I also published this blog entry over at the Preterist Blog.
I’m under no illusions about the fact that my view on the mind-body problem is a minority view in the history of Christian thought. I’m a physicalist. This puts me in the minority because, as well known Christian philosopher of mind William Hasker (himself a dualist of sorts) put it:
By all odds the most influential mind-body theory in Western civilization has been mind-body dualism. Dualism was first developed as a philosophical theory by some of the Greek philosophers, notably Plato. It was adopted by most of the Christian thinkers of the first few centuries and subsequently came to share Christianity’s dominance of European civilization.
Hasker, Metaphysics: Constructing a Worldview, Contours of Christian Philosophy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1983), 65.
This is not such a terrible indictment on Christian theologians. It’s hard to live in a culture utterly saturated with a certain viewpoint without being influenced by it. As an almost inevitable result, “the Greek Fathers of the first three centuries of the Common Era (c.E.) drew upon various traditions within the Greco-Roman world from as early as Plato and Aristotle in formulating their language and concepts of the human person.” [Ray Anderson, “On Being Human: The Spiritual Saga of a Creaturely Soul” in Warren Brown, Nancey Murphy, and H. Newton Maloney (eds) Whatever Happened to the Soul?: Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), 183.]
As the facts of history would have it in the pre-modern world, physicalism was a quiet voice amidst a loud dualist majority. As the facts of recent history would have it, the tables are turning on this state of affairs. In contemporary Christian philosophy and theology, there is a growing acceptance of physicalism as an expression of a biblical holisitc picture of humanity, evidenced by a flood of scholarly yet conservative books, articles, conferences and so on, advocating a real willingness to question the cultural baggage that Christianity has taken on board and a fresh willingness to revisit what the Bible has to say about all this. Christian dualism is still the majority view, but it is a majority in decline, a fact I take some pleasure in. If you’re a dualist, all of this may be a little unnerving. As Bob Dylan told us decades ago now, the times they are a changin’! I have no intention of dragging you kicking and screaming out of dualism in this fairly short blog entry, so don’t bother preparing for battle with me just now. The purpose of this blog isn’t to promote my views on that issue (however much I think those views would be good for your theology). However, it’s best to lay all my cards on the table right at the outset so you know what I am.
The reason I’m even broaching the subject is to draw attention to how philosophy of mind is related to the hyperpreterist controversy (controversy? OK, so in Christianity in general it’s not even a storm in a teacup, so insignificant is that movement, but you know what I mean). Hyperpreterism is necessarily a very dualistic outlook, even more dualistic than mainstream Christian dualism. Here’s why:
Evangelical dualists traditionally identify the persona – the mind or conscious self – with the soul. Thus, a person survives death because the soul survives death. Dualists naturally speak of a person being with the Lord in heaven. However, they do still emphasise that this is a temporary state of affairs. It’s wonderful of course (thus, they interpret Paul’s reference to departing and being with the Lord “which is far better” to be a joyful anticipation of the glory of heaven), but it’s still not quite as good as it could be. This is because evangelical dualists – because they are evangelicals – affirm the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the physical body and the hope of being re-embodied once more.
Hyperpreterism however takes dualism to another level. The hyperpreterist believes that any so-called “resurrection” is really not a dead thing coming to life at all (which is why I think it’s fair to say that they actually deny resurrection altogether), but rather the continued, unbroken survival of the soul entering a new body – one that was never dead, one that does not need to be raised from death, and (more importantly for my point here), one that is not physical at all – any more than the soul itself is physical. And since, according to a hyperpreterist, this is all the body that the person will ever have, any thought of a future physically embodied state is ruled out altogether. There is therefore absolutely no physical aspect to our eternal life. Fancy that – a “resurrection” where no dead things come back to life!
It would be obviously wrong to say that dualism naturally leads to hyperpreterism. It can, but of course it doesn’t usually (thank God!). Provided one accepts the orthodox belief that there really will be a resurrection of the physical body, no Christian dualist could become a hyperpreterist.
What is definitely true, however, is that in order to be a hyperpreterist, one must be a dualist. If one is a physicalist, then when the body dies, we die (unless one believes in a physical intermediate state, which creates some very strange complications that I won’t go into here). If physicalism is true, then unless there is a physical resurrection of the dead, we are doomed. If physicalism is true, then without the resurrection our only hope is in this life and we may as well eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!
In a way I’m glad that I became a physicalist well before I had heard of hyperpreterism. This way, I cannot be accused of adopting physicalism as a way of combating hyperpreterism. Of course we should not start professing a point of view just because of its apologetical value. We should profess it with a clear conscience because we have become persuaded that it is true. That being said, however, all I want to point out is that physicalism, that re-affirmation of a holistic, biblically grounded view of human nature (as I see it to be), naturally rules out the heretical undermining of the doctrine of the resurrection that the hyperpreterist movement presents.
I appreciate that not everyone has a keen interest in the subject of philosophy of mind, of theological portraits of human nature. You don’t need a strong interest in that subject area. I do have such an interest, and for about a decade now I’ve been enjoying the revived interest that theologians and Christian philosophers are showing in it (that phenomenon has been going on for a few decades now, long before I got interested). I think that the reward of coming to a better informed and hopefully more biblical view of humanity is reason enough to dive into it, but if that alone doesn’t do it for you, perhaps the way that the issue interacts with the discussion about hyperpreterism might arouse your interest enough to take another look.
- Episode 032: In Search of the Soul, Part 4
- What decent physicalism is not
- Eat, Drink, and be Merry: 1 Corinthians 15 and Physicalism
- Hasker at the Bridge of Death
- Nuts and Bolts 006: What is Dualism?