We just got back from taking our kids to their first Ash Wednesday service. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, a time where we examine ourselves with a repentant heart, confessing our sins and reminding ourselves of God’s mercy. Many people give something up for lent and the practice of fasting during Lent is common, so that people can take their focus off their needs and pleasures and focus on being made right with God.
During the Ash Wednesday service, participants are marked on the forehead with a cross. Tonight the prayer just before the marking with ash really stood out to me:
Loving God, you created us from the dust of the earth; may these ashes be for us a sign of our penitence and mortality, and a reminder that only by the cross do we receive eternal life.
What a simple reality. The prayer wasn’t burdened down with the language that we sometimes use to describe these truths, terminology like “physicalism,” “conditional immortality” or “annihilationism.” One of the frustrating things (but of course not the only frustrating thing) when Christians deny these biblical truths and talk about the immortality of the soul or about everybody living forever (it’s just a question of where they live) is that we have to come up with terminology to describe these positions.
This prayer, though, is a perfect example of how something like “annihilationism” or “conditional immortality” is ideally expressed, with the straightforward, unadorned claims of the Bible. We are mortal, made from the earth (or from stardust as some scientists like to say), we are dust and to dust we will return. We should have no default expectation of living forever, and it is only through Christ that we can have eternal life. Call that “conditional immortality” if you like, but it’s just the Christian Gospel.
If I reject the argument from consciousness for dualism, do I also have to reject the kalam cosmological argument?
As I have noted elsewhere at the blog and in the podcast series called “In Search of the Soul” back in 2009, some dualists say that materialism (the view that we are material creatures without an immaterial soul added) has a problem because materialists cannot explain conscious experience. How can matter be “aware”? In reply, I have said that if the argument is driven by the fact that materialism lacks an explanatory account of how consciousness arises, then dualism should be rejected too, because it doesn’t have an explanatory account of how consciousness arises either. Saying that we have a soul does not explain how consciousness arises. In fact we should reject all philosophies of mind! But they can’t all be false, since here we are with minds! Since the objection proves too much, it must prove nothing at all. We don’t have to know how a view of human nature offers an explanatory account of consciousness in order for it to be true after all. (As an aside, a dualist might opt for the line of argument that there is no explanation, consciousness is just a brute fact of what souls are like. If this is the way to go, then he surrenders his argument about explanatory accounts.)
But when I first decided that this was the case, a parallel issue and potential problem occurred to me, and today my friend Hugh raised it. Curses, I was hoping nobody would spot this! (I jest.) The parallel issue is this: Does this mean we have to reject the kalam cosmological argument? How is this a parallel issue? In the following way: The kalam cosmological argument is that since whatever begins to exist must have a cause and the universe began to exist, it follows that the universe has a cause. The universe, so the argument goes, cannot be self-caused since this is incoherent. Rather, the cause of the universe is God, who brought the universe into being out of nothing. Continue reading “The Argument from Consciousness and the Kalam: An interesting parallel”→
Might it be true that the gender of some people’s souls doesn’t match the sex of their bodies?
In the ever-driven politics of the language of gender, the word “cisgender” has been forged. Without harping on too much about it, it’s a word that, in my view, has been created in part to destabilise the notion of “normal” as far as gender goes, so that what most of us took to be normal until now can be spoken about as simply one condition among the others. To be “cisgender” is to have physical makeup – including chromosomes but especially including sex organs – so that by examining your physical structure, a person can tell whether or not your gender is male or female. Continue reading “Dualism and Gender Identity”→
I’m delighted to announce that in December 2014 the Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology will be published, featuring a chapter from me called “The Mortal God.” The chapter is about how a doctrine of the incarnation might look coupled with a materialist view of human beings. Theological anthropology is about coming up with a view of human persons from a decidedly theological point of view, although there is a natural overlap with philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, theology and biblical studies. Questions about bodies, minds, souls, spirits, life, death, eternity and more are tackled in this sizeable piece of scholarship.
Sometimes the defenders of dualism are the pot, and their materialist targets are the kettle. Think about the following ways of arguing that we have immaterial souls and see if you can find anything wrong with them: Continue reading “Consciousness Cuts Both Ways”→
Does the Bible actually teach that souls live on when the body dies? Short story: no.
In part 1 of this series I looked at what the Bible does say about the mind-body question. You should read that before you read this post. In short, in Scripture there’s a fairly clear portrait of human beings as physical and mortal, returning to the earth when we die, and depending on the resurrection of the dead for any future life beyond the grave. The familiar view of human beings as immaterial souls that inhabit physical bodies and live on when the body dies is not one supported in the Bible.
But is it really that simple? The evidence we saw last time was surprisingly clear, but still, some Christian readers of Scripture are resistant to this message. There are some passages in the Bible – although not many – that seem to some Christians to suppose that actually human beings do not die when their bodies die, but they actually live on in non-material form. Their souls don’t die. Some passages of the Bible, some people think, teach dualism because they teach that the soul outlives the body.
Specifically, I mean substance dualism, a view most clearly represented by the French philosopher René Descartes, or in classical thought by Plato. Materialism as a view of human beings is compatible with property dualism, with emergentism or with hylemorphism (in which a human being, like any other creature, is a compound of matter and form), in spite of the fact that the word dualism is used to describe each. The key is that these are views where the only substance involved is a physical substance. [↩]
If the doctrine of divine timelessness is true, then it turns out – perhaps surprisingly to some people – that materialist Christology – and in particular what it has to say about the death of Jesus – is given a helping hand.
Is Christian physicalism really the child of naturalism that gives essentialism the heave-ho?
I really wish that evangelical institutions would pick the right fights to get into. A couple of days ago I got an email advertisement from that great bastion of substance dualism (or more importantly, that good and faithful opponent of Christian physicalism) in the modern Evangelical world, Biola University. The advertisement reads as follows: