Sunday, January 19, 2014

Why I Am A Dualist

It seems increasingly popular these days among Christian scholars to deny the existence of an immaterial soul. "The idea of an immaterial, everlasting soul, is a not a Jewish idea. It is a Platonic idea," some will say. I was shocked when I first came across this idea in undergrad, and I found myself starting to believe that perhaps there really isn't such a thing called a soul. However, more recently I've come to think that surely that can't be the case. And I want to offer some reasons for why I think so.  


But before I do that, let me be clear that I think the physically body is very important, and I think many Christians do have a tendency to overemphasize and prioritize the soul or the spiritual above the physical as though the two were competing with each other and I don't think that's quite right. Christians absolutely should recognize the importance of physical reality. After all, we believe in the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus. And we believe that God created this physical world, and He declared it good! So I think if Christians are to be properly concerned with issues of social justice, ecology, and gender/sexuality, we have to affirm the importance of the physical and bodily.

That being said let me offer four reasons for why I believe in a soul.


1.      Throughout history, the vast majority of people in the world have always believed in the existence of the soul. As Dean Zimmerman has pointed out, it’s not just that Christians have historically believed in the soul, it’s that almost everybody has. The idea that the soul or the mind is identical with the brain is a relatively new idea. And if you asked the average person if he or she believed in a soul, most of them would intuitively say yes. And I think there’s something to that. 

2.      It seems that if human beings are not more than physical matter, our consciousness would be no more than our brains. But then our actions and choices and feelings would simply be the processes of physical chemistry and neurons firing back and forth. In essence, we would be determined by our physical brain, genetic structure, and environmental inputs, and this would seem to take away human freedom and responsibility. After all, I can’t think of any purely material object that can exercise libertarian agency, so it seems like human beings would have to be more than just a material object. 

3.      Third, it’s possible for me to talk about myself in ways in which I am not identical with my body. So for example, I had a conversation with a friend where we were discussing the possibilities of switching bodies, but if it’s even possible for me to think of myself apart from my body then it must mean that I’m not identical with my body. Because if I were identical with my body then whatever would be true of my body would also be true of me, but that’s not the case.

4.      There are just too many Scripture passages that point to a distinction between the soul and the body, and to an intermediate state in which the soul survives after death. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says, “Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” In Luke 23:43, to the dying thief on the cross Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  Finally in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul says, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.” This is just to mention a very few passages of course, but I think these passages make far more sense if they are seen through a dualistic framework. 

Thus, I think the soul exists. 

Faith Colloquium : A Blog about Theology, Philosophy, Church, and Culture

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