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Dan Kuebler, Catherine Hadro, and Father James Brent on Purposeful Lab Podcast.
Purposeful UniverseMarch 12, 20243 min read

Purposeful Lab: Your Immortal Soul

This week on Purposeful Lab, Dan and Catherine welcome Fr. James Brent, O.P. to discuss the soul, its powers, and properties. What is the soul? How can the soul survive bodily death? What makes the human soul unique? Fr. James answers these questions and more on this week's podcast.

Fr. James teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. He regularly lectures for the Thomistic Institute and Aquinas 101, contributes to, and preaches retreats to college students and young adults.  His book The Father's House: Discovering Our Home in the Trinity is now available for purchase.


How to Study the Immortal Soul

Fr. James Brent explains that in order to study the soul, you have to distinguish what field you are approaching it from. One could approach studying the soul through Philosophy, which is the study of reality in light of human reason. However, one could also study the soul through Theology, which is looking at all that has been revealed by God in a systematic way. Additionally, one could understand the soul psychologically, in other words, the study of the soul and the human person together.

What makes the Immortal Soul Unique?

Humans, while similar to other living creatures, differ in kind. Typically, we make distinctions by degree and kind. While individual humans may differ in degree, they cannot differ in kind. However, humans are a different kind of living being when compared to plants and animals.

There are certain things that only humans can do and this stems from our immortal soul. For instance, humans are the only creatures that can conduct symphony orchestras, travel to the moon, create legal systems, build schools, use complex language, and deeply love. These type of unique qualities in humans reveal a fundamental difference in kind.

What is an Immortal Soul?

Fr. James explains that the ancient philosophers understood the soul as the source of life in all living beings. Wherever there is life, there is a soul. However, every soul is not of the same kind. Different types of souls have different powers that make them to be what they are. Fr. James describes three types of souls:

  • Vegetative: Which has the powers of nutrition and reproduction.
  • Animal: Which has the powers of nutrition, reproduction, sensitivity, and locomotion.
  • Rational: Human souls have the powers of nutrition, reproduction, sensitivity, locomotion, and reason.

The human soul is especially unique because of our capacity for reasons. Because of our reason, we have an almost infinite amount of potential within us to love, create, innovate, think, and thrive. 

Why Do We Need an Immortal Soul?

While many modern scientists reject the idea of an immortal soul, Fr. James claims that in order for there to be real meaning in human experience, there must be a source of life that goes beyond just physical matter. Many scientists have adopted a worldview called atomism, which claims that all physical events can be explained simply in terms of bundles of atoms colliding at random. However, atomism doesn’t come close to accounting for the totality of our experience and renders many of the things we find meaningful pointless. Fr. James says that our senses continually tell us there is a substantial difference between those things which are living and nonliving, the root of which comes from the soul.

Take a Listen

This episode demonstrates that the immortal soul is the source of life within us and is responsible for our unique powers of intellect and will. Humans are fundamentally different from animals and plants, a difference which lies in our capacity for reason. The purpose of the soul is to operate at its highest capacity, which can only occur when we are united with whatever created us. Through this episode, it becomes clear that an atomistic approach to living beings causes many of the things we find purposeful to become the products of random events. However, through understanding the powers of the soul, we see that nobody truly lives as if atomism were true. Either we are all operating under an illusion, or there truly is meaning in your immortal soul.    




Purposeful Universe

The Purposeful Universe seeks to explore and present, through award winning videos, the abundant order in nature that funnels biological systems toward increasing levels of complexity and sophistication—suggesting that human life is the purposeful outcome of a complex, ordered system.