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Human Persons as a Test Case for Integrative Methodologies

J.P. Moreland, "Human Persons as a Test Case for Integrative Methodologies: Complementarity vs. Theistic Realism" presented to the "Christian Scholarship Conference," The Ohio State University, October 22, 1999: Columbus, Ohio.

No one can reasonably deny that the recent Intelligent Design movement has gathered considerable momentum in the last five years. And in spite of one’s overall assessment of that movement, it remains clear that its clarion call to critique contemporary philosophical naturalism is one that must be received warmly by Christian intellectuals. In this regard, William Dembski has reminded us that the Intelligent Design movement has a four–pronged approach for defeating naturalism: (1) A scientific/philosophical critique of naturalism; (2) A positive scientific research program (intelligent design) for investigating the effects of intelligent causes; (3) rethinking every field of inquiry infected by naturalism and reconceptualizing it in terms of design; (4) development of a theology of nature by relating the intelligence inferred by intelligent design to the God of Scripture.1

Dembski’s prospectus could not have arrived in a more timely fashion. I am neither a sociologist nor the son of one, but I still opine that scientific naturalism is sustained in the academy and broader culture by sociological, and not distinctly rational factors. In my discipline, signs indicate that important figures are finally acknowledging this. For example, naturalist Thomas Nagel has recently written:

“In speaking of the fear of religion… I am talking about…the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well–informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that…. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind.”2

Along similar lines, in his 1996 presidential address for the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association, Barry Stroud noted that

“`Naturalism’ seems to me in this and other respects rather like “world Peace.” Almost everyone swears allegiance to it, and is willing to march under its banner. But disputes can still break out about what it is appropriate or acceptable to do in the name of that slogan. And like world peace, once you start specifying concretely exactly what it involves and how to achieve it, it becomes increasingly difficult to reach and to sustain a consistent and exclusive `naturalism’.”3

My purpose in this paper is to explore certain issues in Dembski’s four–pronged proposal, especially directives (2) and (3), as they relate to the interdisciplinary study of living things, especially human persons. In my view, for Christian theists, mere creation and intelligent design in Dembski’s sense are expressions of an approach to integration and the relationship between faith and reason—theistic realism—that stands in stark contrast to a rival integrative model—the complementarity approach. In what follows I shall do three things: 1) explain briefly the complementarity approach to integration; 2) delineate theistic realism as a rival approach; 3) offer some implications of theistic realism for the ontology of human persons and prioritize certain intellectual tasks of central concern for Christian integrative approaches to the study of human persons.

I. The Complementarity Approach.

A number of Christian thinkers advocate the complementarity perspective, including Richard Bube{4}, D. M. Mackay{5}, Arthur R. Peacocke{6}, Malcolm Jeeves{7}, David G. Myers{8}, and Nancey Murphy{9}. In the sketch to follow, I am not suggesting that all complementarians agree in every detail, but still, there is wide agreement about the main features of the complementarity view:

1. Methodological naturalism and the epistemic authority of science.

For complementarians, the goal of natural science is to study the spatio–temporal natural world of matter and energy and seek natural explanations of the physical properties, behavior and formative history of the physical universe. The very nature of natural science requires one to adopt methodological naturalism, roughly, the idea that explanations of phenomena are to be sought within the non–personal causal fabric of events and processes in the created order. An appeal to personal intentions or actions of an agent, especially a supernatural one, violates the methodological naturalism that constitutes proper scientific methodology.

In my view, complementarians who espouse methodological naturalism often do so because of their view of faith and reason. Specifically, because they believe that 1) The epistemic authority of science is vastly superior to that of theology and the former sets limits for the latter and not vice versa when it comes to our understanding of the nature of entities in the cosmos, and 2) Some version of fideism is the correct way to view faith at least in the sense that scientific reason or evidence cannot support or count against properly formed theological propositions. As evidence of my claim, consider the following statement from Arthur Peacocke: “[T]he aim of this work is to rethink our `religious’ conceptualizations in the light of the perspectives on the world afforded by the sciences . . .”{10}

Elsewhere, Peacocke adds:

“[T]here is a strong prima facie case for re–examining the claimed cognitive content of Christian theology in the light of the new knowledge derivable from the sciences . . . If such an exercise is not continually undertaken theology will operate in a cultural ghetto quite cut off from most of those in Western cultures who have good grounds for thinking that science describes what is going on in the processes of the world at all levels. The turbulent history of the relation of science and theology bears witness to the impossibility of theology seeking a peaceful haven, protected from the sciences of its times, if it is going to be believable.”{11}

For Peacocke, this means that we formulate our view of human persons by starting with natural scientific descriptions of human beings, apparently because science has more cognitive authority than theology when it comes to describing what is real in the “natural” world, and we adjust theology to come in line with science by adding theological descriptions as complementary perspectives to what natural science requires. On this view, it would be inappropriate to require science to adjust its views or limit its anthropological claims if theology seems to require it. For Peacocke, this approach requires the adoption of anthropological monism and an extinction/re–creation view of the afterlife.{12}

2. Reality: A hierarchy of systems of wholes composed of separable parts at lower levels of description.

In nature, wholes are often more than the additive sum of their parts. Reality consists in a hierarchy of different levels of systems or things that are parts of and give rise to wholes (systems or things) at higher levels of organization due to the complex interaction of the parts at lower levels. Lower levels are more basic and sustain higher level entities in existence because higher level entities are merely systems composed of entities at lower levels. Ascending from bottom to top through the hierarchy we have the following: energy, subatomic entities, atoms, molecules, constituents of cells (e.g. organelles), cells, biological systems (e.g. the respiratory system), whole biological organisms, the psychological level, the sociological level, the theological level. For example, psychological states supervene upon the brain and central nervous system when the latter reaches a certain level of complexity.{13}

As one ascends, each new level does not exist because some new entity has been added “from the outside”, but rather, because it supervenes upon the lower level due to the complex interaction of parts at that level. Complementarians are divided between two different ways to depict supervenient entities. Some embrace emergent supervenience and claim that distinctive properties at each level are completely new kinds of properties different from any that exist at lower levels. Emergent properties are in no way captureable in terms of the spatio–temporal, physical, causal relations among the states and parts of the lower levels in the hierarchy. Others embrace structural supervenience and assert that higher level properties are structural properties, i.e., ones that are constituted by the parts, properties, relations, and events at the subvenient level. Though it may require a new concept in order to describe or refer to it, a structural property is identical to a configurational pattern among the subvenient entities. It is not a new kind of property.

3. Human persons in complementarian perspective.

Human persons turn out to be property–things, ordered aggregates of separable parts that stand to each other in external relations. An artifact like a table or automobile is a paradigm case of a property–thing. Property–things derive their unity from an external ordering principle (either in the mind of a designer or from a law of nature) that is imposed from the outside on a set of parts to form the object. A property–thing is structured stuff, i.e. parts placed in some type of ordering relation. In such wholes, the parts are prior to the whole, the whole contains some sort of structural property that supervenes upon those parts (it is defined in terms of the parts and the ordering relation), the parts are related to each other by means of external relations, the parts remain identical to themselves regardless of whether or not they are in the whole property–thing (e.g. a car door is still what it is when detached from a car), and , arguably, property–things do not maintain strict identity through loss of old parts or properties and gain of new ones.

On this view, human persons are systems of parts and in this regard, Christian complementarians agree with strict naturalists that some form of bottom/up, compositional physicalism is the correct view of human persons. Naturalist Jaegwon Kim says, “Suppose we were called upon to construct a system with mentality. It seems that the only way to proceed is to try to build a physical/biological structure; if we should succeed in constructing an appropriately complex physical system…, a mental life would emerge in that system;..”{14} Similarly, naturalist David Papineau proclaims “To be alive is just to be a physical system of a certain general kind.”{15}

In the same vein, Christian complementarian Richard Bube asserts that consistent with modern science and biblical revelation “…is the possibility of `emergent properties’ that arise from the appropriate dynamically patterned interaction of physical parts in consistence with the creating and sustaining activity of God…. To be alive is a systems property of a particular type of material system composed of suitable parts arranged in a suitable pattern of interactions. To be human is a systems property of a particular type of living material system composed of suitable parts arranged in a suitable pattern of interactions.”{16}

Regarding human persons in particular, it is widely agreed among philosophers that the following are hard to harmonize within the constraints of the property–thing position: the absolute unity of a person at a time, the irreducibility of the first person perspective, the absolute sameness of a person through change, the organic unity of the human body and the distinctive, irreducible, species–specific law like ways it changes through time, the irreducibility or uneliminability of literal biological function or, more generally, teleology, the metaphysical possibility (let alone the reality) of disembodied existence, libertarian freedom, and the existence of human nature as that which constitutes the unity of the class of all humans.{17}

Moreover, the complementarian view espouses a bottom/up form of causation and explanation for analyzing and explaining the nature and actions of human persons. To be sure, some complementarians try to allow for top/down causal feedback from higher level entities to lower level ones. I cannot undertake here a critique of this possibility—in my view, there is no room for top/down causation in the complementarian scheme—but it should be noted that whatever top/down causation is allowed, it is not to be construed as a unique, substantial higher level entity acting with its own independent causal powers. Rather, it is to be depicted as some sort of feedback from either emergent properties or new structural configurations back to lower level entities.

Finally, the complementarity view makes belief in, e.g., human substances with human natures, though logically possible, nevertheless, quite implausible. As E. Mayr has said:

“The concepts of unchanging essences and of complete discontinuities between every eidos (type) and all others make genuine evolutionary thinking impossible. I agree with those who claim that the essentialist philosophies of Aristotle and Plato are incompatible with evolutionary thinking.”{18}

This belief has, in turn, lead thinkers like David Hull to make the following observation:

“The implications of moving species from the metaphysical category that can appropriately be characterized in terms of `natures’ to a category for which such characterizations are inappropriate are extensive and fundamental. If species evolve in anything like the way that Darwin thought they did, then they cannot possibly have the sort of natures that traditional philosophers claimed they did. If species in general lack natures, then so does Homo Sapiens as a biological species. If Homo Sapiens lacks a nature, then no reference to biology can be made to support one’s claims about `human nature.’ Perhaps all people are `persons,’ share the same `personhood,’ etc., but such claims must be explicated and defended with no reference to biology. Because so many moral, ethical, and political theories depend on some notion or other of human nature, Darwin’s theory brought into question all these theories. The implications are not entailments. One can always dissociate `Homo Sapiens’ from `human being,’ but the result is a much less plausible position.”{19}

4. Ethical implications for Complementarian perspectives on human persons.

I select the views of Robert N. Wennberg as my paradigm case of the ethical implications most at home with a Christian complementarian view of human persons.{20} Among other things, Wennberg is concerned with ethical issues involved in terminal choices regarding permanently unconscious patients. He summarizes his own view in this way:

I argued that what is of special value about human life is personal consciousness, which makes it possible for the individual to participate in God’s creative and redemptive purposes for human beings; biological human life is valuable because it sustains and makes possible personal consciousness, but where there is only biological or somatic human life, that special value no longer attaches to the individual, and biological or somatic death may be allowed to proceed unimpeded.{21}

We can break this thesis down into three important sub–theses:

(i.) Personal identity.

Though he does not explicitly say so, Wennberg’s view of personal identity seems to be Lockean.{22} For one thing, Wennberg takes a substance to be a propertyless substratum and that was Locke’s view.{23} Further, Wennberg says that “When an individual becomes permanently unconscious, the person has passed out of existence, even if biological life continues. There cannot be a person where there is neither the capacity for having mental states nor even the potentiality for developing that capacity.”{24} Elsewhere he says that “psychic life is what is essentially significant about human beings.”{25}

It becomes clear that personal identity is constituted by continuity of consciousness or the developed capacity of consciousness, e.g. of personality, agency, memory, purposeful action, social interaction, sentience, thought, will, and emotional states. This leads Wennberg to define the image of God as the actual or potential capability of “engaging in acts of intellect, emotion, and will” and of participating “in God’s creative and redemptive purposes for human life.”{26} To be in the image of God is to be a human person and that image is conferred on those with the capacity for personhood.{27} On this view, death is the total and irreversible loss of these capacities. When these are gone, personhood itself is gone and the person has ceased to exist.

Finally, when it comes to the unity of a person at a time, Wennberg approvingly cited Paul Churchland’s claim that “it is the maturing of the nervous system that more than anything else renders the fetal organism a unity and not a collection of cells.”{28} Wennberg’s statements seem to imply a rejection of absolute personal identity through change and unity at a time and persons turn out to be physical/biological property–things with sufficient parts and structure to sustain mental functioning.

(ii). Humanness.

Humanness itself is merely a biological notion. To be a human is simply to have “human organic life” or “biological human life” and be a “human biological organism.”{29} Wennberg explicitly claims that to be a human is merely to fall under a biological classification, viz. Homo Sapiens.{30} Thus, biology (and, perhaps, chemistry and physics) exhaust what it is to be human. Humans are physical, biological property–things.

(iii). Personhood itself.

For Wennberg, the paradigm case of a person is an adult human being, i.e. a creature with the developed capacities to think, will, feel, and have agency.{31} Both the soul and personhood are properties (or sets of properties and the capacities for them) that supervene upon human biological life. It is possible to be a human non–person when psychic death occurs and there is irreversible loss of the capacities of consciousness cited above. In cases like this, there is a human present because human biological life continues, but the person has ceased to be. In general, being human is neither necessary nor sufficient for personhood.{32} Moreover, the properties that constitute personhood are degreed properties, i.e., ones that can be exemplified to varying degrees. On this view, it would seem that one could be more or less a person depending on the degree to which the properties constituting personhood are exemplified.

In sum, the Christian complementarian approach as advocated by Wennberg views human beings as property–things and it treats the relationship between personhood and humanness as a supervenience relation. The result is that there are such things as potential persons and certain dysfunctional or underdeveloped beings are human non–persons. Moreover, personhood itself is a set of degreed properties.

II. Theistic Realism, Human Persons, and a “Natural” Philosophy of Biology.

Theistic Realism is an alternative approach to interdisciplinary study and to the integration of theology and other disciplines such as the hard sciences.

1. The proper methodology for forming a model of the constitution of human persons.

In my view, when it comes to the nature of human persons, science is largely incompetent either to frame the correct questions or to provide answers.

The hard sciences are at their best when they describe how physical systems work, but they are largely incompetent to settle questions about the nature of consciousness, intentionality, personal identity and agency, and related matters. To see this, consider the following groups of assertions:

(1a) The essence of a pain is its intrinsic, felt quality available to first person introspection.

(1b) A pain is whatever brain state realizes the correct functional role, i.e., whatever is caused by certain inputs (e.g., a pin stick), causes certain other “internal” states (e.g., tendencies to feel self pity), and causes certain bodily outputs (e.g., grimacing and shouting “Ouch!”).

(2a) A certain type of thought is a type of mental state with intrinsic meaning and intentionality and it is regularly correlated with a specific type of brain state.

(2b) A certain type of thought is a type of mental state with intrinsic meaning and intentionality and it is regularly caused by a specific type of brain state.

(2c) A certain type of thought is to be understood according to some physicalist perspective and, thus, is identical to something physical.

(3a) A human person is a properly functioning brain that emerges when a certain level of physical complexity appears.

(3b) A human person is a soul that God creates at the time of fertilization (creationism).

(3c) A human person is a soul that comes–to–be according to certain metaphysical laws/powers at the time of fertilization (traducianism).

In each set of propositions, there are different views presented and it is hard to see how science could adjudicate among the competitors. It is even more difficult to see how science could carry to type of cognitive authority in sorting out these matters assigned to it by complementarians like Peacocke.{33} If you do not agree with this statement, then ask yourself this simple question, “How would natural science be able to formulate the issue and provide a resolution to it?” I believe that it will become obvious that science is of secondary importance to the main desiderata relevant to the nature of human persons.{34}

To illustrate my point, consider a recent attempt by Bruce Reichenbach and V. Elving Anderson to work out a theory of human (libertarian) freedom and responsibility within the constraints of a complementarity approach to human persons.{35} They are clear in acknowledging that freedom and responsibility do not sit easily with such an approach. Reichenbach and Anderson admit that “interactive dualism” provides a clear solution to the metaphysical problem of what gounds libertarian freedom. But they claim that this solution “faces severe difficulties”. The only ones they list are 1) the problem of how mind and brain interrelate and 2) its failure to account for the significant degree to which biophysical factors affect the mind. Regarding 2), they admit that a savvy dualist will admit a causal relation between mind and body and, thus, 2) does not refute interactive dualism. This leaves 1). It is hard to see how a Christian theist can take this to be a “severe difficulty” since, according to Christianity, angels, demons and God Himself are immaterial spirits that can and do interact with the physical universe. But more importantly, it is not clear how one operating within the language and theories of the hard sciences could formulate, much less resolve these issues.

I am not suggesting that the hard sciences play no role in forming one’s ontology regarding human persons. The hard sciences may be quite useful for seeking partial confirmation or disconfirmation of certain aspects of more distinctively theological or metaphysical models of living things, especially human persons. In the next section, I will suggest some key issues that should be a part of a theistic realist research program regarding human persons.

If the hard sciences are not the proper starting point for the formulation of an adequate ontology of the human person, how shall we proceed? I think the following four steps amount to the best approach:

Step one: Alvin Plantinga has urged Christian scholars to bring everything they know to the task of formulating an adequate Christian world view, specifically, to bring their theological knowledge into the process.{36} Plantinga’s suggestion expresses the idea that Christianity is a knowledge tradition, that is, its central theological claims provide us with knowledge of their subject matter. By way of application, we should try to get clear on biblical teaching about human persons by doing careful exegesis. As a part of formulating a biblical and systematic theology of human persons, the main contours of church history should be consulted and a burden of proof should be placed on any view that is at odds with what the majority of great thinkers have held throughout church history. I am not suggesting that the voice of church history is univocal or infallible, but in my view, the teachings of the great intellectual leaders of the past provide insights that should be taken seriously. I believe that step one clearly supports some form of substance dualism as the correct model of human persons.

Step two: The field of philosophy is the proper discipline to play the central role in formulating, clarifying, and defending the anthropology of step one. By its very nature, philosophy studies precisely those issues that are central to an ontology of the human person. Moreover, as George Bealer points out, philosophers do not seek what merely happens to be the case, e.g., what physical states are contingently correlated with certain states of consciousness or the coming–to–be of persons, they seek what necessarily must be the case, that is, they employ their methods to get at the nature or essence of things like life, mind, soul, agency, personal identity, etc.{37} I recognize that philosophers do not agree about the correct model of human persons. But the main issues in debates about these models are largely philosophical in nature, an observation that becomes obvious when the details of the relevant anthropological issues are laid bare. Like it or not, philosophy is at the core of this area of study.

In employing philosophy to formulate an adequate ontology of human persons, special emphasis should be placed on scriptural teaching. We should also be guided by common sense beliefs we inevitably hold, especially those due to our own first person awareness of ourselves and our inner states. We ought to preserve these beliefs if possible. I agree with philosophers Joshua Hoffman and Gary S. Rosenkrantz who say that “If entities of a certain kind belong to folk ontology [ the ontological presuppositions of our common sense conceptual scheme], then there is a prima facie presumption in favor of their reality. . . .[T]hose who deny their existence assume the burden of proof.”{38}

In this way, step two follows the advice of philosopher Roderick Chisholm:

“I assume that, in our theoretical thinking, we should be guided by those propositions we presuppose in our ordinary activity. They are propositions we have a right to believe. Or, somewhat more exactly they are propositions that should be regarded as innocent, epistemically, until there is positive reason for thinking them guilty.”{39}

Among the propositions we have a right to believe are these, taken in a common sense way: (1) A pain is essentially something that has a certain felt texture of which I can be aware by attending to the pain. (2) This pain I am now feeling is necessarily such that it could not have been someone else’s pain though someone else could have a pain just like this one. (3) I can be aware of and gain knowledge about myself and my conscious states through first person acts of attending to myself and my states. (4) I was a teenager, I am now 51, and I will be 52 next year if I live long enough. (5) I have a personality and a body, but I could develop a different personality (and I could have had a different one than I currently possess), and even if life after death is false, I am necessarily such that disembodied existence is at least metaphysically possible for me. More generally, even if false, out–of–body survival is coherent and metaphysically possible. (6) Sometimes I myself intentionally and freely raise my arm or move my body for various reasons that constitute the ends for the sake of which I act. (7) The heart functions for the sake of pumping blood. Hearts that do not so function are dysfunctional, that is, they are not functioning the way they (irreducibly) ought to function.

The combined effect of steps one and two is to provide a philosophy/theology of natural organisms, specifically, of human persons. So understood, steps one and two express the idea that philosophy and theology are properly suited to provide knowledge about the ontology of living things, including human persons, a form of knowledge that is largely (though not entirely) independent of, conceptually prior to, and epistemically foundational for scientific insights about human persons.

Step three: Insights from other disciplines, including the various sciences, should be incorporated into the model where relevant. The fact that step three places the hard sciences below philosophy in integrative importance captures the following two principles expressed by George Bealer:

“I wish to recommend two theses. [1] The autonomy of philosophy. Among the central questions of philosophy that can be answered by one standard theoretical means or another, most can in principle be answered by philosophical investigation and argument without relying substantively on the sciences. [2] The authority of philosophy. Insofar as science and philosophy purport to answer the same central philosophical questions, in most cases the support that science could in principle provide for those answers is not as strong as that which philosophy could in principle provide for its answers. So, should there be conflicts, the authority of philosophy in most cases can be greater in principle.”{40}

Applied to integration, this approach claims that philosophy is autonomous from and more authoritative than science even in some areas which are properly within the domain of science itself (e.g., the nature of time, space, causation, consciousness, the person). More specifically, philosophy not science is the primary tool for getting at what is real in many areas relevant to theology and the limited role of science in integration requires philosophical evaluation and clarification before it can be appropriated. Nowhere are these insights more appropriate than in the study of the nature of human persons. As philosopher Alvin Goldman notes,

“Philosophical accounts of mental concepts have been strongly influenced by purely philosophical concerns, especially ontological and epistemological ones. Persuaded that materialism (or physicalism) is the only tenable ontology, philosophers have deliberately fashioned their accounts of the mental with an eye to safeguarding materialism… According to my view, the chief constraint on an adequate theory of our commonsense understanding of mental predicates is not that it should have desirable ontological or epistemological consequences; rather, it should be psychologically realistic… Its depiction of how people represent and ascribe mental predicates must be psychologically plausible.”{41}

Step four: Use ethical knowledge as a source of information for adjusting the ontological model when appropriate and relevant. We assume that scripture and natural law provide ethical knowledge, though we do not claim that various ethical issues are always easy to resolve. But if there are some items of ethical knowledge, e.g., that all humans have equal and intrinsic value as such, then this knowledge can be used to help adjudicate between alternative ontologies. For example, if some model of human persons has as a natural consequence the proposition that some human persons have more intrinsic value than others, perhaps by implying that human personhood is an emergent property that can be realized to a greater or lesser degree, then this implication tends to count against the truth of that model. In a theistic universe, ethics is grounded in ontology and, thus, can be a relevant factor in getting at what is real.

This approach to anthropology is an expression of what Tom Morris calls theological realism:

“[T]he Judeo–Christian religious tradition, is not just a domain of poetry, imagery, mystical transport, moral directive, and noncognitive, existential self–understanding. Interacting especially with the philosophically developed tradition of Christian theology, [I] join the vast majority of other leading contributors to contemporary philosophical theology in taking for granted theological realism, the cognitive stance presupposed by the classical theistic concern to direct our thoughts as well as our lives aright. It has been the intent of theologians throughout most of the history of the Christian faith to describe correctly, within our limits, certain important facts about God, human beings, and the rest of creation given in revelation and fundamental to the articulation of any distinctively Christian world view. In particular, reflective Christians throughout the centuries have understood their faith as providing key insights into, and resources for, the construction of a comprehensive metaphysics.”{42}

2. The resulting picture of human persons.

On the theistic realist approach, living organisms, specifically human persons, are substances. A substance is a thing which has or owns properties but is not had by something more basic than it. Second, a substance is a deep unity at a point in time of parts, properties, and capacities, and it maintains absolute sameness through (accidental) change. Substances are wholes that are ontologically prior to their parts in that those parts are what they are in virtue of what the substance is, taken as a whole. A chamber of a heart is defined in terms of the heart as a whole, the heart is defined in terms of the circulation system as a whole and that system is defined in terms of the organism as a whole. Third, a substance is a this–such, i.e. an individuated member of its natural kind which, in turn, constitutes its essence. For example, two dogs are different particular animals with the same nature. The unity and nature of a substance derives from its essence that lies within it, and its parts (e.g. the nose and claws of a dog) stand in internal relations to the whole in that if a part is removed from its whole, it loses its identity with itself. As Aristotle said, a severed human hand is, strictly speaking, no longer human, a fact that will become evident in a few days.

On this view, living organisms have souls and it is the soul that is the ground of organic unity and function for living things. As John Cooper says, “The human form or `soul’ shapes the human bodily organism, gives it the purposes of biological, psychological, rational, social, cultural, and moral existence, and provides the biological, psychological, rational, and volitional powers to function in all the ways proper to human nature.”{43} Though he does not use the word “soul”, scientist Brian Goodwin notes that “We have now recovered organisms as the irreducible entities that are engaged in the process of generating forms and transforming them by means of their particular qualities of action and agency, or their causal powers. . . . Species of organisms are therefore natural kinds, not the historical individuals of Darwinism. The members of a species express a particular nature.”{44}

III. Recommendations for Intelligent Design Research Regarding Human Persons.

I can only sketch out a few ideas in this section and I’m afraid I am going to have to assert some things without adequate justification. But if I can get a model on the table and suggest some implications that flow from it, it will be worth the effort. I want to suggest that we adopt what I call a Thomistic Dualist approach, or if that label is unacceptable, an organicist approach to the souls of men and beasts.

According to Thomistic dualism/organicism as I am defining it, the soul is an individuated essence that makes the body a human body and that diffuses, informs, animates, develops, unifies, and grounds the biological functions of its body. The various chemical processes and parts (e. g., DNA) involved in morphogenesis are tools, means, instrumental causes employed by the soul as it teleologically unfolds its capacities towards the formation of a mature human body that functions as it ought to function by nature.

The soul is a substance with an essence or inner nature, e.g., human personhood. This inner nature contains, as a primitive unity, a complicated, structural arrangement of capacities/dispositions for developing a body. Taken collectively, this entire ordered structure can be called the substance’s “principle of activity” and will be that which governs the precise, ordered sequence of changes that the substance will go through in the process of growth and development. This sequence of changes may be called the “law” or the “information” in the essence.

The essence conceived as a law or information sets the limits of what types of changes the substance can undergo and still exist and it contains the set of capacities that determine the appropriate type of developmental sequence the substance should undergo as it develops. This development is a process of maturation in which the soul’s essence guides the development of its body teleologically so as to realize the necessary bodily structure for the organism’s functions to be actualized. The law is a teleological structure, a principle of unity, an orderly sequence of activities whose unfolding forms body parts in order to realize bodily functions.

When the soul comes into existence, it begins to develop a body. As morphogenesis takes place, the soul begins to take parts within itself through nourishment, it informs these parts with its own essence, and it develops a spatial order or extended structure of heterogeneous parts in order to realize other properties/functions/activities through that order. The parts, at least macro–level organs (e.g., the heart) and systems (e.g., the circulation system) are internally related to the whole substantial soul. They are the external realization of the internal structure within the soul’s essence. To reiterate, this complex spatial extension is the body of the organism and it is an external realization of a non–extended internal structure of capacities within the soul’s essence.

On this view, function determines form, not vice versa. The various teleological functions latent within the soul are what guide the development of and ground the spatially extended structure of inseparable parts (the body). An inseparable part is a part of some whole which is such that if it is separated from that whole, it loses its identity with itself and ceases to exist. Inseparable parts like hearts are functional entities and, as such, receive their identity and existence from internal, functional relations they sustain to the wholes of which they are parts.

Thus, the substantial soul is a whole that is ontologically prior to the body and its various inseparable parts. The various physical/chemical parts and processes (including DNA) are tools, instrumental causes that are employed by higher order biological activities in order to sustain the various functions grounded in the soul. So the soul is the first efficient cause of the body’s development as well as the final cause of its functions and structure internally related to the soul’s essence. The functional demands of the soul’s essence determine the character of the tools but they, in turn, constrain and direct the various chemical and physical processes that take place in the body.

Regarding the way the soul is in the body and vice versa, the soul is “in” the body as the individuated essence that stands under, informs, animates, develops and unifies all the body’s parts and functions and makes the body human. And the body is “in” the soul in that the body is a spatially extended set of internally related heterogeneous parts that is an external expression of the soul’s “exigency” for a body, i.e. of the non–extended law (structural set of capacities) for forming a body to realize certain functions latent within the soul itself.

In sum, the Thomistic substance/organicist view of the human organism has these implications:

  1. the organism as a whole (the soul) is ontologically prior to its parts;
  2. the parts of the organism’s body stand in internal relations to other parts and to the soul’s essence; they are literally functional entities (the heart functions literally to pump blood);
  3. the operational functions of the body are rooted in the internal structure of the soul;
  4. the body is developed and grows in a teleological way as a series of developmental events occur in a lawlike sequence rooted in the internal essence of the human soul;
  5. the efficient cause of the characteristics of the human body is the soul, and various body parts, including DNA and genes, are important instrumental causes the soul uses to produce the traits that arise.

Suppose that Thomistic dualism/organicism is a plausible way to apply theistic realism to living things. At least four research projects follow from this model:

  1. Can we show that the various organs and parts of living things have genuine, irreducible teleology, that they are identical to functional entities within organisms, and that function determines form and not vice versa?
  2. Can we show that the parts of living things, at least mid–sized parts, are inseparable and not separable parts?
  3. Can we develop a model of parts and whole for living organisms (and for chemical substances as well{45} ) that makes sense of two facts (if they are facts): (a) Parts of living things, including at least many chemical parts, take on the informing essence of the living things themselves; (b) Chemical parts of living things retain many of their characteristic qualities and dispositions while they are parts of living things.
  4. Can we develop a model of the generation and nature of souls that allows us to make sense of the soul’s origin in twinning and cloning cases and of its reality status in the case of frozen embryos?
  5. Can we show that organicism avoids the pitfalls of certain versions of vitalism that were found inadequate? I may be wrong about this, but I think that the debate about vitalism has been misunderstood frequently since the concepts of that debate have been used in many different ways. For example, during its zenith as a scientific research program, there were several distinct forms of vitalism.{46} The more crude versions have rightly been rejected because of their tendency to depict the individuated essence as either a spatially located vital entity, a force, or a fluid (like caloric or phlogiston) that was viewed as a mechanistic entity alongside other mechanical parts. The effect of this strategy was actually to reduce the living organism to a special sort of property–thing and it was used as a quick and easy solution that closed enquiry. Historians and philosophers of science could help sort these issues out with a view to showing that organicism is not to be identified with the more crude versions of vitalism that were rightly rejected.

I am not suggesting this task will be easy. But Christian philosophers and biologists should work together to develop a distinctively theistic realist approach to living things and, when they do, my hope is that the concept of the soul will do intellectual work in the models they develop.{47}


1 William Dembski, “Introduction,” in Mere Creation, ed. by William Dembski (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), pp. 28–29.

2 Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (N. Y.: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 130–131.

3 Barry Stroud, “The Charm of Naturalism,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 70 (1996): 43–44.

4 Richard H. Bube, Putting It All Together; The Human Quest (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1971); Richard H. Bube, ed., The Encounter Between Christianity and Science (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968); Bube has also published a number of pieces through the years in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (previously called The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation).

5 D. M. Mackay, Christianity in a Mechanistic Universe (London: InterVarsity, 1965); The Clockwork Image (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1974); Human Science & Human Dignity (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1979); “Complementarity II” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 32 (1958): 105–122.

6 A. R. Peacocke, Creation and the World of Science (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979); God and the New Biology (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986); Theology for a Scientific Age (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).

7 Malcom Jeeves, Psychology and Christianity (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1976); Mind Fields (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994); Human Nature at the Millennium (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997).

8 David G. Myers, The Human Puzzle (N. Y.: Harper & Row, 1978); David G. Myers & Malcolm A. Jeeves, Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987).

9 Nancey Murphy, Anglo–American Postmodernity (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1997); Nancey Murphy and George F. R. Ellis, On the Moral Nature of the Universe (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996); Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy, and H. Newton Malony, eds., Whatever Happened to the Soul, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998).

10 Arthur Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), p. 3.

11 Ibid., pp. 6–7.

12 Ibid., pp. 60–61, 72–80, 140, 144–145. Cf. Arthur Peacocke, God and the New Biology (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), pp. 88–93.

13 Advocates of the complementarity view differ in the details here and, in some cases, appear to be confused. Early on Peacocke advocated what is called type type identity physicalism regarding the mental, Bube seems to embrace property dualism, and Mackay appears to conflate a double aspect , a type type identity, and a functionalist view of the mind/body problem. On Mackay, see Human Science & Human Dignity, pp. 26–34.

14 Jaegwon Kim, Philosophy of Mind (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1996), p. 12.

15 David Papineau, Philosophical Naturalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), p. 122.

16 Richard H. Bube, Putting It All Together (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of American, 1995), pp. 124–125.

17 There are also significant implications of the property–thing view for end of life ethics. See J. P. Moreland, “Humanness, Personhood, and the Right to Die,” Faith and Philosophy 12 (January 1995): 95–112; J. P. Moreland, Stan Wallace, “Aquinas, Locke and Descartes on the Human Person and End–of–Life Ethics,” International Philosophical Quarterly 35 ( September 1995): 319–330..

18 E. Mayr, Populations, Species, and Evolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 4.

19 David Hull, The Metaphysics of Evolution (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1989), pp. 74–75.

20 Robert N. Wennberg, Terminal Choices: Euthanasia, Suicide, and the Right to Die (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1989); Life in the Balance (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1985).

21 Wennberg, Terminal Choices, p. 176.

22 See John Locke, “Of Identity and Diversity,” chapter 27, Book II of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Though Locke was somewhat inconsistent, the standard way to understand him is note that he distinguished the identity of being a man (human) which consists in the “continuity” of a living organized body, from the identity of a person which consists in the “continuity” of consciousness and psychological traits, especially memory. It is important to note that, for Locke, continuity of a person is not continuity of a substance that has consciousness, but of consciousness itself.

23 Wennberg, Life, p. 49.

24 Wennberg, Terminal Choices, p. 159.

25 Ibid., p. 160. Cf. Life, pp. 31–46.

26 Wennberg, Terminal Choices, pp. 171 and 159, respectively.

27 Wennberg, Life, pp. 36, 39–40, 52.

28 Wennberg, Life, p. 29.

29 Wennberg, Terminal Choices, pp. 159, 168.

30 Wennberg, Life, pp. 27, 28, 34, 124–25. On page 124 Wennberg falsely implies that traditional sanctity of life advocates identify being human with falling under the biological classification Homo Sapiens. But this is not so because traditionalists view humanness as a theological and metaphysical notion that goes beyond biology.

31 Wennberg, Life, pp. 33, 36, 42, 127.

32 Wennberg, Terminal Choices, pp. 159, 161, 163, 165, 169; Life, pp. 43–44, 117–19, 130.

33 If someone is tempted to claim that if an issue cannot be settled by scientific investigation, then it amounts to excess metaphysical baggage fit only for idle speculation, then he or she should be aware that this epistemic posture plays directly into the hands of anti–realist understandings of science like the one offered by Bas C. van Fraasen. See his, The Scientific Image (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980). Van Fraasen argues that those aspects of scientific theories that go beyond the proper goal of science, i.e., “saving the phenomena”, involve one in irrelevant metaphysical speculation. For those complementarians like Peacocke who adopt some form of scientific realism, consistency would seem to require that they cannot dismiss metaphysical argumentation tout court.

34 Instructive in this regard is a careful study of debates about the nature of human persons during the rise of contemporary scientific study of matter in general and the brain and human body in particular. It becomes clear from such a study that the central issues and their resolution were largely philosophical and theological, and only secondarily scientific. See John W. Yolton, Thinking Matter: Materialism in Eighteenth–Century Britain (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983).

35 See Bruce Reichenbach, V. Elving Anderson, On Behalf of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), pp. 250–295, especially pp. 280–284.

36 Alvin Plantinga, “When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible,” Christian Scholar’s Review 21 (September 1991): 29–31.

37 See George Bealer, “The Philosophical Limits to Scientific Essentialism,” in Philosophical Perspectives Vol. I: Metaphysics, 1987, ed. by James E. Tomberlin (Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview, 1987), pp. 289–365; “On the Possibility of Philosophical Knowledge,” in Philosophical Perspectives Vol. 10: Metaphysics, 1996, ed. by James E. Tomberlin (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), pp. 1–34.

38 Joshua Hoffman, Gary S. Rosenkrantz, Substance: Its Nature and Existence London: Routledge, 1997), p. 7. Cf. pp. 77–79. Unfortunately, Hoffman and Rosenkrantz fail to follow their own advice, or so it seems to us. For they claim that, while souls are intelligible and, thus, possibly exist, there is no sufficient reason to postulate their existence, given the natural scientific view of living organisms and their place in the natural world. Cf. pp. 6–7. But this judgment reverses the epistemic order between science and “folk” ontology and removes the burden of proof about the soul that science has not, and perhaps cannot meet, given the nature of the issue. For at least three reasons, a substantial soul is every bit as much a part of folk ontology as substances in general: 1) the substantial soul is something we know immediately and, therefore, substance dualism is not first and foremost a postulate, but a descriptive report that finds a place in “folk” ontology; 2) the issues for which substance dualism is, in fact, a postulate, largely turn on considerations that may count against scientism, but for which science is largely silent; 3) the emergence and existence of mental states and their connection with physical entities is inexplicable on a scientific naturalist picture of the world (as Hoffman and Rosenkrantz admit), but intelligible in a theistic substance dualist world view. For more on this last point, see J. P. Moreland, “Searle’s Biological Naturalism and the Argument from Consciousness,” Faith and Philosophy 15 (January 1998): 68–91.

39 Roderick Chisholm, “Coming into Being and Passing Away: Can the Metaphysical Help?” in On Metaphysics by Roderick Chisholm (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), p. 49.

40 George Bealer, “On the Possibility of Philosophical Knowledge,” in Philosophical Perspectives 10: Metaphysics, 1996, ed. by James E. Tomberlin (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996), p. 1.

41 Alvin Goldman, “The Psychology of Folk Psychology,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 16 (1993): 15–28.

42 Thomas V. Morris, “Introduction,” in Divine & Human Action (Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988), p. 3.

43 John Cooper, Body, Soul, & Life Everlasting (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), p. 55.

44 Brian Goodwin, How the Leopard Changed Its Spots (N. Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1994), pp. 176–177.

45 For a defense of the view that chemical change is substantial change, see Richard Connell, Substance and Modern Science (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), pp. 81–87; cf., Enrico Cantore, Atomic Order (Cambridge, Mass.: MITPress, 1969), pp. 254–280; J. Van Brakel, “Chemistry as the Science of the Transformation of Substances,” Synthese 111 (June 1997): 253–282.

46 Thomas S. Hall, Ideas of Life and Matter (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), pp. 285–87. Cf. Maurice Merleau–Ponty, The Structure of Behavior (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), pp. 145–60; Etienne Gilson, From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), chapters 1, 2, and 5.

47 For a more detailed presentation of the issues in this paper, see J. P. Moreland, Scott Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, forthcoming, 2000).