Objective Evidence for an Immortal Soul

We examine two types of evidence for the existence of an immortal soul

Vahid Houston Ranjbar
8 min readNov 14, 2023
The Beatus of Facundus (1047) Images of the Book of Revelations

Many of the major religions posit the existence of an eternal soul which survives death. Most followers accept this based on faith in their religion. Materialists reject these claims and in doing so they would cite the lack of any objective evidence. In this article I will review two of what seems to me to be the best evidence for the existence of the soul. These are incidentally the rational proofs of an eternal soul given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the son of Baháʼu’lláh in his book Some Answered Questions.

The first proof deals with the causal effects of the soul after the body has died. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá uses the example of the causal effects of the person of Christ on humanity several millennia after his apparent death.

Consider how, to this day, the sovereignty of Christ has endured. How can a sovereignty of such greatness be manifested by a non-existent sovereign? How can such waves surge from a non-existent sea? How can such heavenly breezes waft from a non-existent garden? Consider that as soon as the constituent parts of anything, be it mineral, plant, or animal, are disintegrated and its elemental composition is dissolved, all effect, influence, and trace thereof vanish. But it is not so with the human spirit and reality, which continues to manifest its signs, to exert its influence, and to sustain its effects even after the dissociation and decomposition of the various parts and members of the body.” (Some Answered Questions) www.bahai.org/r/243182409

This argument can operate on two levels as I see it. On a metaphysical level I believe it is being argued that the human spirit can still influence and produce effects in the physical world, perhaps mediated by those that are still living. However it can also be understood on a more concrete level, via the collective memory of a given human civilization. Thus the collective has a memory and continual response to the life of its individuals, that the consciousness of each individual doesn’t really die upon the dissolution of their physical bodies. That individual consciousnesses continues to act in the world via the collective. This collective has a memory and performs actions which are based on the memory and perhaps even the structures of civilization configures itself according to the consciousness of each individual.

Interestingly this mirrors somewhat some recent approaches to neuroscience and the properties of emergence. At some scale certain collective entities become imbued with agency. That is, it operates as a causal agent, where the whole system can be described as being a principal cause of some effect. Often for systems at this stage, the macroscopic description becomes more informative and predictive than the microscopic activity. For example in the case of consciousness understanding the psychological state of a person is better and more effective way to predict their behavior than any attempt to model the dynamics of every atom which he is comprised of.

In the example of Christ’s identity, we can see that the degree to which the attributes of Christ’s personality are predictive about the behavior of a given collective, (a whole civilization or a subset of that civilization) is the degree to which Christ is a causally emergent at a given scale. In this theory causality is inferred based on the predictive capacity that reference to the consciouness of Christ confers. This relationship is somewhat reminiscent of Jesus’s description of his relationship to his believers as part of his true vine “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches” (John 15:1–17). This idea is also repeated later by the apostle Paul “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

Yet we may worry that there would be a qualitative difference from our individual experience of being and what might be expressed in a collective. However if we reflect on the experience of consciousness we find that there basically two schools of thought that roughly follow the two approaches to understand ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s discussion of the soul’s continued influence in the physical world. The first accepts the metaphysical truth of influence of the soul via the empirical experience of “observation” in a manner somewhat following Descartes. That is we identify a singular observer or an ‘I’ which receives experiences and in turn acts. Our experience of ‘I’ requires the existence of an undivided object, otherwise there would be multiple experiences which would destroy the unified empirical experience of ‘I’ness. Thus, we recognize the existence of a ‘thing’ which by its nature is ‘elemental’ or non-compounded and thus eternal since by its nature it cannot decay or be divided into component parts. ʻAbdu’l-Bahá actually affirms the view of the human soul as “elemental” substance and thus incapable of destruction.

The second shool thought views the experience of being as an emergent phenomna, and there are many in this school who believe that this experience of undivided ‘I’ness is and illusion having only the appearance of a single ontological thing. That is there is no real ‘I’, and nothing is receiving experiences. If we approach reality from the second path, that this experience of ‘I’ is an illusion then it should be clear that one can summon up this illusion of ‘I’ across different physical platforms, time and spatial scales. So if a given consciousness can be manifest in the synaptic forms of a brain, why can it not be manifest in the scale of human interactions of a given civilization. Is the expression of the illusion of ‘I’ really different? Ultimately this so-called illusion or emergent phenomena must depend on the correlations between the members of the collective in a manner reminiscent of the theory of states of matter. That is the theory applied to understand the appearances of phases of matter; for example between, solid, liquid, and gas in water or various stages of magnetism in ferrous materials. So the appearance of the so-called illusion of ‘I’ is no more illusory than the appearance of a liquid or solid state of matter. While one cannot apply the term ‘liquid’, ‘gas’ or ‘solid’ to single atom of water it only emerges after we have certain number of water molecules we don’t normally think of liquid or solid as being an ‘illusion’.

Rather it is the the expression of a universal ‘form’. In the same way that I can pluck the same C note on a variety of musical instruments, or that the properties of a liquid or a solid can become manifest at a certain scale across different matter so consciousness if approached from the second path must also be a form. Thus even this apparent illusion is itself eternal, in that there will eternally be systems which can express the properties of liquid or solid.

The second sort of evidence is the existence of precognition, in particular, precognition of certain dreams. Probably most of us have experienced dreams in our life where events occur which many years later transpire. Baha’u’llah relates this phenomena this way:

“Consider thy state when asleep. Verily, I say, this phenomenon is the most mysterious of the signs of God amongst men, were they to ponder it in their hearts. Behold how the thing which thou hast seen in thy dream is, after a considerable lapse of time, fully realized. Had the world in which thou didst find thyself in thy dream been identical with the world in which thou livest, it would have been necessary for the event occurring in that dream to have transpired in this world at the very moment of its occurrence. Were it so, you yourself would have borne witness unto it. This being not the case, however, it must necessarily follow that the world in which thou livest is different and apart from that which thou hast experienced in thy dream. This latter world hath neither beginning nor end. It would be true if thou wert to contend that this same world is, as decreed by the All-Glorious and Almighty God, within thy proper self and is wrapped up within thee. It would equally be true to maintain that thy spirit, having transcended the limitations of sleep and having stripped itself of all earthly attachment, hath, by the act of God, been made to traverse a realm which lieth hidden in the innermost reality of this world.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh) www.bahai.org/r/695072637

Each of us has probably had these sort of experiences as well many are aware of famous dreams or prophecies which came true. In fact a significant aspect of the narratives related by various religious belief systems often centers on experiences of pre-cognition or prophecy. If you consider Baha’i history for example there are numerous accounts of dreams or prophecies coming true leading to the recognition of the prophetic station of the Bab and Baháʼu’lláh by various individuals. For example one of the most prominent Islamic scholars to embrace the Baha’i faith, did so on evidence of these prophecies. In 1876 Mirza Abu’l-Faḍl, read Baháʼu’lláh’s tablets, the Lawh-i-Ra’ís (Tablet of the Chief) and the Lawh-i-Fu’ád (Tablet of Fu’ad Pasha) where the downfall of the Ottoman Sultan Abd-ul-Aziz and his vizier ʻAli Páshá were foretold. When a few months later these events occurred, he accepted Baháʼu’lláh’s claim and became one the foremost advocates of the new religion.

Yet beyond this there has been some interesting efforts to develop experimental evidence in support of the phenomena of precognition, yet to date none of it has been completely accepted by the academic community as constituting rigorous scientific proof. It is an area of extreme controversy since we really have no good physical explanation of how causality could even work if this is true, yet there are several respected researchers who have lined up behind and it many others who doubt it.

One of the most famous involves the work of Daryl Bem the Cornell professor who published in 2011 a celebrated and controversial study of pre-cognition. This paper created a firestorm of back and forth with studies that both replicated the effect and those that didn’t .

While it is safe to say that probably the majority of researchers who deal in this field would claim that there isn’t definitive evidence for pre-cognition it would also be a mistake to claim that precognition is ruled out.

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Vahid Houston Ranjbar

I am a research physicist working on beam and spin dynamics. I like to write about connections between science and religion.