Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethicsby J. P. Moreland, Scott B. Rae
While most people throughout history have believed that we are both physical and spiritual beings, the rise of science has called into question the existence of the soul. Many now argue that neurophysiology demonstrates the radical dependence, indeed, identity, between mind and brain. Advances in genetics and in mapping human DNA, some say, show there is no need for the hypothesis of body-soul dualism. Even many Christian intellectuals have come to view the soul as a false Greek concept that is outdated and unbiblical.
Concurrent with the demise of dualism has been the rise of advanced medical technologies that have brought to the fore difficult issues at both edges of life. Central to questions about abortion, fetal research, reproductive techologies, cloning and euthanasia is our understanding of the nature of human personhood, the reality of life after death and the value of ethical or religious knowledge as compared to scientific knowledge.
In this careful treatment, J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae argue that the rise of these problems alongside the demise of Christian dualism is no coincidence. They therefore employ a theological realism to meet these pressing issues, and to present a reasonable and biblical depiction of human nature as it impinges upon critical ethical concerns.
This vigorous philosophical and ethical defense of human nature as body and soul, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees, will be for all a touchstone for debate and discussion for years to come.
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It is safe to say that throughout human history, the vastmajority of people, educated and uneducated alike, have been dualists,at least in the sense that they have taken a human to be the sortof being that could enter life after death while one's corpse was leftbehindfor example, one could enter life after death as the very sameindividual or as some sort of spiritual entity that merges with the All.Some form of dualism appears to be the natural response to what we seemto know about ourselves through introspection and in other ways. Manyphilosophers who deny dualism admit that it is the commonsense view.
When we turn to an investigation of church history, we see the samething. For two thousand years, the vast majority of Christian thinkershave believed in the souls of men and beasts, as it used to be put. Animalsand humans are composed of an immaterial entitya soul, a life principle,a ground of sentienceand a body. More specifically, a human being is aunity of two distinct entitiesbody and soul. The human soul, while notby nature immortal, is capable of entering an intermediate disembodiedstate upon death, however incomplete and unnatural this state may be,and of eventually being reunited with a resurrected body. Augustine says,"But the soul is present as a whole not only in the entire mass of a body,but also in every least part of the body atthe same time." Similarly,Thomas Aquinas claims "we now proceed to treat of man, who is composedof a spiritual and corporeal substance."
Today, things have changed. For many, the rise of modern science hascalled into question the viability of dualism. In popular and intellectualcultures alike, many argue that neurophysiology demonstrates the radicaldependence and, in fact, identity between mind and brain, that geneticshas shown genes and DNA are all that are needed to explain the developmentof living things, that advances in artificial intelligence make likelythe suggestion that humans are just complicated computers and that cloningseems to reduce us to mere structured aggregates of physical parts.
Interestingly, among contemporary Christian intellectuals there is awidespread loathing for dualism as well. We are often told that biblicalrevelation depicts the human person as a holistic unity whereas dualism isa Greek concept falsely read into the Bible by many throughout the historyof the church. Christians, we are told, are committed to monism andthe resurrection of the body, not to dualism and the immortality of thesoul. In short, dualism is outdated, unbiblical and incorrect.
Concurrent with the alleged demise of dualism is the rise of advancedmedical technologies that have made prominent a number of very importantand difficult issues about ethics at both edges of life. Central to theseissues are questions about the nature of human personhood, about thereality of life after death and about the existence, nature, accessibility anddegree of justification of ethical or religious knowledge as compared toscientific knowledge. It is not too dramatic to say that we are facing a contemporarycrisis in ethics, a crisis that has lead to a good deal of moralconfusion, chaos and fragmentation.
In our opinion the concurrence of the demise of dualism (specifically aChristian form of dualism) and the ethical and religious crisis just mentionedis no accident. We believe that what is needed is a more careful formulationand defense of Christian dualisma defense that rendersintelligible a solid Christian anthropology and that shows the relativeimportance and specific roles science, theology and philosophy have inthe integrative task of developing a model of human personhood that isadequate to what we know or justifiably believe from all the relevant disciplines.Such a task requires a multidisciplinary effort, and even if we wereable to take on such a work (which we are not), a fully developed Christiananthropology would be impossible to complete in a single volume.Given these limitations, we shall offer what we hope will be an adequatedefense of the most reasonable and biblically accurate depiction of humanpersonhood, and we hope to relate that depiction to crucial ethical concernsthat affect us all. This task is important for some of the reasons justmentioned. But it is also relevant because of the general human curiosityand angst about what persons are and wherein lies their destiny. As BlaisePascal once put it, "The immortality of the soul is something of such vitalimportance to us, affecting us so deeply, that one must have lost all feelingnot to care about knowing the facts of the matter."
In this chapter we shall look at a taxonomy of versions of dualism,investigate the Christian understanding of a human person as it has beentraditionally conceived and discuss the broad contours of what a properapproach to human personhood should look like.
What Is Dualism?
As does any broad philosophical and theological notion, dualism comes inseveral varieties. At its root, dualism simply means "two-ism," and itexpresses a commitment to the proposition that two items in questionare, in fact, two different entities or kinds of entities instead of being identicalto one another. Cosmic dualism is the view that reality in general iscomposed of two different entities (e.g., individuals, properties, realms ofreality) that cannot be reduced to each other. Cosmic dualists sometimesgo beyond this and accept the claim either that these two entities are bothmetaphysically ultimatethat is, one did not come from or is not dependenton the other for its existenceor that one entity is inferior in valueto the other. For example, Zoroastrianism teaches that Ahura-Mazda (thegood, wise Lord) and Angra Mainyu (the spirit of evil) are oppositeslocked in a cosmic struggle between good and evil. In Taoism the yin andthe yang are bipolar forces (good-evil, male-female, light-dark, etc.) thatconstantly react to and with each other in governing all of reality. Gnosticdualism implies that spirit and matter are different and that the latter is oflittle value compared to the former.
Is Christianity a form of cosmic dualism? The answer is no and yes.Christianity does not affirm that there are two ultimate, independent realities.Everything besides God owes its existence to him in some way oranother. Nor does Christianity teach that spirit is good and matter is evil.Yet there are clear cosmic dualities presupposed by and taught in HolyScripture: God-creation, good-evil, truth-falsity, immaterial-material world,being-becoming and, we believe, soul-body.
In addition to cosmic dualisms, there are various forms of dualismregarding the constitution of human persons (and animals, though wewill focus here only on human persons). These anthropological dualismsmay be divided into three categories: metaphysical, eschatological and axiological.Let us take these in order.
Metaphysical. The metaphysical category of anthropological dualismcenters on the question of the constitutional nature of human persons.This version of dualism is the chief focus of this book. Property-event dualismis the idea that mental and physical properties or events are genuinelydifferent kinds of entities. Thoughts, sensations, beliefs, desires, volitionsand so on are mental events in which mental properties are embedded(e.g., they have intentionalitythe property of being of or about somethingorthe property of being self-presenting); various brain eventswith physical properties are nonidentical to mental events. The rival toproperty-event dualism (indeed, to any form of anthropological dualism)is strict physicalism, or monism, the view that all properties, events, relations,individuals and so on are strictly physical entities. Monists believethat there may be an irreducible duality of language: for example, anevent that is caused by a pin stick can be described by the two nonsynonymousterms pain and C fiber firing pattern. Nevertheless, monists insistthat these two terms have the same referent and that the referent is aphysical state.
Substance dualism is the view that the soulI, self, mindis an immaterialsubstance different from the body to which it is related. In order toadequately understand substance dualism, one must get clear on thenature of a substance, and we shall look at this topic in chapter two. Butfor now, suffice it to say that the substance dualist is committed to theclaim that the soul is an immaterial entity that could, in principle, survivedeath and ground personal identity in the afterlife.
Two major variants of substance dualism will be the focus of attentionin chapter six: Cartesian and Aristotelian/Thomistic dualism. (Hereafter,the former will be referred to simply as Thomistic dualism.) Cartesiandualism explicates the philosophy of René Descartes. On this view, themind is a substance externally related by a causal relation to the body, acorporeal substance that is merely physical. For a Cartesian the mind is animmaterial ego that contains the capacities for mental functioning.
By contrast, Thomistic dualism focuses on the soul, not the mind. Themind is a faculty of the soul, but the latter goes beyond mental functioningand serves as the integrative ground and developer of the body it animatesand makes alive. For the Thomistic dualist the soul containscapacities for biological as well as mental functioning. Thus the soul isrelated to the body more intimately and fully than by way of an externalcausal connection, as Cartesians would have it. Some Thomistic dualistsidentify the person with the whole body-soul composite whereas othersidentify the person with the soul, which contains a natural exigency forembodiment even while disembodied. As we will see in the next section,at a minimum a Christian should hold that the human person can sustainidentity in a disembodied intermediate state and after the reception of anew resurrection body.
Both versions of substance dualism are consistent with functionalholism but not with ontological holism. According to functional holism,while the soul (mind) is in the body, the body-soul complex is a deeplyintegrated unity with a vastly complicated, intricate array of mutual functionaldependence and causal connection. But functional holism allowsfor the possibility that the soul (mind) may exist independent of the bodywith which it is currently functionally integrated or in a disembodied statealtogether. It is a serious mistake to take substance dualism as beinginconsistent with functional holism.
Ontological holism is the view that the mental constituents of ahuman personthe mental property-instances, states, relational complexes,fields or selfare inseparable entities (although the self may beidentified as some sort of unity of the mental entities just mentionedor as a more substantial, though emergent and dependent, entity).The mental constituents are ontologically dependent upon a properlyfunctioning physical body or brain, and thus disembodiment is notpossible. Ontological holism is consistent with property dualism butnot with substance dualism in either form.
Eschatological. Besides the metaphysical versions of anthropologicaldualism, there are versions of eschatological and axiological dualism.Eschatological dualism categorizes versions of dualism according to theirview about the immortality of the soul. Platonic dualism held that thesoul had a natural immortality. Plato's version of dualism is quite sophisticatedin its totality, and much of what Plato taught is very much at homein a Christian worldview, though some of his ideas are clearly not compatiblewith Christianity. Only an issue-by-issue investigation can determinewhether Plato's dualism is compatible with Christian teaching. However,this aspect of Plato's thought is obviously inconsistent with the Bible,which teaches that God alone is immortal and that all human persons owetheir moment-by-moment existence to the sustaining power of God,whether before death, during the intermediate state or after the final resurrection.
Does a rejection of Platonic eschatological dualism entail that there isno sense in which the soul is immortal according to Christian theology?No, it does not. In fact the most natural way to take the Scripturesindeed,the way most thinkers in the history of the church have takenthemis to view the soul as immortal in this sense: the individual soulcomes into existence at a point in time; it is sustained in existence by Godthroughout its existence, including a time of temporary disembodimentin the intermediate state; and there will never be a time in which it willcease to be after its creation. In the next section we will look at the biblicalsupport for this view and compare it to two rival depictions of the souland the intermediate state.
Axiological. Finally, axiological dualism divides anthropologicalpositions according to the relative value placed on the soul and body.According to Gnostic and (on a traditional interpretation) Platonicdualism, the body is inferior to the soul in value, and more generallythe material world is inferior to the immaterial world. Indeed, someversions of axiological dualism have claimed that matter, including thebody, is evil. Some advocates of this form of dualism have used it todepreciate the value of physical labor, sexuality, physical health and soforth. It should be apparent that these versions of axiological dualismare inadequate and that Christians affirm the value of both the bodyand the soul and both the material and immaterial world.
This completes our brief survey of varieties of dualism. At this point wemust ask the question, does the Bible teach some form of anthropologicaldualism that ought to be affirmed by Christian intellectuals and integratedinto their intellectual work and practical lives? In spite of the factthat a growing number of Christian thinkers would answer this questionin the negative, we think the answer is clearly yes.
Excerpted from Body & Soul by J. P. Moreland & Scott B. Rae. Copyright © 2000 by J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
J. P. Moreland (PhD, University of Southern California; ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, in La Mirada, California. He also serves as director of Eidos Christian Center.
He has written, edited or contributed to over twenty books including Christianity and the Nature of Science, Does God Exist? (with Kai Nielsen) and Philosophical Naturalism: A Critical Analysis. He has also published more than fifty articles in journals such as Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, American Philosophical Quarterly, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Metaphilosophy, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, Southern Journal of Philosophy, Religious Studies and Faith and Philosophy. He is a fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.
Scott B. Rae (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is professor of biblical studies and Christian ethics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, in La Mirada, California. He is also the author of Embryo Research and Experimentation (Crossroads) and Brave New Families: Biblical Ethics and Reproductive Technologies (Baker).
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