Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Danger of the New Monism: Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 1

The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 1
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 2
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 3
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4a
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4b
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4c
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 5a
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 5b
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 5c
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 6
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Complete Series


What follows is a series of posts regarding the New Monist movement which combines neuroscience with theology and argues that science has "proven" we have no soul.  The problem I have with such a suggestion isn't just the challenge it presents anthropologically, but soteriologically. How does denying the existence of our soul affect our understanding of the gospel? That's one of the questions I hope to answer.  This debate is another example of the challenge that science can present for Christian theology.


Since the dawn of modernism, the debate over the relation between the empirical sciences and theology has been in constant friction. The debate, at least in popular culture, almost always centers on Darwinian evolution and the biblical creation. For over a century and a half, some Christians have sought to blend the trend of evolution in science and the biblical message while others embrace either evolution in their fidelity to science or young-earth creationism in their fidelity to revealed Scripture.

But the debate between science and Scripture is not limited to the question of origins, but also of the mind. If biology, astronomy, and other sciences promote a view of origins contrary to Scripture then what about the science of the brain?  In recent decades, advances in neuroscience has mounted an assault on the traditional biblical doctrine of dualism – that we are both a body (material) and a soul/spirit (immaterial). Many scientists and well-meaning Christians who have embraced the direction of neuroscience are beginning to more loudly proclaim that humans do not consist of two parts – the material and the immaterial – but only one (material only)

Some materialists use the language of mechanics to describe persons thus making man nothing more than the byproduct of his genes robbing man of any freedom or responsibility.  Such a worldview is clearly contrary to the gospel and Scripture.[1]  Others, however, affirm persons as a holistic self without a soul whose entire self/body is controlled solely by the brain and yet retain some form of free will and responsibility.  This latter view (that we are a holistic body) has a variety of names, but each (though slightly different) are similar in many ways. One of the more prominent views, promoted by persons like Nancey Murphy, is called Nonreductive Physicalism.  It is nonreductive in the sense that the rejection of the soul ought not to be reduced to the belief that we are simply mechanistic beings.  “Physicalism” is preferred to “materialism” due to the implications of such a term.  Materialism is usually associated with extreme, Darwinian atheism.  Nonreductive physicalism is just one of countless other views in which argues that man is not body and spirit, but a material, holistic self.[2]  Since these views are unified in their monism, I have referred to them as a whole as the new monism movement.

The reason all of this is important is not because the new monism movement, based primarily on neuroscience, threatens traditional Christian anthropology, but because such a belief threatens the fundamental doctrine of salvation. Like most doctrines, to tweak, deny, or redefine one doctrine (like Christology, Theology Proper, harmitology, Bibliology, or, in this case, anthropology) is to tweak, deny, or redefine the gospel. It is imperative that Christians engage theological issues with this fundamental truth in mind. If a certain doctrine, particularly a core central doctrine, is misunderstood it will directly affect one’s view of soteriology. In the case of the new monism, if one rejects the existence of an immaterial soul, then their understanding of salvation will be greatly inhibited and are likely to embrace heretical doctrines.

In this paper, I seek to show that many of those who have embraced monism in this manner have, whether directly or indirectly, have abandoned the gospel. As it will be shown below, though few take the atonement and soteriology seriously (namely Joel B. Green) most undermine the gospel by embracing a here and now message with little said in regards to sin, hell, judgment, propitiation, the atonement, or salvation. The simple fact is that thus far in the movement, few have considered this issue in great detail, but when they do speak regarding salvation, they always error on the side of heresy.  Furthermore, it will be shown that a more biblical understanding of anthropology is necessary for an accurate understanding of the gospel.


[1]  Consider for example atheist Daniel Dennet who wrote, “One widespread tradition has it that we human beings are responsibility agents captains of our fate, because we really are souls, immaterial and immortal clumps of Godstuff that inhabit and control our material bodies rather like spectral puppeteers. It is our souls that are the source of all meaning, and the locus of all our suffering, our joy, our glory and shame. But this idea of immaterial souls, capable of defying the laws of physics, has outlived its credibility thanks to the advance of the natural sciences. Many people think the implications of this are dreadful: We don’t really have ‘free will’ and nothing really matters.”  Daniel Dennett, Freedom Evolves (New York: Viking, 2003), 1 and quoted in Ed. Joel B. Green and Stuart L. Palmer, In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 115.
[2]  For a brief discussion for some of the other views including emergentism and material constitutionism see John W. Cooper, “The Current Body-Soul Debate: A Case for Dualistic Holism,” SBJT 13.2 (2009): 32-34.  See also Green, Palmer, and Corcoran, In Search Of The Soul for more examples in detail of the different views.
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