Doctrine of Man (Part 7)

October 28, 2013     Time: 00:20:26

We have been talking about the reality of the soul and last time I suggested that the strongest reason, biblically, to believe in the reality of the soul rather than seeing the body-soul language of the New Testament as merely metaphorical or functional is the passages dealing with the intermediate state of the dead – that is to say, the state of the dead between physical bodily death and the resurrection. The Scripture seems to teach consistently that when you die you are not extinguished, you don’t go into soul-sleep, but you are in a conscious either blissful communion with Christ until he returns or else you are separated from him and in a state of anguish until the Judgment Day. We looked at several Scriptures including Paul’s 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16, and in 1 Peter 3 the passage concerning Jesus’ own activity during the intermediate period between his crucifixion and death and his resurrection when he went and preached to the spirits in prison who formerly had been disobedient.

Look at just a couple more passages to reinforce the point. 2 Peter 2:9 – here Peter says, “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.” There it indicates that the unrighteous dead are in a state of punishment until the time that they will be raised from the dead and judged.

Finally, Hebrews 12:22-23, the author says,

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.

Here it is talking, again, about the saints who are with Christ awaiting the final return of Christ, the resurrection, and the Judgment Day. It refers to these glorified saints as “the spirits of just men made perfect.” Here again we would have the notion of a disembodied soul in communion with Christ waiting until the time of the resurrection.

So it seems to me that we have ample biblical reason in the teaching about the intermediate state of the soul for believing that soul-body dualism in the Scripture is to be taken seriously, and that we are composite entities made up of a soul and a body and these are ontologically distinct from each other. In addition to that, I would want to point out that the denial of the reality of the soul is not only unbiblical but I think it has theological consequences that undermine all of Christian theology if you deny the soul.

1. Notice that God is an unembodied mind. God just is an unembodied soul in the same way that when we die we will become disembodied souls. God is an unembodied soul – he is an unembodied mind. So if you do not believe that unembodied souls are possible, it is very difficult to see how you can believe in the existence of God since that is what God is. I remember the first time I met Nancy Murphy, who is a professor of theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, at a conference at the University of Notre Dame and she informed me “I’m a materialist.” I was stunned. I said, “But how can you believe in the existence of God?” and she said, “Oh, well, I make an exception for God.” Well, I’m glad she did, conveniently, but that seems a rather ad hoc move, doesn’t it?[1] If God can be an unembodied soul then why can’t there be created souls in his image?

2. Free will is impossible without the reality of the soul. If we are just physical electrochemical machines then there isn’t any room for free agency to come in. Everything that we do is going to be determined by your genetic and physical makeup and then the inputs from your five senses – what the American philosopher Quine called the “irritation of your surfaces” by these various influences impinging upon your nerve endings.[2] This will determine everything that you think and do. And without free will, we are just machines. We are not moral agents who can do good or evil or who can be held responsible by God or who can respond freely to God’s love. We would just be automata. Free will is essential, I think, to a Christian view of man and yet that is undermined if we are just physical entities. Peter van Inwagen, who is another Christian philosopher who is a materialist, recognizes that he has no understanding of how, on his materialism, we can have libertarian freedom. But van Inwagen says “I know that we do have libertarian freedom and so I simply affirm it even though I don’t know how to reconcile it with my materialism.”[3] Well, again, I’m glad that he affirms freedom of the will but you would think it would lead him to question his materialism if you can’t make sense of free will on a materialist anthropology. Why not adopt a dualism that would make room for freedom of the will?

3. The resurrection of the body threatens to reduce to God’s creating a replica of you rather than actually raising you from the dead. If you are your body and you cease to exist when your body dies and your body, say, is destroyed – burned up in a fire or eaten by animals or something – then when God raises you from the dead on the Judgment Day, why is that you rather than just a duplicate of you? What makes that you rather than a replica of you with all of your memories and other things restored? It’s not really you – you died and ceased to exist when your body died; but then at the resurrection, God produces a duplicate of you. That is certainly not the doctrine of the resurrection. So on the materialistic view, you’ve really got some explaining to do as to why God’s production of this similar person on the resurrection day is really you rather than just a duplicate of you.

4. The incarnation seems to become impossible on this view. If human beings are purely physical material entities, how could the second person of the Trinity become a man? The doctrine of the incarnation is not that the second person of the Trinity turned himself into a human being. It is not like the ancient stories of Zeus where he would turn himself into a bull or a swan. If there is an immaterial part of man then we could understand how the incarnation could make sense – if the second person of the Trinity took on a human body, took on flesh. But how he could become flesh or have a human nature becomes very difficult to understand on a materialistic anthropology.

So it seems to me that not only do we have good biblical grounds for affirming the reality of the soul but also the denial of the soul’s reality has very, very serious theological consequences which should make anyone reluctant to embrace a monistic, materialistic anthropology.


Question: On your point that the resurrection would be God just creating a clone of us – wouldn’t somebody who holds that view basically believe that the entity “you” is really only just the state of your being anyway.[4] So God resurrecting you would only be that and that would be a satisfactory answer in their perspective wouldn’t it?

Answer: Well, I’m not sure that it would be because typically materialists would say that what makes this chair the same chair that was there yesterday is material continuity – that there is material continuity between the chair yesterday and today. But suppose I were to create out of nothing an exactly similar chair – a duplicate of it, not in the future but right now? Just being in the similar state wouldn’t make them the same chair, would they? So, say the chair was destroyed and God in the future were to make a chair that looks exactly like it – it’s in the same state – why would it be the same chair rather than just a duplicate? I’m not saying that is unanswerable but certainly the theological materialist has got some real explaining to do here, I think.

Question: Of those holding this view – what do they do about the references to Satan, the angels, and the whole realm that is such a paramount part of Christianity? How do they address that?

Answer: That is an interesting question and I have never asked them that. I have always been focused on the reality of the soul but you are right – what about these disembodied spirits like angels and demons? Maybe they would ascribe to them some kind of body.

Followup: Well, they would have to be in another realm of reality – another dimension – because they are clearly bodiless beings as is God and even the Holy Spirit.

Answer: I don’t know the answer but that is a very good question.

Question: One of the things that strikes me weird about materialism and Christianity – if they are to be intertwined like that – what about the identification of “you.” If you accept Christ at one point and if you are just a brain state or your physical brain is replaced by physical material over the years, how do they identify your salvation or anything like that?

Answer: Well, I would take it that they think that you just are this physical body and that somehow God has redeemed this physical body and has forgiven the sins that this physical body has committed and so in that sense you are reconciled to God and forgiven.

Followup: The problem I see is that it seems like if you are a different person when you accept Christ like a year later . . .

Answer: Ah! OK, yeah, what you are hitting on is a different problem and that is identity over time. I mentioned the chair being the same chair as the one that was here yesterday because it had material continuity. But what you are suggesting is maybe that is not an adequate theory of identity over time. Maybe there needs to be something more that would ensure identity over time because, after all, the body changes; every seven years almost all the material constituents of our body is reprocessed so that in that sense you are not the same body that you were. This gets into really interesting philosophical questions about endurance and identity over time. You might be suggesting – and I think rightly so – that having a soul which doesn’t get reprocessed over time (the soul doesn’t have parts that get redone) would make it easier to understand personal identity over time. I’ll same something more about that in a moment.

Question: How do the Christian materialists avoid pantheism, unless they see God as distinct or a spirit as distinct from the material realm? But if they are explaining God or even spirits or demons as an extension of the material realm, it almost sounds like that. How do they avoid that?

Answer: This is interesting what you are raising. These folks are Christians so they believe that God is not a material being. Remember Nancy Murphy says, “I make an exception for God.” But there is a certain school of thought called Process Theology or panentheism which thinks of the world as the body of God.[5] In the same way that I am related as my soul to my body so God is related to the world and so the world is the body of God. Moreover, for many of them, they take that mental pole of God – the soul part – to be really abstract, not to be something real. So for these folks it does seem to reduce God to just being the evolving cosmos. The cosmos just is the body of God evolving over time. If you are not willing to allow there to be a spiritual, immaterial, personal being distinct from the universe, it does seem like you are going to collapse into panentheism or perhaps even pantheism.

Let me at this point say something by way of defense of what I will call dualism-interactionism. That is to say, we human beings are composite entities composed of soul and body and these interact in order for us to function properly in this life. Robert Koons and George Bealer in their book The Waning of Materialism[6] have pointed out that in recent years there has been a waning of materialism among professional philosophers. They are beginning to realize the problems with a materialistic anthropology and to move away from it. Why is that? In his paper “Why Not Physicalism?” Angus Menuge, who is a philosopher of mind, lists several reasons. Let me read you this quote from Menuge before we talk about it. This is what he says in his paper “Why Not Physicalism?” from 2011.[7] He says,

Reductive and eliminative forms of physicalism

[That is to say, forms of physicalism that say there just is no such thing as the soul; there is just the brain and its states.]

fail to account for our mental lives. But . . . the varieties of non-reductive physicalism also fail to account for mental causation.

Non-reductive physicalism would try to say that the soul or our mental states is not a real thing but it is a sort of property, like a mental property, that supervenes on the brain and on its states. A good analogy of this would be the wetness of water. Water, as you know, is H2O – hydrogen and oxygen. Neither hydrogen nor oxygen is wet, right? But when you have hydrogen and oxygen combined in this way then the property of wetness supervenes on the hydrogen and the oxygen. So the whole compound has a property that its constituents do not. So the idea here is that all that really exists is the brain and its state but then these mental states sort of supervene on the brain in the way wetness supervenes on H2O. Any causal properties of water are not due to the supervenient properties; the causal properties of water are due to the properties of oxygen and hydrogen to cause and bring about certain things. So Menuge says,

. . . the varieties of non-reductive physicalism also fail to account for mental causation. If these theories are faithful to physicalism, then supervening or emergent mental properties cannot add anything new that was not going to happen anyway, as a result of their physical base properties. If we want to account for consciousness, mental causation and reasoning, we need some entity over and above the body. This entity must be simple, have thoughts as inseparable parts, persist as a unity over time, and have active power. That sounds like a soul . . .

What we will do next time is unpack a little bit of what Menuge said in this very dense paragraph and see exactly why these non-dualistic views of the soul really can’t account for several of the phenomena experience that we have in our mental lives.[8]


[1] 5:04

[2] “The proper role of experience or surface irritation is as a basis not for truth but for warranted belief.” (W. V. Quine, Theories and Things, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), p. 39.)

[3] “I conclude that there is no position one can take concerning free will that does not confront its adherents with mystery. I myself prefer the following mystery: I believe that the outcome of our deliberations about what to do is undetermined and that it is nevertheless—in some way I have no shadow of an understanding of—sometimes up to us what the outcome of these deliberations will be.” Peter van Inwagen, Metaphysics, 3rd ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2009) p. 270.

[4] 10:11

[5] 15:01

[6] Robert C. Koons, George Bealer, The Waning of Materialism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[7] Angus J. L. Menuge, “Why Not Physicalism? The Soul Has Work to Do,” unpublished ms. delivered at the Evangelical Philosophical Society panel for the Society of Biblical Literature, San Francisco, CA, November, 2011.

[8] Total Running Time: 20:25 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)