What difference does it make if the Bible teaches we are physical creatures, rather than dual body-soul beings? How does that impact on anything else we believe as Christians? From gender identity to mental health more generally, to salvation, the way we view human nature has a profound impact.
You can only believe in purgatory if you hold a substance dualist view of human beings.
Purgatory is a place that exists according Roman Catholic Theology, and a number of people who are not Roman Catholic believe in it, too. In Catholic theology, it is a place where you go after death if you are not yet ready for heaven, so that you can receive punishments for the venial sins (the less serious sins, as opposed to mortal sins) that have not yet been dealt with in this life. As Thomas Aquinas put it,
[I]f the debt of punishment is not paid in full after the stain of sin has been washed away by contrition, nor again are venial sins always removed when mortal sins are remitted, and if justice demands that sin be set in order by due punishment, it follows that one who after contrition for his fault and after being absolved, dies before making due satisfaction, is punished after this life. Wherefore those who deny Purgatory speak against the justice of God: for which reason such a statement is erroneous and contrary to faith.
Outside of this historical Catholic understanding of purgatory, others have suggested, not that people need to be punished, but rather that they simply need to be fully sanctified (made holy) before reaching their final state in heaven. Jerry Walls defends this view in his book Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. In public conversations, Dr Walls has remarked that while no doubt the sinful human desire is to have total transformation all at once, the reality is that sanctification is a process that takes time, hence purgatory.
I do not believe in purgatory, but I will not here argue that purgatory does not exist. Instead, I will just make one observation: To believe in purgatory presupposes mind-body substance dualism. Continue reading “Purgatory requires dualism”→
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.
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”→
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:
This episode is a very late addition to the series “In Search of the Soul,” looking at the various options that exist in philosophy of mind.
In the original five part series I was very conscious of the fact that I was leaving out the view of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, and this addendum is my penance for that fact. As promised in the episode, here are just a few suggestions for further reading, from authors who defend “hylemorphic dualism.”
David Oderberg, Real Essentialism
David Oderberg, “Hylemorphic Dualism” in Ellen Paul, Fred Miller and Jeffrey Paul (eds), Personal Identity
Edward Feser, Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner’s Guide
He’s right about a lot of things, but soul sleep isn’t one of them.
Tom Wright’s scholarly writing on the biblical teaching on the resurrection of the dead is praiseworthy for a number of reasons. He has alerted the evangelical community to the unfortunate way in which popular theologies of “going to heaven” are eclipsing the biblical hope of the resurrection to eternal life. But he does have one major weak spot, in my view, and that is the rather poor treatment of the doctrine of “soul sleep.” Soul sleep is the view that people do not experience any conscious intermediate state of waiting between death and resurrection. They are wholly dead until God steps in and raises them back to life. Continue reading “Tom Wright: Wrong about Soul Sleep”→
Although I’m familiar with the view that the Apostle Paul is relating an “out of body experience” at the outset of 2 Corinthians 12, I’m pretty sure that he is not. That’s partly because I think human beings are material, so I don’t think that such events are even possible, but it’s also because the evidence for this claim about the meaning of this passage is pretty weak. I’ll explain why I say this. Continue reading “2 Corinthians 12 – an “out of body” experience?”→
Every Christian who decides on a stance to take on the mind-body issue is going to have to live with the fact that there will be certain “problem texts” in the Bible that appear to conflict with the position they take. As a physicalist, I think there is a very small number of such texts for my view, and I think there are plausible explanations for all of them (for example Jesus’ words to the criminal on the cross Luke 23:43, which I discussed recently). What one hopes to do is to settle on a view that has fewer problems than all others, problems that have an explanation in sight.
I think that traditional Cartesian/platonic dualism has a real problem, therefore, when it comes to 1 Corinthians 15, as I think it contains a problem for dualism – a problem with no real solution that I can see. The chapter is a decent size, so I won’t reproduce it here, but go ahead and read it first to make sure I’m representing what it says faithfully. The subject is the resurrection of the dead, and it arises because some of those in the church in Corinth had said that there will be no resurrection. The Apostle Paul makes a number of comments on this, one of which concerns my point here. In doing so he indicates that he cannot possibly have been a dualist. Continue reading “Eat, Drink, and be Merry: 1 Corinthians 15 and Physicalism”→
If soul sleep is true, then why did Jesus tell the criminal on the cross that he would be with him that day in Paradise?
As I’ve indicated numerous times, I’m a materialist about human beings. I don’t think that I’m an immortal ghost/soul living inside a body. I think that I’m a physical creature. Long before I encountered philosophy of mind or neuroscience, I became convinced that this is what the Bible teaches, making its teaching on human nature stand out like a sore thumb against the pagan Hellenistic theology of the first century.
I also become convinced that since I am not an immortal ghost living inside a body, when my body dies I will not escape death and live on in heaven, or the underworld, or the astral plane or anything of that sort. I think the Bible teaches that death is very real and it puts an end to our life. There is no conscious state of any sort immediately following death. There is noting at all. Of course, I am a Christian and I do believe in the resurrection of the dead, but that obviously doesn’t happen when a person dies, or I think somebody would have noticed by now. The view I hold has sometimes been called “soul sleep” because it views death as a state of “sleep” or unconsciousness. It’s not an ideal term because it can be taken to imply dualism and maybe “person sleep” would be a better alternative, but it’s too late for that. The term has been coined.
Holding and expressing these views rubs some of my fellow conservative evangelicals the wrong way, but for the most part there’s really no disputing that the Bible presents human nature and death this way literally dozens of times in fairly clear language. Affirming dualism and the view that we live on as immaterial spirits after death and go somewhere is a point of view held in the teeth of the biblical evidence. This fact too, I suspect, rubs some of my fellow conservative evangelicals the wrong way.
In spite of the fairly clear overall teaching of the Bible, there is a very small handful of biblical passages (no more than four, in my view) that might be used (and have been used) to suggest that actually the general impression given by most of what the Bible teaches is false, and that really we do survive our bodily deaths and travel to heaven, or hell, or some other place and live consciously there. This should not be surprising. Whether you’re doing surveying, earth science or biblical interpretation, when formulating a theory you’re always going to be confronted with recalcitrant evidence, that is, evidence that at first glance seems to go against the flow of the well-established facts and is in need of an explanation. The existence of such evidence in science or in Scripture does not falsify a theory.