The Table Video

Tim O'Connor, Richard Swinburne & Steve L. Porter

How Do Our Souls Come into Existence?

Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University
Emeritus Nolloth
 Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, University of 
CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Theology, Spiritual Formation, and Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University
September 11, 2012

Richard Swinburne (Oxford University) and Tim O’Connor (Baylor University) explain the traditional Christian view of the human soul, and they also offer their own questions and critiques of this conception of the origins of the soul.


And Richard, just since we’re on this kind of issue of origins. On your view. And perhaps if you could think of it too, not just in a theistic evolutionary picture. But those Christians that hold to some sort of direct creation of the first human persons. On your view. How does the soul come into existence? You have this sharp break. The sharp break is the emergence of the soul. How does the soul come into existence on this?

Well, there’s two possible theories. Either that it’s a basic law of nature. The brain when reaches a certain form, certain kind of complexity throws up us all. Or tend to live that God gives to individuals who have a brain of that complexity. When it reaches that stage. I don’t have a very strong view which of these is correct.

Because God may operate through producing loads of nature. Which are such that when the brain acquires a certain complexity, then it throws up us all. Or conversely, he may act directly. And as regards anything I’ve been saying today. It’s perfectly compatible with creationism. Even if humans are not produced, tend to have an animal ancestry. Still there must’ve been a first human. And therefore again, a break in the evolutionary process.

So it doesn’t matter for the sake of my argument whether the process of evolution of bodies was gradual or suddenly human bodies arrived. The production of the soul, must have happened at a particular time when a particular degree of complexity was there. And that is the all important difference. Not the animal ancestry of bodies.

Tim, how would you respond to that? And in particularly again. You might think that these emergent individuals view, fits better with a theistic evolution picture of gradual development. But if you were addressing Christians who believe in for various biblical theological, philosophical reasons. Perhaps even in the direct creation of human persons. That would seem to be a view that would not fit as well with the emergent individuals view. Or do you have thoughts on that?

Yeah, I think you’ve answered your own question. I do think while the view that I’m suggesting is consistent with some sort of notion of special divine intervention in the creation of human persons. It is really tailor made for trying to integrate with the idea that human beings are embedded in these larger set of natural biological processes. Have appeared as more complex forms of organisms have appeared via purely natural processes, human beings coming at the tail end of that.

The idea is that, even as I develop organismically, I’m acquiring new fundamental capacities as the organism matures. It’s an attempt to be sensitive to the idea of gradual development. I agree with a remark Richard made earlier that, on any view on which mentality does not reduce to the physical, there is some discontinuity.

But there’s discontinuity and there’s discontinuity. It’s an attempt to kind of minimize the discontinuity. The degree of discontinuity. But if you have a picture on which God creates human individuals at a moment in time directly as it were. Then why not go with the soul view? It has an easier time dealing with issues of survival of death and the afterlife.

About the Authors