👁 Most recently revised on 8 June 2014 by Pious Eye (David M. Hodges) 👁
Originally prepared March 2007 for a course at Bethel Seminary San Diego.
In Search of the Soul: Four Views of The Mind-Body Problem, Edited by Joel B. Green & Stuart L. Palmer. Downers Grover: InterVarsity, 2005. Pp. 223. Paper. ISBN 0-8308-2773-0. 1, 2
Prefer to skip ahead? Here are some shortcuts:
Joel B. Green: “Body and Soul, Mind and Brain: Critical Issues” Stewart Goetz: “Substance Dualism” William Hasker: “On Behalf of Emergent Dualism” Nancey Murphy: “Nonreductive Physicalism” Kevin Corcoran: “The Constitution View of Persons” Stuart L. Palmer: Closing Essay: “Christian Life and Theories of Human Nature” In Closing Notes End of Review
Editor Joel B. Green opens the collection with an essay that introduces readers to the mind-body problem by surveying some relevant findings and opinions from neuroscience, philosophy, biblical studies, and theology (7-32). This discussion indicates that neuroscientific discoveries showing a close relationship between brain states and conscious experience (or lack thereof), combined with a dominant view among biblical scholars that the Old and New Testaments best comport with a materialist anthropology, has made materialistic monism or physicalism a live option for Christians. Even so, longstanding consensus of Spirit-indwelt believers (the “Christian tradition”) and a nagging sense that physicalism can’t explain everything (the “explanatory gap”), along with select scriptures only awkwardly compatible with physicalism, lead many to remain supporters of dualism. At present, two viewpoints seem viable Christian options: (1) holistic substance dualism, where the human soul is an immaterial substance wholly or almost wholly dependent on the body and brain for its awareness of and access to the material creation (and for awareness of itself while embodied); (2) nonreductive physicalism (nonreductive monistic materialism3), where the human “soul” is not a substance but a set of phenomena, such as causal powers, produced entirely by the brain and body but not “reducible” to (fully determined by and predictable based on) basic material processes. In the present collection, the core of which consists of essays in support of each of four authors’ views accompanied by responses to each essay by the remaining three authors, Steward Goetz and William Hasker represent holistic substance dualism, with Goetz advocating a traditional creationist view of the soul’s origin (33-60, 101-104, 139-142, 177-180) and Hasker supporting a traducianism-friendly emergent dualism (61-64, 75-100, 143-146,181-184). Nancey Murphy and Kevin Corcoran argue for nonreductive physicalism,4 Murphy putting forward a neuroscientific and evolutionary interpretation of humanness (65-68, 105-108, 115-138, 185-188) and Corcoran proposing a philosophical view of human persons called the constitution view (69-74, 109-114, 147-152, 153-176). We will look at these four positions below, under appropriate headings.
Green closes his introduction by paralleling contemporary developments in neuroscience to the often (arguably, tiresomely often) cited examples of Copernicus, said to have “demonstrated” our earth “is not the center around which the universe pivots,”5 and Darwin and evolutionary biology, said to “have located Homo Sapiens within the animal kingdom with a genetic make-up that strongly resembles the creatures around us”(31). Green’s suggestion is that neuroscience is in the process of radically reshaping our understanding of the world and ourselves much as did the ascendance of heliocentric astronomy and the molecules-to-humanity story of origins. While Green’s appeal to the heliocentric paradigm shift will raise few Christian eyebrows,6 his appeal to the widespread acceptance of the evolutionary reconstruction of life’s development prior to human observation might lose some anti-Darwinian readers (e.g., Scientific Creationists). Such readers would perhaps point out that “strong” genetic “resemblance” no more proves common ancestry than software developers’ reuse of code in multiple programs proves programmer-free evolution of new computer programs from old ones. They might also wonder: If genetic similarity somehow mitigates against creationism, just what would be the maximum genetic “resemblance” permissible in specially created kinds of life? Observational data and models for organizing and explaining that data are very different things, they would emphasize. It might also occur to them to wonder what exactly the pragmatic payoff of the molecules-to-humanity reconstruction is. Though heliocentric astronomy provides clear advantages for, e.g., interplanetary navigation, the advantages of retrospective Darwinism are unclear.7 The fundamental question is: Should we make currently preferred scientific models our guides in interpreting Scripture, or should we seek to let Scripture guide our organization and interpretation of scientific data? After all, Scripture, Protestants have long assumed and long seen as necessary if Scripture is to speak to us with authority, is self-interpreting—scientific (observational, empirical) data are not.8
Steward Goetz makes the case for (creationist) substance dualism, the idea that each person has (is) a soul and that souls are real entities different from material bodies. He begins by asserting, in agreement with such thinkers as William Lyons, that dualism is the common sense default of ordinary people. Citation of N. T. Wright and suggestive Scripture passages (Matt. 16:12-14, Matt. 14:2) support the idea that this common sense notion was the norm in first-century Palestine (33-34). This same default view also dominated Christian thought from the beginning “right up to the twentieth century” (34). Given the prevalence of this presupposition, one would not expect Scripture—given its writers “were not writing a philosophical or anthropological text” (35)—to focus on an issue few would think controversial or consider of practical importance. Though Scripture does not explicitly address the mind-body issue, it does seem, in Goetz’s view, to presuppose the common sense dualism in such places as 2 Cor. 12:2-4; Phil. 1:21-24; 2 Cor. 5:8; Lev. 19:31, 20:6; Deut. 18:11; Is. 8:19-20; 1 Sam. 28.
Given all this, Goetz believes he is justified treating dualism as a basic belief, something he may legitimately take as given absent conclusive evidence against it (38-9). Following Descartes, Goetz takes his “introspective awareness of [him]self as a simple substance [the ‘I’ that is aware of itself can sense no division in its I-ness]” as justifying presuppositional (“antecedent”) dualism (39, 44). As my “introspective awareness of [my]self as a soul” (43) matches Goetz’s, I can’t help but find this argument persuasive. Materialist respondents Nancey Murphy and Kevin Corcoran, however, both profess not to share Goetz’s introspective awareness (67, 69). Respondent William Hasker suggests that such varying introspective awarenesses may simply reveal different personalities (62). Of course, unrepentant unbelievers profess not to possess an awareness of God’s eternal power and Godhead, and it seems may even convince themselves they possess no such awareness; yet Paul proclaims them both aware and “without excuse” for not responding properly to that awareness (Rom 1:20). Certain introspective awarenesses, then, do provide knowledge. This fact is little help persuading anyone which of multiple professed awarenesses is knowledge and which are errors and self-deceptions, however.
Having established his presuppositional dualism, Goetz then presents his “Simple Argument,” which offers validation or affirmation for the presupposed dualism. The argument comprises five steps: (1) One (one’s soul) is “simple” (does not have “substantive parts”—one can’t lose a piece of soul, a piece of one’s “I”); (2) One’s body is “complex” (one’s body can lose pieces, such as fingers or toes); (3) If entities A and B are in fact the same entity, then “whatever is a property of one is a property of the other; (4) since one (one’s soul) has the property of simplicity and one’s body does not (being instead complex), one (one’s soul) is not identical with one’s body (44). Though Goetz does not note this, an inductive case from Scripture supporting the conception of persons as simple—collection of passages suggesting an understanding of individuals as simple entities (I’s) not identical with their complex bodies—could provide non-introspective grounds for the “Simple Argument.” Psalm 139: 13-16 is suggestive, though it could be read monistically. Verse sixteen’s “in thy book all my members were written…when as yet there was none of them” points to at least one sort of dualism, a dualism between embodied/created self and self as planned in the mind of God. Of course, “self as planned in the mind of God” is not a substance, and the label “non-substance dualism” might legitimately be applied to any anthropology proposing human awareness and volition are in any sense real (phenomena produced by physical entities are not themselves those physical entities, so we have a “dualism” of entities and phenomena, in any case).
Goetz next addresses the alleged “problem of causal interaction” (47). This “problem” takes various forms. In one, the problem arises from a philosophical precommittment, “the principle of the causal closedness of the physical order” (47-52).9 Two additional forms of the “problem” point to the difficulty dualists have explaining the soul’s relationship to space—where is the soul, and where in the brain does it interact causally with the body (53-55)? These last objections Goetz responds to by returning to introspection and concluding that “the soul is present in its entirety at each point in space that it experiences sensations” (55-56). As I see it, no Christian may doubt the reality of spirit-matter interaction. Christians have faith in a creator God who is spirit (Genesis 1, John 4:24); Scripture indicates that spirit entities called demons can causally interact with human beings and even pigs (Matthew 8); it also indicates that the Holy Spirit can indwell believers and has even caused persons to utter specific statements on occasion (Acts 2). Not only do these facts rule out the principle of causal closedness, they also refute other forms of the problem. Where are the demons, and where in the human or pig brains did those demons interact causally with their victims? We don’t know—but we do know for certain that such causal interaction occurred, if we believe Scripture. (If we do not believe Scripture, why we should persist in calling ourselves “Christian” is unclear.)
Goetz next turns to the subject of free will. Much as he is introspectively aware that he is a soul, and so has a basic belief in dualism, Goetz also is introspectively aware of exercising the power of free choice, giving him a basic belief that he possesses “freedom of will in the libertarian sense that” he is “free to make undetermined choices for purposes” (56-57). Having noted this, he proceeds to contrast his view with popular alternatives. In one of these, properties and events are arranged in a hierarchy from simple to complex, low level physical phenomena (ultimately, subatomic physics) to high level mental phenomena (cognition, emotion, consciousness), with the higher level phenomena seen reductionistically as entirely the product of those lower level phenomena they are said to supervene. Another alternative is materialist emergentism, which proposes that higher level phenomena (such as the causal power of volition or free choice) somehow do not entirely depend on the levels below them—the complex whole is mysteriously more than the sum of its simpler parts (57-58). In essence, the qualities dualists assign to substantial souls materialist emergentists assign to material structures and interactions. Why thus introducing mystery into the material realm is considered preferable to the mystery of dualism is unclear (58).
All respondents to Goetz’s arguments find his appeals to introspective awareness unpersuasive. Murphy, for instance, grants that unity of consciousness is the common experience but questions the trust Goetz’s places in this experience. Perceptual studies, she explains, indicate that the “subjective unity” of conscious experience “must be constructed by means of sophisticated mental processes” (67), leading her to conclude that consciousness—one’s experience of I-ness or soul-ness—arises out of brain processes which construct “a unified experience of a unified world out of…gappy bits and pieces of information” (68). In common with Hasker (63), then, Murphy takes Goetz’s awareness of himself as a simple “I” or soul as referring to the unity of conscious experience. Yet, it seems that a simple “I” becomes no less simple when subjected to disjointed experiences, perceptual or cognitive. Even if “I” am so thoroughly disoriented as to “experience [myself] as being nonexistent” (22), is it not still “I” who suffer the confusion? In reference to the perceptual studies, another question which might occur to the dualist is, who or what initiates the constructive brain activity Murphy mentions, and why? (Is it “I”?) While the studies Murphy mentions are fascinating, one fails to see how they run contrary to what should be expected by a dualist who believes the soul’s experience of creation is mediated (greatly or entirely) by the body (in particular the brain, nervous system, and sensory organs).
William Hasker argues for a non-materialist form of emergentism he calls emergent dualism. This view suggests understanding “the mind/soul/self as an emergent individual, one that arises out of the structure and functioning of the biological organism but is a substance in its own right, not a mere system composed of the elementary particles of microphysics” (100). Hasker prefers this view to Goetz’s “Cartesian” (better, creationist) dualism because emergence, while able to draw upon all or most of the positive arguments supporting Goetz’s view, better comports (in Hasker’s opinion) with “the complex and subtle dependencies of our thought processes on the state and functioning of our brains” (76, 97-8), better fits with scientific naturalism (95), nicely meshes with evolutionary biology (96), seems to him to better allow respect for other creatures (higher primates come to mind) as to some degree soul-possessing (96), and makes more sense of potential soul-ish-ness of split entities (whether humans with split brains, worms split into two independent entities, or cloned animals). Fans of science fiction will also realize that emergence would allow recognition ofartificial entities as persons should they ever display evidence of such unique indicators of personhood (“humanity” in the non-biological sense) as language, reasoning and abstract thought, morality, and capacity for relationship with “Ultimate Reality” (80)—as well as consciousness/self-awareness and volition, of course. Those who find the current debate over gender-inclusive language troubling will be doubly troubled by the species-inclusive and non-organic-life-form-inclusive language debates an emergent future might hold. Doubtless artificial lifeforms fabricated by fallen humans would fall under the covenant headship of Adam much as do the natural children of such humans, so future translations may need to read something like, “as by one personal entity sin entered the world, and death by sin, so by one personal entity, Jesus Christ, came salvation…” (a composite of verses from Romans 5).
Further, Hasker believes his view superior to non-dualistic theories of emergence, such as emergent materialism, of which Nancey Murphy’s nonreductive physicalism is one example, by her own admission (105). The fundamental problem that Hasker sees with materialism is that, assessed honestly, it seems to make determinism inescapable. Though he would like to grant Murphy’s distinction between ontological reductionism (higher level phenomena are made up entirely of the “stuff” of the lowest level—no new “stuff” emerges) and causal reductionism (higher level phenomena are entirely caused by the interactions of the lowest level materials), allowing for emergent causal powers in the absence of emergent substances, he is unable to do so (83-89). How, after all, can the non-ontological (non-being, that which does not exist) cause anything? If one insists on ontological reductionism, as all materialists do, one seems to have no legitimate basis for rejecting causal determinism—one seems obligated to conclude that “everything human beings do and say is simply the consequence of the elementary particles of matter, operating according to the fundamental laws of physics” (84). In response, materialists offer an objection to Hasker’s view of emergent “substance” as being “magical.” Hasker responds: “The emergent powers [powers to bring about emergence of a new substance, a soul, i.e.] are in fact among the inherent powers of…the elementary particles of matter….[I]t is an inherent power of ordinary matter that, when combined in the right ways, it produces an entity [substance]…the emergent mind. What makes these powers emergent (in the strong sense) is precisely that they are not manifest in any simpler material configuration” (82). However he conceptualizes this “entity” (he doesn’t pin this down as well as one would like), he does suggest that it is sufficiently distinct from the organism it emerges from to permit that it “might be sustained directly by divine power” absent the physical stuff it emerged from (81). Admittedly, this has a “magical” or “miraculous” feeling to it. Such “weird” laws of entity-generation are certainly not outside God’s creative power, however. As well, it is unclear how emergent substances are any more “magical” than an emergent capability to act in ways not determined by lower-level phenomena, as materialist emergentism requires. Thus, the objection to Hasker’s view as too “magical” seems open only to reductive physicalists, not to emergentist ones.
Hasker also sees continuity of identity between this life and the resurrection as a problem for materialists (92-94). I find this particular objection unpersuasive. As our individual identity rests on the authority (and originates and persists through the power) of God, existence as concept or plan in the mind of God seems a sufficient intermediate state to guarantee unity of personality between embodiments. (This does not mean that such a non-substance “dualism” sufficiently fulfills all scriptural requirements for the intermediate state, of course.) Based on Hasker’s and Corcoran’s brief summaries, it appears that this “concept or plan in the mind of God” might resemble the Thomistic idea of the soul as “the form of the body” or that which organizes the matter of the body (94-95, 162).10
While Hasker offers evolution as a minor support for his viewpoint, Nancey Murphy makes the evolutionary story of origins the central organizing scheme of most of her essay. The seamless way the early chapters of Genesis flow into the straightforwardly historic later chapters, combined with the willingness of a small number of trained scientists to argue for a young earth and six day creation, inclines some Christians (myself among them) to reject this molecules-to-humankind evolutionary tale. As a result, Murphy’s decision to present her case in terms of this tale may lose some readers. This is unfortunate, given that the truth or falsity of the evolutionary tale is irrelevant to her discussion. However differing levels of complexity in living organisms originated (material evolution on the temporal earth or conceptual “evolution” in the eternal mind of God), one cannot question that such levels of complexity do exist, and (it seems) that Murphy’s description of each level’s unique characteristics is fundamentally correct. Most of Murphy’s essay, in fact, is not so much an argument for nonreductive physicalism as a survey of theoretical models for increasingly complex behavior and cognition, couched in the narrative framework of progressive evolution (115-131). Her assumption seems to be that if one can offer a plausible physicalist description of the processes of consciousness, this proves physicalism (and, by inference, requires us to interpret Scripture and our own experiences in terms of physicalism). Her discussion certainly helps one understand the structure of complex cognition and the extent to which such complex functions require and utilize increasingly complex neural circuitry. The dualist, however, can easily take all the findings and theoretical models she summarizes as descriptions of how the soul goes about interacting with the material realm through the instrumentality of the brain/body.
She follows her summary of current neuroscientific data and theories with a discussion of philosophical issues that present a challenge to nonreductive physicalism. It is here that argument proper begins. On the question of why one should think physicalism is true, Murphy notes that philosophical arguments on the mind-body problem “seem…interminable,” admits (crucially) that “science can never prove that there is no soul, a soul whose capacities are simply well correlated with brain functions,” then proposes simply rejecting the approach of “analytic philosophy” and treating the issue as “a scientific research program” (131-132). If, as I suspect, science is about pragmatic manipulation of the environment (including basic research’s uncovering of material facts of only potential, long-term pragmatic value) rather than about revelation of truth,11 this strategy is exactly what one shouldn’t do if knowing what is the case (knowing the true, practically relevant or not) is what one is after. The second problem is how to justify viewing humans as “special” on physicalist grounds. Murphy sees unique human value as owing to our unique functional “capacity to know God and enter into conscious relationship with God,” as well as to “our special place in God’s plans” (132). The third problem is that of religious experience, which she proposes explaining as the result of God’s influence upon us through other people and (occasionally) through direct action upon our nervous system—God (a spirit) acting causally upon our nervous systems in much the same way dualists propose each individual’s soul does (132). The fourth problem: “if there is no soul, what accounts for personal identity over time?” Murphy believes that Corcoran’s constitution view, discussed below, solves this problem. (As I’ve already noted, this particular issue does not strike me as a genuine problem for Christian physicalists.) The final problem is that of reductionism. “If humans are purely physical,” the objector asks, “then their behavior must be determined by the laws of nature and therefore cannot be morally responsible” (133). Many have taken materialism to task on this point. Murphy’s response to this objection consists of the suggestion that getting past this objection will require a radical change in fundamental assumptions about what can and cannot be the case—an escape from the “picture or conceptual paradigm” which now prevents us from seeing how it might be that “causation or determinism is [not] always and only bottom-up” (133). (She here notes she is drawing upon Wittgenstein.) She then proceeds to explain her concept of “downward causation,” perhaps hoping the reader will find her picture of things so appealing as to be converted to a new conceptual paradigm (134-136). She further suggests that decision in favor of her belief in top-down causation in purely material entities might allow the debate between “libertarian” and “compatibilist” accounts of free will to be “set aside,” issues of “determinism versus indeterminism” not being crucial in such case (138). This “conceptual paradigm” appeal strikes me as vague and confused and as no persuasive answer to Hasker’s above-discussed objections to materialist emergentism. This appeal likewise fails to convince respondents, though Corcoran sees the only problem as being Murphy’s failure to endorse “a robust emergent power or capacity” which can bring about “modifications in the microlaws” (150,151), which proposal does not seem to me to any better answer objections, as it still proposes capacities or powers mystically “free” from causal determination by the only substance underlying them, material entities interacting according to physical laws. Emergentism only becomes sufficiently robust when it proposes an emergent substance aback the emergent capacities. One could, I suppose, eliminate the need for human substantive souls by attributing emergent powers to the substantive soul of God, via a prevenient causal enabling of purely physical entities. I suspect, however, that most physicalists would find this proposal less than satisfactory.
In his response to Murphy, Goetz again emphasizes the experience of self as a simple “I” with a unified consciousness, noting neurobiologists’ interest in what is called the binding problem, which seeks to locate the place in the brain where this unifying of experience takes place. If one’s “I” is entirely a function of neural interactions, shouldn’t it be possible to locate a “binding center” where one’s “I” is constructed? (140-141) On the subject of libertarian versus compatibilist free will, Goetz writes: “It seems obvious to me that I cannot be morally responsible for a choice that I was determined to make, regardless of whether that choice was bottom-up or top-down determined” (142). One could respond that God’s declaration, not our freedom (or lack thereof), determines our responsibility—if God says we’re responsible for our choices, we are responsible, whether free to do otherwise or not. Few would find this response satisfactory, however. It seems to me that a workable compatibilism is impossible on materialist grounds. When we identify material effects as determined by material causes, what we mean by “determined” is that those effects, and those effects alone, necessarily follow the causes. We would not speak of determinism otherwise. In a dualistic framework, we might be able to entertain a compatibilism, since to say that something is determined, predetermined, or foreordained by God might point to a sort of divine action not entirely like any determinism known to our experience. Of course, saying, “God predetermines human choices, yet those choices are free”—or, more simply, “God predetermines free human choices”—does not feel any less a contradiction than saying, “gravitation predetermines behaviors of interacting masses, yet those masses are free.” Still, if a God “who is Spirit” is dealing with human choice-makers who are spirits, one can at least say that the entities interacting in this case are unlike any we’ve studied in the laboratory.12
In his response, Hasker takes on Murphy’s attempt to escape the charge of reductionism by appealing to the idea of (uncritically presupposed) pictures or conceptual paradigms. For one thing, Hasker’s argument that materialism necessarily implies causal reductionism is founded, not on a “picture,” but on the “in many respects…unpicturable” way of understanding the world presented by contemporary physics (144). Though one might argue that, even if not capable of being “visualized” (put into a spatial metaphor or “pictured” through analogy with something from normal human experience), contemporary physics must still be grounded in some sort of conceptual paradigm.13 Like Hasker, however, I am unable to see how any change in paradigms could free materialism from causal determinism. Hasker also points out that Wittgenstein, from whom Murphy draws the concept of how a picture or conceptual paradigm can govern (and perhaps distort) one’s thinking, rejected metaphysics entirely—suggesting that application of his thought to metaphysics might be misguided. Ultimately, however, one does have the option of simply being a determinist and reductionist. Of course, saying one “has the option” is nonsense in such a view of things, since the sense of having options is then an illusion fabricated by passive-observer consciousnesses that deludedly believe themselves free agents.
Corcoran’s expression of physicalist anthropology may strike many as more-or-less a verbal trick. He writes: “For example, statues are often constituted by pieces of marble, copper or bronze. But the statues are not identical with the pieces of marble, copper or bronze that constitute them” (157). The word “statue” does not refer to the things constituting it, but only to the entity which emerges from the ordered combination of those constituents. Likewise, human beings, in Corcoran’s view, are constituted by physical parts—cells making up organs, organs combined in systems, and so on, finally making up complete bodies including brains and sensory organs. Just as it is incorrect to say that the statue is “pieces of marble, copper or bronze,” it is incorrect to say that a human person is “a body,” though in each case the first item (statue, human person) is entirely constituted by the second (marble, copper, or bronze; a body) (157-161). Corcoran’s discussion does provide interesting insights into how one should think about and verbalize the relationship between composite entities, perhaps revealing important truths about the human mind’s ability to form concepts interrelating the particulars of experience,14 it doesn’t strike me as doing anything to resolve the mind-body problem. That the human person can be conceptualized as entirely constituted by a functioning material body, so that should the material body cease to exist (or cease functioning) so too must the human person (160), does nothing to prove that a human person is entirely constituted by a functioning physical body. Human ability to conceptualize has no legislative force over reality, though appealingly expressed conceptualizations do often have such force over human opinion. As we found with Murphy’s presentation of nonreductive physicalism, Corcoran’s presentation of the constitution view of persons seems more presentation of a vision than argument of a case. (Corcoran himself confesses to an aesthetic motivation behind his anthropological materialism—155.) Nor does it seem to escape any of the weaknesses of Murphy’s presentation.
Following a collection of essays dealing with highly complex philosophical and scientific subject matter, Stuart Palmer’s closing essay (189-215) seems more anticlimax than fitting resolution. His basic idea is that monistic (materialistic) understandings of person favor treating persons as wholes, caring for both their material needs (food, shelter, medical care—“hospitality”) and spiritual needs (regeneration, sanctification), whereas dualistic understandings favor emphasizing the spiritual and neglecting the material. Monistic understandings, however, are less able to assign full human value to non-functional persons (fetuses, the brain-damaged) than dualistic understandings, which can hold to the opinion that a human person is more than his or her functional capabilities indicate. However, these different understandings do not “shape” one’s approach to other persons, only “relate” to them: “these theories [various forms of materialism and dualism]—intended to fill in some gaps not [explicitly or directly] addressed in [Scripture]…—lack the metaphysical resources necessary or sufficient either to generate or to change radically the course or look of the Christian moral practices of hospitality and forgiveness” (194). In other words, Palmer’s essay is ill-fit to this collection, interesting and worth reading though it may be.
In total, In Search of the Soul serves as a good, manageable-length introduction to the mind-body problem in Christian context. The absence of any stated opposition to Darwinism might be identified as a weakness given that the book contains multiple statements in support of Darwinism. The peripheral nature and practical near-irrelevance of Darwinism and anti-Darwinism to the central topic of discussion make this weakness a small one. Having read all contributor’s arguments, is it possible to draw any conclusions on the mind-body issue?
Certain aspects of the gospel and Christian life do make more sense in a dualistic framework, whether creationist or traducian (emergentist). One doubts, for instance, that there is any widespread neural rewiring immediately at conversion—neural rewiring occurs gradually. The idea that there is actually a point in time, albeit as difficult to pinpoint as the wind (John 3:8), when one is a “new creation” and has passed from darkness to light, from judgment to blessedness (2 Cor. 5:17, Eph. 2:3 ff.), makes perfect sense in a dualistic framework. A reborn soul is still tied to a body which the unregenerate soul has thoroughly trained in the ways of iniquity, a body with a brain wired for sin. This also suggests why, though viewing the physical creation as fundamentally good, the sinful nature ruling in the unregenerate and clinging to the regenerate is identified with a word which can also be used for one’s body (“flesh,” s???). A monistic system where any change in the person must be reflected in physical (in particular, neural) changes seems to require an understanding of the New Birth as gradual process. This is not out of accord with all branches of Christian tradition (it seems to comport well with Eastern Orthodoxy), but it sits ill with my Reformed Protestantism.
While Scripture may fail to teach a dualistic anthropology with any force, it clearly teaches a dualistic reality, what atheist materialist Carl Sagan called our “demon haunted world.”15 In addition to examples of this noted earlier (creation of all things by a spirit God, demon possession of humans and animals, Holy Spirit dwelling in and influencing believers), invisible armies of heavenly beings (2 Kings 6:17) also seem difficult to square with anything but a dualistic reality (though one could perhaps propose spatial dimensions beyond the three we know as explanation). For all Murphy’s and Corcoran’s careful arguments, materialistic anthropology does not seem to fit as naturally with God’s infallible revelation as does dualistic anthropology. The debate between dualistic options, between creationist or “Cartesian” and traducian or emergentist perspectives, seems inconclusive. Even if one grants the validity of arguments from introspective awareness (as I do—in spite of objections, I continue to find these arguments persuasive), such arguments can tell us nothing of the soul or self’s origin, only of its reality. The creationist model has the advantage of granting to even the least functional humans (newly conceived embryos, persons whose higher brain centers appear irrevocably shut down or incurably damaged) fully human souls “trapped” in bodies presently preventing normal interaction with and awareness of world and self. The emergentist, in contrast, can allow fully human souls to exist only in human organisms that possess (or at least did possess at some point) sufficiently mature and undamaged brains to bring such souls into existence. On the other hand, emergent dualism could prevent the dehumanizing and enslavement of new entities with human-like functional capabilities (e.g., conscious robots), should such science-fiction dreams ever become realities. It may be that one can hold both that humans possess directly-created souls and that new entities of sufficient neural complexity and appropriate neural structure might be gifted with such souls by a God willing to test the moral consciousness (i.e., to demonstrate again the willful depravity) of humans, much as he tested that consciousness (and found it tragically wanting) by ordaining that humans should vary along such a wide spectrum both physically and culturally.
Time will tell.
1 References to In Search of the Soul appear in parenthesis in the body of the review. References to other works, as well as reflection and commentary not central to the review, but possibly of interest to some readers, appear here.
5 As I recall the history, it was Kepler who did most to make heliocentric astronomy a superior model—i.e., the one able to most simply explain the largest amount of observational data—by proposing elliptic rather than circular orbits. Copernicus’ model, to my knowledge, did not any better explain observations and allow predictions than did geocentric astronomy.
6 It will raise some. Modern Geocentrists argue that, given relativity, it is in fact impossible for any observer within the universe to say what pivots around what—it is only possible to describe the motion of bodies relative to one another. Whether any body anywhere in the universe is in fact stationary and is the center of everything only God can say. If one wishes to maintain that earth really is the center of everything (as these geocentrists do, believing the Bible favors geocentricity) no human observer has the privileged vantage point to prove otherwise. While I admit to finding the argument from relativity entertaining, the biblical arguments in support of geocentricity strike me as exceedingly weak and hermeneutically suspect. See, e.g., Gerardus D. Bouw, Ph.D., Geocentricity Primer: Introduction to Biblical Cosmology (Cleveland: The Biblical Astronomer, 1999), as well as www.geocentricity.org. Gravitation also becomes rather difficult to understand if more massive bodies are seen as circling about a less massive one—a fact which certainly makes heliocentrism the pragmatically superior model.
7 I specify “retrospective Darwinism” in order to highlight the fact that even conclusive evidence of evolution from one kind of animal into another would tell us only of the post-Fall order we currently live in. In contrast to retrospective Darwinism, such observational Darwinism might have practical value.
8 Risking an accusation of obscurantism, I further wonder….Should science be considered a revealer-of-truth at all? Central to selection of one scientific theory over another is the principle of parsimony (“Occam’s Razor”), which states that when two explanations of a phenomenon explain the phenomenon equally well, one should accept the simpler of the two explanations. One notes, however, that parsimony is a pragmatic principle and not necessarily indicative of truth. The simplest explanation of all observed data is the one most useful for such things as fabrication of technology, weather forecasting, and navigation. (Actually, explanation of observational data usually disregard some aberrant data, attributing such data to errors in observation or leaving them to be explained later.) But is it necessarily the case (or even most likely) that what is most simple is? Is it possible we’ve mistaken for a revealer-of-truth what is best seen as a means for modeling and manipulating our environment? Isn’t as much suggested by the fact that scientific induction never takes into account all facts (so far, humans have yet to observe all facts—nor will they, since many relevant facts have long since passed out of existence, unobserved by any save God), so that generalizations are always tentative and subject to later revision?
9 Continuing my earlier note on the pragmatic nature of science (note 8), I observe that this principle of causal closedness of the physical order takes a pragmatic working principle of science and illegitimately extends it into the non-pragmatic realm of metaphysics. While the existence or non-existence of immaterial souls might be irrelevant to such practical matters as neurosurgery and psychopharmacology—making an assumption of causal closedness pragmatically justifiable in science—applying the question to determination of what is the case, what is true, is unjustified.
10 This also has superficial similarities to Aristotle’s theory of forms (where the form or soul of a thing is its structure and unique qualities—in the case of human persons, e.g., this includes life and rationality) and Abelard’s conceptualist resolution of the realist-nominalist debate of the middle ages. See: Phillip Cary, “Aristotle—Metaphysics,” Lecture 7, in Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition, DVD series (Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2000); and Jeremy Adams, “Universals in Medieval Thought,” Lecture 21, in Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition, DVD series (Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2000).
11 See prior notes 8 and 9.
12 More than one person contemplating the subject of human knowledge has observed that what typically makes humans feel like they understand something is being able to describe it in terms of a metaphor or analogy from their normal experience. Might it not be, however, that—as with quantum phenomena of modern physics—divine foreordination is a phenomenon too much unlike our normal experience to permit construction of valid analogies? Our normal experience only provides as possible analogies physical determinism at the macro-level (e.g., colliding billiard balls) and human “determinism” through manipulation and coercion, neither of which may be analogous to divine foreordination.
13 The very idea that observed phenomena which repeatedly occur with the appearance of regularity/order/lawfulness may be expected to continue to manifest the same sort of lawfulness, fundamental to any empirical induction, is itself such a “picture.” It seems a picture there is no good reason to question—though one professing belief in a God-less chance universe might consider what justification he or she really has for believing it. Nevertheless, it is a picture.