Being Human 2 (RJS)

On Tuesday I began a series on Joel B. Green’s book Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible. Over the course of the next few months, once or twice a week, I will work through the questions raised by Green on the nature of humanity in the context of scripture, theology, and modern neuroscience.

The view that humans are composed of a physical material body and a separate immaterial soul is the default position for most Christians. This dualist view is increasingly difficult to reconcile with improved understanding of biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience. I’ve posted on some of this before. The posts can be found through the Science and Faith Archive on the sidebar – scroll down to the heading Science, Faith, and Being Human. Dr. Green gives definitions for some of the important concepts and terms at play in the discussion of the nature of humanity. The two extreme positions are:

Reductive Materialism has it that the human person is a physical (or material) organism, whose emotional, moral, and religious experiences will ultimately and decisively be explained by the natural sciences. People are nothing bu the product of organic chemistry. (p. 30)


Radical Dualism advocates the view that the soul (or mind) is separable from the body, having no necessary relation to the body, with the human person identified with the soul.  … in this view the soul acts apart from bodily processes and the body is nothing more than a temporary and disposable holding tank (or shell) for the soul. (p. 31)

I’ll give some intermediate options after the jump.

Where would you put your position on the continuum between these two poles? Closer to reductive materialism or radical dualism?

There are a number of positions between the extremes of reductive materialism and radical dualism.

Wholistic dualism … a form of substance dualism, but posits that the human person, though composed of discrete elements, is nonetheless to be identified with the whole which, then, constitutes a functional unity. (p. 31)

Various forms of monism are also defended from a Christian perspective.

…the monists with whom I am concerned argue that the phenomenological experiences that we label “soul” are neither reducible to brain activity nor evidence of a substantial, ontological entity such as a “soul,” but rather represent essential aspects or capacities of the self. (p. 31)

These four terms form a basis for the discussion that will come in future posts.  There is another important aspect of human existence that we should consider before moving on though.

Individual vs Community. The witness of the bible in both the old and new testaments is to an embodied existence of humans, humans always considered as in relationship to God, and humans who are always considered in the context of human community.  The cultural blinders like those that impact interpretation of body and soul in scripture also impact interpretation of the communal nature of personhood.

Given the strength of Cartesian categories and the experience of many since the Enlightenment, it is perhaps not surprising to see the degree to which humanity has come to be understood “one person at a time,” so to speak. This is not biblical faith however. Although biblical faith would naturally resist any suggestion that our humanity can be reduced to our physicality, it also challenges those, past and present, who insist that the human person can ever be understood on individual terms.

Thus a consideration of the nature of humanity in the bible in the context of modern neuroscience must deal with both the embodied nature of humans and the relational nature of humans. This impacts the understanding of eschatology, salvation, and mission. As a people we are much more than a collection of individuals.

Dr. Green considers poses several questions that highlight the relational nature of humanity and this impact this may have on our understanding of the biblical view of humanity. These questions can help shape the discussion today.

How should we understand salvation? Does salvation entail a focus on the inner state of individual human souls?

To what extent should the mission of the church focus on the soulish needs of persons, on society-at-large, or on the cosmos?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

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  • Susan N.

    If I am understanding the options rightly, I believe that my view of body and soul is closest to wholistic dualism. (These two words seem somewhat contradictory?)

    The soul, to my current understanding, is that which is the essence of one’s being. All the memories, feelings, beliefs, knowledge, experiences, etc., that form an individual’s unique personhood. That part lives on after death. The physical body is perishable. I am not sure that I have definite beliefs about when or how the physical body will or won’t be resurrected and reunited with the eternal soul after death. This is less important to my faith, so I haven’t thought about it all that much; it doesn’t worry me either way.

    In this earthly life, I believe that, in reality, body and soul are meant to be seen and cared for as one wholistic entity. Because we are fallen, we struggle with a “disconnect” within ourselves, with others, and with God. Perhaps in eternity, this is the thing that will be permanently fixed…we will finally be whole (shalom, ubuntu) in every sense.

    I personally do, very much, believe in communal wholeness (holiness). I believe concern for social justice is a mandate for Christians. And that is not just evangelizing to win salvation for another’s soul, but in caring for the physical needs of others, and not just those in the church who are fellow believers. Jesus’ life and ministry was devoted as much to preaching and teaching as to healing. I get that in every instance of healing there was a greater theological message (soul salvation), but to me, this does not negate or diminish our calling as Christians to care for the physical needs of others. Lastly, Jesus’ miraculous healings often resulted in social restoration. He cared about the geeks and freaks on the margins who had been alienated from the religious community, and by extension (backwards, I know), from God. This is my conviction about following Christ, and what it means to be human, body and soul :-)

  • Joe Canner

    Susan, I absolutely agree with everything you said, well done!

    Now, since this is a blog about science and religion, can you (or anyone else), explain where that definition of soul comes from? If science says there is no soul (it’s all neurons) and the Bible doesn’t really say much of anything, it must come from somewhere else. I’m not trying to cause trouble, just curious. It’s always good to have “proof” for those on either side who insist on it.

  • gingoro

    I hope this book is as good as the book Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience
    by Ranald Macaulay & Jerram Barrs After CS Lewis this book is one of my favorite Christian books.
    Dave W

  • John W Frye

    “People are nothing but the product of organic chemistry.” I don’t agree. I tend to be a wholistic dualist but would be interested in the theology and science of monism. As a pastor, I’ve observed people at the moment of “death” and something very substantial happens to that which animates the body. Call it nephesh or psueche or pneuma or leb/cardia–something alive and human seems to die or depart.
    Using the imagery of Genesis 2 with dust forming the human body and God breathing into it the “breath of life” and the two become a living human being, it’s hard not to hold to some form of dualism (without endorsing Platonism).

  • Ray Ingles

    People are nothing bu the product of organic chemistry.

    it’s all neurons

    We all recognize that arrangement matters critically. A bunch of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, chocolate powder, and so forth can be made into a delicious chocolate cake… or an inedible mess, depending on who’s doing the baking. (I know. My wife’s a baker. I’m not.) And a baker can know precisely what is in a cake that they made, and exactly how it was made… and still enjoy eating that cake. It is true that the Mona Lisa is ‘just an arrangement of pigments on some canvas’ – but that arrangement is deservedly famous.

    People are amazing, wonderful things. They are not ‘just bags of chemicals’; each person is an extraordinarily special, literally unique pattern and process of chemicals. The raw materials aren’t special, it’s the arrangement thereof that’s unique, valuable, and irreplaceable. We can know what people are made of (apparently entirely) and still find them precious and wonderful.

    The main thing that people don’t seem to like about that idea is that an arrangement, by definition, doesn’t survive when the substrate decays.

  • DRT

    Like Susan N I think I am whollistically dualistic, but I think my definition is a bit different than hers.

    ISTM that not-eternal life that Jesus talks about (vis-à-vis eternal life) is an interplay between the reductionist self and the whollistic self. The reductionist self considers itself an ontological entity that is acting to satisfy its own needs and desires. The eternal life self is a whollistic self who recognizes that one has no ontological concrete reality outside of the relationship between themselves and others. And it is the emergent self that is only seen in relation to others that is the true self that must be managed.

    Now, to try and say that in English.

    Just like the personality of a community or city or country is something separate and emergent from the individuals, the person is something separate from the parts of a person. Furthermore, a community personality is can be considered meaningless outside of its relationship to other communities of people. So too the personality or soul of a person is not terribly meaningful except in its relationship to others. This personality or soul does not have a *real* existence, but it *truly* exists. I am starting to think the soul can exist outside of the human, but it truly exists.

  • DRT

    my last sentance should be ” am starting to think the soul cannot exist outside of the human, but it truly exists.

  • dopderbeck

    RJS — I wouldn’t say that “humans are composed of a physical material body and a separate immaterial soul is the default position for most Christians.” Maybe that’s true if we’re just talking about popular-level views. But in terms of historic Christian theology, some sort of “holistic dualism,” as some others above have noted, is a more accurate description of the mainstream position.

    Body and soul, in the mainstream of Christian theology, are not “separate” in the sense of being ontologically discrete entities. They are two parts that share in the whole substance of the “human being.” Obviously there are other places in Christian theology where some notion of different parts sharing in one substance is important: the divine-human nature of Christ, and the Trinity (though we have to be careful with analogies here because we need to maintain the fullness of the humanity and divinity of Christ and the person-ness of the persons of the Trinity).

    I enjoyed Green’s book, but ultimately I’m not convinced that even nonreductive physicalism captures the Bible’s and Christian theology’s holistic sense of the human person.

  • Joel

    Joe, you ask about the origins of this notion of the soul. Thomas Metzinger thinks that the idea of a soul arose on account of out-of-the-body experiences. Much of what people mean by “soul” today, though, can be traced back to Descartes, and then back to the line of thinking that runs from Plato to Philo and into neoPlatonism.

  • Susan N.

    Joe @ #2 – I have been waiting for someone to suggest “proofs” for my beliefs. I can’t cite a list of bible verses off the top of my head to prove what I believe. I think my personal beliefs have evolved over time based on a combination of what I know and understand of Scripture, historical Christianity / church traditions that I have absorbed, and my own experiences and reasoning on the matter. As I was trying to think of how I could answer you, besides what I have already said of my knowledge and beliefs about Christ — his life/ministry, death, and resurrection, these two quotes came to mind:

    “Man fully alive is the glory of God.” ~Irenaeus

    “Christ has no body now but yours
    No hands, no feet on earth but yours
    Yours are the eyes through which He looks
    compassion on this world
    Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

    ~Teresa of Avila

    My dear, 90+yo devout Catholic friend prays this prayer:

    “Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
    Body of Christ, save me.
    Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
    Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
    Passion of Christ, strengthen me.

    O good Jesus, hear me.
    Within Thy wounds, hide me.
    Separated from Thee let me never be.
    From the malignant enemy, defend me.

    At the hour of death, call me.
    To come to Thee, bid me,
    That I may praise Thee in the company
    Of Thy Saints, for all eternity. Amen.”

    In the Catholic and Protestant tradition of the eucharist, we become one with the body and blood of Christ, and also with one another in fellowship at the “table”. This unity and oneness speaks to my belief in “shalom” and “ubuntu”.

  • Susan N.

    I can’t believe I forgot to add the one reference to Scripture that did come to mind!

    It is Matthew 22:34-40 (also Mark 12:29-31 and Luke 10:26-28). This is what it means to be fully alive :-)

  • Justin Topp


    Agreed that non-reductive physicalism isn’t perfect, but do you think there is an explanation that better fits the data before us? I hate to go down the “human language is only finite” path, but it places limits on this conversation. The “holistic dualism” angle is an interesting one, but I’m not sure it has any more explanatory power. But, I’m coming at this as a scientist so I’m biased to favor the answers that are more concrete scientifically.

  • Joe Canner

    Susan #9: Thanks for your honesty. I think it’s telling that doctrines about the soul didn’t develop until the 2nd or 3rd century. Perhaps that was when people realized that since Jesus hadn’t returned yet, they better come up with some other ideas about what happens to people after they die. That doesn’t necessarily mean that what they came up with was wrong (and my gut tells me that what you described is probably right), but that whatever doctrines and ideas we come up with should be held lightly.

  • Darren King

    “People are nothing but the product of organic chemistry.”

    For those who say such a thing, the hubris is astounding. I honestly don’t know who I find more arrogant and short-sighted, religious fundamentalists, or reductive materialists. As much as they like to consider themselves opposites they’re actually very alike.

    What I crave to hear more from people is – “I don’t know”, “we don’t know”, “we can’t possibly know”, etc. And part of that journey needs to involve an embrace of mystery. People are unlikely to embrace this until they see that “not knowing” is not only a better assessment of where we’re at, but its also “okay”. Its “okay” to not know.

    I think intellectual honesty often goes out the door in these situations. Materialists make absolute statements to counter the absolute statements of religious fundamentalists. And the argument is more about proving the other wrong than it is really about getting at the truth. Our agendas blind us.

  • dopderbeck

    Justin — “more concrete scientifically” — this is a problematic epistemic posture with respect to the soul/mind-body question. Scientifically there are no warrants for speaking of the “soul” (or for that matter of the “mind” as some sort of entity) because science is only competent to investigate certain aspects of reality — i.e., the material and empirical. I think the base question is whether the material and empirical account for all of reality — whether materialism is true as a philosophy — which is a question that science, ironically, can’t answer, but can only at best presume.

    Scientists don’t like this, but at bottom this about philosophy and metaphysics (and theology). There are good philosophical / metaphysical and theological reasons for belief in the “soul.” Neuroscience can reliably tell us that certain brain states correlate with certain feelings and behaviors, but neuroscience has no competence to declaim on the metaphysical question of the “soul.” Nor can Ockham’s Razor elide the “soul” merely because of these neuroscientific correlations, because those correlations alone do not provide a full explanation of what it means to be “human.” A full explanation of what it means to be “human” must include things like the existence of universals (e.g., of an real ideal of the “good” life), the teleology of personhood, our relationality to God, and the persistence of non-material identity through and after physical life — all things that science can’t address.

    I’d would reframe your concern this way: let my understanding of how brain states, emotions and behaviors correlate be as accurate and concrete as possible, and let that understanding inform my beliefs about what it means to be an integrated body-and-soul human person.

  • Justin Topp


    I’m with you on the “There are good philosophical / metaphysical and theological reasons for belief in the soul.” But I also think science can speak to *aspects* of said soul and mind. I’m weary when folks say science can’t explain “X”, but this other field can. While others who would fall under the philosophy of materialism or scientism think science can explain everything, I don’t. But I do think that we can’t rule out the abilities of science in some areas just because it can’t explain everything in said areas.

    That being said, scientists need to be aware of the fact that the aspects of the soul that they study are just that. Aspects. And, from the other side of the discussion table, philosophers and theologians need to respect the science that shows material not only correlates with soul, but changes in the material can cause changes in aspects of the soul.

  • Joe Canner

    Joel #9: Sorry, I missed your comment when I responded to Susan…. Out-of-body experiences (especially the near-death variety) do seem to play a large role in people’s understanding of the soul. It’s too bad that they’re so hard to independently verify. Lynn Vincent’s book on the Burpo family, however, provides some new and potentially useful ammunition in that respect.

    Absent evidence from science and religion, I guess it makes sense that most of the thinking on this subject comes from philosophers, which is why it seems to fit with our common sense understanding anyway.

  • dopderbeck

    Justin – I still think that confuses things. Science can explain “aspects” of human behavior, emotions, ideations, and so on. But by definition, “science” is limited to that which is material — right? And since “soul” is by definition immaterial, science can’t address it all.

    I agree with you that science can address “aspects” of the human person that must involve the participation of body and soul in our personhood. And this does involve things like behavior, emotions, and ideations. But I think we should be clear that “science” is properly capable of addressing only the material relations that are properly the subject of science. After that, we quickly move out of the realm in which “science” is authoritative and into the more integrated realm of philosophy (and ultimately of theology).

  • Justin Topp


    I didn’t realize we were defining soul as immaterial. If it’s defined that way, then yes, the soul is outside of the realm of science. But this certainly limits the conversation and is not a requirement for the meaning of soul, no?

  • DRT

    If I am going to hold the thought that we do not have a seperate soul, then that means my soul will not go to heaven. So I read and categorized all of the occurances of heaven in the new testament (I made a spreadsheet, true to my inhereting the earth) and here are the results.

    Count of KoH 33
    Count of Place of God 77
    Count of Heaven and Earth 102
    Count of Heaven and Hades 2
    Count of Sin against Heaven 2
    Count of John uses *from heaven* 16
    Count of Attribute of Godly 8
    Count of House in Heaven 3
    Count of Third Heaven 1
    Count of Place to Store Things 13
    Count of Place of Other Beings (e.g. angels) 16

    No where in the NT does it say that we will ever be in heaven.

  • DRT

    Here it is by book, if you are interested.
    Acts Count of Place of God 7
    Count of Heaven and Earth 18
    Colossians Count of Place of God 1
    Count of Heaven and Earth 3
    Count of Place to Store Things 1
    Corinthians Count of Heaven and Earth 1
    Count of Attribute of Godly 3
    Count of House in Heaven 3
    Count of Third Heaven 1
    Count of Place of Other Beings (e.g. angels) 1
    Ephesians Count of Place of God 4
    Count of Heaven and Earth 3
    Count of Place to Store Things 1
    Count of Place of Other Beings (e.g. angels) 1
    Galatians Count of Place of Other Beings (e.g. angels) 1
    Hebrews Count of Place of God 8
    Count of Heaven and Earth 2
    Count of Attribute of Godly 5
    Count of Place of Other Beings (e.g. angels) 1
    James Count of Place of God 2
    Count of Heaven and Earth 3
    John Count of Heaven and Earth 2
    Count of John uses *from heaven* 16
    Luke Count of Place of God 8
    Count of Heaven and Earth 11
    Count of Heaven and Hades 1
    Count of Sin against Heaven 2
    Count of Place to Store Things 4
    Count of Place of Other Beings (e.g. angels) 5
    Mark Count of Place of God 7
    Count of Heaven and Earth 6
    Count of Place to Store Things 1
    Count of Place of Other Beings (e.g. angels) 2
    Matthew Count of KoH 31
    Count of Place of God 25
    Count of Heaven and Earth 10
    Count of Heaven and Hades 1
    Count of Place to Store Things 4
    Count of Place of Other Beings (e.g. angels) 4
    Peter Count of Place of God 2
    Count of Heaven and Earth 6
    Count of Place to Store Things 1
    Philippians Count of KoH 1
    Count of Place of God 1
    Count of Place of Other Beings (e.g. angels) 1
    Revelation Count of Place of God 7
    Count of Heaven and Earth 37
    Count of Place to Store Things 1
    Romans Count of Place of God 2
    Thessalonians Count of Place of God 3
    Timothy Count of KoH 1

  • DRT

    Obviously I am going to have to make this into a post on my blog, but I thought you all would appreciate that it is obvious when you read it through like that, that God is in Heaven, and Jesus did go to heaven, and we will be with Jesus, but not in heaven, but in the new heavens and earth when he comes into our realm again.

  • Joe Canner

    DRT #20-22: No arguments with what you wrote (although Kingdom of Heaven is usually a synonym for Kingdom of God, not an actual place called heaven). I think the only after-death role that has been posited for the soul is to bide the time between death and resurrection. This state, known variously as Sheol, Hades, and Paradise, is hinted at in a few places in Scripture, but is hardly definitive. It’s difficult to do more than speculate as to what part of the human (if any) will participate in this interim state.

  • Napman

    Determining whether a human being is entirely material or not cannot be the province of science alone because first, it is a question of metaphysics, not science, and second because science, as dopderbeck points out, only deals with material causes.

    Scientists today have increasingly embraced various forms of materialistic understandings of what can be called the nature of persons. Whether such views are ultimately justified cannot depend on the results of scientific investigation just as scientific experiments cannot test whether an immaterial God exists or not. Sophisticated forms of dualism need to be considered more fully than the the simplistic forms that pervade many scientist’s understandings of dualism.

    For wholistic dualists like me, claiming scientific understanding has increasingly cast doubt on dualism either misunderstands dualism or misunderstands the metaphysical competence of science. Having said this, one cannot assume some variation of dualism is true nor should it be held as the default position for Christians. One has to make a case for it.

  • DRT

    Joe Canner#23 totally agree KoH was included for completeness.

    What I have not captured are the eternal life and such references.

  • rjs


    I shortened your comment a bit (#21) by removing all the 0 occurrences.

  • DRT

    thanks rjs, much better now :)

  • Glenn

    Interesting that no one has quoted Genesis 2:7 “then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man BECAME a living being.” [NRSV] (emphasis mine).

    KJV says it this way: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man BECAME a living soul.” (Again, emphasis mine).

    I don’t know how it could be any plainer. Man does not HAVE a soul, he IS a soul–or a living being.

  • rjs

    I have been busy today, and not able to comment. The definitions and continuum of positions will help frame the conversation in the upcoming posts.

    But I was particularly intrigued by the relational nature of human life – and the importance of considering this when we look at the biblical evidence. In many posts I’ve explored the ideas of ancient science as incidental to the text of scripture – assumed rather than taught.

    I wonder … is the relational nature of human life in scripture incidental, an ancient understanding, while our individualistic culture is correct?

    Or … is the individualism inherent in our culture an errant departure from the biblical emphasis on the relational nature of human life?

    This seems a bigger question to me than wholistic dualism vs monism.

  • DRT

    Jesus talks about him being the way, truth and life. He also talks about loving God and loving others. But when we put those two ideas together I think most put Jesus in the loving God side of that equation. But Jesus also said to the sheep and the goats that things done to the other are done to him. Perhaps Jesus could be more looked at as the other, and what we do to the other.

    Several years ago I quit my embarrassingly high paying job to try and find myself. I find it quite ironic that what I ended up doing is lose myself and find the other. Making that transition has been the most amazing revelation in my life, and the immediate thing that preceded it was God personally talking to me. What he said was “why?”. Once I knew the question it only took a few months to figure out the answer. The answer is not me.

    If you talk to Wendy McCaig about what she is doing with her life you come up with a similar idea. It does not take many years of bible study to realize that Jesus says we need to take care of others. So Wendy did. What she found, though, was not that the poor inner city people needed her help (though she did find that), but she found Jesus *in* those people. She probably thought of herself as the one doing the saving, but when she got there she was not in the role of Jesus, they were.

    Yes, we must lose and die to ourselves. That life is an illusion. Our relational life is the only real life.

    Our American society has made us all rich, and we all know what Jesus says about the rich. But why do the rich have such a difficult time in finding the eternal life? I am convinced that one of the reasons is because being rich disassociates us from the poor. We do not interact with the poor, or see the poor. We do not see the people making our oil, crafting our sneakers, picking our coffee, or killing those poor animals who give their lives in mechanized farms. We do not see Jesus so how can we find him. This intermediation of our lives dissociates us from the society we live in. We have a very close and intimate relationship with the person picking the cocoa beans we consume, but we can’t see them because we are living in a dream world that takes away the immediacy of the relationship. We then live in an illusion that we are somehow separate, but we are not. The relationships are still there but by not seeing them we are the goats.

  • Susan N.

    DRT @ #30 – so much of what you said is what began to run through my mind, though less coherently, after reading rjs’s question – #29. At first, I wasn’t sure I understood the question (LOL). My spiritual discernment on the matter of wholistic dualism is that our “soul” is connected to and drawn to God, our Creator. Some essence or memory of Him is within every human being. Faith in Christ connects us in a new way, initiating a process of re-creation, renewal, restoration. By our spiritual connection to Christ, our soul is transformed slowly. As we honor and obey Christ’s commandments with our whole being (heart, soul, mind, and strength), we become more like Him — His body. In honoring and holding sacred the lives of others, seeking to serve them, we “meet” Christ in them.

    I was having another thought about the soul… I had expressed my belief that the soul is the core or essence of an individual. But, I had not thought of how a person’s “soul” is held in another’s heart. In loving another person deeply, does their soul, in a sense, live on in others? The memory of them, the influence they made on the lives they touched? Isn’t this the way Christ lives on in those who believe and follow Him (understood as the indwelling Holy Spirit)? Further, we demonstrate our love and devotion to Christ by actively obeying and doing what He has commanded. It is physical and tangible. Am I making any sense?!!

  • DRT

    …one more thought. God is love, and we are told to love by Jesus. We can think of this as an action that we must do, or we can think of ourselves trying to be perfect as God is perfect. And Jesus said that they will know them not by their beliefs, or posessions, but by their love, their relationship. We are the relationship. Descarte has it wrong. I am because I relate.

  • DRT

    Yes Susan, in a sense our soul is in the others hands.

    I forget who said it, but someone once said that we die twice. The second death (not being the lake of fire) but when the last person that remembers us dies.

  • Tim Chambers

    I’ve thought about this for some time and read Green’s other work and have been mulling this a while. In short, I think the entire framing of “soul” is a greek one not a Jewish one. And frankly in terms of understanding Scripture we’d do better to not use the word “soul” at all as it’s a term foreign to the Jewish and early Christian faith.

    Better to ask: What kind of beings are we as seen in Scripture?

    Translating Naphesh (“breathing-body”)as soul is a fundamentally bad translation. And the greek NT use of “psyche” is equally not a split stand-alone immaterial soul.

    I think most Christians view of a body/soul mind/body split has a lot more to do with the greek/roman/pagan view of a separate immaterial non-bodily soul that leaves the body at death and “goes to heaven.” That view fits with the thinking from Athens just fine, but not Jerusalem.

    I think the Jewish/Christian view would be a unity that is your being is entirely dependent and material. No body, no being.

    Materialist at it’s core. If the “whole” of our being adds up in the end to “more than the sum of it’s parts” that can be, but it’s not that there is some immaterial substance called a soul in the mix. It’s like a statue is more than the sum of the molecules of granite that make it up.

    The fear Christians had of an entirely materialist view is about existence of the being after the body dies and “returns to dust.”

    But then again the Jewish view is of not disembodied spirits in heaven but resurrection, no?

  • dopderbeck

    Justin (#19) — I think that in the theological tradition the “soul” is thought of as immaterial by definition.

    Tim (#34) — I agree that the Biblical (and properly understood, traditional) understanding is that body and soul are a unity. And if you are intending to critique strong “substance” dualism, I’d agree with that as well. But, I don’t agree that the “soul” is therefore necessarily reducible to an emergent property of our biology, just like the “hardness” of granite is an emergent property of its molecular structure. Maybe emergentist views of the soul work, maybe they don’t — I’m inclined to think they don’t really capture the Bible’s and the Tradition’s concept of the integrated body/soul person.

  • DRT

    dopderbeck#35 – “I’m inclined to think they don’t really capture the Bible’s and the Tradition’s concept of the integrated body/soul person.”

    Great, I can’t wait to see the nuance there.

  • Tim Chambers


    Well said.

    “But, I don’t agree that the “soul” is therefore necessarily reducible to an emergent property of our biology, just like the “hardness” of granite is an emergent property of its molecular structure…I’m inclined to think they don’t really capture the Bible’s and the Tradition’s concept of the integrated body/soul person.”

    My main point was even using the term “soul” even in quotes kinda throws us off. It would be akin to using other religions terms that have nothing to do with Christianity or Judaism that come loaded with their own background, framing and subtext, all of which are foreign.

    (Asking “Bliblically, how does the soul fit with the body?” is to my mind a bit like asking “Biblically, how does the Chakra forces of the body interact with it’s phsycialness?”You have to stop and say, “wait, no “Chakras” aren’t a biblical/Jewish/Christian thing, they come from a Hindu tradition, and thus don’t apply in the first place.”)

    Regarding the statue metaphor:

    “just like the “hardness” of granite is an emergent property of its molecular structure…”

    Maybe the better analogy is the one I was trying to use: that a “statue” is more than simply the sum of it’s molecules. It has beauty and design and a wholeness than are more than it’s parts, but at the same time it is fully and wholly constituted by those parts alone. But if you pulverize the statue down to dust, all the molecules still exist, but the statue doesn’t.

    That is as I understand it the “constitutional view” put forth by Kevin Corcoran:

    Very good discussion here, thanks everybody….

  • DRT

    For anyone interested, I put a post on my site explaining my method for arriving at the data about heaven, the definitions of my terms, and a page with all the raw data if you want to look at that.

  • Edward Vos

    What does it mean that we will receive new bodies when we are restored? Are our souls put in a deep freeze until that happens, or is it instantaneous because in the presence of our Creator there is no time?

    I never thought of not being a dualist so this raises lots of questions, are we spirits first, trapped in sinful bodies, or are we humans with a spirit that reflects the image of God and can’t be separated from our bodies lest we truly die and enter the lake of fire?