What Are Humans Made of?

The question may sound odd, but I think it’s a fun, and accurate, way to ask this question. What are humans made of?


You may be tempted to immediately jump to flesh and blood. Organs, skin, hair. Physical stuff. This isn’t a wrong jump, because it is immediately apparent to us that we are made up of these things. When you look at a human, you see their physical components. It appears obvious to us that humans are physical things.


Many Christians, though, will want to stress that we are not only physical stuff. Most Christians will also want to stress that we have (or are) souls…non-physical things.


Views that hold that humans have both a body and a soul are usually called substance dualist views. This simply means that humans are made of two substances. Substance dualist views are contrasted with substance monist views which hold that humans are made of only one substance. (Such as being only a body or only a soul)


Of Christian substance dualist views, there are two major schools: The Augustinian-Platonic and Aristotelian-Thomistic. (Ie, the view roughly held by Plato and later Augustine or the view roughly held by Aristotle and later Thomas Aquinas) There are other sorts of views, but these two have the most longevity, so I’ll focus on them.


Augustinian-Platonic (AP)


I’ll start with the AP view because I think it’s the general assumption of most lay-level Christians. The AP view places a hard distinction between physical substance and non-physical substance. In other words, the Body and Soul are different things that simply happen to go together.


For most people who take the AP view, a human is most fundamentally a soul with a body. As such, you are a soul that uses your body while you are alive. When you die, you leave your body and go to be with the Lord. At the Resurrection, you enter into a glorified version of your previous body. You stay the same, despite whatever happens to your body.


For the AP view, your body is a helpful thing, but it isn’t necessary to make you, you. When you leave your body, you stay the same. You have lost the thing you used to maneuver in the physical world, but you’re basically still you.


Think of it kind of like a car: You get into a car, you get to where you are going, and you get out of the car. The car was a helpful tool, but you are the same when you enter the car and when you leave the car. The only thing that changed was your use of the vehicle.


Aristotelian-Thomistic (AT)


This view is slightly more complicated but still worth thinking through. For most AT proponents, we could say that a human is fundamentally the thing that occurs when a human body and soul are joined together. In other words, a thing with a human body and a human soul at the same time is properly called human.


For the AT view, your body is essential to your humanity. You aren’t just a soul with a body, you are a soul and a body. In this view, when you die, your soul is forced to leave your body and you are left incomplete until the Resurrection. At the Resurrection, you will be made complete again when your soul is joined back with your new, glorified body.


That may sound like philosophical gobbledygook, but consider this: If the AP view is correct, why do you need to be resurrected? You would be just fine without your body! The AT view addresses this by arguing that you need your body to be complete and your soul being apart from your body is a bad thing.  In order for you to be properly you, you need both your individual soul and body to be together.


What’s It Matter?


A fair question is, “What does all this matter? What does it matter if I’m a soul with a body or a soul and a body?”


In response, consider this: If your body were or were not fundamental to you, would that change what you did with your body? If you are “Not of this World” will you live differently than if you are in some way fundamentally physical? How does your body relate to how you think of your identity?


In sum: the way we think of how our souls and our bodies interact matters. It will impact how you choose to live and what you do with your body. It will impact what you think of the physical world. Maybe I’ll explore some specifics further in a future post.


Additional Reading

The Soul- JP Moreland

What Are the Transcendentals?