An Answer To An Atheist: Are Humans Nothing More Than Bodies?

By Hank Hanegraaff

One of the reasons I love the game of golf is that it puts me in touch with people whose worldviews are radically different from mine. One such person is Matt (Matt is not his real name).This year, Matt and I teamed up as partners in a golf tournament. While driving to the tournament, we transitioned from talking about golf to talking about God.

Matt, a lawyer by profession, was convinced that humans are mere material beings. In his way of thinking, if we were to die during our drive, we would simply cease to exist. For Matt, the notion of a soul that exists beyond the grave was absolutely absurd.

Like so many others in our culture, he was firmly committed to the creed of the late scientist Carl Sagan — “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” In addition, he had embraced the mantra of a Madonna song — “I am a material girl living in a material world.”

From his perspective, human beings are merely material brains and bodies. As we rolled on down the road, I attempted to convince Matt that there are compelling reasons to believe human beings have an immaterial aspect to their being that transcends the material.

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Argument One: Thoughts Go Beyond the Brain

I pointed out that from the perspective of logic, we can demonstrate that the mind is not identical to the brain. Indeed, the mind and brain have different properties: “The feeling of pain, the experience of sound, the awareness of color are all different from anything that is simply physical. If the world were only made of matter, these subjective aspects of consciousness would not exist. But they do exist! So there must be more to the world than matter.”2 An obvious example concerns color. A moment’s reflection is enough to convince a person that the experience of color involves more than mere wavelengths of light.3

Argument Two: The Body Vanishes Every Seven Years

I went on to argue that from a legal perspective, if human beings were merely material, they could not be held accountable this year for a crime committed last year, simply because physical identity changes over time. Physically, we are not the same person today that we were yesterday. Every day, we lose multiplied millions of microscopic particles. In fact, every seven years, virtually every part of our material anatomy, apart from aspects of our neurological system, changes.4 Therefore, from a purely material perspective, “The self who did the crime in the past is not literally the same self who is present at the time of punishment.”5 Appealing to Matt’s legal background, I suggested that a criminal who attempted to use this line of reasoning as a defense would not get very far. Legally and intuitively, we recognize a sameness of soul that establishes personal identity over time…

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An Answer To An Atheist: Are Humans Nothing More Than Bodies? | Christian Research Institute