Lynne Rudder Baker Reviews “Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?”
August 3, 2006 — 9:03

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: Afterlife  Comments: 11

Given the recent discussion of materialism and the afterlife some readers might be interested in Lynne Rudder Baker's review of Nancey Murphy's Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? is a welcome book. Nancey Murphy defends a version of physicalism for Christians. She characterizes the physicalism that she endorses as the thesis that "we are our bodies — there is no additional metaphysical element such as a mind or soul or spirit." Nevertheless, biology does not tell the whole story: We are "complex physical organisms, imbued with the legacy of thousands of years of culture, and, most importantly, blown by the Breath of God's Spirit; we are Spirited bodies." (ix) Murphy takes her main opponent to be a soul- or mind-body dualist.

  • JohnO

    Amen! We are souls, we don’t have them (eight souls were saved in the flood)

    August 3, 2006 — 12:33
  • This sounds like double-speak to me. “Spirited Bodies” just does not mean a thing if dualism is wrong. In such a case we’re merely bodies of another sort. Does Murphy not think that some animals (particularly pack-animals, primates, and heck even ants) are capable of showing culture complexity and organization of high sort?
    As for the allusion to the biblical story of man’s creation and God blowing his breath (i.e., “ruach, pnuema”) into us: if we dualism is false then this is just empty talk. or at best guilding on the metaphysical lily.
    if Murphy wants to be a physicalist, I think she should give up on the “blown by God” nonsense. If she wants to believe we somehow have God’s spirit indwelling uu, then she needs to give up on the physicalist nonsense. Either way I need to get that book so I can how she tries to get out of the hord of such a dilemma.

    August 3, 2006 — 16:42
  • JohnO

    The breath of life was not alive before it was added to a body (clay). The body was not alive before the breath of life (ruach/pneuma) was added. Only with these two ingredients does life occur. When one dies, the ruach is gone. You are not ruach. You are a person. A person is indivisble.

    August 4, 2006 — 7:50
  • M. Harper

    I am not sure which way you go from your post. It is a bit ambiguous. Maybe, you prefer to not be explicit. So, does what you say mean you are a physicalist, or does it mean you are a dualist? I don’t think what you say goes against Patrick’s previous dilemma. I think to merely say “You are a person.” begs the question.

    August 4, 2006 — 11:53
  • I don’t think Professor Murphy needs to give up on the “spirit” language even if her scientific/philosophic standpoint rules out explanatory theories such as substance dualism.
    It seems to me she can utilize the concept of spirit as it appears in the Torah, New Testament and related scriptures in a manner appropriate to the narratives without treating these accounts as if they were philosophical anthropology. It may be surprising (to some) to find a philosopher who doesn’t treat the Genesis breath account as an isomorphic conceptual mapping with substance dualism – but that’s probably not a good way to theologically appropriate ‘talk of the spirit’ anyhow. (cf. Meredith Kline’s studies in these regards).

    August 4, 2006 — 15:25
  • Kevin Moore

    Regardless of our knee jerk reactions to stories of out-of-body-experiences during near-death-experiences, there is a lot of good research taking place in these areas that would be substantial evidence against physicalism and naturalism.

    August 4, 2006 — 16:53
  • Chip

    The review is very good, and she points out two major flaws at the end of the review. I must admit I find Nancey Murphey’s ideas on this frustrating. I know PVI also proposes something similar, perhaps he will be more persuasive. Anyhow, I just want to point out two things.
    1) N.T. Wright has argued cogently in /The Resurrection of the Son of God/ that when resurrection theology really took root in 2 temple Judaism all the way through the NT it is consistently (meaning in rabbinical texts of the time and the NT itself) and always a 2-step idea; a belief in life after life after death. Basically, Wright holds that resurrection belief ALWAYS maintained that there would be conscious-bodiless-life while we await are resurrections. Wright is no slouch and works straight from the primary sources and is a major challenge to any version of Christian materialism.
    2) Murphey I don’t think takes seriously the hard problem of consciousness and the like as formulated by people like Plantinga, Eleanor Stump, and Thomas Nagel. Even people who are physicalists, like Jaegwon Kim, take the problem more seriously (Kim, Philosophy of Mind, 1997). Plus, I’ve always wondered why they always mention how implausible it is that something immaterial could cause something in the material world. Is that any less plausible than something material causing an immaterial sensation, such as being pinched causing me to be in a (conscious & immaterial) state of pain? Do they believe both are equally implausible and just don’t express it or what?
    Anyway, I think more sensible views are expressed here, the best being by Eleanor Stump:
    1) Alvin Plantinga – Against Materialism –
    2) Eleanor Stump – Non-Cartesian Substance Dualism –

    August 4, 2006 — 17:10
  • Make that ‘Eleonore Stump’.

    August 4, 2006 — 19:11
  • Don Jr.

    Since I just commented on a very similar topic a while ago at another blog I’d thought I’d re-post (with modification) a few of my comments here.
    Personally, I never understood the whole “we are our bodies” supposition. I’m sure Murphy clarifies it in her book but at first glance it seems to be very ambiguous. If the are in that supposition is meant to equate “we” to “our bodies” then it seems one would one into the many problems of material constitution. If I loose a fingernail am I the same person? Maybe the “we” is to be equated more specifically with “our brains.” But then what if one looses a few “brain cells” (feel free to replace that with a more technical term)?
    Also, if one is concluding that we are our bodies because one thinks that immaterial mind cannot exist independent of the body then that would seem, for the theist, to make God a material being. And if it is also held that God is a necessary being then it would follow that space necessarily exists. In that case God would not transcend space, as it is normally held. Also, one would seem, on the face of it, to have problems reconciling the necessity of God, and therefore space, with the beginning (and seeming contingency) of the space-time manifold—i.e., the universe.
    On man being God-breathed, the story is that man was formed from clay and subsequently life was breathed into him. Thus, the suggestion seems to be that man is more than just his material body.
    I agree with Murphy that there are no teachings in the Bible on the metaphysical make-up of the person. But there aren’t any teachings on angels either, they’re simply implied. Similarly, it seems that dualism is implied throughout the Bible as well. (Why would one expect to find explicit teachings on the metaphysical make-up of man in the Bible anyhow? I don’t think most dualists claim that the Bible teaches dualism but rather that it implies it.)
    A final problem that I see for reconciling physicalism with Christian theism is the idea of man having new, resurrected bodies in Heaven. If we are to have new bodies and if we are to survive this transition (from old body to new body) then it seems that we must be distinct from our old (or current) bodies; in fact, we must be distinct from our new bodies.

    August 6, 2006 — 12:00
  • Ah, yes, thanks for the link to the Stump talk (sounds like a radio show: “And now… The Stump Talk!”); judging by the title, the same material was published in a 1995 special issue of Faith and Philosophy devoted to “Christian Faith and the Mind-Body Problem.” The full title of the paper is something like “Non-Cartesian Dualism and Materialism without Reductionism.” (That whole volume is definitely worth ordering a back-issue of from F&P, incidentally.) In it, Stump takes the line that “the battle-lines in the materialism/dualism debate are probably misdrawn.” That certainly rings true.

    The Thomistic/Aristotelian hylomorphic conception that Stump draws from is, I think, essentially correct, and it shows that even conceiving of a material being qua material already involves two components, matter and its configuration. In our space-and-time scaffolded universe, material things necessarily instantiate “immaterial” configurations. (See James F. Ross’s discussion of this in Section 4, “Emergent Systems,” of his extremely interesting “Christians Get the Best of Evolution” (; someone here linked to Ross earlier this year, which led to my discovering his work–kudos!). Such configurations can be potentially reinstantiated in an identity-preserving manner at a later time, even after an interruption.

    This, as I see it, is enough to give one the materials for endurantism through time, and on the same basis the possibility for resurrection, to address some of Don Jr.’s points. Don brings up some the question of persistence through time, which is, as he implicitly suggests, connected to the question of material re-instantiation. Note that one doesn’t need to subscribe to Chisholmian mereological essentialism even if one is essentially a “monist” about personal identity–Peter van Inwagen certainly didn’t. In fact, a related point to make about material coherence and material identity is that mereological essentialism needn’t be assumed without some motivating concept of restricted mereology in the first place, which is what answers the fundamental question: What is the composed thing itself, anyway? This point, as far as I can tell, is never made, which is what spurred me to write (utterly shameless and gratuitous plug) “Wholes as Essential to Their Parts” (currently under review):

    I can’t get *any* HTML markup to go through in the Preview; is that normal?

    August 7, 2006 — 13:10
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