#STRask: February 6, 2017

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Published on 02/06/2017

In 4 min. or less, Greg answers questions on animal souls, God and evil, and Psalm 139.


  • You often say the images that play in our minds are proof we have souls. I agree, but my dog dreams. Do dogs have souls?
  • I’ve heard many pastors say that ’God can’t even be in the presence of sin.’ If God is omnipresent, how is that a sound statement?
  • What can we take from Psalm139 about all babies being fearfully and wonderfully made? Is this a universal statement?


Melinda: Well hello there. This came as even more of a surprise because I was pulling the door shut and I didn’t give our engineer the usual thumbs up. I was like, “Oh, music is playing. Ding, here we go.”

Greg: That’s right, that’s your cue.

Melinda: That’s okay, it’s a quick podcast. Can’t wait for me to pull the door shut. I’m Melinda the Enforcer here with Greg Koukl.

Greg: Hi there.

Melinda: Hello. This is the #STRask podcast because you send us your questions on Twitter using #STRask. People ask really interesting questions on Twitter, the kinds of things maybe they don’t call in on the normal podcast.

Greg: Which is amazing, because they have more time to explain it on the podcast, but on Twitter they have a shorter time. They get in these really good, rich, deep, challenging, sometimes unanswerable questions.

Melinda: Yeah in 140 characters, which as long as we’re here, we still have the regular podcast/broadcast we record on Tuesdays 4:00 to 6:00 PM Pacific Time. Call in. Greg is sitting here waiting to talk to somebody and he’s lonely if you don’t call.

Greg: I talk to myself.

Melinda: More importantly, there’s no podcast if you don’t call. That’s the time you get more chance for interaction and discussion with Greg.

Greg: Right.

Melinda: Let’s just move ahead with this. First question comes from My Plumber Tim. “You often say the images that play in our minds are proof that we have souls. I agree, but my dog dreams, so do dogs have souls?”

Greg: Yes, for the same reason.

Melinda: Okay.

Greg: I mean if we are just simply trying to reason apart from revelation the same reasons that we would give that humans have soul apply to sentient beings...

Melinda: Right.

Greg:...That is any beings that have senses, they have an awareness of self. When I say awareness of self I don’t necessarily mean they have an awareness of self as a self.

Melinda: Or introspection.

Greg: Introspection, reflection, thoughts about the future or the past, or “What am I going to do today?”, or anything like that. That would be more complex kind of reflective elements. That there are thoughts in the minds of animals, it seems to me, is quite obvious. We can infer this by the way they behave. Obviously we can’t get into their heads so to speak or into their minds more precisely, but we can infer...

Melinda: Yeah, you can get in their heads.


Melinda: I don’t want to.

Greg: Not for that purpose, right. We can infer by their behaviors. We can see animals very clearly appear to be deliberating about a choice. It’s a little rainy outside, your cat wants to go out, you open the door and there it stands, looking out, twitching its tail, it seems wondering whether it’s going to take on the elements.

Melinda: Are you speaking from personal experience since your girls just recently got cats?

Greg: Yes, I am. People know this, that’s just a good example. Dogs, whatever, they see you coming home. They’re aware you are you and whatever. They have the kinds of things that are the classic characteristics of souls and that are thoughts, intentions, feelings, acts of will and something else that I can never remember, but there’s five of them. These are all the kinds of things that are true not of mere physical things but seem to be true of centers of awareness. Centers of awareness by their very nature are not physical things. My goal to help people to see that they really are a soul united with a physical body is to have them in a certain sense intentionally reflect on some soulish activity and notice that what they are reflecting on is not something physical, that is not something that extends in space, that is not something that has weight, it doesn’t respond to the laws of chemistry or physics, the kinds of things that mere physical things are like, this is not characteristic of these mental states. Now there may be an interplay between them; that is physical states could cause mental states. Mental states can influence physical states, but they are different kinds of things. At their very nature they’re different kinds of things. The answer is yes. I said all this without revelation, but if you go to the Bible, the Bible’s language that it used to describe the invisible self in human beings also is used to describe the invisible selves, if you will, of animals. This is biblical as well. That is you can find it in the revelation. It’s not just something you can figure out on your own. Since both are good arguments in favor of animal souls, then I think we’re in good grounds to assert that. Now, just a point of information, animal souls are not the same as human souls in that human souls bear the image of God. The distinction between animals and human beings is not a distinction of no soul and humans having a soul, but rather the kinds of soul they have.

Melinda: Mm-hmm. J. P. Moreland has made the point, I think I mentioned it here before, that all living things have souls because that’s what distinguishes between inanimate and animate beings. It’s the soul that actually animates the physical part of us or the physical part of animals. If you see something alive it probably has a soul. Albeit, like you said, and not only that they don’t have the image of God, but they also have simpler souls.

Greg: Yeah.

Melinda: They don’t have all the capacities that we have.

Greg: This is a distinction I’m going to want to make here with regards to J. P.’s. I’m slicing it a little differently than he is. I agree with the point that there has got to be some immaterial center in a sense of any living thing to direct its development because it’s not merely physical. The kind of soul that I’m discussing here is a soul that has sentience, has awareness. That would be limited to higher animals, like the dog that was referred to by Tim the Plumber.

Melinda: Since their souls don’t bear the image of God, they’re not the kinds of souls we suspect survive their physical time.

Greg: We have no reason to believe that...

Melinda: Right, we don’t know for sure, but there’s no reason to...

Greg:...I think is the safest way to put that. Right.

Melinda:...There’s no reason to think it.

Greg: Right. I try to make it clear to my daughters that heaven is not...When Sophie died, the cat, Sophie didn’t go to cat heaven. We’re not going to see Sophie again. I don’t have any reason to believe that. I know sometimes parents will say that to kids to comfort them, but I’d rather...

Melinda: Not Greg Koukl.

Greg: Well, no because I could still comfort my daughters without telling them that.

Melinda: Give them the harsh realities of life early on.

Greg: What I want them to understand is that heaven is a special place for special people, for special beings, and that is humans made in the image of God, is not a place for animals. Now some people might take exception with that, fine. Okay, that’s my rationale at least. The important thing is I want people to understand that humans are special, not in virtue of having souls, but in virtue of having the kind of soul they have. Incidentally I do go into some detail on this because it’s so important...

Melinda: Like you haven’t here?

Greg:...In The Story of Reality. Yeah, not just a little four minute to think.

Melinda: Oh, do you have a new book? You just always find ways to bring that up.

Greg: Now that I think about it, just saying.

Melinda: Next question comes from Karl Marks, oh my gosh, 18.

Greg: Isn’t it like KR?

Melinda: No, Marks.

Greg: Marks, okay.

Melinda: Not x.

Greg: Oh. Is it Carl or M?

Melinda: You want to just read it?

Greg: Where? Oh, it is Karl but it’s different last name. Okay.

Melinda: Right, yes. It sounds the same. That was the point. “I’ve heard many pastors say that God can’t even be in the presence of sin. If God is ubiquitous how is that a sound statement?” The answer is...It’s God. I was cueing you.

Greg: This is...God is omnipresent or ubiquitous like you put it. He’s everywhere. Actually probably omnipresent is a better word than ubiquitous. Ubiquitous is like plentiful and lots of examples of it all around, where God’s presence fills reality, his conscious presence.

Melinda: His entire being is present everywhere.

Greg: His being is personally present everywhere, yeah. That’s even better than his presence fills reality. That creates some confusion.

Melinda: Are you trying to bring up your book again?

Greg: No. I want to refer to something I haven’t mentioned in a long time, but it’s appropriate to bring up here. That is that pastors often speak in slogans that have value, but have limitations. I call these slogans “pastorisms.”

Melinda: I’m sure pastors love that.

Greg: Well I think they have usefulness to them, but we have to be careful. “God loves the sinner but he hates the sin” - I mean that’s a pastorism. There’s a point there, but God is pretty mad at the sinner too, let’s face it. It’s the sinner that goes to hell, not sin. In this case there’s another pastorism in play, and that is that God can’t be in the presence of sin. Now this is a kind of figurative way of describing that God is just and therefore cannot let sin go unpunished. If we are going to be in relationship with him and we are sinners, now there’s a problem. Something has to be done regarding our sin in order that we can “be in his presence” - that is, be in a relationship with him. This is what necessitates something like the cross. As long as we understand God can’t be in the presence of sin in that sense, we’re fine. What happens is the pastorism is not properly qualified and then people end up thinking, “Well if God can’t be in the presence of sin, how could the devil come before God in the book of Job? He’s sin and there he is in the presence of God. Gee, that’s a problem with the slogan or the pastorism.” It is the problem with the pastorism in the sense that it shows the limitation of certain pastorisms. They can only be taken so far. If you take them too far and you don’t understand the figurative use that they were meant to be employed for, then you run into error. The fact is since God is omnipresent he is always in the presence literally speaking of sin, whether it’s the devil or whether it’s us or whether it’s people in hell, whatever. God is still omnipresent. We just need to understand the restricted application of that particular aphorism, pastorism if you will, so that we don’t fall into a mistake in what it actually means.

Melinda: Right. It’s understand the sense in which it’s being expressed. Just like you made the point before, Proverbs are not promises, they’re sayings, they’re rules of thumb, so they’re not meant to apply in every single situation. They’re general principles.

Greg: Yeah and the same thing is here.

Melinda: You just can’t take it too far.

Greg: Yeah. The unfortunate thing is many pastors themselves don’t understand the limitation of their particular pastorism, and therefore they’re not able to clarify to their congregation when they use it that this has limited application. Good question though.

Melinda: Yeah. When you go play this for your pastor to correct him I’m sure he’ll be very thankful. Next question comes from Michael Hook. “What can we take from Psalm 139 about babies being fearfully and wonderfully made? Is this a universal statement?” Psalms are poetic in nature. That’s the kind of literature they are. The Psalmist is speaking in the first person in Psalm 139. You have made him beautifully and wonderfully. Is this something we can say though about all babies?

Greg: Yeah, third person actually, but it’s talking about a specific, it seems to be a specific individual. I think so. I think it is true even if it’s poetic language. A metaphoric, poetic, figurative language is always meant to communicate a literal truth. There is something very precise that is meant to be conveyed through the use of figures. In fact, the figures convey the truth with more force than just normal prosaic language. The question could be asked, “Well then what is meant to be communicated here?” I actually think even though it’s a Psalm, the phrase that says we are fearfully and wonderfully made is meant to be taken in a straightforward fashion. “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Your eyes had seen my unformed substance; in your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there were not one of them.” Now this particular portion of that Psalm is a little bit more in a sense metaphorical. When you get down to fearfully and wonderfully made, that particular statement is straightforward. I don’t know why anybody would take it differently. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in secret. God knows all about us from the very beginning of our existence. Our existence began before we were born. That’s pretty straightforward in terms of the literal rendering of that wording. I don’t see in a certain sense ambiguity or difficulty with understanding it that way.

Melinda: Why did you correct me when I said the first person, you said third person? This is written in the first person, “My”, “I”.

Greg: Oh, with what you...Well I thought it was what you actually cited at the time. You were talking about the baby was fearfully and wonderfully made. That’s why I said that.

Melinda: No.

Greg: Oh.

Melinda: Talking about the Psalmist. Anyways, that’s it. End on that high note.

Greg: Just wanted to make sure everybody knew that I was wrong when I corrected Auntie Mindy. Good. It happens on occasion.

Melinda: Well I’m thinking, “Am I missing something here?” I didn’t think so.

Greg: No, but it happens so rarely I’m glad that you pointed out this particular occasion.

Melinda: You just don’t remember all the other times because your memory is bad. That’s it for this episode, folks.

Greg: I’ll try to forget that statement.

Melinda: The podcast where I get the last word. Send us your questions on Twitter using #STRask. Every week we do two episodes of this. This is the first of the two episodes this week. We’ll post another one on Thursday. Don’t forget to call Greg on Tuesdays, 4:00 and 6:00 PM. He needs company and people to talk to. This is Melinda the Enforcer with Greg Koukl for Stand to Reason.