Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Integrative dualism?

Given my post of the interview with Nancey Murphy about bodies and souls, I thought I'd post a bit too from one of Keith Ward's past lectures that touches on the same subject ....


Superhumans? - Interfering with nature

[...] the view, which is certainly a traditional Christian one, [is] that human bodies must be seen as parts of one integral and unitary personal reality, and are not disposable bits of mechanism. Despite some popular beliefs to the contrary, the traditional Catholic view of human persons is that they are physical bodies, animals, that possess emergent properties of consciousness and volition. To speak of a 'soul' is to speak of the capacities of a type of physical body, capacities of a type of animal capable of abstract thought and responsible action. Souls cannot properly exist without bodies - a view Aquinas espoused.

The complication here is that the soul is often also spoken of by Aquinas as though it is a non-physical agent of thought, action, sensation and perception. Some form of embodiment may be essential to it, in order to provide information, and the possibility of communication and action. But perhaps the same soul could be embodied in different forms. Anyone who believes in rebirth must believe this.

Catholics, who do not share belief in rebirth, do nevertheless seem to be committed to the existence of souls, both in Purgatory and in Heaven, that have consciousness and experience, but do not have physical bodies. Moreover, whatever the resurrection body is, it is certainly not temporally or physically continuous with this physical body, and it may be significantly different in some respects (it will not be corruptible, and will not have exactly the same physical properties). Aquinas said that disembodied souls may exist 'improperly and unnaturally', by the grace of God, and will not fully be persons again until the resurrection. But it is obvious that a resurrected body will not be constituted of the same physical stuff as present bodies (it is said to be spiritual, not physical). The present physical universe will come to an end, and there will be 'a new heaven and earth'. What that means is that the physical stuff of this specific universe is not essential to the nature and continuous existence of persons, even though something analogous to this body must exist.

What is at stake in this discussion is whether human consciousness is an emergent property of a physical object - and so ceases to function or exist without that object. Or whether human consciousness, though it does originate within a physical body, and does require some form of embodiment, is nevertheless dissociable from its original body, and is capable of existence in other forms. Is the soul adjectival to the body, or is this body just one form in which this soul may exist? ...... it is fairly clear that it is the mental and spiritual capacities that are of primary importance ...... From a religious point of view, the goal of human life is not simply to survive or to reproduce. It is to know and love God for ever. The possession of some body is important to us, because we are embodied souls. But our bodies exist primarily to express the capacities of the soul, and for those who believe in the resurrection of the body, those resurrected bodies will be more glorious and incorruptible by far than our present bodies (see 1 Corinthians 15) .....



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