Book Review – The Soul by J.P. Moreland

It seems as though believing in the soul is out of fashion now a days, even among evangelicals. But J.P. Moreland, an evangelical philosopher, has stood up to defend the traditional Christian belief in the soul in his new book The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why it Matters.

According to Moreland, there are four reasons why its worth spending time thinking about the existence of the soul:

  1. First, the Bible seems to teach that consciousness and the soul are immaterial and we need to regard this teaching as genuine knowledge and not as faith commitments that we merely hope are true. (12)
  2. Second, the reality of the soul is important to various ethical issues that crucially involve an understanding of human persons. (15)
  3. Third, the loss of belief in life after death is related to a commitment to the authority of science above theology. But belief in the soul is being scientifically discredited. (17)
  4. Fourth, understanding the immaterial nature of the human spirit is crucial to grasping the essence of spiritual growth. (17)

Building upon these convictions J.P. Moreland attempts to make a case for the immaterial nature of consciousness and the soul without using the Bible, instead he makes a case for the soul through philosophical arguments.

Summary

The book is broken up into five chapters. In the first chapter, Moreland lays some philosophical foundations for discussing the soul. For instance he introduces Leibniz’s law of the indiscernability of identicals, and he introduces the reader into discussions about neuroscience and philosophy. In chapter two, he summarizes what he takes to be key Old and New Testament passages that illustrate the mind/body dualism taught in scripture. This chapter doesn’t exactly argue for substance dualism, but it does argue that this is the biblical position. Chapter three makes a case for property dualism, while defending the position against several objections including the problem of other minds and the problems brought about by a Darwinistic conception of evolution. Moreland also devotes some space to arguing against physicalist accounts of property dualism. Chapter four is the core of the book. In this chapter he makes a case for substance dualism and the immaterial nature of the self. Moreland offers five arguments for the belief in substance dualism. Having established that substance dualism is the correct position regarding the existence of the soul, he makes some philosophical observations regarding what the nature of the soul might be like. He concludes the book with some philosophical thoughts on what the future of human beings might look like if they are in fact souls.

Pros

1-The Soul is a very clear introduction to the topic of dualism. Moreland’s clarity in presenting difficult philosophical positions is probably this book’s greatest strength. At the end of each chapter he provides a summary outlining what his points were and breaking down each argument into its individual parts. Because he does this it will be very easy for those seeking to use this book for apologetic purposes to learn these arguments and/or be ready to respond when people challenge their beliefs.

2-Although his discussion about the state of the soul after death seems a bit out of place, it was one of the most interesting sections in the book. How he handles the doctrine of Hell is philosophically sophisticated (he relies heavily upon Swinburne’s argument for Hell). This section will certainly help readers as they think about the spiritual implications of belief in the soul.

Cons

I believe in substance dualism. In fact I hold to a Cartesian account of substance dualism much like Moreland does. However I think that several of his arguments for this position are actually pretty weak. For instance, he makes an argument for the soul based upon belief in Free Will, Morality, Responsibility, and Punishment. Essentially he argues that if physicalism is true then human free will does not exist – thus determinism is true. If determinism is true then there is no such thing as moral obligation and determinism. This seems to be blatantly false to me. He argues as though the belief that determinism and moral responsibility are incompatible is blatantly obvious. The problem is though that it is not blatantly obvious. Any compatibilist will tell you that determinism and moral responsibility are compatible. Also he makes an argument for the soul based upon the idea that for agency to be meaningful identity has to persist over time, but if we are purely physical then agency is meaningless. Once again, it doesn’t seem so obvious to me that this point is correct. In fact, Jonathan Edwards seems to argue that identity does not persist over time, yet he holds to a strong notion of agency and moral responsibility. All this to say that even though I believe that Moreland is arguing for the correct position, I believe that many of his arguments in this book are quite flawed.

Conclusion

Should you read this book? Yes. If you are looking for some basic arguments for why it is rational to belief in the soul then this book is for you. The book essentially shows that belief in the soul is not irrational and he gives you some good reasons why this is so. However if you are looking for a book that establishes a strong case for the existence of the soul, then I would look elsewhere. There is quite a difference between arguing that a belief is rational and arguing that a belief is rational and correct. This book does the former. So if you are okay with that then pick up this book.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review – The Soul by J.P. Moreland”

  1. I’ve just ordered this book from Amazon.

    You say:
    “Any compatibilist will tell you that determinism and moral responsibility are compatible”.

    Yes, hence their name, but I still don’t understand what compatibilism means.

    I’m not sure if I’m the only person in the world who is unsure what “determinism” means. Are we here supposing that the world is *governed* (not merely described) by physical laws? Or that physical causes like gravity *make* reality behave as it does?

    Moral responsibility must have as a premise that my self or my consciousness is causally efficacious. If a compatibilist denies the causal efficaciousness of consciousness, then necessarily he cannot subscribe to the notion of moral responsibility (nor free will).

    However even if our selves (or consciousness) is causally efficacious, this doesn’t mean that the future isn’t *there* so to speak. That the future isn’t, in a sense, “inevitable”.

    I explain myself in the following blog post:

    http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/free-will-and-notion-of-could-have.html

    Also I argue that consciousness must *necessarily* be causally efficacious here:

    http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/can-consciousness-be-causally.html

    I’ll look forward to reading the book! Might post on here again after I’ve read it.

  2. Hmm . .I also think that the concept of agency is meaningless unless we at least persist for some time — at least whist we initiate the given action! But haven’t given it much thought I’ll admit.

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