Soul in Science and in Religion

Most religions regard the soul:
(a) as an insubstantial entity that is associated with all human life, even in its unconscious states;
(b) which enters the fetus at some stage;
(c) at the time of death, leaves the physical body;
(d) and exists somewhere after that in various phase ad infinitum; and
(e) will be subjected to other experiences in due course.
The closest that Galilean-Newtonian science came to this idea was under (a), when some 18th century scientists spoke of a vital force which was responsible for making the chemicals associated with life, leading to a division of chemistry into organic and inorganic: which subdivision lost currency with Woehler’s synthesis of urea.
Then, in the 19th century Carl Reichenbach’s Odic force idea was popular for some time.
But in our own times, no serious biologist uses the word soul in any scientific context.
Even in its emergence-sense, the word can have none of the characteristics listed under b, c, d, above.
As to (b), theologians argue about when the soul enters the body,.
As to (c), no religion is very clear about the location of where the departed souls are headed to.
As to (d) there is divergence among religions and even among subsects of the same religion about the intermediary state between death and the eventual fate of individual souls.
So I don’t see how we can so freely use in the context of science a term which has a variety of nebulous meanings in  religious contexts.

March 2007

Published by:

Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.

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