Is This How We Live Forever? What Tech Doesn’t Fathom About the Spirit of the Human Mind

by Darris McNeely Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

With increasing advances in artificial intelligence come renewed hopes of some that human life can be extended by digital means, with people having their conscious mind and memory “uploaded” into a computer and continuing to exist as sentient beings apart from the confines of the physical human body. It’s the stuff of science fiction, but more are accepting the possibility and seeking it.

Wesley Smith, senior fellow at the Center for Human Exceptionalism, part of the intelligent design think tank Discovery Institute, has pointed out: “Transhumanists, as they are often called, pursue several approaches to attaining, if not exactly eternal life, then an indefinite existence. Some aim at radically extending life expectancy through biotechnology, such as by overcoming cellular aging, manufacturing cloned organs to replace wornout body parts, and using stem cell therapies.

“But the most prominent transhumanist immortality proposal these days aims to upload our minds into computers, enhanced with artificial intelligence capabilities, whence we can ‘live’ in the Cloud or as cyberbeings. The resulting computer program of this ‘mind uploading’ would theoretically be a mental clone of the human being from which it was derived—displaying the same personality, long-term memory, likes, dislikes, and so on. Some world-renowned scientists and futurists fully expect researchers to develop the technology to accomplish this feat in the first half of this century” (“Your Mind Uploaded in a Computer Would Not Be You,” First Things, March 2, 2018, emphasis added throughout). And read “The Race for Immortality” in our July-August 2018 issue for more on this.

Such thinking assumes people are purely biological machines, with human thought, consciousness and emotions no more than computational processes of neurological systems—systems that evolved through a “fortuitous concourse of atoms.” But even beyond the Disney-like “imagineering” of future animatronic existence, the whole basis for this thinking is nothing more than fantasy.

Man and the human mind are not accidents of chance. They are products of design by a Creator God with a remarkable purpose. And they are not purely physical and biochemical in how they operate. There is far more to human existence than meets the eye—or that can be handled by data transfer technology.

But just what is man? To what do we attribute the amazing ingenuity and technology of human civilization? It goes beyond merely having a more advanced physical brain than that of animals. Many credit a spiritual “immortal soul” independent of the body, and it’s commonly thought that this idea is taught in the Bible. Yet it’s actually not.

What, then, is the basis of the human mind? And what does it mean for the age-old human longing of living beyond death into immortality? Is that really possible?

A spirit in man that gives understanding

The Bible does refer to a “spirit” that is part of man’s makeup. It presents man’s creation in these terms: “Thus says the Lord, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him” (Zechariah 12:1). Job 32:8 says, “There is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding.

The Hebrew word for “spirit” here, ruach, literally refers to a wind or breath, an exhalation of air—note the parallel use of “breath” (neshamah) in the verse in Job. Behind this terminology is the idea of an invisible force, paralleling the usage of the New Testament Greek word pneuma. Both ruach and pneuma are used of the existence and power of God, as well as that of angels and demons—all nonmaterial beings, beings of spirit or spirit beings (see John 4:24; Psalm 104:4).

Man, however, was not formed as a spirit being but as a physical being of flesh and blood. Genesis 2:7 says that God breathed into the first man the breath of life and man “became a living being.” The Hebrew word nephesh here, sometimes translated soul, refers to a flesh-and-blood being like the animals. But man is unique, with God having specially breathed in life, unlike what is stated of the animals.

There was a more personal connection here for a higher purpose. And it parallels the mention in Job of a spirit and breath giving understanding. The term ruach thus refers not only to an invisible force of power, but an unseen component giving life and intelligence—in this case, special human intelligence. It’s also stated in Genesis 1:26-27 that human beings were created in the image and likeness of God.

God put into mankind a spirit that sets us apart from the animal creation. God brought to Adam the animals, which he named. God told the man to “tend and keep” the creation (Genesis 2:15). Man is over the creation and is superior in mind and being to animals. We are not of the animal kind. And we are not beings who rose above the rest of creation by some random evolutionary process. Mankind is specially created in the image of God with the ability to relate to God.

While we are physical beings, we have a spiritual component to our existence. The apostle Paul mentions this directly, rhetorically asking, “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” (1 Corinthians 2:11). So human self-awareness and intellect come through the unseen presence of the human spirit.

What about the brain? Research shows it contains memory storage and functions as a biological computer in various respects. However, physical brain function is not enough to explain the heights of human thought and genius, especially compared to animals. The difference is the spirit in man, which imparts the complexity and depth of human thought and feeling to the brain—with the human brain and human spirit functioning together, producing the human mind.

By the spirit in man, people have formed cultures and civilizations. By the spirit in man, great discoveries have been made and engineering technology has advanced to create our modern world. Animals do not compose symphonies or send rockets to the moon! Human beings are clearly and vastly different.

By the human spirit man makes moral determinations. Sadly, mankind has made many poor choices in this arena—abusing the potential given through the human spirit. Yet God intends that man learn important lessons here, especially the need for full reliance on and help from Him.

The means to future life beyond the grave

It’s important to understand that the human spirit is not the same as what many have been taught falsely about an immortal soul. The idea that man is born with a soul of conscious identity that continues after death is not taught in Scripture. This concept was absorbed in corruptions of early Christianity and Judaism from Greek religion and philosophy.

The spirit in a person is not the person. It is not alive and conscious of itself, independent of the body, and it does not live on in a disembodied afterlife following death. When a person dies, there is no awareness of anything at all. As Israel’s King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 9:5, “The dead know nothing” (see also verse 10). There is no consciousness after death until a future resurrection.

The apostle Paul was a highly educated Jew. He was schooled in the Pharisaic tradition at the feet of the renowned first-century teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22:3; see 5:34). Yet Paul was also a student of the Greek world. Being from Tarsus, a center of Greek learning, he would have been well acquainted with Greek philosophic thought. In Acts 17 Paul quoted Greek poets in presenting to Athenian philosophers the true God, honored on their monuments as “the Unknown God.” It’s certain he knew the Platonic ideas of the immortality of the soul. And being a Jew schooled in the Scriptures, he also knew this was not what God revealed about the nature of man.

When writing his two letters to the church at the Greek city of Corinth, Paul had a perfect opportunity to affirm the Greek ideas of immortality. But his focus in 1 Corinthians 15 was on the future resurrection of the dead in a body yet to come—and he referred to death as being like sleep, without awareness. He also, as we earlier saw, mentioned the human spirit in chapter 2 as the means to human knowledge. So it should be clear that he did not view this spirit as conscious apart from the body.

But evidently the human spirit is involved in the future resurrection.

Consider something further Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes about the conclusion of physical life. He relates a series of images showing life wears down, the body ages and death comes—but he counsels us to consider there is more: “Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7, New Living Translation).

At death the spirit returns to God who gave it. This is not speaking of a conscious immortal soul floating away to heaven, but to the spiritual component of man’s mind, not thinking or conscious of itself, being received back into God’s keeping. For what purpose? Apparently, it is to preserve what the person is so as to reconstitute the person, with individual thoughts and personality restored, at the future resurrection of the dead .

So in some way, known to God, a person’s mind is effectively “uploaded” into God’s keeping and later “downloaded” into a future resurrected body—with no consciousness in between—though this occurs in the spirit realm through the omnipotent power of God, far outside the scope and ability of any technology of man.

Yet there is still a missing element here.

Connecting with God for eternity

Human life works at its highest and best in a relationship with God, the Creator of life, based on the revealed teachings of His Word, the Bible. Indeed, we are created as relational beings. And God put into man a spirit, a part of the eternal realm, which allows a connection—a relationship between the two.

But this human spirit is insufficient for the relationship God ultimately desires to have with us in making us into His true spiritual children. God wants to imbue us with His own Spirit—the Holy Spirit—the only means to ultimately pursuing God’s ways and transformation to eternal life.

Note the context of Paul’s statement about the human spirit in 1 Corinthians 2. He says God has revealed His truth and plans for us “through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit [that] is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (verses 10-12).

The depth of understanding we need is not available through the human spirit alone. We need God’s Spirit to reveal it.

And in Romans 8 Paul adds the final dimension to this picture. He shows that we need God’s Spirit to overcome the ingrained resistance to God in our corrupted human nature (verses 5-10). Moreover, he explains that it is the Spirit of God joining with the spirit in man that enables man to take part in the divine nature as God’s children: “The Holy Spirit you have received does not make you a slave again so that you are afraid. But the Spirit you have received makes you sons of God” (verse 15, Bible in Worldwide English). It is this Spirit “whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (verses 16-17, American King James Version).

Man, then, is created in the image of God. We have a unique spirit imparting human thinking to the human brain—forming the human mind, which cannot be duplicated by human technology. Through that unique spirit within us, we have the capacity to connect with God, responding to His teaching. But that’s not all. In a biblically defined process we can receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, and through it we can attain our ultimate potential of inheriting eternal life as part of the family of God.

Only in this way can we human beings transcend our mortal existence to realize our awesome destiny with God forever. Truly, the future God has planned for us is greater than any advancements modern technology could produce! Don’t settle for false hopes. Trust in God and His ultimate purpose for your life!



What Is the “Spirit in Man”?

What is the difference between an animal brain and a human brain of comparable size? Science hasn’t been able to explain the vast difference in thinking ability between the animal brain and the human mind. But the Bible reveals a spiritual component God gives to every person (Zechariah 12:1). The Bible teaches that this spirit in man imparts aspects of the human mind, including self-awareness, intellect, creativity, personality and temperament—everything that enables human accomplishment and knowledge short of true spiritual understanding (1 Corinthians 2:11).

Ecclesiastes 12:7 mentions this spirit, saying that the spirit of man returns to God when we die. Some erroneously interpret this as a reference to righteous souls going to heaven. However, the context shows this interpretation is wrong. For one thing, it says that the spirit of everyone who dies, not just the righteous, goes back to God who gave it. The preceding verses speak of aging and death taking their natural course in every person.

As our study guide What Happens After Death? explains, Paul wrote that the righteous dead wait in their graves until the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18). And since Christ comes to the earth to reign, the resurrected saints will also be on the earth. Going to heaven at death isn’t the reward of Christians. (See also our study guide Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?)

Returning to Ecclesiastes 12:7, it closes a passage on aging and dying. In its entirety, the verse reads, “Then the dust [our physical human bodies] will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” Upon death, the human body decomposes into the dust from which it was created and the spirit in man goes back to God.

What is the spirit in man? Is it the man himself? If that were the case, Ecclesiastes 12:7 would not make sense. It plainly says that the body decomposes. Is the spirit in man an immortal soul? Much of mainstream Christianity has adopted the idea of an immortal soul from ancient pagan religion, not from what is taught in the Scriptures.

Why would the spirit of man return to God at death? Consider how God will resurrect the dead. He will not simply put life back into dead bodies. For even if the body remains intact at death, it will eventually decompose, just as Ecclesiastes 12:7 stated. That is, the bodies of most people will no longer exist by the time of the resurrections. They will break down into non-living atoms and molecules.

It is likely, therefore, that the spirit in man serves as the permanent record of every human being, by which God will resurrect him or her at the appointed time (1 Corinthians 15:23). By way of analogy, it’s possible to recreate a destroyed building if one has the blueprints of the original. Similarly, God is able to recreate a person by the record preserved in the spirit in man.

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