Around the world there is a consistent awareness of and belief in a deity which stands at the foundation of the world’s religions. Many people seek a connection with a higher or transcendent power that has made itself known to us through the internal spiritual or mystical awareness of and desire for God that each individual has.
Throughout history, philosophers, theologians, and psychologists have written extensively on this internal awareness of a higher power which most religions call “God.” They identify eight major indications of this “interior sense of God”:
- The awareness of and desire for perfect truth
- The awareness of and desire for perfect love
- The awareness of and desire for perfect justice/goodness
- The awareness of and desire for perfect beauty
- The awareness of and desire for perfect home
- The numinous experience
- The awareness of the sacred in the world
- The awareness of a cosmic struggle between good and evil
What do these 8 indications of an interior sense of God have to do with proof of a soul? Plato and Augustine both believed they had a transphysical soul on the basis of indications 1-5, which grouped together are called the 5 transcendental desires. Indications 6-8 describe our interior awareness of a “transcendent reality” (God) and give further evidence that we ourselves are transcendent.
In this article, we will first look at Plato’s basic argument for proof of a soul from our transcendental desires. We will then look at the proof of the soul through our interior sense of God. Also, download a free PDF fact sheet of 5 types of evidence for the soul. This sheet includes the transcendentals and our interior sense of God, plus 3 more types of evidence of the soul. Download below.
Table of Contents
- Proof of a Soul Based on the Transcendental Desires: The Basic Argument from Plato to Lonergan
- Our Desire for Perfect Truth
- Our Desire for Perfect Love
- Our Desire for Perfect Justice/Goodness
- Our Desire for Perfect Beauty
- Our Desire for Perfect Home
- Proof of a Soul through Our Interior Sense of God
- The Numinous Experience
- The Awareness of the Sacred in the World.
- The Awareness of a Cosmic Struggle between Good and Evil
- Three More Proofs for a Soul
Proof of a Soul From the Transcendental Desires: The Basic Argument from Plato to Lonergan
Around 400 BC, Plato and Aristotle recognized that there are five transcendental desires. St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and many other philosophers have also spoken of these same desires throughout the centuries. Plato’s basic argument that we all experience the transcendental desires has influenced generations of philosophers.
Four Step Argument From Transcendental Desires to a Soul
- We have five desires for the perfect and unconditional—the
desire for perfect and unconditional truth, love, justice/goodness,
beauty and being.
- We must have an awareness of what we desire; therefore, we must have an awareness of perfect truth, love, justice/goodness, beauty and being.
- We have the capacity to recognize every imperfection in our experience of truth, love, justice/goodness, beauty and being which would not be possible unless we were aware of perfection in them.
- The source of our awareness of perfect truth, love, justice/goodness, beauty and being must be perfect truth, love, justice/kindness, beauty and being themselves.
Conclusion: If God is perfect truth, love, justice, beauty and being, then God is present to us when we are aware of imperfection in any of these “transcendentals” and we are, therefore, transcendent.
Now let's explore each of the transcendental desires separately—applying Plato’s 4-step argument to each—beginning with the desire for perfect or absolute truth.
Step 1: We are aware that our knowledge is imperfect and incomplete. Every time we give an answer to a question, we have the ability to know whether that particular answer is the knowledge of “everything about everything.” We have the capacity to know whether we have reached that goal at any point in our inquiry, and if we have not reached it, we keep asking questions. We won’t be satisfied until we have finally gotten to our goal: the whole, final, absolute truth—knowledge of everything.
Step 2: We have an awareness of what perfect knowledge would be like. How can we always know that our knowledge is imperfect—and that we have not yet reached the goal of perfect knowledge—unless we had some idea of what perfect knowledge would be like? Think about it. If you had absolutely no awareness of what perfect knowledge would be like, you would not recognize any imperfection in your current knowledge, and so you would have no desire to ask a question. Indeed you would not even be aware that there was a question to be asked. What is this awareness of perfect knowledge? Well, it can’t be the knowledge of perfect knowledge, because if you knew that, you wouldn’t have any further questions—you would have perfect knowledge. Philosophers have talked about this as a tacit or notional awareness of what perfect knowledge would be like. It is something we can sense as a goal of our inquiry that we have not yet brought into focus.
Step 3: What could possibly be the source of our tacit awareness of “everything about everything”? Well, as you can imagine, it cannot be anything in this world because all of the objects of our experience and all the ideas that we have are imperfect—thereby inciting us to ask further questions. So we clearly did not get our tacit awareness of everything about everything from either our experience of the outside world or the ideas we already grasp. So where did we get it from? Philosopher’s from Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, to Rahner, Lonergan, and Coreth all say it must come from perfect knowledge itself—“perfect truth itself”—“the complete set of correct answers to the complete set of questions.” No other reality can produce the idea of perfect knowledge except the idea of perfect knowledge itself.
Step 4: So what is the idea of perfect knowledge itself? It is God, who is an unrestricted act of thinking (for more on this, see the contemporary Thomistic metaphysical proof of God and the Lonerganian proof of God).
If the above reasoning is correct, then God is present to our consciousness—and not only that—his presence as “the idea of perfect knowledge” gives us a horizon of perfect knowledge, which incites our continuous questioning and creativity.
Let’s move on to our desire for perfect love. You will notice that this argument follows the same lines as the argument from our desire for perfect truth. We will give this argument in an abbreviated way in four steps, but you will be able to see the point.
Step 1: We have the ability to notice imperfection in love—in both others and ourselves—in virtually every conceivable context. Amazingly enough, very small children can notice imperfection or inauthenticity in the love of parents, teachers, brothers and sisters, and friends—almost as well as adults.
Step 2: How can we notice virtually every imperfection in the love of others and ourselves—continuously and endlessly, if we did not have some idea of what perfect love would be like? Stated the other way around, if we had no sense of the perfect ideal of love (what perfect love would be like), we would never notice any imperfection in love. We would be satisfied with any manifestation of affection
Step 3: Once again we must ask what could be the source of our awareness of what perfect love would be like. The source of this awareness cannot be any kind of love which we have experienced in the outside world. Let’s face it—it is precisely this love that causes us to recognize imperfection in it. This has led many philosophers to believe that the only possible source of our awareness of what perfect love would be like is perfect love itself.
Step 4: What is perfect love? As you might suspect, it is God.
If we assume that the source of our awareness of perfect love is the one God (proved in the metaphysical proof), then we move to a two-fold conclusion—first, God is perfect love, and secondly, the perfectly loving God is present to our consciousness.
As you might suspect, the argument concerning our desire for perfect justice/goodness, follows the very same lines as the one for perfect love, expounded upon above. It too can be set out in four steps:
Step 1: We have the ability to notice imperfection in justice/goodness—in both others and ourselves—in virtually every conceivable context. We not only notice unfairness (and evil) in individual people, but also in virtually every organization and institution. We can see unfairness in economic systems, judicial systems, educational systems, cultural institutions, and so forth. Again, little children have the ability to recognize unfairness in parents and teachers—even though their parents and teachers did not teach them how to do so.
Step 2: How can we notice virtually every imperfection in the justice (goodness) of others, ourselves, organizations, institutions, systems, and society—endlessly, if we do not have some idea of what perfect justice/goodness would be like? Stated the other way around, if we had no sense of the perfect ideal of justice/goodness, we would never notice any imperfection in it. We would simply count “survival of the fittest” as our lot in life.
Step 3: Once again, we must ask what could be the source of our awareness of what perfect justice/goodness would be like. The source of this awareness cannot be any kind of justice/goodness which we have experienced in the outside world. Again, it is precisely this justice/goodness that causes us to recognize imperfection in it. This has led many philosophers to believe that the only possible source of our awareness of what perfect justice/goodness would be like is perfect justice/goodness itself.
Step 4: What is perfect justice/goodness? It is, once again, a transcendent being, God.
What can we conclude from this? If the above reasoning is correct, then God is not only perfect intelligence and perfect love, he is also perfect justice/goodness.
Furthermore, he is present to our consciousness as perfect justice/goodness, creating a horizon of perfect justice/goodness which incites us to strive for ever greater forms of justice and goodness in ourselves, others, organizations, institutions, laws, ideals, government, culture, and every other aspect of human endeavor.
At this juncture, it will only be necessary to present the first step of the argument, and you can figure out the other three steps from the line of reasoning given above.
Step 1: We have the capacity to recognize imperfection in every dimension of every kind of beauty—artistic beauty, musical beauty, architectural beauty, literary beauty—and even beauty manifest in the human heart, human ideals, and human aspirations. Even when we are immersed in the most beautiful of nature walks or along a beautiful seascape, we always seem to strive for another angle—something more interesting—more beautiful. We try to enhance beauty in music by making it more complex, and sometimes by simply “turning up the volume.” We see endless imperfections in the beauty of ourselves and others, and strive to overcome those imperfections.
Again, it will only be necessary to present the first step of the argument and allow the reader to use the line of reasoning given above.
Step 1: We desire perfect home, and we have the capacity to recognize every imperfection in home that we experience in others and the world. We know when we feel alienated—not at home—in the cosmos around us. This provokes the question, “How can we recognize every imperfection in home if we do not have some awareness of what perfect home would be like?”
If the above reasoning is correct, then God is present to our consciousness as the source of our awareness of perfect truth, love, justice/goodness, beauty, and home. As such, he incites us to creativity in every form of human endeavor (namely, in the striving for greater truth, love, justice, and beauty, and home). God not only gives us a transcendent soul (manifest in the evidence from Plato's argument), He also fills our soul with the horizon of his perfection, causing us to be everything that we are: an image of himself.
Proof of a Soul through Our Interior Sense of God
Now we move on to proof of the soul through our interior awareness of a higher power. The evidence of a soul from our interior awareness of a Transcendent Reality is primarily subjective—though it is not limited to our personal subjective experience alone. It can be correlated with the subjective experience of thousands of others in different cultures and religions to detect similarities and patterns which show their virtually universal presence in both history and the contemporary age.
Let us begin by exploring the numinous experience.
The Numinous Experience
An eminent American psychologist, William James (1842-1910), and a distinguished German scholar of comparative religion, Rudolf Otto (1869-1937), initiated the first two comprehensive studies of our internal experience of the divine.
Rudolf Otto showed that the vast majority of human beings have a natural sense—or feeling of spiritual mystery—that he called the “numinous experience.” He outlined several characteristics of that experience.
- A sense of a mysterious power that is beyond us and incomprehensible.
- Though it could be overwhelming, it also feels “inviting—as if it is drawing us towards itself.”
- This mysterious, overwhelming and inviting power is both fascinating and enchanting. It interests us and holds our attention at the deepest levels.
- Sometimes our spiritual awareness presents a sense of a “ghost-like” presence, which can be haunting or scary.
- This mysterious, fascinating, uncontrollable, and inviting presence within us and outside of us seems to hold the key to our ultimate purpose in life, and to our ultimate dignity and destiny. We don’t know how, but it feels like it has the power to do this, and this makes us search for the spiritual and the religious in the world around us.
This complex feeling of spiritual and sacred presence is common to most people throughout the world, and it is thought to be the reason why over 90% of the world today (and almost 100% of the world a century ago) is conscientiously religious.
For James and Otto, many individuals from virtually every major religion and culture have heightened experiences of the numen. Embedded in that experience is an awareness that our propulsion toward it (being swept into it) is not caused by ourselves, but induced by the Divine “wholly other” present to us. As we are swept into it, we become aware at once of its supremeness and goodness, and when this happens we are transformed. We no longer think that we are merely physical or material, but that we are transcendent, having a soul which can only be satisfied by supreme goodness itself.
The Awareness of the Sacred in the World
Perhaps the greatest historian of religion, Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), edited the 16-volume MacMillan Encyclopedia of Religion and wrote many important studies on the common elements of religion not only throughout the world, but throughout history.
After making an incredibly comprehensive cross-cultural study of the history of religions, Eliade concluded that religion originates from an irreducible experience of the sacred (common to most human beings) which seeks to find its outward cultural expression in myths and rituals. These myths and rituals become the communal gateways to connecting with the “transcendent reality.”
Eliade termed those who participate in religion homo religiosus. He showed that this attraction to religion is not based on fear of death or the unknown—like a crutch or “wishful thinking” to overcome anxieties. He concurred with Rudolf Otto that the attraction to religion does not come from a negative impulse (such as fear or anxiety), but from a positive fascination with the mysterious higher power who we “instinctively” believe is in us, with us, inviting us, and guiding us. This interior awareness—this natural belief—is so great that if we deny or reject it, we find ourselves alienated—not at home—in the cosmos around us.
Eliade’s prediction was verified by a study published in the American Psychiatric Association’s
American Journal of Psychiatry in 2004 that concluded that non-religious affiliation leads to marked increases in suicide rates, familial tensions, drug use, and a sense of meaninglessness and despondency.
The Awareness of a Cosmic Struggle Between Good & Evil
For centuries, cultures throughout the world have written myths about a cosmic struggle between good and evil and the importance of a hero or heroine who finds themselves drawn into the struggle. This heroic figure must struggle against many internal temptations and external trials to win a spiritual victory on behalf of humankind.
Today this myth has not only resurfaced, but become the most popular series of books (and movies) in the English language—for example, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, and George Lucas’ Star Wars.
The famous Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung (1875-1961), suggested that this myth of “a hero in the cosmic struggle between good and evil” is not only a popular theme in literature, but it is present to all of us in our unconscious mind.
Since the time of our childhood, we seem to be aware not only of good forces (who protect us) and evil forces (like boogey-men) who seek to harm us, but also of a personal call from the side of good to be a hero or heroine in this cosmic struggle.
Jung noticed that young children not only want to imitate “superheroes,” but that they are also willing to be courageous in their pursuit of good over evil. This interior myth not only inspires us, it provides many of the symbols that we use in our dreams, such as great mother, father, child, devil, god, wise old man, wise old woman, the trickster, and the hero.
Jung was fascinated by the fact that no one teaches children from virtually every culture about these symbols, but they seem to know them interiorly and instinctively, and their dreams (and art) are filled with them. If no one teaches children these symbols, how do they come to know them? Jung believed that we are born with them in what he called “our collective unconscious.”
Many thinkers believe that this myth and its symbols are inspired by a spiritual reality, like God. J.R.R. Tolkien agreed. On the subject of myths, author Joseph Pearce writes,
“‘No,’ Tolkien replied. ‘They are not lies.’ Far from being lies they were the best way, sometimes the only way, of conveying truths that would otherwise remain inexpressible. We have come from God, Tolkien argued, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily toward the true harbor, whereas materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to the abyss and the power of evil.
Let’s suppose that William James, Rudolf Otto, Mircea Eliade, Carl Jung, and J.R.R. Tolkien–among many others–are not completely wrong. This would mean that all of us have some kind of an awareness of a mysterious spiritual power which is the key to life’s meaning and destiny. This awareness is at once fascinating, beyond us, inviting, and illuminating. It is the source of our interest in religion and our quest for purpose and destiny beyond this life and this universe. It is fundamentally good, true, and loving, but it is not the only spiritual power in this world.
There are other spiritual powers that are evil and contend against it. So we, as spiritual beings, are invited to join it, even heroically, to help the side of cosmic good over that of cosmic evil. We have free will, and so we are not forced to enter into this struggle.
We can choose to sit on the sidelines, or even act against the power of cosmic good, joining forces with cosmic evil.
An Initial Conclusion about the Soul from our Interior Awareness of God
We have seen three ways in which the transcendent reality touches us:
- The numinous experience—in which the numen presents itself as mysterious, daunting, uncontrollable, fascinating, good, and empathetic, and invites us into itself by inciting our interest and desire.
- The religious intuition—in which we sense that the sacred transcendent reality has broken into the world, which invites us to draw closer to the sacred reality through sacred place, ritual, and myth.
- Conscience—through which an omniscient, invisible, searcher of hearts bids us to do good and avoid evil.
These three dimensions of contact with transcendent reality invite us and bring us into the sacred and spiritual domain. These three connections with the “sacred-transcendent reality” are not static; they are interrelational and dialogical.
3 More Proofs for the Soul
In his article, “Evidence of a Transcendent Soul,” Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J. P.h.D. lists 5 types of evidence for a transcendent soul. We have already discussed two—transcendental desires and God’s presence to us through our interior awareness of him. The 3 remaning proofs for the existence of a soul are as follows:
- Near death experiences. Verified studies of near death experiences give considerable probative evidence of transphysical consciousness after bodily death. You can read about near death experiences in our comprehensive article, “NDE: The Definitive Guide to Near Death Experiences.”
- Human intelligence vs artificial and animal intelligence. In comparing human intelligence with artificial intelligence, there are four ways in which humans are connected to the transcendent while AI is not: the five transcendental desires, the phenomenon of self-consciousness, trans-algorithmic mathematical thinking (manifest by Gödel’s theorem), and the human capacity for syntactically meaningful language and conceptual ideas. For more information on human intelligence vs artificial intelligence, click here.
- Free will and original sin. Free will arises out of capacities found in our transphysical soul (and God’s presence to it). For example, at the center of free will is our capacity for self-consciousness enabling us to create our own inner world—indeed to create our own moral essence. For more on free will and original sin, click here.
As mentioned above, God not only gives us a transcendent soul, he also fills our soul with the horizon of his perfection which causes us to be everything that we are—an image of himself.
When the “transcendent reality” makes itself present to us, it manifests concern and care for us, calls us into a deeper relationship with itself, and offers us guidance and sanctification in our life’s journey. The experience of the transcendent is unlike any other, or, as St. Augustine said,
“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.” —St. Augustine of Hippo
Those who open themselves to the “transcendent presence within” will find not only the mysterious and sacred “wholly other,” but also a personal, empathetic, and loving being passionately interested in bringing us to the fullness of life through itself.
Note: This article is an adaptation of chapters 2-3 of “Evidence of a Transcendent Soul” by Fr, Robert J. Spitzer, S.J. P.h.D. Find the full article here.
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