Is Soul A Baseless Hypothesis? -- By: James T. Bixby

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 047:186 (Apr 1890)
Article: Is Soul A Baseless Hypothesis?
Author: James T. Bixby


Is Soul A Baseless Hypothesis?

Rev. James T. Bixby

The constant element of every observation of nature,” says Langel, “is that we are the observing consciousness of an unconscious world. Among these outward objects we trace similarities; we classify them by various likenesses, one to another. But we can find nothing there that is like the inward self. The farther this self carries its irrepressible surveys, its ordering conquests, the more it opposes, to all that it meets, the point of its own tenacious unity. By whatever name it be called, through whatever phases it may run, it feels that it is something else than plant or mineral.”1

What is the source of this difference? What is it that enables us, nay, compels us, to speak ceaselessly of self, consciousness, mind, and will?

Philosophy and religion have answered (believing that not only faith, but sound logic required and justified such a solution), “That which constituteth thee what thou art, O man, is a soul, an active, intelligent, immaterial power, different from ordinary matter and force. Thy intelligence is its intelligence, thy will is its will. Through matter and force thou canst express thoughts, but it is this soul that entertains thoughts. Through thy material organs thou movest and actest, but in the soul is the feeling, the will, the knowledge, that starts and guides these actions and movements, by laws that matter knows not, to ends of which it is all unconscious. Nay! though the elements overwhelm thee, the sea drown thee, the moun-

tain crush thee, yet art thou greater even in thy defeat than thy vanquisher. For thou alone knowest what is done.”

Such is the lofty distinction, the unique prerogative,, with which the attributes of conscious mind invest its possessor. But in these latter days all this would be changed. The same tendencies of thought that would explain the phenomena of life as but more complex and refined results of the laws of matter and motion, would include in the same physical theory the higher phenomena of mind.

Consciousness, these physical theorizers would tell us, is but a function of matter, one of its many modes of motion. Sensation is an impression on a nerve. Hope, fear, and aspiration are but subtler vibrations of the gray stuff within the skull. The thinking being is a mechanical automaton, to which consciousness is but an accidental, inessential accompaniment, each mental state being determined by some physical change and governed by some physical law. “The soul,” bluntly says Büchner, “is the product of a peculiar combination of matter....

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