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Kevin J. Corcoran


A New Way to Be Human

A Christian materialist alternative to the soul.

In 1968 I lost my father to cancer. I was four years old. I can still remember the funeral home. And I can remember that as I looked into the casket, my mother told me that my father was now with God in heaven. I remember feeling perplexed. And why not? My father was lying lifeless before me. How could he be with God in heaven? I came to understand that my mother believes what most Christians have believed down through the centuries: humans are immaterial souls capable of disembodied existence.

Try as I might, I cannot bring myself to believe what my mother, and most Christians, believe about human nature. It's not that I don't understand the view. I do. It's not even that I believe, as is all the fashion these days, that dualism is responsible for everything from the oppression of women to the pillaging of the environment. It's not. And I do believe that some kinds of persons are immaterial—non-human, divine persons like God and the angels, for example. What I deny is that that human persons like you and me are immaterial.

There are, as you might imagine, different versions of dualism. For example, there is a Thomistic version of dualism (owing to Saint Thomas Aquinas) and an emergent version (most rigorously defended by William Hasker). And then there is the good old-fashioned dualism of Descartes and Augustine. According to them, the natural world is home to two radically different kinds of things—immaterial, thinking things (souls) and unthinking, material things (bodies). We—thinking things that we are—are immaterial souls. Thomistic dualism, in contrast, asserts that you and I are compounds of body and soul, or more accurately, form and matter, while "emergent" dualism claims that while you and I are in fact immaterial souls, our souls emerge naturally through the course of ordinary, biological evolution. They are natural, not introduced or added "from the outside" so to speak. I reject dualism in all its versions. Here's why.

If persons (or ...

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