Sunday, January 4, 2009

How Much Does Your Soul Weigh?

In 1907, involved in a series of bizarre experiments, Duncan McDougall lifts a dying patient onto the special bed. It’s been attached to an assembly that allows him to weigh with accuracy the patient as he passes away. The goal of his experiment? To see if the weight of the patient changes measurably at the moment of death, as the spirit leaves the body, and thus determine if the human soul can be determined to have appreciable mass.

I know, this is an odd beginning to an installment. But this experiment actually took place, and it got me to thinking – how much do we really know about the soul? Perhaps even more importantly – how much do we think we know about it?

McDougall’s experiment was eventually proclaimed a failure, because he could not get a repeatable reading from patient to patient, and he only performed the experiment six times. Nevertheless, he published a paper declaring that he believed the human soul weighed three-quarters of an ounce (21 grams), as this concurred with some of his data. Curiously, he performed the same experiment on fifteen dogs as they passed away, and found that the scales did not change at all. He concluded that dogs must not have souls. My condolences go out to the dog-lovers out there.

The concept of the human soul can be very confusing. What does it look like? Does it exist in some physical way inside the body? Or is it more like a computer hardware/software analogy, where the body is the “hardware” and soul is the “software”? Can we prove the existence of the human soul? Who hasn’t reflected on the afterlife and how we will spend our time in heaven? But have we given much thought about the “form” that the spiritual body takes?

Our society reveres the topic of science more and more with each passing year. In humanist circles, people claim that science has replaced religion, because we have finally “arrived” and understand things in a more practical sense. While there is no denying that certain parts of science have allowed us to live longer and more secure lives, doesn’t the scientific community still change its mind rather frequently? The same crowd which uses bad scientific method to say that global warming is a fact were predicting a new Ice Age less than thirty years ago. One year we learn that butter is bad for us; the next year, we see a study that says it’s better than margarine. Does science really know as much as it thinks it does?

My point is that we don’t really understand the soul, though we may try desperately to grasp the concept. We attempt to explain things using the knowledge and methods available to us today, but there is a very real possibility that God’s design is much bigger than anything that we can test, prove, or even imagine. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Can anyone yet explain the difference between soul and spirit? God knows the difference, even if we are left wondering.

Man is naturally curious, and this explains experiments such as McDougall’s. Our efforts to learn more about God’s creation are good things. But we need to keep in mind that God is far more powerful and knowledgeable than we will ever be. His designs are intricate, elegant, and deliberate – ask any biochemist. And we should realize that there are certain things, such as the form of the human soul, which will likely stay beyond our comprehension – at least until we join God in heaven after the last judgment. At that point, I think it will be okay to ask Him a few questions.