Materialism or Physicalism vs. Dualism

May 24, 2023

This gets a bit technical, so first, a few Greek words (from a non-theologian):

  • ** Sṓma** (also sárx): the physical body, flesh. Sárx can be used of a corpse.

  • ** Psyché**: soul, life. The life force which leaves the body at death and goes to the underworld.

  • ** Pneúma**: spirit, literally breath. This is very similar to soul but also implies that which can commune with the divine.

The usages of these terms has changed over time, but these, more or less, were their meanings in the first century, when Platonists ruled the earth1.

There is a growing consensus that consciousness is an emergent2 property of the human nervous system rather than a distinct, metaphysical entity—it is different from the physical nervous system but still arises from it. This implies that mind/body dualism, which asserts that the soul and body are distinct and separable, represents a misunderstanding of our nature(s). If consciousness is, at its root, a material or physical property, then what of the soul, to say nothing of the spirit? Is a human endowed with a soul at conception? At birth? Or does it develop as a child matures? If consciousness is an emergent property of the physical body, then can our soul go to eternal bliss apart from it? How would a new, heavenly body be essentially (of the same essence) the same person I am now?

Our theology was birthed in an era dominated by philosophical ideas inherited from the ancient Greeks. How must it be revised in light of what we’ve learned in the past hundred years? Even if scripture isn’t consistently dualistic (it’s not), the idea of a temporal body and eternal soul has so infused our thinking that we assume it without pause.

  1. Along with Stoics and Epicureans and Tyrannosaurus Rex. Gnostics are in there somewhere, but they have longer arms. ↩︎

  2. ↩︎

Ken Tryon @ArtGeek