Physicalism / monism – are they implicit in conditional immortality?

{ a question republished from the forum ( which is now being archived)}

One of the challenges in talking about conditional immortality with more traditional proponents of an immediate passage to heaven or hell, that a non-material spirit/soul lives on after death, that hell is eternal torment, is this: CI strongly implies a physicalist anthropological view. If the soul is the whole person, sleeping in the dust of the earth is a physical condition that would appear to contain no non-material aspect.

Can CI support immaterial elements of the human person?

I am familiar (but not really conversant) with emergentism and the argument for the mind having non-material capacity. At a basic level, monism is a difficult idea for the dualist, or those holding to a trichotomy of man (body, soul and spirit), to grasp. Monism / physicalism can appear to the traditionalist to be a very JW idea and, by association, cultish.

Anyone got some experience of explaining the nature of man from a CI perspective yet within a dualist framework? Or, did you stick with monism and explain that any immaterial element of man (should it exist) evaporated at death?




  1. Death of death says:

    I would say yes they are implicit & of logical consequence , the traditionalist, because of his views of an “Immortal” soul holds that the immaterial ghost,soul (or ectoplasm ?) is the real person ala plato, CI holds that the body is the person with or without the breath of life in him,for example so & so died & was buried with his fathers.

    It is written that Jehovah God breathed hebrew naphach into Adam the breath hebrew nshamah of Life hebrew chay to cause him to become a living hebrew chay soul hebrew nephesh,Genesis 2:7, whereas Paul writes the first man Adam was made a living greek zao soul greek psuche, yet in Ecclesiastes 3:19,21 the hebrew ruwach is translated as both breath & spirit in relation to man & beast, with the NT greek equivalent being pnuema, these both should be translated breath or life or some other equivalent when referring to mans living or vital principle

    it can sometimes be difficult when the Bible uses the same hebrew/greek word to translate the english words breath & spirit though,Prov 25:2, a Good Guide would be when it is refering to God or Angels that it should be translated Spirit & when it is referring to the Living Vital Principle in Man & Beast that is best held Breath or life or some like equivalent ,context,context,context ! For God is not a Breath of Wind neither are we who are Flesh & Blood,Dust,Earthen Vessels, Spirit. So biblical & exegetical context,as well as reference from other verses the analogy of Faith,for instance man is described as mortal & corruptible ,flesh & blood etc being necessary to a true & accurate understanding of Biblical Doctrine.

    there was a bookwritten in the 19th Century called Life in Christ by Edward White who held a dualistic belief he taught an intermediate state of consciousness for the wicked followed by Resurrection & Destruction at The Last Judgement?

    so even though I personally believe Physicalism is more consistant & implicit it is not nevertheless necessary as you could hold a Dualist Position that believes mans spirit is naturally destroyed or dissipates or goes to sheol/hades at Death, so it is not entirely necessary like Edward White above, see note 2 on page 26,Chapter 2, of The Fire that Consumes, E.W. Fudge, Providential Press, First Edition, 1982.

    (for myself Dualism was a temporally held view after I first came to hold the destruction of the wicked in the lake of fire & while I was working out my faith & doing more thinking on the implications of the C.I. position)
    {this comment was republished from the forum, first published on the 23rd Feb 2013}

  2. I think it is easy to demonstrate that man must have immaterial components, but it has nothing to do with a supposed “dualist” philosophy.

    1) The bible does speak of a spirit in man, and although some would rather this said “breath” or “wind” this cannot not fit in all cases. For example, Job 32:8 KJV “But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding” … That doesn’t seem to be talking about physical breath or oxygen, or even a spark of life… and Job is one of those important books that is quite clear that when man dies he is really dead! For another example, from David, Psalm 32:2 KJV “Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile:” … how could the word “spirit” there mean physical breath or wind? Yet David also tells us that the dead can no longer praise the LORD.

    2) Logically, if man were simply the sum of his physical parts, it would be hard to explain how anyone could have free will. Each action would be caused by a previous condition, which could be calculated based on experience and the position of physical atoms in the universe. An arm moves because nerves fired impulses, and those nerves fired because of synapses sparking in the brain, but what caused those synapses to spark but an idea? Was that idea existent in the brain all along, lying dormant until the right condition, or did we make a decision of our own? If we make decisions, we require a non-physical part to break out of this “mousetrap” problem. As such, it would seem to indicate that men (and animals) must have physical and non-physical components to function at a level of free will and animation.

    3) Even if one were to interprets “spirit” as “living breath” or “spark of life” (which does seem to be the intended meaning at some times) that spark of life is an essential element of the living man, a “non-material component.” If we were speaking merely of carbon and oxygen, that would be material, but there is something more to life than simply supplying the right mixture of gases to a physical form.

    4) We have created models that themselves require more than simply physical components. A computer is a “thinking machine” which is built out of silicon, gold, metal, etc… but it is a lump of junk without being supplied with electricity. Even then all that circuitry with electricity is meaningless unless it receives programming, and we identify with the computer primarily by its programming, not its physical makeup. When you “back up” your computer it’s not the physical components you’re backing up, and when you restore it it doesn’t even have to be on the same hardware. In a sense, the “real computer” is information, which is a non-physical element.

    When I say that the essence of your computer is non-physical, does that mean it can exist or function as a non-material ghost? Of course not. We store that information in an analog medium and translate it into digital data, and it only has relevance when applied to a specific physical form. Man seems to be similar: he has a physical form that requires a spark of life, and his deeds and memories are indeed information (non-physical) that are stored or implemented with his physical frame. The only addition to this model is that unlike the computer, a man (or beast) takes actions on its own, implying a non-physical outside element that makes him something more than a machine.

    When God will raise the dead, is he going to be restoring our physical bodies exactly as they were? With deadly wounds and all? It is not the physical form that defines a man, but his spirit (with the meaning of mind and experiences, not the meaning of life and breath). We could be recreated with a different frame (taller, younger, healthier) and still be “us” … could we not? The important parts that define us are all non-physical.

    Jas 4:5 KJV “Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?”

    If the Bible speaks like that (and how would “spirit” mean breath in that case?) I don’t think we should be afraid to speak like that either.

Speak Your Mind