Emergent Dualism?

[This post is part of a series that the Th.M. students at Western Seminary are doing this semester on understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology.]

I was reading James Beilby’s book For Faith and Clarity on the topic of Theological Anthropology. There is a chapter in his book written by William Hasker on this topic. It was a brief chapter focusing on the soul and body relationship, it is very well written and discussed many key parts and views of the debate. I appreciated this essay because he had a specific goal in mind and that was to understand how best to define the relationship between the soul and body. But I do not believe I agree with his conclusion. Hasker did a great job of describing some of the key concepts of anthropology. He began his chapter by defining the key terms of rationality, responsibility, freedom, and everlasting life. In defining these terms, he laid the groundwork to look at three different Christian views on anthropology.

The first view was dualism in the Cartesian sense. He believes that this view has a dependency and continuity problem. The dependency problem, as he says on pg. 249, “…becomes more and more difficult to maintaining the independence of mind from brain and body that is the hallmark of Cartesianism.” The continuity problem is defined as there being a, “…great similarity between us and other mammals in both structure and function” so the dualist needs to discern which creatures possess immaterial souls (pg. 249-250). The second view was Christian/emergent materialism. Hasker believes that Christian/emergent materialism cannot be a correct view because of the “causal closure of the physical domain (pg. 251).” This means that every physical event has a physical cause. He believes that “causal closure” removes rational inference and there can be no free will (if understood in the libertarian sense).

Hasker then gives his view called Emergent Dualism, which he believes can answer all four terms. He defines this view on pg. 256 by saying it combines, “…many of the advantages of both Cartesian dualism and materialism and at the same time avoids the major difficulties that afflict these views.” This view accepts the tenet of materialism that a human person “initially consists of nothing but ordinary physical matter (pg. 256)” arranged in great complexity. This view also holds to the understanding of “emergence” which means “when elements of a certain sort are assembled in the right way, something new comes into being, something that was not there before (pg. 256).” Hasker believes that what “emerges” is a new individual, which he sees as the mind or soul (pg. 257). So now, there are emergent properties and an emergent individual (defined as the mind/soul/consciousness). Thus, Hasker believes, that eternal life, freedom, rationality, and being morally responsible are all capable of being applied to this view (pg. 257-258). Hasker does say there is one main problem with this view. “It is that we will have to attribute to ordinary, everyday matter, the stuff of sticks and stones and baseball bats, truly remarkable powers—the powers, that is to produce, when arranged and functioning in certain complex structures, emergent minds with the capacity to seek truth, enjoy beauty, perceive good and evil, and enter into a relationship with God (pg. 259-260).” This to me seems to be more than a huge problem it seems to tear this view apart especially combined with his answer to this problem.

I personally don’t see what this Emergent Dualism has to offer that substance dualism or even traditional dualism can’t offer me. I don’t feel the need to make my view for acceptable to those who hold to evolution or even the neuroscientists he talks about. As stated above Hasker believes that a dualist cannot answer the dependency problem. But the way he responds to the challenge of emergent dualism is interesting. The problem as defined above in emergent dualism requires us to attribute to ordinary things highly remarkable powers. So this view seems to force us to hold beliefs far beyond “what we have been led to expect” (pg. 260). But somehow this isn’t a problem for Hasker since when this Being (God) “chose to make humans and other sentient creatures out of the dust of the earth, we may well suppose that this Being had the foresight to endow that dust with powers that would enable such a creation (pg. 260).” So when we are needed to accept something that we didn’t expect we should be okay with it because God-did-it. But why can’t this be the response of the dualist to say that God-did-it to the dependency problem. It seems to me that Hasker has a problem in his view that is not easily answerable either.


About no1kingsfan

ThM student at Western Seminary in Portland, OR.

Posted on October 29, 2010, in Anthropology, Philosophical Theology, Th.M. Program and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I agree. Emergent Dualism is not satisfying to me. I’m hoping to discover a better Dualist answer to the continuity problem.

  2. Andrew, great post. I particularly liked your point about Hasker’s rather selective appeal to divine intervention. I actually think that one of the greatest difficulties for all dualists is the tendency to appeal to “mystery” whenever things get tough. I actually think mystery is a great thing, but not when it seems to be used as an escape clause to cover over the apparent weaknesses of a system.

  3. I wonder if we should reflect on the dependency problem a bit more, though. Although the argument has been strengthened by developments in the neurosciences, it really is a problem driven by everyday experience as well. Everything that I associate with the soul (cognition, affection, volition, whatever), seems obviously dependent (at least in this life) on physical states. For example, if you hit me over the head or spike my coffee, the capacities of my soul are necessarily impaired. But, why should that be the case if they are entirely spiritual capacities? Even less drastic physical inputs (e.g. whether or not I ate a good breakfast) can impact these soulish capacities. That seems counterintuitive if the capacities are entirely non-physical.

  4. @Andrew: Great summary! When I finished the chapter I felt like something was missing, but I didn’t feel like the Cartesian answer did any better. The various forms of materialism seemed to best explain what we can observe but at the same time caused me to question things like identity (how am I the same person as my body continues to change if there is not something that stays consistent?….something we have discussed in class) and even more important was how this impacts the doctrine of resurrection. I really could not find any way to say that the “I” who could die tomorrow would be the “I” that God would resurrect at the eschaton.

    Where I am sympathetic to emerging dualism is that at least it tries to address the dependency problem which Marc notes is worth exploring (sorry, I don’t have any answers to that as of yet). Also, it seems to pair well with the view of the soul not as something that God creates ex nihilo but rather as something we actually receive from our parents (as is argued in the textbook Integrative Theology which many of us are familiar with). Also, it seems to provide the body with more value and I agree that the undervaluing of the body in older forms of dualism is a bit concerning, especially since resurrection is so important.

  5. MY wife is marvelous. I sat and explained to her dualism and bounced my few weak attempts to create a plausable analogy for dualism as I understand it. SHe had no problems thinking of just the right thing, so here is OUR attempt to explain dualism: Jello

    Yup, that is it, Jello. The silicone mold is empty and usless until you put the liquid jello (water & Jello mix because who actually makes the stuff from scratch) in it. While it sets the mold defines the shape of the jello. if you alter the shape of the mold it changes the shape of the Jello (physical change) yet leaves the essential characterisics the same (taste, color, texture). When the Jello finally sets and the mold is removed (physical death) the Jello not only retains its essential characteristics, but also an “imprint” of the mold, so that when at a later time it is put back into a similarly shaped mold (resurrection) there is a perfect fit, even if the new mold is metal instead of silicone.

    Like any analogy it isn’t perfect, but it is the best I can think of (With huge help from the true thinker in the family). I am sure this will be thoroughly destroyed as a model long before we even make it to class but there it is.

  6. My only problem with that is it seems like the body is expendable or not necessary to what it means to be human. In that scenario I ask, why a resurrection?

    • Thanks Andrew for a nice recap. It’s always nice to be get the short version. I think the Church today would do well in thinking through what it means that Christ became human. There’s a tendency that we speak of him and thus live as if he became “human”.

      Brian, agreed. I appreciate also, in light of this discussion, Zizioulas’ pondering on what it means to be human in the after life. Will we be less or more (super) human? I wonder, though, would it not be justified to ask even the question, why an incarnation?

  7. Brian, I think your question about the resurrection is outstanding. I find that many dualist anthropologies end up attributing so much to the soul, that one is left wonder why God bothered to make us physical beings in the first place, or why he’d bother resurrection this messy, physical stuff in the end. That’s not to say that this is inherent to all dualist perspectives, but it’s a good test question to tease out exactly how they view human physicality.

  8. (Sorry this should have posted last night, but there were internet problems)
    I too felt like Giants man Brian (not to deny your Giant fan-ness Andrew) with dissatisfaction with the options and about the neglect of the physicality. I had never actually thought much about the physicality of the resurrection and some of the things we brought out in the last class regarding our bodies and the changing nature of the physicality (turn over of cells and such). We do place a great deal of emphasis on the primacy and continuation of the soul. It seems we play some lip service to a glorified body, but the impression is that it is more just a footnote to the continued existence of our soul which is our “true” being. What does it mean to have a bodily resurrection and the implications for eternity? I just haven’t seen much made of this (or thought much about it myself). If this is the case, what does it say about our theology or our theological education? I know this takes the question in a slightly different direction, but I am curious what you all think.

  9. Andrew, good job on your summary. I thought Hasker’s argument was on emergent dualism was pretty interesting. It seems that this view is able to account for both the body and soul in ways that the Cartesian and Physicalist ways were not. I was also wondering if the stretch of ascribing to everyday normal things a “soul” was that far of a stretch. It would depend on what Hasker meant by “soul” and that these normal things (like rocks, bats, and sticks) can have a relationship with God. As we talked about in class, Psalm 19 says that all creation is declaring the glory of God, and Paul states in Romans 8 that creation is groaning for redemption. This seems to state that a type of relationships between Creator and creation exists. I’m not ready to go where Hasker seems to, but I find it a more viable option than the other two at this point.

  10. Andrew, thanks for the good post. As I’ve reflected on the material in the text, your comments, and the discussion that has followed, several ideas have come to the surface for me:
    • A balanced dualism of some form makes the most sense. Pure monism/physicality simply does not work (esp. in a Philosophy informed by scripture).
    • Yet this dualism cannot emphasize the immaterial side of things to the point of excluding the significance of the physical. As stated above, there is a very complex and (dare I say, ‘mysterious’) interaction that we all experience between the material and immaterial. (Both blood sugar levels and my responsiveness to my Father in heaven influence my behavior and mood.)
    • We don’t need to understand ‘how’ the physical and immaterial aspects of our being interact to observe that they do.
    • By adopting interacting dualism, we can interact honestly with the observation of the physical sciences about human nature, and hold to the spiritual realities of personhood that we see in scripture.
    • I see no problem asserting the dependency of physical reality on God’s sustaining work… without Him I believe that the physical world could not exist on it’s own… Likewise, I see no problem in proposing that the development/reproduction of human life is a process that is both physical in nature and spiritual… Emerging dualism made me wonder if a ‘soul’ could be generated by assembling the right biological/mechanical machinery… if we simply accept that people are best described as an interacting dualism between a physical body and an immaterial self, it makes sense to say that life is a gift from God and requires not only a physical side (which God also sustains) but a spiritual/immaterial work that is from God…

    I continue to mull these ideas over, but appreciate the process of musing out loud with the rest of you…

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