Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics

J. P. Moreland, Scott B. Rae IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL March 24, 2000
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This college and seminary textbook presents an excellent overview of philosophical issues of personhood and the difference they make in contemporary issues. “We have chosen to write the book at what we consider to be a fairly high academic level because we are convinced that the view of a human person we affirm must be articulated and defended at that level for it to gain a hearing both within the Christian community and in the secular academic setting. Still, we hope a nonspecialist will be able to gain much from the pages that follow” (p. 14). The book’s technical arguments and apologetic tone may steer it away from lay audiences and scientific professionals, respectively. It is a forceful defense of “Thomistic substance dualism.” It is also a rigorous polemic against “the prevailing winds of secularity, scientism and physicalism” (p. 345), as well as “the bandwagon fallacy” among many Christian intellectuals of “taking a position against dualism in order to fit in with the majority of secular thinkers” (p. 23). Accordingly many Christian scholars have supported “complementarity” (“the view that science and religion are noninteracting, complementary descriptions of reality,” p. 8). These unwitting “friends” of scientsm are a primary target of the book.

By “crisis” the authors refer to “scientism’s” demolition of ethical and religious values in universities (p. 7). By “Thomistic dualism,” they hold that “the soul–I, self, mind–is an immaterial substance distinct from the body to which it is related” (pp. 18, 20). They also emphasize the soul as immaterial person rather than the mind. In opposition to physicalists the authors say that the essence of personal identity is more than “genes and chemicals.” Personal essence is the soul-substance “that governs the lawlike development of the body and enables the substantial person to maintain absolute personal identity through change and developmental stages” (p. 343). “Human persons are identical to immaterial substances; namely, to souls” (p. 121), in contrast to the contemporary monistic-physicalist view of “person” as a “property-thing” in which particular authorities or popular consensus determines morality. At stake is the future resurrection of the person and moral living in the present. The authors argue for freedom of the personal soul/will as necessary for moral responsibility. At death the soul “goes to be with God (or to be separated from him), and the body awaits future resurrection” (p. 345)

A well-written introduction keynotes the two parts of the book. The first part concerns “Metaphysical Reflections on Human Personhood.” Chapters discuss the framework, options, personality, identity, and heredity of the human being. The second part applies these discussions to issues of the unborn (abortion and fetal research), reproductive technologies, genetic issues and cloning, and euthanasia.

Moreland and Rae affirm that their book is “fully biblical” and “philosophically defensible.” Their method reflects these goals with a fourfold emphasis (pp. 40–47). Knowledge of Christian tradition (biblical and historical) should be formulated and defended by philosophers. Only then should “hard scientific” and ethical knowledge be introduced for an integrated view of life and morality. This subordination of science to philosophy is a significant point of contention in contemporary debates about the relationship of science and religion. No one will dispute that “soul as person” is a valid biblical nuance (Gen. 2:7) or a long-standing philosophical position. Nor will Christian scholars disagree that “God’s personhood” is the paradigm for human personhood. “If God and, perhaps, angels are paradigm-case persons and since they are immaterial spirits, then it is at least consistent that something be both a person and an immaterial spirit” (p. 25).

However, how is “soul” to be interpreted when it is distinguished from other immaterial aspects of the person? For example Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). And another aspect of the immaterial part is the conscience, which is vital for moral awareness. Moreland and Rae suggest that “soul” be understood as the whole for parts that the Bible sometimes differentiates. One also wonders if a view of the soul as governing “the lawlike development of the body” does not expose an overreaction to physicalism and an unnecessarily subordination of the body in human personhood. Thomists indicate that “dualism” is not the best way to describe Thomas’s “soul in person” view. Even though God as spirit may be a paradigm, human conception involves more than the beginning of a personal soul.

Moreland and Rae’s deeper purpose is to provide an ethical basis for bioethical decisions and to underscore the immortality of the soul as a proper basis for resurrection hope. They have given a wealth of material by which one can evaluate contemporary options in a minefield of issues. Hopefully the book will be widely used and can influence scholars and their students to embrace godly decisions and lifestyle. Moreland and Rae leave their readers with a profound sense of the sanctity of life.

—J. Lanier Burns

January 1, 2004
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2004 vol. 161 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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