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The Table Video

William Hasker& Gregg Ten Elshof

Life After Death

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Huntington College
CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Philosophy, Biola University
February 7, 2013

William Hasker (Huntington College) explains how his Emergentist view of the human person is compatible with the Christian conception of life after death.


I wonder if you can say something about how your emergentist view relates to life after death? So you might–

Right, very good, very good. That certainly is, if I can’t answer that [Gregg laughs] then I am not any further along am I. Yeah.

I mean you might worry that if it emerges on physical stuff, then when the physical stuff goes away that the soul goes away too.

Absolutely, absolutely yeah. The crucial point is that, on the view, it emerges, it comes into being through the operation, the functioning of the physical organism. Body, brain, and nervous system. But what comes into being is not a physical thing. Now an analogy, and it’s only an analogy, is the production of say a magnetic field by a magnet. Well let’s say it’s an electromagnet. All right, you have a piece of metal, usually with some wire wrapped around it and so on and so forth. And you pass a current through it, an electric current. And an electric field is produced. The electric field is not a physical thing in the sense of matter. It’s not chunks of metal or anything else. It’s a new kind of thing, but it’s produced through the operation of the magnet. But since the magnetic field is something different, distinct from the magnet, it is conceivable, thinkable, that the magnetic field might continue to exist even if the magnet disappears or you turn it off. In fact, one theoretical physicist has proved that a sufficiently strong magnetic field could do just that. Now this field is gonna be stronger than any field that exists in the actual universe. So this is purely a theoretical idea. But it shows the conceivability, the logical possibility as philosophers say. And what I want to say then is that the emergent soul is something distinct from the physical organism, even though it’s initially produced and sustained by the organism. And so it is possible after the body has stopped functioning, it’s possible for God to keep this emergent soul or self in existence. And then, eventually, to re-embody it. To, if you like, surround it with a new body that is suited to its needs but superior as Saint Paul says the resurrection body will be. And so there is here a coherent and I think an understandable picture of life after death. And the difference with a materialist view is of course that on that view, there’s nothing to continue. There’s nothing to sustain. God, so to speak has to start over again.


When He’s resurrecting you. And again the thought is, which I think is pretty compelling, that this wouldn’t be you. It would be maybe just as good from a certain standpoint, but not just as good from your standpoint, because it wouldn’t be you. At least that’s the way I understand it.