Can Agnostics and Atheists Use the Word SOUL?

Is the word “soul” forbidden among those of us who call ourselves agnostics or atheists?

I say no. 

I think that, as an agnostic, the “soul” can be seen as an EPIPHENOMENON of our materiality. Indeed, our souls seem to have emerged from the functioning of our brains and bodies in the same way that the epiphenomenon of the ANT COLONY emerges from the unconscious, instinctual behavior of individual ants. The soul, in other words, is as real as an ant colony, and those of us who are agnostics or atheists can use the word “soul” in a non-metaphorical sense, as a complex that has emerged over and above (and out of) the random contingencies of our evolution, and the movement of neurons in our brains.

Thus, as an agnostic, I claim to see a soul behind my partner’s eyes, and the eyes of my children, just like religious people do. I don’t need to impoverish my language, and purge it of the old-religious connotations. Indeed, sometimes the religious language can be useful—just as poetic language can be useful.

There may not be a single GREAT MIND or OZ-figure overseeing the universe, but all around us the universe seems to grow lots of little minds and souls—each one acting like an immaterial god, tyrannous in its possessive emotions and exotic thoughts—and with its desires frustrated and its imagination outraged at being TRAPPED IN A BODY.

6 billion human “souls” are alive today and counting. Isn’t that extraordinary? There may not be any souls in heaven, but there are six billion of them on earth. How weird is that?

Let’s not throw all the religious-language babies out with the bathwater.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Can Agnostics and Atheists Use the Word SOUL?

  1. Loans says:

    Nice info! Very cool post.I have looked over your blog a few times and I love it.

  2. santitafarella says:


    Thanks for the encouragement.


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