An Ash Wednesday Reflection 2015

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.

Glenn Peoples

Book announcement: Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology

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.

Here’s the synopsis: Continue reading “Book announcement: Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology”

Of proof texts and ghosts: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 2

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.

Continue reading “Of proof texts and ghosts: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 2”

Dust ‘n Breath: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 1

This might surprise some people, but embracing a biblical worldview gives us reasons to be mind-body materialists rather than dualists.

I first rejected mind-body dualism not because of any sort of scientific scepticism but because of what I started to see in the Bible when I started looking.1 For what it’s worth, I think other Christians should do the same. Continue reading “Dust ‘n Breath: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 1”

  1. 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. []

Tom Wright: Wrong about Soul Sleep

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”

Episode 033: In Search of the Soul, Part 5

At last, the series ends. Here is part five of the series on the mind/body problem. This episode steps completely away from analytical philosophy and is an overview of some of the biblical material that bears on the subject. Although it’s a comparatively long episode (just under fifty minutes), it’s still a very sketchy overview. The subject is a large one, and at best I can get the ball rolling and encourage you to look further. Enjoy. 🙂

UPDATE: Here the whole series, now that it is complete:

Part 1 

Part 2 

Part 3 

Part 4 

Part 5 

Revisited 

Episode 032: In Search of the Soul, Part 4

Here’s the fourth installment on my series on the mind-body problem.

In this episode I look at the argument against physicalism from the afterlife. Here, some dualists argue that if physicalism were true, then the resurrection of the dead would be logically impossible. Their argument is:

 

  1. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead entails that people will be raised back to life who are the same people who died long ago. In other words, they will have the same identity.
  2. Sameness of identity requires unbroken metaphysical continuity (that is, the continued, uninterrupted or “non-gappy” existence of whatever thing the functioning person is, whether a physical thing or an immaterial mind).
  3. In physicalism, it is logically impossible for there to be unbroken metaphysical continuity between a physical person who died a hundred years ago and a person who will be raised to life in the future.
  4. Therefore if physicalism is true, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is logically impossible. Stated differently, a physicalist cannot consistently believe in the resurrection of the dead.

How might a physicalist respond to this line of argument? Listen to find out. As promised in the episode, here are a few pieces of work by Trenton Merricks that relate to some of the material I cover:

“How to Live Forever Without Saving your Soul,” in Kevin Corcoran (ed.) Soul, Body, and Survival: Essays on the Metaphysics of Human Persons (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), 183-200

“There Are No Criteria of Identity Over Time,” Noûs 32:1 (1998), 106-124.

“The Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting” in Michael J. Murray (ed.), Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 261-286.

Enjoy. 🙂

Glenn Peoples

UPDATE: Here the whole series, now that it is complete:

Part 1 

Part 2 

Part 3 

Part 4 

Part 5 

Revisited 

Episode 031: In Search of the Soul, Part 3

Here’s part three of the series on philosophy of mind. We’ve moved from dualism in part one through to physicalism in this episode. I look at epiphenomenialism, reductionism, nonreductive physicalism and a constitution view.

As promised, here’s some suggested reading for those who want to look into the subject futher:

Nancey Murphy, “Nonreductive Physicalism and Free Will” http://www.metanexus.net/magazine/tabid/68/id/10501/Default.aspx

Nancey Murphy, “Is “Nonreductive Physicalism” an Oxymoron?” http://www.metanexus.net/magazine/tabid/68/id/10865/Default.aspx

Nancey Murphy and Warren Brown, Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Reflections on Moral Responsibility and Free Will (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Joel B. Green and Stuart L. Palmer (eds), In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2005). This volume includes contributions from Stewart Goetz (Substance Dualism), William Hasker (Emergent Dualism), Nancey Murphy (Nonreductive Physicalism) and Kevin Corcoran (Constitution View).

Joel B. Green (ed.), What About the Soul?: Neuroscience and Christian Anthropology (Abingdon Press, 2001). This volume includes contributions from Bill T. Arnold, D. Gareth  Jones, Joel B. Green, Patrick D. Miller, Charles E. Gutenson, Stuart L. Palmer, William Hasker, Michael Rynkiewich, Virginia T. Holeman, Lawson G. Stone and Malcolm Jeeves.

Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy and H. Newton Maloney (eds), Whatever Happened to the Soul: Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature (Augsburg Fortress, 1998). This volume includes contributions from Nancey Murphy, H. Newton Malony, Ray S. Anderson, V. Elving Anderson, Francisco J. Ayala, Warren S. Brown Jr., Joel B. Green, Malcolm Jeeves, H. Newton Malony and Stephen G. Post.

Kevin Corcoran, Rethinking Human Nature: A Christian Materialist Alternative to the Soul (Baker Academic, 2006).

The website of Timothy O’Connor, featuring a number of articles.

Happy reading, and I hope you find this episode interesting! 🙂

Glenn Peoples

UPDATE: Here the whole series, now that it is complete:

Part 1 

Part 2 

Part 3 

Part 4 

Part 5 

Revisited 

Episode 027: In Search of the Soul, Part 2

Here it is, part two of the series on philosophy of mind, In Search of the Soul. In this episode I introduce the viewpoint called emergentism, and I explore the argument for dualism from free will.

It’s not the most exciting of episodes, but it’s worth including and listening to if you’re wanting to get a decent overview of philosophy of mind because it lays out a major position (emergentism) and examines a pretty common argument for dualism. In episode 28 (I’ve decided that the whole series will be no more than five episodes long), I’ll look at William Hasker’s (among other people) objection to physicalism from the possibility of an afterlife, which I think will be a lot more interesting.

Glenn Peoples

UPDATE: Here the whole series, now that it is complete:

Part 1 

Part 2 

Part 3 

Part 4 

Part 5 

Revisited 

Episode 026: In Search of the Soul, part 1

In this episode of the Say Hello to my Little Friend podcast I start a four part series on philosophy of mind. I know I recently said that it would be a three part series, but hey, even four parts isn’t really enough to give the subject the full treatment it deserves. In part one I start with the dualist end of the spectrum. Today it’s Cartesian/Platonic dualism, which I take to be the most popular variety.

After recording the episode I thought maybe I should have thrown this in, so I’ll add it here. It’s a rather witty wee argument offered by Kevin Corcoran in the book that this series gets its name from, In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem. The argument appears in his reply to Cartesian dualist Stewart Goetz:

Stewart Goetz sometimes kisses his wife.

Stewart Goetz’s substantively simple soul never kisses anyone. (It has no lips!)

Therefore, Stewart Goetz is not a simple soul.

If you’re not yet familiar with what the term “simple” means in this context, listen to the episode, then come back and read Corcoran’s argument. Also in this episode I have my first ever “caller,” Joe Johnson from the “Watching Theology” podcast. You too can call into the show by emailing me an audio clip of your comments and questions. Send them to peoples dot glenn at gmail dot com.

Enjoy!

Glenn Peoples

UPDATE: Here the whole series, now that it is complete:

Part 1 

Part 2 

Part 3 

Part 4 

Part 5 

Revisited