Objections to the soul’s existence and immortality

1) OBJECTION: NOTHING IMMATERIAL EXISTS IN MAN

In man, there exists nothing immaterial which subsists (that is a substance). So Unamuno[5]makes a sophistic objection as follows:  “How can an unaware reason conclude that our soul is a substance (which subsists, or stays) from the fact that our consciousness of identity persists during the changes of our body? We could just as well speak about the substantial soul of a ship which leaves harbour, loosing today a plank, which is replaced by another one of the same shape and size, loosing then another piece, which is also replaced and so forth, until the same ship comes back with the same shape and the same seaworthy features and everybody recognizes it as the same one.”

Answer: Well, the fact that the ship can be constituted or composed by different matter shows that the ship isn’t mere matter, but also “form”, or structure, or some distribution of these parts or matter (Its shape, which is maintained and restored by the intelligent action of expert men) and, on the given example, although having changed its parts, although having changed its matter not by itself but by the intelligent action of ship-carpenters and naval engineers who repair it,  the ship maintains its same shape or structure which, by itself, is a non material element that subsists in the mind of the builders and repair men, as demonstrates the fact that she can be preserved with different matter.

Well, a man’s living form preserves the life of distinct matter (incorporated to men’s body) and this not by the action of an external intelligence (as were the naval carpenters in the case of the ship) but by itself (although it doesn’t exist but by the action of the necessary being, i.e. of God). Therefore, it is a subsistent form  (i.e. a form that subsists by itself versus the ship’s form or structure that persists by the intelligent action of naval carpenters).  Hereby, we don’t pretend to demonstrate that it is immortal, but only that in man there exists an immaterial part: the form or soul.  But, since it is persistent or subsisting by itself, it could also be immortal, as the philosopher Tresmontant[6]suggests: “The organism’s form or structure is not like those of the machine. The organism’s form subsists whilst every conforming material element is renewed. In the case of a man-made object, form doesn’t subsist. It is merely external. It isn’t immanent. It isn’t active. It is not substance either. If I break a statue or a machine, I really break its form. No form’s immortality exists in the case of a machine or statue; at most, in the mind of the artist or engineer who conceives or remembers it (in our example, in the mind of the naval engineer or ship carpenter).

On the other hand, if I cut a planarian (an invertebrate animal) in two pieces, each half will bring a new planarian. If I cut myself, I’m able to regenerate at least the disappeared epidermis. An indeed twenty, forty or eighty years later, I’ll be the same person. I subsist by myself, although the matter which gave shape to myself has steadily been renovated” And he goes on as follows[7]:

“According to reports given to us by last century biologists, we can say that there is apparently no difficulty in admitting that the soul (a man’s form) can subsist after having given shape to the body (when it separates the body, when we die), since, according to the experiments of modern science, we state a relative independence between the subsisting soul and the conformed matter that is renewed (the matter  recycled in our body by nourishment and dejection). 

If there were a total adjustment between form and matter, as in the case of the statue or  the machine, or of any other object made by man, if the form’s subsistence depended on the integrity of the gathered materials, if form didn’t witness any independent existence, it would be then difficult to speak about a possible immortality of the soul. Nevertheless, in the case of a living organism, the soul is a substance (the soul or form subsists). Its actual and relative independence from  integrated matter, vouches for its ability to survive without conforming matter. Indeed there is no contradiction or nonsense in such hypotheses”.

In order to see that there exists something immaterial in man, let’s mention a text from Kahane[8], a French biologist, who was no believer: “The grounds of individuality of each living being are in its structure’s persistence or, to be more precise, in the structure’s permanency “. (Just before, the author has told us that in a living organism everything is renewed “in such a way, that, from an instant to the next, there isn’t any organism which is constituted by the same matter  …”). Therefore, what assures the persistence of the living individual is its “structure”, which is neither this nor that matter.

We can call it form, soul or structure, but the fact is that an immaterial element persists in man, which makes the individual remain the same, although its body changes in matter.


2)OBJECTION: THE SOUL ISN’T IMMORTAL

Unamuno (mentioned above) says: “…there is no way to rationally prove the soul’s immortality. Instead, there are ways to rationally prove its mortality” “…everything brings us to rationally suppose that death causes the loss of consciousness. The same way we don’t  remember anything from before we were born when we were not,   after dying, we shall not be. That’s the rational conclusion”.

Probably, Unamuno intends to say that, according to our senses, we have no data to assert that the person, his soul, lives after dying. Is that true? Not always. For instance, during the apparitions in Garabandal (apparitions not yet accepted by the Church), the Jesuit Luis Maria Andreu died suddenly (8thor 9thof August 1961) after having an extraordinary experience in the village of Garabandal, where the Blessed Virgin appeared to some little girls:

The Blessed Virgin communicated later to the girls that P. Luis Maria was in heaven with her, and the girls were able to speak with the already deceased person, so that they learned things about him that were corroborated by his brother as true, although the girls couldn’t know about them by usual human ways. The extraordinary events of Garabandal and the short age of the girls give us two more reasons to believe that the girls were talking with the deceased P Luis Maria Andreu.

Is this an isolated event? In the hagiographies of Christian saint’s, we find similar events; besides, the fact that there are apparitions of Our Lord, who died, and of the Blessed Virgin, who doesn’t live anymore on earth, demonstrates that they are alive, i.e. that there is another life after the present one.

Lets mention the tradition around Saint Francis of Asissi abridged on “Little Flowers”. Saint Francis saw several times Our Lord Jesus Christ. In “Little Flowers” several monks tell us how Saint Francis appeared and spoke to them after dying. It is also explained how some souls go directly to heaven and how other ones raise from purgatory to heaven. In the autobiographical report of a big saint such as St. Therese of Jesus (The Book of my Life), she tell us how she saw a soul going directly to heaven, another to purgatory and of another person that, after dying, was under the power of devils.

In the apparitions in Fatima, the child seers heard how the Blessed Virgin said that some friends of them were in heaven, others in purgatory. They also saw hell with the souls of the damned.

F. Pio de Pietralcina (already canonized), who died the 23rd September 1968, had on his body the sores of Our Lord and healed and miraculously converted several people. He was given the gift to know if some dead people were in heaven, in purgatory or in hell.

In more recent times, regarding the apparitions in Medjugorje (the Church seems to look upon such apparitions with sympathy, but it has not yet given a verdict) the 7thMay 1985, one of the seers, Ivanka Ivankovic, was talking with her dead mother, who appeared to her from heaven. Ivanka relates it as follows: “The Blessed Virgin was more beautiful than ever and was followed by two angels. She asked me if I wanted anything. I asked her if I could see my mother, The Blessed Virgin smiled and agreed wit a nod of Her head. My mother appeared instantly. She was smiling. The Blessed Virgin told me to get up. Then my mother kissed me, saying: “ My child, I’m very proud of you…” She kissed me again and she disappeared.”

The six young seers of Medjugorje have seen heaven and purgatory and four of them hell. There are souls which go directly to heaven, others to purgatory and others to hell. (These apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in Medjugorje have not finished).

As for other present apparitions, in El Escorial (the Church has not yet given a verdict), i.e., according to the seer, some young girls who had died  some days before in an accident and who some days before their death had said they didn’t believe in hell, appeared to her. From these young girls who spoke after their death to Amparo Cuevas (the seer in El Escorial), one was in hell; another one repented during the interval between the accident and her death and she spoke to her from purgatory, asking for prayers in order to raise to heaven soon.

That is to say that, if we check the trustworthiness of such testimonies of saints and of the Blessed Virgin’s apparitions, which are happening even today and are backed by prodigious events on the sky (remember that the prodigy of the sun in Fatima, which was seen by about 79.000 persons and by people who were many kilometres away from the crowd around the seeing shepherds), by miraculous conversions and healings and by other wonders, as well as by the holy words given in them and, let’s repeat, if we check the trustworthiness of such testimonies, by seeing God’s hand on them, we’ll be able to certify that there is another life and that the soul is immortal and will go to heaven, to purgatory or to hell, depending on our behaviour during our time on earth.

Furthermore, the fact that we cannot state with our senses that a person goes on living after his death because the soul remains alive is not reason enough to conclude that there isn’t any life beyond this one. We also cannot perceive with our senses the existence of God, but we know, through our reason, our conscience and our heart that God exists ( see “Does God exist?”, first question of the present book).

Just because God exists and is good, it would be hideous and inconceivable that we, who aspire to total happiness an to live for ever, feelings that God has put on our heart, would end up in the void and nothingness. We see that every general aspiration existing in Nature has a corresponding reality, so if on one hand we are thirsty, on the other hand, there exists water to quench this thirst with; if we are hungry, there exists the food to be satiated; the newborn strives after the mother’s milk with his mouth and the mother’s nipple exists in order to fulfil his wish. Thus, if we long for a perfect happiness and for an everlasting life must we conclude that they don’t exist at all?

It is rationalto think that God, who is the only Goodness, will give us what our heart longs for. It is rational to think that the soul, that part of our being that cannot be reduced to matter, will live forward after our body has died.


[5]Unamuno (Pgs 68 and 69 of “ About Tragic Feeling of Life”, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1971)

[6]Mentioned by Jose Maria Ciurana, “Rational Grounds of soul’s existence and immortality”, Bosch, Barcelona, 1976, Pg. 157

[7]Ibidem, Pgs.157-158

[8]Mentioned by Claude Tresmontant Pgs. 219-… in “How we state today the problem of God’s existence”, Peninsula, Barcelona, 1969