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Dispatches From the Physicalist Frontier, Part 2

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August 20, 2012 Tags: Brain, Mind & Soul
Dispatches From the Physicalist Frontier, Part 2

Today's entry was written by Kevin J. Corcoran. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: Today, Part 2 of an essay from Calvin College philosopher Kevin Corcoran continues our foray into contemporary Christian thinking on the materiality and/or immateriality of the human person in light of recent scientific study of the body and brain. Leaving the specific claims of neurobiology and physiology aside for now, our focus remains on finding philosophical frameworks that help us put such claims in a biblical context as well as a scientific one; Corcoran’s proposal is to re-think the problem of human persons from a physicalist perspective that has no need of a non-physical soul. Yesterday, in Part 1, Corcoran laid out the basic premise of physicalism and addressed two common Christian objections to it concerning the incarnation and the imago Dei. Here he takes up a third objection–the question of life after death–and expands on his sense of how human persons exist in relation to our physical bodies, what he calls the Constitution View.

Life After Death

In the first part of this essay I argued that neither the doctrine of the incarnation nor that of the imago Dei presented an insurmountable theological challenge to being a Christian physicalist—that is, to believing that human persons are wholly physical objects. In today’s post I will say a little more about the content of my own physicalist conception of human persons (the Constitution View), but not before considering—if all too briefly—a third objection often raised against physicalism: the Christian doctrine of life after death.

Since it seems that bodies peter out and eventually cease to exist, and that on any plausible physicalist account of human persons one’s body is necessary for one’s own existence, how is it that a body that peters out and ceases to exist can somehow turn up in the hereafter? Or if the physicalist happens to believe in either an immediate survival or an intermediate state between death and a resurrection, then how exactly can a body that has apparently died nevertheless continue to live? After death, a corpse is often right before our eyes. How then can that dead body be enjoying any kind of meaningful afterlife? Doesn’t the doctrine of an afterlife require a non-physical soul that survives death?

Let’s make things really difficult. Suppose you believe that a single thing cannot have two beginnings; that a thing cannot begin to exist, cease to exist, and then begin again to exist. I don’t myself believe this, but let’s suppose it’s true nonetheless. Is it possible for there to be a body in heaven numerically the same as a body I watch die if there’s no such thing as gappy existence?

As used here, simples is a term used to refer to whatever turns out to be the fundamental physical constituents of material objects, though in philosophy, it may also more broadly refer to things which have no proper parts.

In different places, Dean Zimmerman and I have argued that one answer to this question lies in the fissioning of causal paths. It seems possible that the causal paths traced by the simples caught up in the life of my body just before death can be made by God to fission such that the simples composing my body then are causally related to two different, spatially segregated sets of simples.1 One of the two sets of simples would immediately cease to constitute a life and come instead to compose a corpse, while the other would continue to constitute a body in heaven or wherever an intermediate state of existence is enjoyed.2 In other words, at the instant after fission, the set of simples along one of the branching paths fails to perpetuate a life, while the other set of simples along the other branch does continue to perpetuate a life. If this is at least possible, as it seems that it is, then we have a view of survival compatible with the claim that human bodies cannot enjoy gappy existence.

Note that this view just needs to be possibly true in order to show that belief in an afterlife does not require the existence of a non-physical soul. And let me also point out that if you are a dualist and a Christian theist, you believe in the resurrection of the body yourself and not just the survival of a non-physical soul into an afterlife. So making sense of the resurrection of the body is an “equal opportunity employer”: the dualist, no less than the physicalist, has to make sense of it.

Resurrection. Incarnation. Imago Dei. None requires for its explanation a non-physical soul. All can be understood within a physicalist conception of human persons.

The Constitution View

As I’ve said already, I believe that I am a wholly physical object. I don’t believe that there are non-physical souls in the natural world, so I can’t be one of those. I must, therefore, believe that I am the physical object that is my body, right? Wrong. I don’t believe that I am identical with my body. But wait! How can that be? If I’m a wholly physical object, then what physical object might I be if not the physical object that is my body? Well, I believe that I am the physical object that is me, of course; and I don’t believe that I am identical with anything other than me—including, for instance, the physical object that is my body. Let me explain.

I believe that I am constituted by my body without being identical with my body. I stand in the same relation to my body as a statue stands in to the piece of bronze (say) of which it is composed. It is plausible to believe that a statue is constituted by the piece of bronze but not identical with it. The piece of bronze, we can imagine, might exist before the statue exists. It might also exist after the statue ceases to exist. Imagine the sculptor is unhappy with the statue and smashes it flat, leaving only the original piece of bronze. Similarly, I believe my body came into existence before I did and if things should go badly for me, I believe my body may outlast me. I can’t have come into existence before I did, nor can I outlast myself. My body and myself, therefore, must be numerically distinct.

Am I saying that I am one physical object and my body is another, numerically distinct physical object? Yes. And no. It’s like the U2 song “One.” You know, “we’re one, but we’re not the same . . . ” My body and I are one in the sense that we’re made out of exactly the same stuff; every part of my body is a part of me. That’s why when I stand on the scale it registers 150 pounds and not 300 pounds even though I am one physical thing and my body is another. We share exactly the same matter. We’re not the same in the sense that I am a person and my body is not. My body can exist and fail to constitute a person. I cannot exist and fail to be a person. A tragic accident could destroy me, end my existence, without destroying my body or ending its existence. Imagine the accident destroyed my cerebral cortex but left my brain stem functionally intact. My body would continue to exist. It would respirate, circulate blood, metabolize, excrete, etc. But lacking a functionally intact cerebral cortex there would be no consciousness and, therefore, no person. So, as I say, I believe that I am constituted by my body without being identical with it.

Now, could I be wrong about all this and it turn out that the dualist was right all along? Absolutely! I’m just presenting how things seem to me and giving some reasons for believing that things are in fact the way they seem. But when it comes to human persons, incarnations, resurrections and the like, well, I simply must confess that I am walking in the neighborhood of mystery. And when in that neighborhood one simply must humble oneself. I could very well be wrong in my views. But, they’re the best I can come up with given everything I know of nature and myself.


1. Dean Zimmerman was the first to suggest this view in a paper presented at the Pacific Division APA meeting in 1994. I take up the view in my “Persons and Bodies” 15 (1998) 324-340 and Zimmerman develops it further in his “The Compatibility of Materialism and Survival: The ‘Falling Elevator’ Model,” Faith and Philosophy 16 (1999) 194 - 212.
2. We will assume not only that persons are essentially persons, but that being alive or conscious is a necessary condition for human personhood. Therefore, there is after the fissioning only one possible candidate for a person-constituting object since the surviving corpse is not a living organism and so not capable of subserving consciousness.

Kevin J. Corcoran is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. His research interests include metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and the emerging Church. Corcoran received his doctorate of philosophy from Purdue University, a master’s degree with honors from Yale University, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of several books including Church in the Present Tense; Soul, Body, and Survival: Essays on the Metaphysics of Human Persons; Rethinking Human Nature: A Christian Materialist Alternative to the Soul and the upcoming Incurably Human.

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Chip - #72053

August 20th 2012

So much to respond to here.  Let’s begin with the higher level stuff first:  the fundamental nature of Kevin’s argument.  He says: 

I come to the discussion assuming I am a physical object… So until I am confronted with some knock-down, drag-out argument to the contrary… I’m a physicalist when it comes to human persons.

Note what we have here:  A conclusion, based on an assumption, supported by the fact that no one has yet been able to knock him down and drag him off of his position. The point is simply that the quality of his reasoning is no better than what he is purportedly arguing against.  Any opponent’s ground would be just as firm as his own if he were to assert something like the following:

I come to the discussion assuming that I am comprised of both the physical and the non-physical… So until I am confronted with some knock-down, drag-out argument to the contrary… I’m a dualist when it comes to human persons.

Note also that this is representative of what we generally get from BioLogos:  Naturalism is assumed; any theology that might apply is bolted on after the fact. 

Kevin Corcoran - #72057

August 20th 2012

Well.  With all due respect, if you read carefully you will notice that I am not arguing against anything.  I just offer my view, consider some common objections against it, and show why I don’t find them persuasive.  I didn’t suggest that my view or reasons for holding it ought to persuade an antecedent dualist to give up his or her dualism.  Nor do I suggest that there is anything wrong with the dualist proceeding in exactly the same way.  So it’s just plain false that what you get in my essay is “[a]  conclusion, based on an assumption, supported by the fact that no one has yet been able to knock [me] down and drag [me] off of [my] position.”  That’s a misrepresentation of what I do in the essay.  You see, I’m not that kind of physicalist, the kind that  believes dualism is silly or benighted or unworthy of serious consideration.  I just think it’s a false view of human nature.  And by the way, isn’t this the way ALL of us begin to reason?  The world seems to us to be certain ways.  So we tacitly adopt the view that the world is in fact the way it seems to us to be.  Then we provide reasons for thinking that the world is in fact the way it seems to us to be.  Then we come upon reasons or arguments or objections or evidence that suggests our view is incorrect.  And either we are persuaded by these arguments or objections or pieces of evidence and so adjust our view or give it up entirely or we find the evidence wanting, the arguments and objections unpersuasive.  I don’t know any other way to proceed.   

raineyjunk - #72058

August 20th 2012

Question. What about the Spirit vs. Flesh dichotomy mentioned in Galatians 5:17 (For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh)?

Spirit, by definition, is not “physical”. People have spirits and physical bodies. How do you address this?


Kevin Corcoran - #72064

August 20th 2012

raineyjunk, let me start off by confessing that I am NOT a biblical scholar.  That being said, I don’t believe the biblical authors (including St. Paul) are ever offering nuanced metaphysical (or biological or what have you) views of human nature (or the biosphere, etc.)  I believe in the dichotomy St. Paul alludes to in Gal. 5.17.  But I don’t believe that here (in Gal) St. Paul means by “flesh” (or sarx in Greek) the stuff covering your bones.  I think he means that the desires of unregenerate, fallen human beings are opposed to God’s own desires and intentions.  The Greek term sarx is used in this way in 1 Pet. 1.21 and 2.10 as well as Ephesians 2.3.  In other words, I don’t think the terms “flesh” and “Spirit” here are meant to denote anything like “material” and “immaterial” or “physical” and “non-physical.”  I think they are meant to distinguish the two radically different ways of being in the world, one where our aims and intentions are at odds with God’s aims and intentions and the the other where they are in sync.  But, again, I am not a biblical scholar.  I would recommend reading someone like Joel Green (at Fuller) on this.  

Chip - #72059

August 20th 2012

Re:  #72057

You see, I’m not that kind of physicalist

Fair enough, and I apologize for my snarky tone.  I will admit that the label “Christian Materialist” threw me off in this regard as it seems to me to be a contradiction in terms.  I will further admit to a certain amount of residual frustration with the tendency of many (most?) BioLogos contributors (which you seem to share):  namely, to start with with materialism as a fundamental assumption, and then attempt to reconcile faith to that.  Such is not a winning strategy IMO. 

I am not arguing against anything

Well… at virtually every turn you’re using dualism as a foil, and in your final PP concede that “the dualist [could be] right all along.”  So, you really are arguing against dualism—even if such is only implicit, because it provides all of your counterexamples and antithises.  But unless you have more to say on this score, we can move on to other stuff. 

Kevin Corcoran - #72061

August 20th 2012

Chip, I can’t say I share your frustration with the tendency of many or most BL contributors as I am brand, spanking new to the site.  


As to your second point about implicitly arguing against dualism, I’m not.  I offered not a single reason to think dualism is false (though, obviously, I think it is false).  What I did was to consider objections to physicalism often made by dualists and say why I think them unpersuasive.  That’s not to argue against dualism.  That’s to defend phsycialism against objections often made by dualists.  A small point, perhaps, but an important difference I think. 

Chip - #72060

August 20th 2012

re: #72058

Hi Kevin,

raineyjunk’s question is a good one, to which I’d add a couple more:

15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.[For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.[

I suppose that the body/spirit distinction in any of these examples could be explained by appealing to the existence of “simples.”  But this seems like a bit of a stretch, and not very parsimonious. 


Chip - #72063

August 20th 2012

Sorry about the previous comment—not sure what happened there.  here’s a second try:

re: #72058

Hi Kevin,

raineyjunk’s question is a good one, to which I’d add a couple more:

15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.“16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. (Rom 8)

We as persons possess an element that Paul calls “our spirit.” At the time of adoption, we additionally receive something Paul calls “God’s spirit” that “joins with” the one we already have.  Since, in your view, we are solely physical, and these are defined as components of us, it follows that both “our spirit” and “God’s spirit” are also solely physical—they must be.  Agree?    

Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. (II cor 4)

In this context, why make the distinction between “body” and “spirit”?  If your view is correct, Paul’s terminology would more accurately have been “that portion of our body that is subject to decay and death,” and"that other part which isn’t—in spite of its being every bit as physical as the former.” Again, trying hard not to be snarky here—just explicit. 

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. 4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5 God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. (II cor 5)

In this passage, there is a distinction between “we” and the two sets of “clothes” we wear: the earthly and the heavenly. In other words, there is a component of each of us that is independent of the bodies we happen to be inhabiting at any given time. 

I suppose that the body/spirit distinction in any of these examples could be explained by appealing to the existence of “simples.” But this seems like a bit of a stretch, and not very parsimonious. 

Francis - #72065

August 20th 2012

Kevin J. Corcoran,

“I’m just presenting how things seem to me … I could very well be wrong in my views. But, they’re the best I can come up with given everything I know of nature and myself.”

Why would a Christian searching for truth settle for what is knowable only from nature and from himself?

Why wouldn’t he look to, and value more highly, divine revelation of truth (e.g. judgment of souls, punishment of body and soul, Good Thief in paradise without his body)?

Kevin Corcoran - #72066

August 20th 2012

Francis, I’m a Christian.  I do look to both.  I didn’t say I “only” look to nature and myself.  Nature and scripture are two modes of revelation.  The bible tells me that God made this world, that God made me and how I am supposed to be reated to God, my fellow human beings and the biosphere we share with all living things.  It tells me this world is soiled by by sin, that I am too and that God became incarnate in Christ to reconcile, redeem and restore.  science tells me how God made the world and me, it uncovers the natural mechanisms that God uses in creation.   I don’t value the revelation of nature OVER so-called special revelation.  I value both equally.  I don’t see it as a zero-sum proposition.

raineyjunk - #72070

August 20th 2012

Re: #72064

Thanks Kevin,

It just seems that physical and spiritual (metaphysical) issues are directly being address in scriptures like 1 Corinthians 15:50:

“I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”

-David Rainey

Kevin Corcoran - #72072

August 20th 2012

I’m confused. I thought all Christians believed in the resurrection of the body.  No?

raineyjunk - #72076

August 20th 2012


This is the key point, I think.  Yes we will be resurrected. But our new bodies are 100 percent spirit (yes spiritual eyes, ears, arms, legs, hair, etc.) - not physical flesh at all. 

I guess I have to make a distinction here.  Spirit = imperishable.  Flesh (and all earthly physical things that moth and rust corrupt…) = perishable.

1 Corinthians 15:52  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

That is, I believe, the point of the last 4 words “we will be changed”.     What do you think?


Kevin Corcoran - #72077

August 20th 2012

I think the body that is sown is perishable and that IT is raised imperishable. I think the body is sown in dishonor and that IT is raised in glory.  I think the body is sown in weakness and that IT is raised in power.  I think the body is sown a natural body and that IT is raised a spiritual body.

Not two bodies, but one.  Kind of like the banana I buy at the store and set on my kitchen counter, which is green on Tuesday but three days later IT is yellow.  And three days after that IT is brown.  There aren’t two or three bananas, just one.  But IT has changed in color.  So with the earthly and resurrection bodies.  One body (numerically one; not two).  But in the resurrection life IT is radically altered and glorified.  I think that’s the point of IT being raised a spiritual body.  It’s a nod to the radical alteration our bodies undergo in the resurrection.  

That’s what I think.  

raineyjunk - #72078

August 20th 2012

Ok, but what of “spirit”?  Is spirit the same as body?

If so, then how can spirit be “in” a body?   (“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” 1 Corinthians 6:19 )



Dunemeister - #72087

August 21st 2012


although I disagree with the author’s general point, the fact is that our resurrected bodies will be FULLY physical. “Spiritual” generally refers to that which empowers something. Thus to have a spiritual body does not mean a non-physical body (oxymoronic), but to have a body fully subject to the desires and intentions of the Spirit of God.

j.masland - #72135

August 22nd 2012

Right. In fact if you read the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection in the gospels, they make it clear that Jesus is changed but no less physical than before as he can touch and be touched, eat, etc. Our resurrection will be the same.

GJDS - #72081

August 20th 2012

“I don’t believe that I am identical with my body. But wait! How can that be? If I’m a wholly physical object, then what physical object might I be if not the physical object that is my body?”

How would you discuss human beings active in the world? By this, I mean that human beings can add to, and take away, from the world, in ways no other physical entity can, such as by building cities, changing the environment, killing millions using technology, curing deseases, creating beautiful objects, and so on. As a physical object that is self-aware with self-identity , surely the attributes of human beings easily exceed those of any physical object, and indeed that of any other bio-physical objects. Is this where you may then look for spirit and soul? If so, what is your basis for this?

Kevin Corcoran - #72089

August 21st 2012

Good questions.  Again, I think what makes us uniquely able to add to the world’s ontology—to create cities and art and literature and such—is our personhood.  This, I want to say, is what makes us unique among creation.  So I think we must look to our personhood to explain why it is and how it is we can do the sorts of things that we are uniquely able to do.  I just don’t think we need to appeal to an immaterial soul or spirit for this.

GJDS - #72106

August 21st 2012


I agree with personhood as a way of addressing human attributes; I think however, that this personhood exceeds physical attributes in that in addition to adding and taking away from the world, we are also able to engage in discussions such as this, regarding spiritual matters. I also do not see the necessity for seeking an additional entity (sometimes termed the soul) for personhood, but I do think self as an identifieable entity includes attributes that are not present in physical objects that constitute the world. It is the spiritual attribute of human beings that I think enables us to address the unique aspects of human beings - the question, “what is this spirit?” however does not appear to be addressed in a unified manner by philosophy (at least as far as I understand). I think phenomenology of Spirit or Mind may be an attempt at this, but then it is rather opaque from what I can make of it.

On the resurrected body, the Gospel clearly shows that Christ walked and talked amongst His disciples after as a resurrected person who met all of the requirements of a physical humna being - ate, talked, showed his wounds, and so on, but now glorifyed by God and perhaps may be described as ‘more than human’.

Does your outlook regarding physicalism address the matter of spirit adequately? Perhaps it does but the space devoted here to the subject prevents sufficient elaboration. It is also valid that things like relationships can make the subject complicated, in that human beings are capable of good and bad relationships, both subjectively (as we understand bad to be) and also generally (most people would judge as either good or bad). Once again I think this points to a spiritual dimension regarding personhood.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72086

August 21st 2012


For the record again I see that you are trying to make a case for a different type of dualism, not trying to justify materialism.

However dualism is a problem and has been from the beginning of Christianity.  You are wasting time on a dead end, just as the people who disagree with you are.   

We need something new and Christian, not something old, failed, and pagan.

Kevin Corcoran - #72088

August 21st 2012

Roger, thank you for informing me of what I am trying to do.  (-:  And thank you for informing that I am wasting my time doing it.  I must confess it comes as news to me that I am trying to make a case for dualism.  I should have thought that, miniimally, dualists are committed to the existence of immaterial souls, and that either we are identical with or have such an immaterial soul as an essential component.  Since I deny that there are any immaterial souls in then natural world, I am shocked to learn that I am, in fact, making a case for their existence. But again, thank you for setting me straight.  And if you don’t mind, I wonder if you might also inform me of what I am wanting for dinner this evening.  

raineyjunk - #72092

August 21st 2012

To Dunemeister, re: #72087

Physical = natural = corruptible

Spiritual = supernatural = incorruptible

To have a spiritual, resurrected body IS to have a non-natural body.

1 Corinthians 15:44
“it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”


Dunemeister - #72112

August 21st 2012

Yes, the body is sown a natural body and is raised a spiritual body. But these words “natural” and “spiritual” do not denote ontologically different things. They are the same body. Rather, in the first instance, the body is governed by the general principles of the world and is dominated by the flesh (sarx). This means that it is subject to death (corruptibility), and therefore bound to sin. But this very same body will be raised a spiritual body. That is, it will be raised such that it is no longer subject to sin/death but is rather fully subject to life (incorruptibility).

In other words, what you see here is the transformation of one and the same thing, not the destruction of / doing away with one thing and the creation of a completely new one.

As usual, our Lord is our example in this. We will share His fate (including suffering and quite possibly death) if we identify fully with him (that is, we obey him). But His fate is not only suffering but resurrection. We will enjoy exactly the same kind of life He currently does. And right now, Jesus is 100% physical. Is he more than that? Yoobetchya. But He’s not less. After his resurrection, the disciples could touch Him, He could eat, etc. But His new body also transcended the physical limitations it once had. But—and this is key—His resurrection body was 1:1 identical with his pre-resurrection body. This has always been the witness of the church. No docetists allowed.

raineyjunk - #72136

August 22nd 2012

Let me make a distinction.  There are two kinds of “physical”

1) Earthy Physical - perishable

2) Resurrected Physical - imperishable

1 Corinthians 15:50: “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”

Jesus’ resurrected body is NOT perishable. It is imperishable and therefore spiritual.  This “spiritual” body IS physical - but not earthy, not corruptible.  This resurrected “physical” body is a wholly different sort of “physical” than anything on earth.  That is why it is best to just call it spiritual - or - according to my distinction - “resurrected physical”.

According to 1 Corinthians 15:50, There is no way Earthy Physical, corruptible bodies will inherit the kingdom of God. 

Many people seemed stumped by the fact that spiritual (resurrected) bodies can eat and drink and touch, etc. 


Dunemeister - #72151

August 22nd 2012

 When Paul said flesh and blood, he is using apocalyptic language to mean that which holds allegiance to this fallen world and its ruler, Satan. That which holds allegiance to Christ, is indwelt with the Spirit and subject to the King (that is, that which is spiritual), will inherit the kingdom of God. Paul is not saying that the kingdom of God or the age to come is not physical. That idea is utterly pagan. Paul held to the Jewish notion that the age to come will see this physical reality entirely suffused with the presence of God. This is what John the Theologian calls “the heavenly city”.

What’s really interesting here is how Paul shows that the eschatological destiny of the cosmos is recapitulated in Christ’s body. Jesus the firstfruits, then we who follow him, and finally the entire cosmos will be renewed.

But to get back to your distinction, it’s not necessary. Resurrection is not about discarding one thing and getting another. It’s about changing allegiances. It’s political. It’s spiritual. It’s ethical. It’s physical. All of them 100% so.

Joriss - #72104

August 21st 2012

Some people (I know one) have had an experience of being outside the body. They see their own bodies lying on the operation table or on the street after an accident and then they return into their body and their life goes on. It’s a phenomenom, experienced by many people all over the world, chrisians and non-christians, so you can’t deny it. How is this possible if the soul (or spirit) isn’t a “thing”, distinguished and separable from the body?

Hebrews 12
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God,   the heavenly Jerusalem, and to   innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to   the assembly[a] of the firstborn who are   enrolled in heaven, and to   God, the judge of all, and to the SPIRITS OF THE RIGHTEOUS made perfect, 24 and to Jesus,   the mediator of a new covenant, and to   the sprinkled blood   that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

It’s hard to imagine that after death we are physically reassembled in heaven from copies of our particles and once more again at the general resurrection of christians. Perhaps a nice idea, but how real is it? I think Kevin Corcoran’s idea is not right.

Immaterial things we CANNOT make a subject of scientifical study,  or philosophy, simply because it is beyond our natural senses, supernatural. So stating that there is not such an immaterial “thing” as a soul or spirit in us, is completely beyond anyone’s capability. IF somebody can say something about this, the only options are by  revelation or reading the bible or experience.

The “being outside the body” is such an experience.

The bible tells us that there are spirits of righteous people in heaven. Hebrews 12:24

Paul had an experience of being in heaven and didn’t even know if he was inside or outside the body.

Not a few christians have had an experience of being in heaven after dying and sent back to earth for reasons only God knows. The time they experienced in heaven didn’t correspond with the actual time that they were dead on earth. There are several books written by integer and sincere christians that have had this experience.

Revelation 6:9 tells us about souls under the altar.

So though we can have our own personal ideas and assumptions on this matter, we’d better listen to the “experts by experience”, or to the bible.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72127

August 22nd 2012


Physicalists are monists in that they believe that only matter/energy exist.  They deny all dualism in that that for them the Spirit or God does not exist.  As a result of their physicalism they also deny the ability of humans to think.  They interpret the universe as a mechanistic and atomistic.

You do not deny the existence of the Spiritual, that is of God.  You just want to say that humanity and by extension all of Creation is strictly physical.   That makes for a two layered dualistic model of Reality, perhaps like Deism. 

In fact I have seen quotes where Dawkins has said this view of reality is acceptable to him.  He does not mind the idea of God as long as that God does not interfere with the functioning of the universe.  One might call it the Absolute God.

The problem with a monistic universe, whether God exists or not, is that it is by definition Simple, rather than complex.  The universe is not Simple.  It is Complex and it is a Complex Unity, which makes it understandable.  The cosmological explanation of such a universe is not monist or dualist in any form, but triune and the sooner we begin working on a triune model the sooner we will find a way out of the mess we are in.        

Jeff Richardson - #72128

August 22nd 2012

Kevin -

First, let me say how much I appreciate your thoughtfulness not only in the essays, but in taking the time to reply to so many comments and questions - and in keeping a generous, patient and kind tone in your responses - even when the comments don’t always follow those characteristics!

Having said that, I’m an ontological dualist and arrived at that position not through biblical study but through philosophical and scientific study. I accept your position that there are reasonable readings of Scripture that allow for a physicalist view of human personhood - and I heartily agree that the Western Christian view is much more Platonic than Semitic in nature - and reflects a fair amount of syncretism with late Western philosophy.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that the real challenges to physicalism, and epiphenomenalism (which I think you may be describing - ala David Chalmers, perhaps?) lie in understandings of agency, intention and free will (or restricted, limited volition).

I’m also intrigued and gradually become more and more convinced of the view that rather than an a priori tipping of the hat to scientism as our sole mechanism of penetrating, understanding and interpreting reality, we should consider seriously the idea that consciousness is the foundation of material reality, rather than vice versa.

To be clear, I think for each dualist argument, there is a contra view; as is the problem with physicalism. And I agree that Scripture can only be interpreted to support one view over the other through circumstantial hermeneutics (i.e., the primary writers just don’t seem concerned with the question at all). But I do think we are losing some key features of personhood, rationality and independence with a purely physicalist view.


Jeff Richardson - #72129

August 22nd 2012

To be clear, I’m not trying to pass myself off as a philosopher (which would be obviously false by the apparent language in my post!), but that as a layperson, my sources for ontological dualism lie in reading of philosophy and scientific sources - not biblical texts.

Francis - #72138

August 22nd 2012

“We will share His fate (including suffering and quite possibly death) if we identify fully with him (that is, we OBEY him). But His fate is not only suffering but resurrection.” – Dunemeister

When was the last time anyone out there heard a sermon (or read articles and comments here) about the salvific necessity of obedience to Christ? That is, extended talks on obedience, as opposed to talks about faith, or “faith alone”?

Has anyone ever heard an evangelist focusing on and tying together the following verses?

Mat 7:21: “Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Rom 1:5: “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations”

Rom 16:26: “but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith”

1 Cor 13:2: “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

James 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”


Interesting verses. Does BioLogos have any articles on them?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72148

August 22nd 2012

Jeff Richardson.

While I agree with you that dualism is somewhat better worldview than physicalism in regards to faith, it has serious problems in the areas of both science and faith.

The challenge for today is to find a new and better worldview that is neither monist nor dualist instead of trying make life fit into faulty humanist worldviews. 

wesseldawn - #72163

August 23rd 2012

#72078 brought up a good point…If the Spirit is “spirit” how can it be in a mortal body?

The answer is the same question raised by the first Tabernacle that Moses had built…How was it that God’s immortal/eternal Spirit could rest in the Tabernacle that was contructed out of earthly elements?

”...the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands...” (Acts 7:48-50)

We know that God’s immortal presence came down from the mountain and rested in some part of the Tabernacle (made according to Moses’ instructions), which was contructed by human hands.

Obviously then there was some part of the Tabernacle/Temple that was not constructed with human hands and the part where God would dwell - only in the Holy of Holies!

So then if we are God’s temple, there must be a part of us that is also the Holy of Holies so that God’s immortal spirit can dwell there!

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72169

August 23rd 2012

Raineyjunk and Dunemeister,

Let me make a distinction. There are two kinds of “physical”

1) Earthy Physical - perishable

2) Resurrected Physical - imperishable

There are a number of problems with this discussion, but making this distinction does not solve them or help move it forward. 

One) while it would seem that the intent of Keven’s concept would be to bring the Christian world view closer to a physicalist world view so we could discuss morality without having to determine before hand if a human has a a soul or not.  That could be a worthwhile project, but bringing to the picture the view that there is perishible physical and imperishiable physical will not fly.

Two) The serious problem with the physicalist view is that it sees the human being as purely physical and thus without mind and spirit.  This view is just plain false from any standpoint and there is no need to try to make it Christian.

Three)  It is hard to say that the body of Jesus is physical, because it is not subject to change, as all physical things are. 

The Biblical writers were not writing as scientists or philosophers.  They did not use the word body (soma) in a particular technical way. 

(Rom 12:1 NIV)  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

Here Paul is telling us to offer our bodies, that is ourselves, to God as a living sacrifice by living for God as our supreme act of worship, which leads to the renewing of our mind (by the Holy Spirit) and enabling our spirit to live by God’s Will. (See v. 2)

If Christians can do this down here and now, certainly we will be able to do this when we are translated into heaven.  We will have all the advantages of God’s earth with none of the problems.  However we must “earn” these benefits by going through the fires that burn off the impurities.  This we do by not depending on our own strength, but the salvation of Jesus Christ.   

 The fact is we are our bodies, so kevin is right, but we are also our minds and our spirits, which reside in our bodies, but are not physical and are not the same as our physical bodies.  All three live relationally as one with Jesus after we die (and now) if we have received the gift of eternal life from God.




Peter Hickman - #72170

August 23rd 2012

Did you ever come across Watchman Nee’s ‘The Spiritual Man’?
It’s available on-line: http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/nee/sprtmnv1/1968cont.htm
Years ago it helped me come to a tri-partite view of man.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72171

August 23rd 2012


Thank you for the reference.

I must say this work is new to me. 

gene-godbold - #72895

September 18th 2012

This may be *way* too late, but I can’t believe in physicalism for the same reason that C.S. Lewis couldn’t (and—it seems to me—Alvin Plantinga can’t). I don’t see how rational thought can remain a source of truth discovery and also be “caused”. I also don’t belive that artificial intelligence will ever work. I think the incompleteness theorem of Kurt Goedel ties all of these things together.

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