Re: [asa] Dualism and the thing that makes volitional me ³me²

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Thu Apr 23 2009 - 10:25:59 EDT

>>> FredHeeren <> 4/22/2009 5:24 PM >>> asks:

I imagine that this has been hashed and re-hashed before, but I¹m keen to
know: What position do most Christians in science these days take on
mind-body dualism? Are Christians all over the board?


Ted comments:

Fred, I've asked a philosopher friend of mine to respond to this; I hope that happens. (Yes, readers can infer that I not only have at least one friend, and at least one philosopher is in that set, however small.)

I used to assume, along with most people who worked in religion and science, that dualism of all forms was a dead letter. My sense is that this is still the dominant view among Christians in psychology and neuroscience, but there are it seems an increasing number of Christian philosophers who dispute that assumption. I no longer think that dualism is dead; whether there has been a resuscitation or a complete resurrection into a glorified form, I am unable to say presently, but it's definitely undead. It is not clear to me that many Christians in the neurosciences/psychology have gotten the word about this, but more conversation between/among philosophers and scientists on this might be beneficial. I'm not at all sure what I think myself on these issues.

This is one of the things underlying my post earlier this week, in which I talked about how ID should have (IMO) begun with mind/body issues, not with origins issues including "Darwinism." Ultimately, intelligence and detecting it are philosophical questions (IMO), not purely scientific questions, and perhaps that is why ID did not start there -- they badly need (apparently) to challenge science as science, in order to see changes in public school biology classes.

My second point is historical, but many will find it interesting nonetheless. :-)

The new book, "Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion,", includes a fascinating contribution by Peter Harrison, who succeeded John Brooke as Idreos Professor at Oxford. His chapter is about the myth "That Rene Descartes Originated the Mind-Body Distinction." It seems that this "myth" was voiced by, among others, Daniel Dennett's mentor at Oxford, the late Gilbert Ryle, who spoke derisively of "the myth of the ghost in the machine," setting up Dennett and others to dismiss the idea that we have minds at all.

According to Harrison, Descartes did indeed propose two substances (mind and body), but he did not believe that they were separate in terms of interactions. The notion of a radical separation was actually that of Aristotle and Plotinus (not actually Plato himself, despite the fact that Aquinas attributed it to Plato), not Descartes. Following John Cottingham (a leading historian of philosophy who is also a Christian, as far as I know), Harrison sees a third basic entity in Descartes' set of concepts: "mind-body composites (persons)." Thus, he describes Descartes as a "trialist," not a dualist.

Harrison's conclusion will also interest ASA members, though I doubt that it will be surprising to us: "Although this will come as a surprise to some, orthodox Christianity (in contrast to Platonism and gnosticism) assumes a holistic view of the person and a positive view of embodiment--so much so that even in the next life souls will be reunited with a resurrected body. The doctrine of an abyssal separation of body and soul was not propounded by Descartes, and neither is it a tenet of Christian belief."

I've mentioned this book before. IMO it's the number one science and religion book this year, and absolutely required reading for all ASA members. So, go get your copy today...


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Received on Thu Apr 23 10:26:54 2009

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