Many of us feel that that our identity is not constituted by our bodily or mental processes that change many times during each day, but is formed from something more fundamental and permanent. We might call this our 'soul' or our 'spirit'. Two recent blogs have been trying to understand this in more detail. They have made partial progress progress, but are still short of a full account.
The first comes from a blog by StephenB under the topic of 'Christian Darwinism and the Evolutionary Pathway to Spirit, and has (so far) generated 59 comments. Stephen describes;
Traditional Theistic Evolution [that] acknowledges two Divine creative strategies. (1) Through a purposeful evolutionary process, God “forms” man’s material body from the bottom up, and (2) By means of a creative act, God “breathes in” an immaterial soul from the top down, joining spirit with matter
He contrasts this with 'Contemporary Christian Darwinism', but here I am more concerned with what he takes to be the better view. He elaborates:
spiritual entities such as souls, minds and faculties, are non-physical entities and contain no parts, which means that they cannot disintegrate, die, or be changed into something else. …. If then, spirit is to be joined with matter, its origins cannot come from matter or from a material process; it must come from another source, that is, it must come directly from God, who creates spirit and implants it in a pre-existing being from the top down.
What is interesting to me about this, is how he characterizes souls as 'non-physical entities'. That is the challenge for theistic science: to describe those entities in a realistic and scientific manner as possible. We should not rely negative descriptions such as 'non-physical, but should seek a good positive description. And our new scientific description of the soul should describe *how* the soul *operates*. It is not fruitful to describe our soul as having 'no parts', and being 'unable to change into something else'. I know he means that they do not stop being souls, but it sounds like they would have trouble changing into a newer soul. Birth, growth, and re-birth of souls almost sound like they are forbidden. He also claims that souls 'come directly from God' and are 'implanted' in our newly conceived bodies. Surely, we might have thought, no body can live without some soul -- since souls are the source of our lives. So how can we ever live before that soul was implanted? To think of bodies existing without souls, even for a short time, opens many bizarre opportunities from zombies to soul-less humans. Not only bizarre, I should think, but impossible.
The other recent blog comes from a blog by Gregory Ganssle for the Evangelical Philosophical Society under the topic Existential Dissonance and Core Identity, especially in relation to how young people form their own spiritual identities as the result of trying to sort out cognitive dissonances between conflicting scientific, philosophical and theological viewpoints. Gregory writes:
At the heart of each person is the very deepest region of our selves. I call this region, for lack of a better term, our core identity. A person’s core identity involves the deepest sense the person has of who she is or who she longs to be. What constitutes our core identity is rarely in the forefront of our minds. Often it takes patient self-reflection and work to identify the contours of one’s core identity.
We see again here a struggle to formulate some clear idea of our soul as the basis for our identity. However, he does not seem to have a clear idea of what this 'deepest region' is actually made of. It is clearly related to 'longing', but it cannot be just what we long to be, but what we already are, now. He sees that is related to our 'values and beliefs':
we may determine that some belief or value that functioned within our core identity ought to be revised in light of other beliefs and values. We may recognize that we have a deeply ingrained habit that we want to change. This habit may be revealed in our relationships with others or our thoughts about our own lives. Beginning such change will be difficult, in part, because we are changing against the contour of our deeper values. We have to re-habituate ourselves to inhabit a new ordering of values and beliefs.
I do not think, however, that we are constituted by what we value or believe, but by something else. One of his commenters (Marty) has put a finger on something important here:
"What we love, the proper ordering of our loves, is a critical component of spiritual formation. Our heart always follows our treasure. Always."
I think that the best explanation of our 'core identity' is that it is our most fundamental love. It is what we love that defines who we are. Everyone loves differently, so we are all different people. This idea of love as a substance may seem strange, but I see it as an essential and fundamental part of the theistic science that we are trying to construct.
This views also consonant with a new view of the substance of physical objects as being constituted by all their powers and dispositions. See for example my paper 'Power and Substance' at generativescience.org.