Friday, October 20, 2017

The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why It Matters [Review]

by Hiram R. Diaz III

Moreland, J.P. The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why It Matters(Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 208 pp.

Contemporary thinkers, in philosophy and theology, are largely given over to the false doctrine of anthropological monism/physicalism. This doctrine teaches that man is a purely physical being whose conscious mental activity is nothing more than either (a.)a simultaneously occurring event in the brain that is essentially identical to the one’s neurochemical activity, or (b.)an epiphenomenon of neurochemical activity. The soul is, on this view, not an immaterial substance distinct from the material body. Rather, the soul is a causally effete product of the body. Among the unbelieving world, the reason for this is simple — the rejection of the supernatural necessitates that one attribute to natural forces, causes, entities, etc powers typically ascribed to God alone. Thus, whereas the Bible says that God breathed the breath of life into man and man became a living soul, the unbelieving posit that consciousness simply arose on its own via the process of evolutionary development. For the unbelieving, the materialist, the anthropological monist, life comes from non-life, consciousness from non-consciousness.

In The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters, J.P. Moreland presents philosophical, biblical, and scientific evidence in support of anthropological substance dualism. The case is a cumulative one, each chapter contributing to the overall argument of the book that the soul is a distinct substance from the body, and that its distinct substantial existence is of fundamental importance to the Christian’s life, as well as that of the unbeliever. The chapters each end with a mini-glossary of key terms covered in the chapter, which is a helpful means of familiarizing the reader with an otherwise completely foreign vocabulary that he can use when defending the doctrine of the soul.

The book is a great introduction to the subject, which ends with a clear emphasis on the concrete eternal implications that arise from having a soul which will exist forever. Moreland argues the traditionalist position on hell as eternal conscious torment from the dignity of the human soul made in God’s image, and the reality of hell as a place where sinners are quarantined from the New Heavens and New Earth, subjected to an eternal existence devoid of God’s loving presence. Although touched upon fairly briefly, Moreland also deals with contemporary popular alternatives to ECT, namely universalism and annihilationism/conditional immortality, from Scripture and from reason.

Though praiseworthy in the above mentioned regards, Moreland’s book suffers from theological problems. These problems are directly tied to his belief in libertarian free will. For instance, in contradiction to the Scripture’s clear teaching that God will actively visit his enemies with wrath (e.g. 2nd Thess 1:9), Moreland argues that the torment sinners face in hell is merely privative. This has consequences on the Gospel one preaches, seeing as Christ’s death on Calvary also consisted of being the substitutionary sacrifice for sinners (i.e. experiencing the actively distributed anger of God toward sinners, for sinners/in their place). Elsewhere, Moreland attempts to answer the question of why God would create men knowing that some would end up in Hell for all eternity. Although Scripture is clear on this matter, stating that God can do what he wants with his own creatures, preparing some to be vessels of honor and others to be vessels of destruction/wrath (cf. Rom 9:14-26), Moreland argues, in the manner of Molinist William Lane Craig, that it may be that in order to maximize the number of people who would be saved God had to create the world in which we live. This is recognized by Moreland to limit God’s ability in the matter of salvation. However, this is not seen as a problematic belief to maintain, seeing as Moreland’s main concern is to uphold the libertarian free will of man.

Even more problematically, Moreland answers the question “What will happen to those who have not heard the Gospel?” not by appealing to the clear teaching of Scripture (namely, they will be judged on the basis of their works and they will be found wanting), but upon the basis of arguments once more derived from Molinism. In the final analysis, then, those who die having never heard the Gospel will be judged according to how they responded to the light they have received. The problem here, however, is that Scripture clearly teaches that all men have the law of God written on their hearts but suppress that truth in unrighteousness, preferring to engage in thinking and behavior that they know is fully deserving of divine condemnation (cf. Rom 1:18-32). So men will be judged on the basis of how they respond to the light they’ve been given, but this is not hopeful. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Those who have never heard the Gospel are not saved by any other means, seeing as there is only one name under heaven given to mankind by which men may be saved — the name of Jesus Christ the Son of God (cf. Acts 4:12).

This latter emphasis on the libertarian free will of man is not only problematic as regards theology proper, soteriology, and eschatology, it is also unnecessary. The argumentation put forward in defense of the existence of substantially distinct soul, from Scripture as well as philosophy and science, is quite robust without Moreland’s emphasis on libertarian free will. Thus, the book may be a useful teaching tool as far as understanding the philosophical, scientific, and Scriptural bases for belief in a substantially distinct soul. However, caution must be raised against the later theological errors.