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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.