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The Reality of the Soul

An Interview with J. P. Moreland

Why the existence of the soul matters to Christianity

Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University
January 15, 2013

Every Wednesday, the Center’s leadership and fellows gather for our weekly “Roundtable”—each of the fellows has an opportunity to present their research project to the group and receive feedback, commentary, and constructive criticism to the benefit of their work. These conversations, you might imagine, can get lively. But the discussion is always seasoned with grace and care—and of course humor! And Biola’s own J.P. Moreland is always good for a dose of thoughtful, critical examination balanced with hilarity and warmth.

CCT: In recent years, you’ve worked quite a bit on the philosophy of mind and the nature of human persons. Tell us about your CCT research project this semester—how does it fit with the current CCT theme, “Neuroscience and the Soul”?

JP: For some time it has become increasingly obvious to more and more philosophers that consciousness is not physical. Still, it is widely believed to be a set of emergent properties possessed or generated by the brain. I disagree. I take consciousness to be possessed by the soul (or self), and to be interactively dependent on the brain while embodied. My research is to develop a critique of emergentist strategies that seek to forego a soul, while retaining a non-physical view of consciousness.

CCT: Your craft is philosophy. How is philosophy, as a discipline, relevant to questions about neuroscientific research?

JP: Eben Alexander’s new book Proof of Heaven recounts his Near-Death Experience, which transformed him from an atheist/agnostic who believed consciousness was possessed or generated by the brain, to a theist who believes consciousness belongs to the soul but is in causal interaction with the brain. Now his transition did not require him to alter his view of any single, hard, neuroscientific datum about the brain. All that changed was his metaphysical view of the self. His before and after perspectives—emergent property dualism versus substance dualism—were empirically equivalent theories for which the neuroscientific data were simply irrelevant for evaluating. The real intellectual work resides in philosophy and theology, not neuroscience. My time at CCT has done nothing but reinforce this truth.

CCT: Why should Christians—particularly those non-specialists and non-academics—concern themselves with questions about the existence of the soul or neuroscientific research? What is at stake? What are your personal and scholarly goals for this project? How do you hope to see it influence the world?

JP: My hope is to get a broader hearing for substance dualism and to see that emergent property dualism is an unstable halfway house between strict physicalism and substance dualism. In the broader culture, I want to create doubt about scientism and materialism and to open people’s minds to the reality of the soul, God, and life after death.

CCT: Just for the fun of it, in 15 words or less, why do you think that the soul exists?

JP: I’m indivisible, possibly disembodied, a possessor of free will; my body/brain aren’t. 

For more from J.P. Moreland and more on the intersections of science and soul, check out these posts