Comment on Siemens article (was Re: [asa] RE: (fall-away) TE and apologetics)

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Wed Sep 23 2009 - 16:26:13 EDT

Hi Ted,

Thanks for pointing us towards this article which is certainly thought provoking. I think that David is quite right in pointing out that traditional views of the incarnation are problematic given nonreductive physicalism - however I'd make two preliminary points: (1) when it comes to full description of the exact relation of the human-divine "admixture" in the person of Jesus Christ, the notion of the incarnation is in some sense problematic on whatever understanding of the human person; and (2) questions about the ultimate nature of any entity - whether God, humans, or matter - are, I think, intractable given our present level of knowledge. Indeed, it seems to me that the more we learn the more intractable the issues become. In consequence, I'm uncertain just how strongly we should assert anything about the nature, and subsequently the possibility, of the incarnation even given a particular view on reductionism/physicalism/etc.

That said, I wonder if we might not push the analogy of the computer just a little;

The nonreductive physicalist obviously thinks something like a computer to be a good analogy to humans - only humans are a vastly more complex computer than those sitting on our desks. But let's assume, for the moment, that some clever neurosurgeon could grow individual neurons in the laboratory and, by assembling them in the correct relation, build a fully functioning human brain - hence (according to the nonreductive physicalist) a fully functioning human mind and, hence, a fully functioning human person.

I would then have two questions relevant to the current thread;

1) What, precisely, in all of this is problematic for a Christian view of the resurrection? Presumably, to "reconstruct" a person after death is, on the tenets of nonreductive physicalism, no different in principle than "reconstructing" a computer after (say) a hard-drive crash. If the ONLY thing to be concerned about is the correct arrangement of hardware running the correct version of software, then to argue the resurrection is impossible is - to put it quite bluntly - actually to argue that nonreductive physicalism is false. Or, to put it another way, if nonreductive physicalism were true, then resurrection of a person would, given an adequate level of technological development, actually prove to be trivially easy.

2) I'd suggest that if nonreductive physicalism is correct then the ambition of constructing fully human-like artificial intelligences is, at least in principle, realisable. Moreover, there is nothing which would in principle constrain the nature of these intelligences. They could, for instance, demonstrate absolute selflessness, compassion, honesty, etc. They could, in short, bear all the hallmarks of the divine character. And if such an achievement is possible for humans then why could Christ NOT likewise perfectly bear the image of God? This, of course, would seem quite a different understanding of the incarnation than that to which many dualists hold - but it would be interesting to hear what precise theological objection might be raised against the idea that such a "perfect" person is an incarnation of the eternal Logos.

Such speculations aside, I return simply to my original point: the ultimate nature of God, of humans, and of matter seem to me such profound questions that it is reckless to make any strong pronouncement about what is, or is not, possible in regards of their interrelationships.


Ted Davis wrote:
> Bernie,
> I appreciate your willingness to engage these issues. My own view is not fully formed; I don't know exactly what I think, relative to "soul" and the Bible, let alone what I think of consciousness--many top philosophers don't have a good idea about the mind/brain issue, either, so I don't feel too badly about that. But, since I don't have a clear view on this myself, I am not committed to any one model for interpreting scripture, either.
> You call for some focused discussion, which I applaud. How about this. Suppose we discuss this article by David Siemens, who likes to participate here:
> If David wants to expand on any of his points, I'd like that very much. But this could be a starting place. Would you agree?
> Ted
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Received on Wed Sep 23 16:27:02 2009

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