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Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics

Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics

by 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


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 Even many Christian intellectuals have come to view the soul as a false Greek concept that is outdated and unbiblical.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.

Editorial Reviews

John W. Cooper
"In an age when some educated Christians are selling out the soul for a mess of materialistic pottage, Moreland and Rae's Body & Soul is a significant restatement and cogent defense of the historic Christian teaching about human nature and responsibility. In contrast to typical antidualistic arguments, this book is grounded in the best exegesis of all the relevant biblical material and well-informed by the grand theological tradition before it proceeds to the metaphysics and sciences of human nature. Indeed, its properly ordered, multidisciplinary methodology is a crucial strength of the book. It first elaborates a detailed and philosophically sophisticated body-soul dualism that at the same time emphasizes the unity and functional holism of human existence. It then builds a formidable case that the traditional view of persons as substantial souls is necessary for a robust Christian understanding of moral responsibility and our obligation toward the unborn, the dying, reproductive technology and genetic engineering. Moreland and Rae defend dualism not so much to reassure us about what happens when we die as to guide us in how we should live. I welcome this timely and substantial volume."
J. Budziszewski
"It's about time someone wrote this book. The reality of the soul is not an airy speculation with no importance but in fact that makes a profound difference to every department of human life. Unfortunately, physicalism—the view that the body, but not the soul, is real—has long been gaining ground with hardly a word of protest from Christian thinkers. Some have even taken up the physicalist banner themselves. Not so Moreland and Rae, who demonstrate in Body & Soul that physicalism is philosophically and theologically defective, and unworthy of belief. This impressive treatise is not only a metaphysical tour-de-force but a guide to the most vexing ethical controversies of our time: abortion, fetal research, reproductive and genetic technologies, cloning, euthanasia and assisted suicide. I recommend Body & Soul as an indispensable resource for students, physicians, philosophers, theologians, policy-makers and all who are serious about the great issues of the day."
Ronald K. Tacelli SJ
"In a parched philosophical landscape dominated by reductive materialism, Body & Soul by J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae is heaven-sent rain. This is the most powerful and persuasive case for substance dualism that I know. But it's much more than that. In addition to its cogent metaphysical psychology, Body & Soul develops—in a unique and impressively rigorous way—the moral implications of the view that the human spirit is irreducibly real. No one interested in the philosophy of mind or in contemporary bioethics can afford to miss this trenchant and timely book."
John F. Kilner
"Here at last is a book with sufficient theoretical thinking to satisfy the scholar as well as enough everyday ethics to satisfy the rest. All biblically based Christians (not to mention others) will not agree with every bioethical conclusion reached here, but all will be challenged and edified by it in many ways. It will be a book to be reckoned with for many years to come."
H. Tristram Engelhardt Jr.
"Moreland and Rae have produced an engaging study in Christian metaphysics. They marry an appreciation of Thomas Aquinas with biblical studies in the service of reexploring bioethical issues from abortion to euthanasia. For better understanding of the deep devisions in our debates on these issues, this volume provides an important key."
Dave Stevens
"The critical foundational issues underlying every ethical battle is personhood. Without a clear and communicable understanding of that issue, the battle is lost. That is why Body & Soul is to the ethical war what the atomic bomb was to World War II. This book is long overdue and essential reading."
John Jefferson Davis
"J.P. Moreland and Scott Rae challenge the conventional wisdom and give a spirited defense of this form of dualism. Their work deserves the attention of every serious student of this topic."
Richard Swinburne
"It is very good to see a version of dualism (constant with Christian tradition) not merely developed and defended but applied to most of the central issues of medical ethics which are pressing today—such as abortion, cloning, use of fetal tissue and physician-assisted suicide. The authors show convincingly how many of their views about medical ethics follow directly from their version of dualism."
C. Stephen Evans
"Body & Soul is a quality piece of philosophical work. The authors certainly have done their homework, are familiar with the literature and know their way around an argument. . . . I welcome a book that is truly first-rate philosophically and uses arguments with rigor and care."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Advanced medical and scientific technologies constantly challenge the way in which humankind perceives the connection between the physical body and the spiritual soul. Historically, philosophers and theologians have relied on the concept of substance dualism to explain the body/soul separation, but contemporary intellectual trends have ranged more toward Christian materialism. Sticking to tradition, professors Moreland and Rae (at Talbot School of Theology and Biola University, respectively) defend substance dualism (of the Thomistic, as opposed to the Cartesian, variety) and libertarian agency in this weighty tome. The authors convincingly acknowledge opposing arguments and philosophies while building a case of their own (e.g., that a human being is a substance, not a property-thing). They frequently quote from scholarship in the fields of ethics and religion, evaluating the body/soul dichotomy through the use of mathematical theorems and real-life examples. Although the authors note that they "have chosen to write the book at... a fairly high academic level," they also hope "a nonspecialist will be able to gain much." Only academics, philosophers and ethicists will grasp the book's meatier arguments, although skipping the metaphysical reflections of the first sections makes it slightly more palatable. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|

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InterVarsity Press
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Establishing a
Framework for
Human Personhood

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 leftbehind—for 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 entity—a soul, a life principle,a ground of sentience—and a body. More specifically, a human being is aunity of two distinct entities—body 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 dualism—a 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 ultimate—that is, one did not come from or is not dependenton the other for its existence—or 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 intentionality—the property of being of or about something—orthe 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 soul—I, self, mind—is 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 person—the mental property-instances, states, relational complexes,fields or self—are 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 Scriptures—indeed,the way most thinkers in the history of the church have takenthem—is 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) is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, in La Mirada, California. He is the author, coauthor, or contributor to over ninety-five books, including Does God Exist?, Universals, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Consciousness and the Existence of God, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, In Search of a Confident Faith, Love Your God With All Your Mind, The God Question, and Debating Christian Theism.

In his distinguished career, Moreland has co-planted three churches, spoken and debated on over 175 college campuses around the country, and served with Campus Crusade for Christ for ten years. The founder and director of Eidos Christian Center, he also previously served as a bioethicist for PersonaCare Nursing Homes, Inc. headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland. Moreland's ideas have been covered by both popular religious and non-religious outlets, including the New Scientist, Christianity Today, PBS's "Closer to Truth," and WORLD magazine. In 2016 Moreland was selected by The Best Schools as one of the "50 most influential living philosophers."

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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