Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Very Brief Refutation of "Christian" Physicalism

by Hiram R. Diaz III
In addition to being a blatant contradiction of Scriptural anthropology, the physicalist conception of the soul as supervenient upon the body, in particular the brain, entails certain logical consequences that place it in direct opposition to Scriptural doctrine of sanctification. Physicalism’s departure from Scriptural anthropology and sanctification prove it to be a departure from orthodoxy and, therefore, incapable of ever being properly labeled “Christian.”
§1. Man is the Image of God
In maintaining that the soul of man is a byproduct of his physicality, physicalism is reducing the soul[1] to an emergent phenomenon of the body. Souls do not, on this view, exist apart from physical bodies. Some proponents of this view believe that “neurophysiology demonstrates the radical dependence and, in fact, identity between mind and brain.”[2] Others “assert that Scripture depicts the human person as a holistic unity, whereas [anthropological] dualism is a Greek concept falsely read into the Bible by many in church history.”[3]
There are two main reasons why this doctrine is false, both of which revolve around the doctrine of the imago dei. Firstly, the Scriptures teach us that “man…is the image and glory of God.”[4] Since “God is Spirit,”[5] and “spirit[s] do[...] not have flesh and bones,”[6] therefore, it follows that man’s being the image and glory of God cannot have reference to his physicality. Gordon H. Clark explains:
In order to describe the nature of the image one can immediately assert the principle that any interpretation which identifies the image with some characteristics not found in God must be incorrect. For example, the image cannot be man’s body. If anyone say that the upright position of the human body, in contrast with fourfooted beasts and creeping things, allows it to be the image, the reply is not merely that birds have two legs, but rather that Genesis makes no reference to a physical image. A more important reason for denying that man’s body is the image is the fact that God is not and has not a body.[7]
The imago dei, in other words, must have reference to the communicable attributes of God shared by his image - i.e. what has historically been identified as the soul, or spirit. Scripturally, the image of God is immaterial; for the Christian it is being renewed according to “true righteousness and holiness”[8] and “knowledge after the image of its Creator.”[9] Man must express these attributes through the instrumentality of his own body, of course, but this does not mean that he lacks these attributes without his body.
Secondly, however, if one were to claim that the imago dei were itself the emergent phenomenon of the soul, there arises another serious problem. The Scriptures teach that man is the imago dei, not that man becomes the imago dei. This means that from his very inception in the womb, man is the imago dei. If the imago dei is that which is produced by the body after a given point of the bodily maturation, then only Adam came into existence as the imago dei. All others would have to become the imago dei, a point which directly contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture. This would imply, moreover, that the imago dei can be undone with the deterioration of the body, in particular the brain.
Man, however, is the imago dei. Whether his body is functional or incapacitated by illness or even death, man is the imago dei. The soul, consequently, cannot come into being after a certain point of bodily maturation. More to the point: If man is the image and glory of God, and the image and glory of God is the immaterial aspect of the whole man (rational personal, individual, volitional consciousness), then the soul cannot be an emergent phenomenon. If a man is, heis the image and glory of God, the immaterial soul sharing the communicable attributes of God.
§2. Bodily Decay and Spiritual Renewal
For the sake of argument, however, granting that the soul is a byproduct of the body, this implies that changes to the body necessarily entail changes to the soul. Bodily simplicity or complexity would be correlative to the simplicity or complexity of the soul produced by the body. For example, the soul of an infant would correspond to the level of simplicity of the body which has produced it. Inversely, the soul of an elderly man would correspond to the level of complexity of the body which has produced it. Similarly, every positive or negative bodily change would be causally related, either immediately or mediately, to a positive or negative change in the soul. Bodily health would be causally related to spiritual health, whereas bodily illness would be causally related to spiritual illness, and so on.
Subsequent to the fall, humanity has been cursed with weakness, illness, decay, and death.[10] Man is also born spiritually corrupt, ill, decaying, dead.[11] Yet God regenerates and saves sinners. Scripture teaches that man is given a new heart, i.e. a renewed soul that struggles against sin, moral corruption, and spiritual illness.[12] That is not all that occurs in the heart of man, either; man’s mind is renewed by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. This all occurs in man’s heart/soul, moreover, in spite of the fact that man’s body is gradually returning to the dust from which it was formed. Bodily decay and death, according to the Scriptures, will not be eradicated until Christ returns. As the Holy Spirit teaches us in 2nd Cor 4:16-18:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (emphasis added)
Yet if the body and soul are necessarily qualitatively correlative to one another, regeneration and Christian sanctification must result from changes in the body of the believer. If the soul is supervenient upon the body, and bodily states are qualitatively correlative and causally related to soul states, and soul states include (a.)being unregenerate, (b.)being regenerate, and (c.)being regenerate and undergoing the process of sanctification, then (a.), (b.), and (c.) must each have qualitatively correlative bodily states.
Problematically, for the physicalist, the unregenerate are sometimes physically superior to the regenerate. Likewise, the regenerate are, sometimes, weaker than the unregenerate.[13] Scripture testifies that throughout the course of human history God’s people will be visited with affliction, poverty, persecution, and various maladies[14] more than the wicked will. Additionally, and more problematically, nearly all men will undergo bodily death,[15] further demonstrating that unregenerate and regenerate souls progress in their respective states despite the deterioration of their bodies.
Concluding Remarks
In light of the above, therefore, if physicalism is true, then the mirroristic parallel realities of the body and soul revealed by the Holy Spirit in places like Romans 7:13-25 and 2nd Cor 4:16-18 cannot be true. Conversely, if the mirroristic parallel realities of the body and soul are true, then physicalism cannot be true. Physicalism blantly contradicts Scriptural anthropology and implicitly contradicts the Bible’s doctrine of sanctification. Scriptural anthropology, which identifies man as the image of God/immaterial soul sharing the communicable attributes of God, and physicalism are not reconcilable teachings, nor is the Scripture’s doctrine of sanctification and the physicalists repudiation of the mirroristic parallel realities of body and soul reconcilable. Physicalism posits an unorthodox anthropology whose implications are likewise unorthodox and is, therefore, not in any sense a Christian doctrine of man.

[1] Some may hold to the belief that the soul is the whole man, consequently identifying consciousness as an emergent phenomenon of the body, and not the soul. Such distinctions, however, are irrelevant seeing as the differing terminologies have the same referents. The term “soul” here signifies rational personal, individual, volitional consciousness.
[2] Moreland, J.P. “Restoring the Soul to Christianity,” in Christian Research Journal Volume 23/Number 1, Christian Research Institute, accessed October 16, 2016,
[3] ibid.
[4] 1st Cor 11:7. (emphasis added)
[5] John 4:24.
[6] Luke 24:39.
[7] The Biblical Doctrine of Man (Maryland: Trinity Foundation, 1984), 5-6.
[8] Eph 4:22-24.
[9] Col 3:10.
[10] cf. Gen 3:14-19 & Rom 8:19-23.
[11] cf. Eph 2:1-3.
[12] cf. Ezek 36:26 & Jer 31:31-34.
[13] As Paul reveals in 1st Cor 1:26-29:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
[14] See Ps 73.
[15] Here we must exclude those who are alive at the return of Christ Jesus. See 1st Thess 4:17.