I have for some time been attracted to the view that understands the soul is an "emergent reality," as I think it holds great potential for fruitful dialogue, if not cooperative therapeutic interaction, between the theological and psychological disciplines. Representative theologians such as John Polkinghorne (also a noted scientist) and Keith Ward have been on the forefront of this relatively new understanding of the human soul.
In brief, this view was inspired by philosophical, psychological and medical speculations on the "mind-body" problem, and suggested by new paradigms in physics, specifically the school of thought known as "non-reductionistic materialism." The mind-body problem is actually an old philosophical conundrum pertaining to how the mind is related to and interacts with the body, and what properties, functions, and phenomena should be regarded as, respectively, mental or physical. In physics, "emergent properties" are those that characterize complex systems that, while arising out of the properties and relations that characterize a system's simpler constituents, are neither predictable from, nor reducible to, these lower level constituents or properties. For example, the property of flight (as it pertains to a bird) cannot be predicted from, nor can it be reduced to, the sum total of characteristics, properties, or elements that make up the construction and material nature of a bird's wing.
How the theory of emergent properties pertains to the origin and nature of the human soul is the proposal that the soul emerges (by the design of God, of course) as the unique personal individuation, intelligence, and self-consciousness of a moral (in our case human) nature. Furthermore, as an emergent reality or property of our physical nature and design the soul cannot be predicted from, nor can it be reduced to, the sum total characteristics, properties, or elements that make up our physical existence.
But wait! Wouldn't this still mean that the soul emerges from our physical nature nonetheless? ("That's not what I learned in Sunday School!" I can hear you say.) Yes, indeed, it does mean this. And yes there are incredible theological ramifications that follow from such a proposal. I intend to explore some of these with you in future entries.
So....until next time.