Immortal Soul: When did humankind acquire one & when do each of us become ensouled?

(Albert Leo) #1

Exaptation: From Brain to Mind to Soul
Submitted to BioLogos Forum by Al Leo
Enlargement of the primate brain during the past 3 million years has no precedent in the
evolutionary history of any animal organ. Based on fossil skull sizes, Australopithecus
africanus, who lived about 3 million years BP and is considered a probable human
ancestor, had a brain capacity of 400 cc. A million years later, the brain size of Homo
hablis, who had the mental capacity to conceive of and craft useful stone tools, had
increased by 50% to 600 cc. By 300,000 yrs. BP the brain size in Homo neanderthalensis
had more than doubled to 1,400 cc. (slightly greater than a modern humans.)
Anthropologists have reasoned that the environmental pressures placed on our earliest
ancestors, mainly the rather sudden shift from the ‘friendly’ forests in Africa to drier open
savannas, made it more difficult both to obtain food and also to keep from becoming food
for the big cats and hyenas that roamed there. Certainly the enlarged brain allowed for
the thought necessary to craft stone tools that allowed the Neanderthals to become
awesome predators even though they lacked the teeth and claws of the big cats. And they
had the intelligence to ‘borrow’ the furs of their prey to devise clothing that kept them
warm as they moved into the game-rich areas adjacent to the northern glaciers.
Quite an accomplishment. But did that really take a 1,400 cc brain containing >80 billion
nerve cells capable of forming trillions of circuits? Was not the Neanderthal brain an
outstanding example of evolutionary ‘overkill’—a huge exaptation? An appropriate
analogy might be feeding operating instructions by punch card to a hypercube
supercomputer. Darwinian evolution rewards mutations that enable a life form to
survive and reproduce in the Biosphere—but certainly not to maximize the efficiency of
any function it had accidentally produced. The hand axe is a tool invented by Homo
ergaster some 1.8 million years ago (1) that also served the Neanderthals very nicely for
about 200,000 yrs without need for significant change. The same axe design was used by
the early Homo sapiens for >50,000 yrs.—until their brains were, somehow, programmed
for exchanging information via language. Then tool design changed rapidly. Their entry
into the Noosphere (2) changed all the rules of ‘survival’. The circuits formed from the

80 billion nerve cells in their brains were somehow ‘programmed’ to retain information
that proved useful.
Brain ‘programming’ probably did not involve adding new nerve cells. For over a
century it has been known that as the human brain matures it actually loses cells–a sort of
‘pruning’ process called apoptosis. Dawkins (3) likened this to a sculptor chipping off
bits from a block of marble to reveal the form of the figure ‘concealed’ inside. Accidental
brain cell death, such as sometimes occurs during birth and can result in cerebral palsy, is
always harmful because it is random. If brain cells that serve useful circuits are
maintained while others, if unused, are slated to die (apoptosis), then mental efficiency
would be markedly improved. [“Use it or lose it.”] Glial cells constitute as much as
50% of the human brain, but, as Ben Barnes of Stanford Univ. maintains, are currently
understudied (4), but it is known that they help form and prune synapses and otherwise
actively influence brain structure and function. As illustrated by some cases of adult
hydrocephaly, the huge number of brain cells present in a human baby when it comes into
this world is not necessary to allow it to behave as a human being. It appears, rather, that
what we regard as its humanity depends on how effectively its brain cells become
Hydrocephalus is a not-uncommon condition in newborns where an excess of
cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) causes the ventricles in the brain to become enlarged. When
sufficiently severe, a shunt is inserted to drain the fluid into the spinal cord canal and thus
relieve the pressure that may damage brain tissue. In 2007 a 44 yr. old Frenchman, who
was diagnosed with this condition as a child, was examined by physicians for a slight
weakness in his left leg. Upon taking a CT scan of his brain, they were amazed that the
ventricles were so enlarged that what remained of his brain was only a thin sheet adhering
to the skull. (See illustration) (5)
Although his I.Q. showed some impairment, he was married, had two children and had
been leading an entirely normal life. In other words, he was operating as a modern
human while having far less than half of the brain capacity of one of our ancient
ancestors, Lucy, the famed Australopithecus afarensis who lived 3 million years ago.
This certainly supports the hypothesis that the Noosphere is real, and once a human
enters it and his/her brain ‘programmed’ by it, the inefficient, chance-directed Darwinian
evolution that produced it is supplanted. Exactly how this ‘programming’ results in
‘mind/soul’—in art, music, philosophy, religion & science—may never become clear.
But surely we should now realize what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin maintained (2)–that
we are creatures with one foot in the Biosphere and the other in the Noosphere—this can
be accepted on a reasoned scientific basis, and we will never attain a satisfactory
understanding of ourselves until we acknowledge the truth of that premise.
Even if accepting the reality of the Noosphere provides a reasonable theological
explanation of how, very suddenly on the Universe’s time scale, Homo sapiens acquired
the potential to become worthy ‘image bearers’, we need to ask what implications that
has on each individual during one’s lifetime. The intricate relationship between Spirit,
Mind and Soul still presents serious problems that will bedevil theologians for the
foreseeable future. At the moment a human egg accepts a sperm there is the potential for
a human being to be developed through an amazing process of cell division,
specialization and directed migration–most of the details of which are yet to be
uncovered. But if the general layout of our brains are genetically determined by
Darwinian evolution, a what point do each of us gain epigenetic access to the
Noosphere–the ‘programming’ that makes us truly human? Almost certainly there is no
one ‘point’ of access, but it is, rather, a gradual process during which information is
assimilated from that person’s surroundings. It actually may begin before birth and
extend to the age when the child uses language effectively. Research has shown that
fetuses become familiar with the sounds of their mother’s voice as early as 18 weeks into
pregnancy, and they relate to it favorably immediately after birth. The same holds for the
kind of music the mother listens to in the later stages of pregnancy. Acquisition of
language has always considered to be the sure mark of a child’s having reached fully
human status. Legend has it that several kings have carried out experiments with
newborns, purposely raised in isolation without voice contact, to see which language was
inherent to human nature. The ancient Greek historian, Herodotus (484-415 BC), wrote
that the Egyptian pharaoh, Psammetichus, conducted such an experiment and concluded
that the child’s first sounds were more like Phrygian than Egyptian. There are numerous
fables of feral children raised by wolves (Mowgli), apes (Tarzan) or other animals, but
none of these tales offer any solid evidence of when a developing human really becomes
an occupant of both the biosphere and noosphere. Many of the stories are hoaxes, but
even when true, the children had to have had more than a year of interaction with humans
before being ‘raised in the wild’. It is interesting to note that some of them who returned
to civilization after a certain critical age never were able to learn a language.
The case of Helen Keller is a little more clear cut. She contracted an illness at the age of
19 months that left her blind and deaf, but before that time she had a limited ability to
communicate with others. Perhaps, at that age, the amount of information she could share
with her parents and early companions was somewhat comparable to what the early
Homo sapiens could manage before the Great Leap Forward. The story of how Helen,
when taken in hand by Anne Sullivan for intense training, learned to live a fully active,
intellectually satisfying life was depicted in the award winning movie, ‘The Miracle
Worker’. Helen’s battle to fully participate in the Noosphere is truly the stuff of
miracles. Denied access to Helen’s brain by either sight or sound, Anne patiently used
touch to associate letters, formed by the fingers of one hand, with objects Helen could
feel and touch. The breakthrough came when Anne pumped water over Helen’s hand
while spelling out w-a-t-e-r in sign language. Once Helen grasped that the combination
of these symbols, conveyed by touch, stood for a material object, her education
proceeded at a swift pace (she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe). Almost certainly it
was the appreciation of symbols that ushered Helen into the Noosphere, just as it must
have done ages ago for the first of the modern humans.
In her book, ‘Man Without Words’, Susan Schaller, the sign language expert, tells of a
man called Ildefonso who was completely deaf from birth but brought up in a household
with normal hearing. No one had been able to help him understand that objects had
names; i.e. symbols that stood for the real person or thing. After a great deal of trying to
teach him the rudiments of American Sign Language (ASL) she achieved a breakthrough.
She described his reaction thus: “Suddenly he sat up, straight and rigid. The whites of
his eyes expanded, as if in terror. He had entered the universe of humanity, discovered
the communion of minds, and everything had a name! This changed everything about his
perception of the world, and he became hungry for more signs, demanding more words to
expand his newly discovered domain.” In a way, he had witnessed his own birth as a
fully-human being.
The concept that the birth of symbolic humanity is closely associated with the ability to
associate names with surrounding objects, and thus is the beginning of language, is
interesting in the light of one of God’s first actions after creating Adam, as recounted in
Gen.2: 19: ‘Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every
bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever
Adam called each living creature, that was its name.’
For centuries there has been a running debate among theologians and philosophers over
the point in time that each human being is ‘ensouled’. Perhaps accepting the reality of
the Noosphere can do a little bit to clarify this debate. Aristotle taught that an embryo
undergoes three stages of ‘life principles’ (souls): first an inanimate ‘vegetable’ stage;
second, and animate or animal stage; and lastly a human stage. Others made no
distinction between types of ensoulment but thought it occurred at conception (the current
Catholic view), or at the first sign of brain activity, or when taking the first breath after
To this author at least, the most important, practical factor to keep in mind is heartfelt
respect. We can hardly be considered ‘human’ unless we respect human life–a life
already in existence. We also should respect, to almost the same degree, the potential
human life that has every chance to be lived to the fullest; e.g. a healthy fetus in the later
stages of pregnancy. The level of respect for a single human sperm or human ovum must
be somewhat lower–say the intellectual respect for the 3 billion years it took for
evolution to work out such a detailed ‘blueprint’. Ideally at conception, a pair of humans
have lovingly planned to have a child, and both are thankful and respectful of the process
that they have initiated to bring that child into this world. But, regrettably, there are
many hurdles in the road ahead for any zygote–the first crucial one being gastrulation of
the embryo. This folding gives rise to the ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm, and
eventually to all the organs including the brain. When invagination does not proceed
properly, spina bifida may result, but a full level of respect should still be given that
åembryo/fetus since a human being is still the expected outcome. When, very rarely,
invagination goes severely awry the brain does not form at all, resulting in anencephaly.
The outcome of such a pregnancy most often results in spontaneous abortion, which
avoids the need for any moral decision. Very rarely the unfortunate fetus survives up to
the time of delivery. Question: if this were known some weeks before delivery, should
the pregnancy be respectfully terminated? Some ethical questions do not have simple
black and white answers. Modern medicine has made it possible to detect in utero a
range of less lethal defects, and the world view that recognizes the reality of the
Noosphere does nothing to ease the difficulty of making emotion-filled decisions which
must be faced in some pregnancies–only the realization that Creation entails both Agony
and Ecstasy, and our God has shown his willingness to accompany each of us on our
journey through life’s problems. Almost (but not quite) all parents with Down’s children
agree their ‘Angel Unaware’ gift from God has been one of life’s greatest blessings, but
that just goes to prove that, very slowly, humankind is earning the label ‘God’s image

(1) “Masters of the Planet; the Search for Our Human Origins”, Ian Tattersall, Palgrave
Macmillan, 2012; p. 124-125.
(2) Teilhard de Chardin: (a) The Phenomenon of Man”; (b) “The Heart of Matter”
(3) R. Dawkins, Nature, 229 (1971) p. 118
(4) K. Yandell, The Scientist, Oct. 2015, p. 66

(Phil) #2

Interesting reading. At this time I am more involved with the other end of life, where issues like dementia, strokes, and acquired brain injury bring out similar issues. It goes to the question of what makes us human, and when we lose that at what point do we cease being a person.

(Larry Bunce) #3

I have always thought that the concept of soul is synonymous with our sense of consciousness. I thought I should look up something on consciousness before commenting, and ran into this interesting article in the Guardian.

More on Immortal Soul: When did humankind aquire one
(Albert Leo) #4

Hi Larry
So where do you come down on Cartesian Dualism? Like you, I believe there is a strong correlation between consciousness and soul. But it may be simplistic to say they are synonymous. For me, Teilard’s concept that, in the history of the Universe, the Noosphere-- populated by conscious creatures sharing ideas–this ‘sphere’ followed the earlier Cosmosphere and Biosphere. This not only makes scientific sense, but it should warn us that physicalism (the only reality is physical) can be a detriment to scientific advancement–especially in the areas of behavioral science and mental health.

Have you read Dawkins “The Ancestor’s Tale”? Early in the book he admits that neo-Darwinian evolution cannot explain the Great Leap Forward–the sudden appearance of humankind. He admits that some mysterious Programmer must have had access to the Homo sapiens brain. It is not widely appreciated how Dawkins thus agrees with Pope John Paul II in believing that evolution may have produced the early Homo sapiens, but it fell short of producing US. P.S. I liked the Guardian article.
Al Leo

(Albert Leo) #5

@jpm[quote=“jpm, post:2, topic:5248”]
the question of what makes us human, and when we lose that at what point do we cease being a person.
[/quote]Thanks for the reply, James. In my opinion, this Forum has not paid sufficient attention to this topic–at least from a practical rather than a theoretical/philosophical/scholarly standpoint. We would like our lawmakers and judges to be able to follow simple black/white guidelines in these matters. But life is not that simple–especially human life. However, this is what gives importance to the role that science can play in harmonizing the relationship with religion–it can instill an awesome regard and respect for the incredible planet we live on and the life it supports. Even before the sperm and egg join to begin the process of producing a new human being, science can show us how unbelievably marvelous was the evolutionary pathway that created them and to respect the loving bond that can result from the act that unites them. And the same respect that should be maintained when accident or illness robs a person of some of these gifts that makes us human.
Al Leo

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #6


I connect consciousness to being a person. When a human being is born, he or she becomes a person and remains a person, although they may be impaired.

Also a person is made up of body, mind, and spirit. A brain dead person is dead as is a physically dead person. A spiritually dead person is dead in a real sense, but can be revived.

Consciousness means that ability to make choices. If we have only one possibility, there is no choice. If the choice is either black or white, that is not much of a choice. However if the choice is between black, white, or multiple shades of grey, then we really need to de some serious thinking and make some real choices.

What is true for us is also true for us. God sets up the framework for our choices and since God does not contradict Godself, God respects our choices. We must take responsibility for them as well. All choices have consequences good or not so good.

Our brain became a mind when it developed the ability to make choices, to hold two or more possibilities in our mind simultaneously in order to compare and make decisions. It requires diversity in order to compare differences, and unity to make a decision based on unified criteria. Thanking and consciousness require a triune mind.

Human persons are created in the Image of God. That is why they are persons and that is why they can think, and that is why they are spiritual beings with meaning and purpose. God is Trinity, which means that God too is a Person. Some say that God is beyond personal or supra-personal, but there nothing beyond personal in our experience. Thus it is better to say God is Personal while recognizing that this defines God as being Trinity or Complex/One, this does not limit God in a negative way.

(Phil) #7

dementia is a difficult subject, and one where science and faith definitely intersect. I’ve seen many who have lost loved ones at the end of a long road of dementia, who welcome the end, as their grief of losing a loved one was suffered long before the last breath taken. Religion and faith can help the transition, though sometimes it seems that people of faith have a harder time letting go, oddly enough, though certainly not all.

(Albert Leo) #8

Am I correct, Roger, in assuming you believe “human persons” possess immortal souls? If so, then we must ask two questions: (1) When did humankind, over an evolutionary process spanning thousands of generations, acquire this immortal soul? and (2) When did each individual “human person” in the developmental process leading from fertilized zygote to adult man or woman, acquire this soul?

Jon Garvey in “The danger of dualism in theistic evolution” (Posted on 24/06/2016) states the problem clearly: I did point out (I believe) that such a dichotomy between a created soul and an evolved body means one cannot quite so readily dismiss an historical Adam as many TEs do. If there was no first man, and the soul did not evolve, then who received the first one?

In previous posts, I have proposed an answer that is satisfactory to me, personally: The recent evidence for the Great Leap Forward taken by our ancestral species, Homo sapiens, when combined with Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the Noosphere, posits that the ~14 billion year history of the Universe can be seen as having developed in three stages–Cosmosphere; Biosphere, and Noosphere (sphere of ideas). The first two spheres began billions of years ago, but the last began only about 50K yrs. BP, but it marks the beginning of true humankind who we Christians can believe are the first creatures that, in some ways, are ‘images of God’ and possess immortal souls. Somewhat surprisingly, Pope John Paul II and Sir Richard Dawkins both agree that Darwinian evolution, acting over millions of years, adequately explains the physical nature of humankind, but fails to account for our remarkable uniqueness.
Al Leo

(George Brooks) #9


Again… when it comes to metaphysics or theology… definitive answers, when offered at all, are offered differently by different denominations and/or by different individuals within any given denomination.

If one or more believes non-human animals do NOT have souls, then Adam and Eve obviously represent the first of humans to have souls.

But this is actually too general.

The story of the Tree of Life is about a time when a “souled being” makes a moral choice. Many a church that uses baptism in their rituals PROHIBIT children under a certain age from being baptised! - - not because they don’t have a soul, but because it is not believed they can yet exercise a moral choice about being baptized.

This is why I favor the idea that the story of Adam (with Eve being an optional element) being the first of the human population that God considers being capable of making a moral choice… and that at some point Adam in his youth begins to make moral choices.

Inevitably, as with all humans capable of morality, an immoral choice is made. And the imperfection of even moral humanity is demonstrated to the Cosmos…

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #10

Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV2011)
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1 says that God created humans in God’s Image, not that God’s made them in God’s Image by giving them an immortal soul. I agree with Genesis 1. God created humans by making them in God’s Image and giving them the ability to be Persons who are self aware.

I thjink that the Greek concept of “eternal soul” is foreign to the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, and does not belong in Christian theology. Humans have a spirit. “Create in ma a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” When we are born again of the Holy Spirit, our human spirit is reoriented by God’s Spirit toward God, instead of toward ourselves.

Human immortality is not based on an immortal spirit or nature, that humans possess, but by God’s relationship or love for humans that does not allow us to be forgotten and disappear.

There is no dichotomy between the Body and the soul. There is a triune nature of the Person, which creates the body, mind, and spirit.

(George Brooks) #11

@Relates, perhaps you are splitting hairs too finely?

The biblical use of the term “spirit” seems to fit our interpretation of “soul” fairly well:

1 Samuel 28:7
Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit,
that I may go to her, and enquire of her…

1Samuel 28:11-12
Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel. And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice. . .

(Albert Leo) #12

[quote=“Relates, post:10, topic:5248”]
I thjink that the Greek concept of “eternal soul” is foreign to the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, and does not belong in Christian theology.

I find this statement of yours rather surprising, as I am sure most Christians would. For instance, it is difficult to interpret the word ‘soul’ in Mark 8:36 as ‘earthly spirit’ rather than eternal soul. But I must admit that the idea of my soul going to a Heaven just to sing eternally in a choir no longer has the appeal to me that it did in Sr. Barbara’s religion class. So, to a degree, I can relate to what you say:

But I am not taken with the idea that the only part of me that survives my demise is the memories I leave behind. My kids, grandkids, and certainly great-grandkids will be too busy with their own lives to give much thought to my memory. So, if I have pleased Him sufficiently, I will leave it up to God to set up any ‘reward’. At the present time in my life, I rather hope that He would re-incarnate me on some exo-planet that is even more beautiful and challenging than this Earth.
Al Leo

(Albert Leo) #13

When I attempt to interpret this passage using the concept of Original Blessing, I see it as: “God the Father chose to use evolution to create animal life using genes that tend to promote selfishness. However, especially in females (e.g. in many bird species) He was pleased with the self-sacrifice and compassion displayed towards their young and toward young of other species. He tolerated (but was not particularly pleased) with male behavior (especially in bears) that often killed their young. In the case of a particularly promising primate species, Homo sapiens, He decided to “intervene” to the extent of transforming brain into Mind, thus creating a human conscience and the freedom to chose actions rather than just acting instinctively. But humankind made so many bad choices (sins) that their very existence was threatened. (The Flood of the OT, or the apocalypse of the Anthropcene). It became necessary to “intervene”–to send Jesus into the World, and then the Holy Spirit to “reorient” human’s evolved nature to be “born again” to a humankind that can reflect God’s innate nature of self-giving and compassion.”

Of course a gifted minister could make this argument much more convincing.
Al Leo

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #14

Mark 8:34-37 (NIV2011)
34 Then He (Jesus) called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.
35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the gospel will save it.
36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?


Al, you cited Mark 8:34 which is an excellent passage, so I quoted the whole thing. “Whosoever wants to save their life will lose it.” Those who put their lives ahead of the gospel, will lose their lives, but hose who put Jesus first will save their “lives.”

What good does it do a person if they gain the whole world, but lose themselves. What price can you put on your integrity?

Here “soul” means “life,” and “selfhood,” which is fine. The main problem is the eternal aspect of the immortal soul.

You are right that memories are not immortality. God restores the brokenness of life in God’s Kingdom. Relationships that are broken by death or other types of separation are made whole. We will salso have the opportunity tom really get to know the people we have read about in the Bible or in history or family lore etc.

Always Howdy! Howdy! and never good by as Sis. Mahalia sang.

(Albert Leo) #15

[quote=“Relates, post:14, topic:5248”]
God restores the brokenness of life in God’s Kingdom.
Roger, I don’t know of a better way of encapsulating the Christian message than this short sentence. And yet, in “unpacking it”, we find the basis for the many disagreements that have given birth to the numerous Christian sects that we see today. Almost everyone who has lived on this earth understands the concept, brokenness of life. But the concept of a Creator God who is perfect (by human’s definition of perfect) seems to require the verb restores, so that God is ‘taken off the hook’ for Sin. The (almost) universally accepted Christian eschatology posits the restoration to take place when Christ returns to earth and initiates God’s Kingdom (the Parousia). Even though disagreement on several of these points has prevented a ‘united front’ in Christianity, it has served the folks in the Western World rather well. But, if Christian dogma remains unchangeable, will it ever take over world wide? Can any of the points listed above be viewed from a different perspective and still remain as God’s revealed Truth?

In previous posts I have suggested that exchanging the concept of Original Blessing for Original Sin has a number of advantages, both from a theological as well as scientific viewpoint. Assigning human brokenness to the instinctive behavior promoted by ‘selfish genes’ was considered heretical by the Vatican when Teihard first proposed it, and it remains so to this day. And, almost assuredly, it would be considered heretical in the Islam faith, requiring the most intensive kind of jihad.

So why even bring it up for discussion? Well, early Christians expected the Second Coming to occur within the lifetimes of some living then. And it has not occurred some 2,000 years later. If humans societies can keep from destroying each other, humankind can live happily and prosperous for another 10,000 years or more. Has not Christ already given us humans the recipe for creating God’s Kingdom here on earth? He never said that his advice to “take up my Cross and follow me” would be easy. But so few of us have really done so. Has He not invited us to become Co-creators with Him?
Al Leo

(system) #16

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