The Soul Not Material

I cannot now find time to enter “minutely” into all your speculations — speculations they are, and ever must remain, so long as you have not a “Thus saith the Lord” attached to them. But, I would ask, is not God an immortal being? If you believe in the existence of angels, are they not immortal also? They are thinking beings, but they are not material beings. Man thinks, and reasons. These are attributes of mind, not of matter. Why, then, deny eternity of duration to the human intellect? Do you not perceive that the same mode of argument which you have employed against man might be wielded with equal force against the immortality of God and angels? A writer of no mean talent, one who contended for the materiality of the soul, was so confounded by this very dilemma that he was driven to the hard necessity of “an endeavor” to prove that no such beings as angels exist. But he had the good sense to perceive that his argument would be incomplete, unless he could prove to a demonstration that there is no God. This blasphemy he saw the propriety of avoiding. Was it that he feared the title of an atheist, or that of a fool? His argument was left unfinished, and, therefore, was good for nothing, unless to prove his folly.

“Lord, what a nothing is this little span,
Which we call man!
When not himself, he’s mad;
When most himself, he’s worse.”

An ingenious writer of the last century, I remember, has some clear and beautiful thoughts upon the nature of the human soul, as distinguished from matter. He shows that atoms, whether original or in the aggregate, — that is, the accumulation of atoms under any given form of organization — cannot think; that it is equally impossible for matter to derive thought from attenuation; that is, that minute particles compounded, refined, and extended, even subtilized and etherealized, when thus modified, continue matter still, and must remain matter; — it cannot think. He shows, with equal clearness, that thought cannot be the result of any chemical proprieties inherent in matter; chemistry never having been able to discover in any of its processes that atoms can be made to think. In all experiments of this or any other kind, these particles of matter, in collection, great or small, are still absolutely incogitative; nothing resembling thought having, ever been discerned. He proves also that those two grand operations of the elements of matter, attraction and repulsion, are equally inefficient in producing the phenomenon of thought. Motion may operate upon matter; one particle of matter may draw or repel another; but neither in the capacity of drawing or being drawn, repelling or being repelled, can we find anything that bears a single resemblance to thought. He argues most forcibly that thought cannot be the result of “motion, in the abstract;” that matter in motion is as destitute of thought as matter at rest; the same in the cannon-ball, flying at the rate of four hundred and twenty miles an hour, as when safely lodged in the chamber of the cannon. Neither can matter be rendered cogitative by adding thought to it. Thought, or consciousness, may be joined to, but cannot be inherent in matter. It may be appended to matter, but it is not, it cannot be, a property or attribute of matter. Thought or consciousness, when added to matter, cannot, by any method of reasoning, be shown to become a property of matter. They may be separated, and yet leave matter as perfect as before; not having deprived matter of one of its essential properties.

It is possible you may inquire, “What does the author to whom you refer mean by ‘adding to and separating thought from matter’?” I answer, were he alive to reply for himself, I think it likely he would turn your attention to Genesis 2:7 — “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.” Here is 1st, matter in its separate particles, “dust of the ground,” but without thought. 2. Matter in a state of organization: “He FORMED man of the dust of the ground.” 3. Thus formed, or modeled into the shape of man, it remained thoughtless, as it was motionless. 4. Here you behold matter in a perfect state of organization; perfect as it could be in all its properties. 5. Thought was still wanting. 6. This required a second act of the almighty power of the Creator. “Thought and consciousness,” though not essential to matter as matter, were yet necessary to the perfection of the being he was about to call into existence. 7. “He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” or, as the original has it, “the breath of lives,” — natural life, spiritual life, eternal life, — and “man became a living soul.” 8. At death, the soul, which was superadded to matter, is separated from it, without robbing it of any one single property that originally belonged to it; hence the origin and nature of an immortal and immaterial spirit are inferred. You inquire “What is an immaterial spirit? Why call it immaterial?” To this I reply: Because it is not material, not matter, but something widely distinct from it. “I can form no idea of an immaterial substance.”

Be it so; but this is the principal reason, perhaps the only reason, why we employ a negative to express this peculiarity of an immortal soul. It is because we know of nothing in the whole visible world to which we can compare the soul, that we call it immaterial. It resembles not any known thing within the entire range of our acquaintance. We are, therefore, from the nature of the case; compelled to say, “It is an immaterial substance.” The phrase [definition] is indeed an imperfect one. It is an imperfection which seems decreed to our present state, and must remain till we know even as also we are known, and mortality is swallowed up of life.