Monday, September 05, 2005

Biblical argument for substance dualism

I do think a Biblical case can be made against substance dualism, but that case is not air-tight. Many of the passages (e.g. Ecclesiastes 9:5) could just as easily be used to build a case against resurrection. Some (e.g. Jehovah's Witnesses) are able to bring up dozens of passages showing that the word "soul" refers to any personal being, not to an immaterial self. They'll say we don't have a soul; we are one. But the words for soul and spirit are used in a variety of ways in the Bible, and they are arguably used to refer to the immaterial self in some passages.

There may be several places in the Bible that support substance dualism, but the case for substance dualism from those passages is not air tight. It's possible to interpret them in a way consistent with denying substance dualism. For example, some people use the parable about the rich man and Lazarus to argue for substance dualism, but this passage can be taken as a parable used by Jesus with no intention of explaining the reality of "life after death."

But there is one passage I think is about as air-tight as it's possible for a theological argument to be. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 says,
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
If we do not have an immaterial self that survives the death of the body and is capable of disembodied existence, then how is it possible to be "absent from the body" while at the same time being "present with the Lord"? I don't think it is possible, so it seems clear to me that Paul is assuming substance dualism.

I'm not about to say that some possible answer couldn't be given to this argument. Though I have yet to hear one (i.e. one that doesn't ignore my point), I've been sitting here trying to think of one myself. I suppose a person could argue that by being "absent from the body," Paul is referring to the present body, and that by being "present with the Lord," he's referring to when we recieve our future resurrection bodies. After all, in chapter 5, Paul does use some phrases similar to phrases he uses elsewhere in reference to resurrection. For example, in verse 2, he says, "we groan," which is similar to what he said in Romans 8:23: "we ourselves groan within ourselves , eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body." In verse 3 and 4, he talks about being clothed so that "mortality may be swallowed up by life," which is similar to 1 Corinthians 15:53,54, which says "this mortal must put on immortality," so that "death is swallowed up by victory." That whole passage in 1 Cor 15 is about the nature of resurrection.

Suppose, though, that the Bible is completely silent on the topic. Couldn't we still draw some conclusion through philosophical reasoning? The philosophical case for some form of substance dualism seems strong to me, which is why I'm a substance dualist.


At 9/05/2005 8:31 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Practically speaking, if substance dualism exists or doesn't exist, what is the implication for religion?

A mystic might view substance dualism as proof that we are separated from our beloved whole, God (Sufi's might make this argument).

I also thinking that if a soul exists, it deals with the issue of whether or not our souls are created or have existed forever in a different form. Hindus take this approach by talking about cycles of life, with each yuga representing another sleepy session of Brahma (as he awakes and falls asleep life is created and destroyed) and souls get recycled and replanted as life.

I think even a Christian would need to ask themselves is God is still creating every day, or if we are created as a soul long before our actual birth, and we are simply joined with our host body for our little 65-90 year stint on this earth.

Personally, if I accepted the notion of a soul i would view it as being far older than our short lives even if our life experiences dont match this.

At 9/05/2005 10:59 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

I agree with a lot of what you're saying. Some religious ideas, like life after death, transmigration, reincarnation, etc., seem to depend on the notion that we have a soul. Of course that's one of the problematic aspects of some forms of Buddhism. They believe in reincarnation, but they deny an enduring self. These two views seem to me to be incompatible.

Mormons believe we all were originally born as spirit beings long before we ever became humans in bodies. Most Christians, though, think that a new person (soul and all) comes into being when a person is conceived. It's clear in some passages that Jesus pre-existed, but my impression that that ordinary people didn't pre-exist.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that some people will cease to exist when God destroys them, but most Christians believe once you come into being, you never cease to exist.

If you've ever read Phaedo by Plato, he makes some arguments that the soul exists and is eternal--in other words it has always existed and always will exist.

At 9/06/2005 3:28 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Sam, you've discussed the relationship between the soul and the body. What are your thoughts on the relationship between different souls, and between a soul and God?

When I say between souls, I refer mainly to the idea of a "soulmate" and the idea of souls being separated sufistically from God, and perhaps heaven is simply the joining of soul and God.

At 9/06/2005 10:52 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Steve, I often wonder how souls interact with each other, but I really don't have anything solid to go on, so anything I said would be speculation. I don't believe we all join God in the sense of literally becoming "one," because I think that causes problems with identity. Being obsorbed into the oneness of everything, in my mind, is no different than ceasing to exist as an individual, and that seems inconsistent with Christianity.


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