never kisses anyone (it has no lips).

(3) Therefore, I am not a simple soul.

Corcoran notes “Surprising though it is, not even this gem of an argument is found persuasive by Cartesian Dualists.”[2] (Cartesian Dualism is roughly the view that man has a body and a soul).

While this is a gem of an argument, I do not find in it any reason to doubt that I am a substantial soul. Consider, as a dualist, “I” am identical to my soul. “I” am a soul that has a body. As such, at least while embodied, “I” see by the means of my eyes; “I” vote by virtue of raising my hand; “I” sometimes kiss my wife by the means of using my lips.

As stated, premise (1) of the Kissing Argument is ambiguous. If the “I” is understood in a strict and philosophical sense, then premise (1) is best understood as follows:

(1*) My substantially simple soul sometimes kisses my wife.

But then (1*) and (2) are obviously contradictory—premise (3) follows because the very concept of a simple soul is incoherent. Importantly, no dualist would accept (1*) as a correct understanding of (1). Rather, it seems best to understand (1) as follows:

(1**) By means of my lips, I sometimes kiss my wife.

But from (1**) and (2) the conclusion does not follow. Whatever its merits, the Kissing Argument is not even remotely decisive against dualism. It does not follow, of course, that dualism is true, but given Christian tradition and a broadly theistic worldview, the burden of proof rests on those who deny belief in the soul, not those who affirm its reality.

In my next post, I’ll share four important questions to ask when exploring the question of human nature.

For an excellent lecture by the philosopher J. P. Moreland on philosophical reasons for believing in souls, see below:
[1] What about science? Doesn’t science refute belief in souls? My quick reply: science is incapable of proving or disproving the reality of immaterial souls. Science can and does explain much of the physical processes of how brains work. It cannot, however, defeat reasons to believe in genuine mental properties, minds, or immaterial spirits. Contrary to the confident claims of some scientists, the proper disciplines for exploring the existence and nature of the soul are philosophy and theology.

[2] Kevin J. Corcoran, Rethinking Human Nature (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 35.

One Response to The Kissing Argument Against Belief in the Soul

  1. Pingback: What Is This Thinking Thing That I Am? Four Questions | Paul Gould

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