More on Immortal Soul: When did humankind aquire one

I read the Guardian article ( you linked and it was fascinating. It’s interesting that after all these years, science cannot come up with an acceptable model of how consciousness happens. In addition, scientists are also pretty much mystified by the speed in which behavioral modernity showed up during the Great Leap Forward (as @aleo has talked about). It seems to me that those 2 mysteries could be a result of God’s interaction with a couple of homo sapiens - in a mix of literal and symbolic from the Adam & Eve story. Or God’s action came after humankind had progressed sufficiently. It does seem that if God ever did miraculous intervention throughout history (like with Jesus), he would have done it at the beginning of humans with full consciousness (sentience, awareness, self-awareness, subjectivity, the ability to experience and to feel, free will, and contemplate abstract things such as “why am I here” and “where did consciousness come from.”). This also would help solve the issue of when sin came (when humans became capable of conscious sin) and Paul’s statements about Adam. (See my website page for more on this concept: )

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This topic brings to mind Doug Hofstadter’s investigations into the idea of “uploading” a human mind into a computer for true immortality. He took a lot of flack for those writings but those who knew of the circumstances of the tragic loss of his wife at such a young age can empathize with his interest in the topic.

@DougK I hope that all readers/contributors to this Forum do use the link to your website. There is no more succinct ‘solution’ to the problem of Adam & Eve than your statement: Adam and Eve in this way, become the spiritual ancestors of all surviving humans, even though they were not biologically the ancestors of all humans.

In regard to God’s intervention (and the whole controversy surrounding ID), it seems entirely possible that God accomplished the ‘miracle’ of sudden appearance of human consciousness through ‘normal’ biological mechanisms that science has not yet clarified. As Tattersall points out, two of the requirements that established the potential for consciousness, and the ability to transmit it in Lamarkian fashion, were clearly exaptations: the grossly enlarged human brain, and the descent of the larnyx to make speech possible. Christian De Duve (“Genetics of Original Sin” p.94-95) suggests that the final ‘programming’ step could have been made possible through epigenetics, a type of Lamarkian inheritance. He states: “In its new meaning, epigenetics refers to a number of inheritable traits that are NOT written into the DNA sequences but accompany the DNA in germ cells and influence subsequent events in the fertilized egg. Such traits include the blockage of certain bases by chemical groups (for example methyl groups) or the manner in which DNA is combined with histones in the chromosomes.”

I am comfortable with this explanation of the sudden appearance of human consciousness: In the beginning God set up Natural Laws that had the potential of creating unimaginable varieties of life. Some of these potentials would never be realized unless a sequence of very unlikely events occurred in succession. God did not need to ‘invent’ new mechanisms to accomplish his purpose. He just adjusted the odds to accomplish a ‘miracle’ so that human consciousness could appear on this earth. In doing so it gave humankind the opportunity to seek out their Creator and to try, as much as possible, to become like Him.
Al Leo

Fascinating ideas to consider. And at the same time I can’t help but think of those Christians I’ve known who would be very disturbed, just by our daring to CONSIDER such things. They would say that we are treading on ground that “belongs only to God.”

When I was a young seminarian, I tended to look down on such people as Pharisaical, but now I realize that I should have had more respect for their sense of confusion and fear. I well recall the various frictions that rose to the surface now and then between the Christian townspeople and the seminary students from all over the world that lived and worked in that community. A co-worker and I were eating our lunch at a picnic table in the city park and a man at an adjacent table, with his entire family around him looking on, saw the titles of our textbooks stacked around us and which we were reading as we ate. Without any introduction or pleasantries the man blurted out, “So, you are reading a Hebrew Bible and all sorts of proud ideas of men. I only read the HOLY Bible and that’s all I ever need! Every day I bow to God and pray, ‘Show me your will’ and God takes me to the exact page he uses to speak to me that day.” With that, he walked away with a scornful look on his face. Clearly he considered us to be dangerous threats to the Church.

At the time, we managed to contain our laughter until he was getting into the car in the parking lot. But every time I’ve thought back on that episode (and so many others like it), I feel more sadness that I didn’t try to bridge that gap. What struck us as arrogance and ignorance at the time was really more about fear than anything else.

Likewise, many Christians hear the word “evolution” and think “atheism”, some Christians hear words like “soul”, “consciousness”, “epigenetics” “Lamarkian”, and “Natural Laws”, and they are likely react with similar fears. (Of course, this is especially true if entire ministries are devoted to fanning those fears!) No wonder the idea of a tourist retreat involving a big ark-shaped building in a peaceful rural setting sounds like a welcomed relief. For an entire day, the visitor can return to a long ago era when the Sunday Pix and flannel-graph, good ol’ American Sunday School version of the ark story stood generally unchallenged (as long as one didn’t do extensive reading.)

I don’t claim to be wise enough to know how to engage these topics in the local church and wider Christian community without scaring people. Their fears aren’t entirely unjustified, especially if they are old enough to have observed various dangerous kinds of “liberal theology” sweeping through once great seminaries and denominations. But while they may be content to avoid potentially disturbing topics, their children and grandchildren will not.

I don’t mean to throw a bucket of cold water on anything. I’m simply admitting my inadequacy in knowing how best to engage these kinds of topics in the Church community and local church without huge chasms between the message-intended and the message-received.

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Great comments @aleo! It certainly does not have to have been God tinkering with evolution in order to produce consciousness. If God interacted with humans (and there are many ways that could have been from very dramatic to less dramatic), then just that could have in itself resulted in consciousness opening up within those humans. Also, it could have been before or after consciousness appeared. But it seems that something very significant happened prior to the Great Leap Forward. We will never know (at least in this lifetime) the way things really happened, but it shows that there are ways that do not require minimizing almost all of the Adam and Eve story, Paul’s apparent belief in Adam and sin’s origin nor in the scientific evidence of evolution.

I think the definitive article on this has been written by Kenneth Kemp, Science, Theology and Monogenesis,. I’ve also written about it on a post on my blog, Did Neanderthals have a soul?.
Kemp’s idea is that very possibly very early hominids have a soul, going back to Homo Erectus, as being rational beings capable of knowing and seeking God.

I agree that it is very tough to bridge that chasm. I was raised in a conservative Baptist background, I did have some silent questions about where the cave men and dinosaurs fit in and as a young adult, where evolution fit in. The fact is that many, at least in the evangelical Christian community, are pretty stuck in tradition (and in my opinion that can be pharisaical). But we are at a key point in Christian history. 60% to 75% of children who were active Christians in the childhood leave active faith in the high school and beyond years. One big reason is the seeming conflict between what they were raised believing and the overwhelming scientific evidence. I designed my website to provide comprehensive information for those who are seeking answers (without shoving anything down their throat). I find that one way to get some tradition based Christians to be open to different ideas is to tell them that there is a good chance that their children or grandchildren will leave the faith if they think that there is no serious option between the traditional Adam & Eve story and the scientific evidence.

Doug, these are the thoughts that sparked my interest in BioLogos. My mother, whose strict Catholic upbringing, was instrumental in making her a fine, moral human being, was pleased that her four children remained "true’ to that Faith. However, she was devastated when quite a few of her grandchildren ‘left that Faith,’ even though they remained good human beings and spiritually directed. Although two of my three kids are not ‘practicing’ Catholics (same for many of my grandkids), I am not as discouraged as she was. During my career as a medicinal chemist, many of my European colleagues were ‘fallen away’ Catholics who then became agnostic. Yet, it seemed to me, they were still fine human beings. Could it be that I erred when I thought God was surely more ‘open minded’ than I was? No, for lo and behold, God used a miraculous way (via a panel truck) of showing (Profs. Eric Lien, Hugo Kubini, Jo Sydel and myself) that he still loved humans even after they slipped into agnosticism.

But still, I believe the safest way ‘to be saved’ is to remain true to the Christian Faith.
Al Leo

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I too feel that the question is not answerable in this lifetime, but it is sort of interesting to read and discuss it.
One problem with equating the soul with consciousness, is that that would imply that when consciousness is gone, so is the soul, and if consciousness is impaired, then the soul is damaged also. Thus, we have the problems that occur when you have congenital impairments, strokes, closed head injury aftermath, and dementia. Maybe even sleep. (“Now I lay me down to sleep, and pray the Lord my soul will keep…”).
I have long thought that perhaps there was a historical Adam and Eve within a population that God first breathed his likeness and a soul. That is not entirely satisfactory, in that we would then have to consider souls inherited, which is problematic, and we would have souled and unsouled humans walking around until the souled brothers and sisters dominated, which is also a bit disturbing.

And that does not even get into the ethical questions relating insoulment with fertilized eggs in fertility clinics, abortion and so forth. Perhaps we should be content with it being a mystery.

Thanks for sharing your experiences. They help me understand my own experience as an instructor for Catholic adult confirmation classes. The ex-priest who first invited me to do so was a brilliant liberal Catholic (PhD in theology) and could give solid theological support to my attempt at reconciling science and religion from the scientific point of view. After he left, the subsequent Presenters were arch-conservatives, who believed that any non-literal interpretation of Genesis led surely to perdition. It was as if their idea of the purpose of scripture was to impart an overriding fear of the wrath of God.

Personally, I have found that my scientific studies have made it easier to appreciate the deep wisdom contained in the Act of Contrition that I was taught before receiving First Communion:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell. But most of all, I detest all my sins because they offend Thee, my God,Who art all good and deserving of all my love.

This sort of wisdom is imparted more permanently at the age of five than at a later age when the human brain has become more sophisticated. It indicates when one has reached Level 6 on the Piaget-Kohlberg scale of moral development.
Al Leo

James, I’m pleased that you responded to this thread. You are undoubtedly correct in that these questions are probably NOT going to be answered adequately in our lifetimes. But, as I suggested in a previous post, we can partially deal with these problems if we allow the proper RESPECT for each stage necessary for human life. Science gives us good reason to respect the marvel of a single human sperm, even though only a minute percentage of them will ever perform the function for which they were designed. ( I seriously doubt that many boys are frightened out of masterbation by the story of Onan.) We would like ensoulment to be a matter of ‘black and white’; i.e. there is an exact moment when it occurs and an exact moment when it ceases. It does not appear to be that kind of phenomenon. If one believes that a single ‘ensoulment’ occurs at the moment of conception, what about when the fertilized egg splits to create identical twins, or quadruplets?

How are we going to deal with the problems raised by the improved knowledge we are getting about the health of the fetus? I have a great niece who knew from ultrasound that baby she was carrying (she is Mormon and would never call it just a ‘fetus’) was severely handicapped and would survive only a short time after delivery. She and her husband did what I believe to be the right thing. She delivered her baby, they brought it home, and the whole family rejoiced in the marvel of human life, even when so short and destined to leave them and return ‘home’. Is this not a better way of dealing with ‘life’s problems’ rather than railing against a God who sends them _misfortunes?

As you point out, tying consciousness and ensoulment too closely creates a set of problems when one examines cognitive impairments, such as those resulting from strokes or mental diseases such as schizophrenia. If one actually has to cope with such problems, using respect for the potential that was once there–this can be rather poor solace. Then the only answer I can think of is the firm conviction that God stays at our side during these troubling times, as is evidenced by his sending Jesus into our World.
Al Leo

When did hominids acquire the SOUL that makes them moral agents?

Only God knows the dividing line for that.

(I hope this isn’t a discussion about when individual humans ACQUIRE A SOUL - - leading into discussions of abortion rights, etc. etc.)

Your wisdom is greatly appreciated. When my patients are in in midst of such trials, I encourage them to just live one day at a time, and not worry too much about what tomorrow holds. " Give us this day our daily bread."

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Thank you for that very interesting contribution! I read both articles. Kemp’s article certainly made a case that is similar to mine, with the additional possibility that even with an original couple who were among a population of maybe 10,000 to 20,000, it could have been possible that they were not only the spiritual parents of us all, but could have over time become the biological parents of us all. For other readers of this, I suggest you read the Kemp article Science, Theology and Monogenesis. As with everything here, we acknowledge that none of us claim to know what happened, just that there are possible answers to reconcile a literal Adam with evolution (which turns out was a Catholic concern as well as an evangelical Christian concern). @aleo has a somewhat different model that is also from the Catholic point of view but still similar to mine. Maybe he will share his link.

Anyway, Kemp noted that one of the possible time periods was about 60,000 years ago, which is about the time that the most recent population bottleneck was theorized to be finishing up. I think that is the higher probability time period, since it preceeds the Great Leap Forward into behavioral moderity and the Out of Africa migration. Also, significantly earlier dates would seem to have more a problem with there being full consciousness and relating with God, partially because of the likely extreme limits to language at those times. To be sure, there is some evidence of earlier things like burial customs, but apparently the scientific community still does not feel that that showed the full spectrum of behavioral modernity and seemingly full consciousness.

That is a very good point. Like I said, God’s interaction (and ensoulment) could have come before, during, or after full consciousness.

On one hand, I think that we all hope that what will survive physical death is our consciousness. If it does not survive death, then does life after death mean anything?

My mother had dementia in her later years. I think a lot of people would say that at some point you realize that they are not the same person they were. 2 Corinthians 5: 5 says: For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands… Surely, that includes our restored fully healthy consciousness.

But the stronger argument against too closely tying the idea of a soul too closely with full consciousness is - what about babies? And as you and @aleo said “congenital impairment.” They don’t show the signs of full consciousness. I have to believe that God’s love covers those situations. And maybe the soul normally includes consciousness, but is still active in humans in the absence of consciousness.

I definitely do not want to put God in a box. He is a supernatural being, he has ways that are beyond us. I agree with you and @aleo that we have to be careful about tying consciousness too closely to souls.

Thanks Bob, and thanks Doug for the link to Kemp’s article. I was acquainted with almost all the sources he quotes, but it was nice to see that his take on them was very similar to mine. EXCEPT: does anyone else have the troubles I have with the language that seems required for acceptance to philosophical journals? Their motto seems to be: “Eschew obfuscation”, whilst I prefer, “KISS” (keep it simple, stupid). For instance, throughout the paper passages in Greek symbols were not translated and a big distinction was made between: peccatum original originatum and peccatum original originans. An unkind person would conclude that Kemp was just showing off.
As to the matter of which of our primate ancestors might have been the first with immortal souls, this must remain highly speculative (but still very interesting) since ideas do not fossilize. From what I have read, I would feel very uncomfortable with the thought that Homo erectus had reached that stage of development. As to the Neanderthals, I defer to the judgement of Ian Tattersall as to how far they had advanced to what I would call ‘true human’ nature. In “Maters of the Planet” he states: “the reason we have so many intact Neanderthal remains is that these hominids occasionally buried their dead.” Although this has been disputed, he further states: “Yes, the Neanderthals did invent the practice of burials; and no, there is no really convincing evidence th they ever did so with rituals.” Further on: “that (Neanderthal burials) imply some sort of deep empathetic feeling seem close to certain, but in the broader context…it is far less probable that they imply a belief in an afterlife–something that would indeed demand symbolic cognitive abilities.”

Tattersall expresses admiration for the Neanderthals as “hardy, resourceful hominids” when the evidence shows that “tiny numbers of them heroically hunted mammoths out on the tundra”. But he also notes the evidence of their darker side, as seen at the El Sidron site. “The vision of a peaceful stone-knapping extended family of Neanderthals being raided, murdered, butchered, and eaten by a marauding group of their fellows is unsettling.” (The forerunners of Cain & Abel in Genesis?)

In trying to form a workable relationship that we should have with our Creator, we should, I conclude, use Revelation as a primary source. But we cannot ignore the truths contained in the sciences: anthropology, biology, geology and astronomy. Augustine foresaw this to some extent, but I’m sure he would be amazed at the level of new scientific information that now must be reconciled with Revelation.

The link to my journey from Cradle Catholic to a career in science is:
Amongst other things it discusses the ‘official Vatican’ position on Adam & Eve and Original Sin and how I find Original Blessing (modified from P. T. Chardin’s and M. Fox’s original form) more compatible.
Al Leo

But, George, these discussions of RIGHTS (e.g. abortion ‘rights’) have a way of being enacted into LAWS that affect our daily lives–that define our SOCIAL CONSCIENCES. In Roe vs. Wade the judges found these ‘rights’ written into the U. S. Constitution.(??) I will concede that the BioLogos Forum may not be the place where the origin of these rights should be discussed, but should that discussion not consider what makes us human? Not just on how our origins are looked upon by any one religion or another?
Al Leo

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This is my second posting to a BioLogos Forum. I have not read everything on BioLogos regarding soul / image of God so I could well be repeating things covered elsewhere. However, I haven’t seen the following perspectives mentioned in this thread….

I don’t accept the premise of the question since I don’t believe that humans/humanity ‘have” an immortal soul. Doesn’t the notion of immortal soul come out of Greek philosophy contra OT thinking and texts like 1 Timothy 6:16 God … "alone is immortal?”

Rather, the question I have as a person accepting Evolutionary Creation is how to discuss humanity being in the “image of God.” I accept the Genesis Creation stories as how the ancient Hebrews, truthfully, in dialogue - actually in opposition, with their ANE neighbours described their beginnings. God, therefore, created humanity “in his own image.” He placed the human pair into the Garden meant to steward the earth as image bearers (little idols) John Walton, Peter Enns have been instrumental in my thinking.

Larry Schmidt


While asserting that humans don’t have “immortal souls” is no doubt a major piece of “WORM CAN OPENING” (!!) … how would you think that this materiallly involves the issue of Evolution?

Perhaps you are even MORE interested in discussing the issue of souls more than whether God uses the process of evolution to create humans?

I don’t think that there is much talk about immortality in the Old Testament, but there is a lot in the New Testament:
2 Timothy 1:10
John 6:50
John 8:51
John 11:26
1 Corinthians 15:22
2 Corinthians 5:1-5
Romans 2:7
Luke 20:36
1 Corinthians 15:42-43
1 Thessalonians 4:17
1 Corinthians 15:53
2 Corinthians 5:1
1 Peter 1:23
1 Corinthians 15:53-54

Regarding the image of God, I think there are multiple things that are part of that. It seems to me that one of them would include full consciousness - something that no other creatures have.