Best Possible World: Gateway to the Millennium and Eschaton

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To call herself a 'physicalist' distorts that term beyond recognition. Why Nancey hangs onto that term is mainly to disclaim the dualism to which her theological colleagues continue to maintain despite its incoherence. The contrast with Cartesian dualism is why 'non-reductive physicalism' remains current despite Kim's refutation of it as physical. Non-theists of a non-reductive persuasion may call themselves naturalists. Non-dualist theists, not willing to take the immaterialist leap, are left with a serious problem of nomenclature, not to mention logic.
A Brief Examination of Nancey Murphy's Nonreductive Physicalism -- By Sean Choi
This paper will briefly examine Nancey Murphy's "nonreductive physicalism" as she presents it in the book Whatever Happened to the Soul? (Fortress Press, 1998). After presenting her view, I will argue that Murphy's position is caught in the horns of the following dilemma: either the mental causally overdetermines the physical, or the mental is causally inert with respect to the physical. Since Murphy desires to save mental causation, her nonreductive physicalism gets impaled on the horns of this dilemma.
Yes, it's that simple. All of her disregard of logic just to avoid idealism. When the philosophical barrier to idealism is broken there will be a flood. Yes, it will be an eschatological flood of biblical proportions.
In terms of the distinctions drawn above, Murphy's "nonreductive physicalism" is a physicalist view in the philosophy of mind which accepts ontological reductionism, but rejects causal reductionism and reductive materialism. In her own words, "it denies the existence of a nonmaterial entity, the mind (or soul) but does not deny the existence of consciousness (a position in philosophy of mind called eliminative materialism) or the significance of conscious states or other mental (note the adjectival form) phenomena."
Her distinction between ontology and causality is remarkably incoherent. If you're an anti-dualist and an anti-materialist, there ain't much choice.
In summary, I have argued that given Murphy's nonreductive physicalism and her desire to maintain mental causation, she is stuck between the rock of causal overdetermination and the hard place of mental epiphenomena. I tentatively conclude that since neither of these positions are acceptable to her, it might serve her well to reevaluate her nonreductive physicalism.
Well, Nancey, when are you going to bite the bullet? It looks like your physicalism has got to go. Let's see then, non-materialism & non-dualism = immaterialism. No? It looks like it's time to bone up on Berkley, Nancey. Berkley (CTNS) is the Big Game rival of Stanford, but this is more important.
CiS-St Edmunds Lecture series - MENTAL CAUSATION - Nancey Murphy
John Taylor: Response to Professor Murphy's paper: Now, a non-reductive physicalist is in some sense seeking to avoid the problems of dualism and yet not veer towards a strongly reductionist position and one way in which the intuition behind that gets going is the thought that mental properties, even though they may be properties of a physical thing, are of a different kind.
But if you're a non-reductive materialist, what are you going to say about the causal efficacy of mental properties: do you want to say that the mental can, in some sense, make an intervening difference to the physical level. If you say that it seems that you've gone down the route that the dualist goes down.
This is quite an acute dilemma which has been pushed in a different variety of contexts in philosophy of mind literature. we really get round the problem, the epiphenomenal question, by introducing the distinction between structural and triggering causes?
Nancey Murphy: The concept of structuring causes was employed in order to talk about how the brain gets structured so that causal sequences realize or instantiate rational sequences.
Nancey has taken a page from the book of Alexander: How to solve the Gordian Knot.
All I really intended to do tonight is to work on one tiny piece of the puzzle, how can you reconcile rationality with causality. You've asked the big question about consciousness, which I don't attempt to deal with. I think it's got to be left for farther down the road when we know more about how the brain works. I am convinced, as a physicalist, that somehow or other the activity of our brains gives rise to consciousness, but I'm not at all sure that we'll ever have much subjective sense of understanding how that happens.
I think that your interlocutors would settle for some objective sense.
So all those questions are extremely important ones; they've got to be worked on in the future but the fact that I can't answer them now does not detract from the validity of the tiny little first piece that I've done.
A tiny step for Nancey, a cosmic leap for humankind. Nancey has the best intentions in the world of smoothing over the rough spots, but the Eschaton is not quite in her league.
I believe that the notion of self-transcendence is extremely important for understanding how we avoid neurobiological determinism.
Janet Soskice: Every aspect of our reality is created reality, and the big contrast in theology is not between mind, spirit and body but between what is created and the One who creates, that is the fundamental distinction and it is far more absolute than `things that go bump in the night'.
What early theologians had to contend with was various kinds of neoplatonists who did argue for an immortal soul and indeed which participated in the divine - a chip off the divine block. Christianity and Judaism did not believe that because they believed that the human being was totally a creature,
But you need to emphasise creation: spirit is created, soul is created, body is created; in one sense you could say they are all material realities, that would be a direction you could take and be consonant with historical Christianity.
Nancey Murphy: I think that adopting physicalism is a very healthy thing for Christians because it establishes the ontological dividing point just where it should be, which is between God and everything else, rather than half way up the great chain of being.
This last exchange explains a whole lot about just what us idealists are up against, w.r.t. professional theologians. They would rather burn us monists at the stake, than have to grapple with the foundations of the world. Can we blame them?


What we see happening with Nancey Murphy (2,100 hits) may constitute a genuine phenomenon. Just off the top, it may be a preliminary mainstream Christian reaction to the Tucson Consciousness phenomenon of David Chalmers (8,700 hits) provenance.
The mystics were effectively monopolizing the ample spiritual dimension of the academically oriented consciousness movement, so I use the term 'reaction' advisedly. The mystics are exploiting the intellectual concern with consciousness to work their monistic magic. The Christian dualists are beginning to react, finally.
The orthodox Christians have always felt extremely threatened by the various monistic and pantheistic heresies that perennially threaten their orthodoxy. It is fair to say that this conservative reaction was a primary motivation behind that other phenomenon: the Inquisition, which, in its turn, gave rise to Cartesian mind-body dualism and thus to the worldview of Scientific materialism. But now that the Scientific materialists are threatening to engulf the mind in their materialist maw, the non-materialists are forced, with no small trepidation, to enter the fray.
The first out of the blocks were the mystics. They are an independent lot, some of whom are willing to tilt at any given windmill. Our orthodox prophetic brethren and sistren are rather more corporate and reactionary in their modus operandi. Why? Well, they are carrying a heavy prophetic burden. Theirs is the Eschaton. It's not walk softly and carry a big stick. It's carry a big stick, and therefore you darn well have to walk more cautiously. That is unless you have designs on the second coming.
But when the prophetic types see that the mystics are, against all odds, actually scoring points in the Mind Wars, they have to respond. Their almost knee jerk response is to throw their lot in with the naturalists, promoting a non-reductionist panpsychism as a stopgap against the dreaded pantheism. This is where Nancey is. She is leading the troops in this reaction.
Where then are the theistic idealists? Total silence? One may trace this movement up from the ashes of the Inquisition into Germany, England and then on to our fair, transcendental shores. Since the first War, the transcendentalists have either vanished or become speechless. The Twentieth Century was not at all kind to idealists of any stripe. Will the Twenty-first be any more hospitable? I guess we're about to find out.
My fervent hope is that Nancey & Co. will smoke out my fellow theistic idealists, just as the pantheists succeeded in smoking out the theists. Will Google work its magic through all this smoke? Will that radar show any blips as my co-idealists find their stealthy way into this nascent arena?
Perhaps Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928- ) (3,400 hits) can shed some light on the matter, taking my cue from Dramatic Theology as a Research Program. Wolfhart emphasizes holism and hermeneutics as a bridge between the sciences and humanities including theology.
For Pannenberg, the question whether the entire history makes sense or whether there actually is a comprehensive totality of meaning or truth is identical with the question about God.
Show me a coherentist and I'll show you a theistic idealist.
Therefore time is the condition and the measure of the infinite's appearance in the finite, since the difference between future and presence veils the barrier of the present and lets it shine in the full light of the infinite, as long as its time lasts. Therefore a definite manifestation of God is not possible until the end of history.
Furthermore, show me a coherentist and I'll show you an eschatologist.
In the context of this understanding of science and the world, it is important for Christian theology that Jesus acted in an apocalyptic horizon, i.e. that he anticipated the end of the entire history of mankind and the resurrection of all the dead. Only in this context could he talk about God as a reality determining the entire history. However, since Jesus did not appear at the end of the world, but could only foresee the totality, his proclamation remained only a subjective anticipation and consequently problematic and hypothetical.
Pannenberg actually has - almost as the only theologian - got involved in Hume's criticism in an open and honest way. [...] As the bases for determining all concepts are completely different in Hume's and Pannenberg's theory, both systems cannot be directly compared with each other in Murphy's view: they are incommensurable. [...] Moreover, Pannenberg's methodology is unworkable since it finally follows an evolutionary view. In this way one could always describe afterwards only how things have actually developed and there are no clear criteria which theory should be chosen and preferred for the future.
In our view, Murphy's criticism of Pannenberg is not convincing in important points. First of all, the anticipation of the end of history is no longer a merely abstract or even abstruse claim in our days. [...] Finally the epistemology of Pannenberg is not incommensurable to Hume's epistemology, but just more comprehensive, since it is not only "past-entailing", but "past"- as well as - "future-entailing".
After her criticism of Pannenberg, Murphy proposes an alternative method for theology and refers to Imre Lakatos in this context.
"Neuro-Science and the Soul" -- a talk given by Dr. Nancey Murphy, reviewed by Norman Hall:
She warned her audience that she would make no hard distinction between mind and soul, but would discuss the long-standing question of the mind/soul as a single or dual entity. Most philosophers and scientists, she admitted, are monists, now that neuroscience has completed the Darwinian revolution, attributing mind to the brain, and not to any immaterial entity.
So the resolution [according to Murphy] of the problem posed by these multiple levels of description is not to be found in the identity of the phenomenon described, but in "supervenience," which preserves both a non-reductionist description of the person, and allows for divine action in the world of mental events.
To relate what she was saying to other trends in modern theology, Murphy invoked the theology of Arthur Peacocke, who places theology at the top of a hierarchy of sciences, calling it the most encompassing of the sciences. Peacocke's position is not pantheistic (wherein there is said to be but one reality, consisting of God identified as world), but is one of "panentheism," wherein the world is in God, but the divine reality must include more than the world. This, she says, fits her "supervenience" concept, where there is more to the mental than brain, that irreducible "more" being found on the social level.
I am pleasantly surprised that Nancey looks with favor on panentheism.
Nancey Murphy should be ashamed of herself for trying to pull such an obvious piece of bait-and-switch flim-flam as she did in her formula for the defeat of reductionism.
At least she has raised the ire of the 'godless' scientists.
The question for Nancey is that if it is OK for the mind-soul to be supervenient on the body, is it OK for God to be supervenient on the world? If not, does this not place God entirely beyond our reach, and is that dualism the purpose of her 'physicalism'? The answer appears to be, 'yes'. But this is not the thesis of Panentheism of the world in God.
'Is Science Good for the Soul? Then sings my psychophysical somatic unity!' -- Matt Donnelly (Christianity Today):
In recent years, Murphy has been saying that human beings do not have a soul, at least not in the way that soul has traditionally been defined-"the spiritual part of a human being that is believed to survive death,"....
....throughout the history of the church, philosophers have carried on esoteric debates about the precise nature of soul that had little impact on believers in the pews. So what's new? What really matters is that, as believers in Christ, we know that when we die, our souls will not perish. [...] Right? Not exactly, says Murphy.
...."while Christians are mostly consumed with opening yet newer rounds in their century-and-a-half-old war with Charles Darwin, they have scarcely the faintest idea that the new consciousness enthusiasm"-that is, the broad consensus represented by secular thinkers such as Dennett, Pinker, and Patricia and Paul Churchland and Christians such as Murphy and Jeeves-"is by far the greater threat to the integrity of Christian belief." The case against dualism, Guelzo suggested, has by no means been definitively made.
What is the case is that Nancey believes in the resurrection: we stay in the grave 'til Judgment Day. But since she is an irrationalist about the future, allegedly in deference to Darwinism, she can disavow all discussion of this topic. This is a bizarre spiritual cocktail that Nancey is brewing. All this to avoid what? A little coherence?
There is a great desire to protect the mystery of God. Any transgression of the veil of God would be apocalyptic. Yes, that is my point. All of this irrationality is by way of a spiritual filibuster. But the show must go on.
While talk of conscious robots or cloned humans may sound like science fiction, Christians must be prepared to engage this brave new world by articulating a vision for the future of humanity that combines scientific knowledge with biblical wisdom. The world is watching. It remains to be seen how Christendom will respond.
Yes, it does remain to be see.
Books & Culture Corner: "Daddy, What Is the Soul?" Does the church have an answer?

By John Wilson 12/10/2001 (Christianity Today):

The same period has seen an explosion of scholarly interest in "consciousness." There is a vast and steadily growing literature in the field of consciousness studies,..." Oddly, while all of this has been going on, the church hasn't paid much attention. Sometimes it seems as if everyone but the church is talking about the soul.
Perhaps the theologians are waking up and smelling the coffee.
'The Methodological Equivalence of Design & Descent: Can There Be a Scientific "Theory of Creation"?' by Stephen C. Meyer - Reprinted from The Creation Hypothesis, ed. by J.P. Moreland (InterVarsity Press, 1994)
Most scientists who are theists also accept this same conception of science. As Raymond Grizzle wrote in a prominent evangelical scientific journal recently, "God cannot be part of a scientific description. . . . [Further], any description that implies a creator will probably also be looked at as improper by most scientists." Nancey Murphy, a philosopher and Fuller Seminary professor, agrees. She wrote recently in the same journal: "Science qua science seeks naturalistic explanations for all natural processes. Christians and atheists alike must pursue scientific questions in our era without invoking a Creator. . . . Anyone who attributes the characteristics of living things to creative intelligence has by definition stepped into the arena of either metaphysics or theology."
However Christian intellectuals might go about defending methodological naturalism, secular defenders of the principle assure us that the prohibition against invoking God or creative intelligence is anything but arbitrary. Instead, they assert that good independent reasons exist for the conventional exclusion of such notions from all scientific theories. Theories of design or creation do not, they say, meet objective standards of scientific method and practice. Such theories do not explain by reference to natural law, nor do they manifest a host of other features of true scientific theories such as testability, observability and falsifiability.
Here we see a creationist taking on the theistic defenders of naturalism. An intra-theistic debate on metaphysics cannot hurt the cause of rational theism. Idealism finds itself somewhat in the middle of this argument. The creationists take materialism rather too seriously. We are confronted with contending dualisms: mind-body, and Creator-creation. The creationists have so far avoided the mind-body problem, but they are not taking the Deistic path of Murphy & Co. This may be my final accusation against Nancey: she is a deist. Her strict dualism allows no other view. Her favorable mention of panentheism does not jibe with her other beliefs.


If truth be known, I'm not enamored with the soul. I am glad that Nancey is sticking it to the theologians about the obsolescence of this, their pet concept.
The soul, incongruously, has been the mainstay of both mysticism and Cartesian materialism. Within those opposed systems the soul constitutes the main barrier against coherence. Thus is the soul the great enemy of idealism. If process philosophy has taught us anything, it ought to be that the soul, along with God, is a process. We and God are all creatures of the overriding process of love.
At most, the soul is a repository of potential energy, like a spring, a spring weighted down by its accumulated karmic memories. Like a compressed spring, it is inherently unstable. In its relaxation, it returns to and is consumed by love. That is our salvation and our ecstasy. God holds the key to our forgiveness. We cannot work it our by ourselves, no matter how many lives we might spend. That is the key to the Kingdom, and I would not be particularly surprised if it had something to do with the cryptographic potential of the Monster group. That extreme mathematical object is essentially the memory, or 'soul', of the material aspect of the world, which must overlap with each of our individual memories. Topologically, all of Creation along with the Creator is held together as a virtual chain of stitches. This is also reminiscent of the coiling of the cosmic serpent. When the trumpet sounds....., well, you get the picture.
This topological, non-atomic analysis of the soul is possible only in a system that is monistic and coherent. This is also in agreement with the holographic and fractal nature of reality. Our souls are the product of a lengthy, historical process of symmetry breaking, as we see in the physics of field theory. In the eschatological regime, we witness the reversal of that symmetry breaking. These mechanical metaphors are only to be used as analogical, conceptual aids. The actual processes are metaphysical in nature.
The idea of an atomic soul is like a 'zeroth' approximation used in calculating a physical process. As we move to higher order approximations, the symmetry and topological continuity are restored. Theologians, not surprisingly, are working with this 'zeroth' approximation of the soul. They will have to be nudged repeatedly to get them off this mark, and onto a more refined and coherent model of metaphysics. The first step is always the most difficult. After that first big step to the next higher approximation, all the other steps will come rather easily.
The postmodern anti-foundationalism is necessary to deconstruct our atomic concept of the soul, so that a more coherent reconstruction of it may begin.
Time out for a little idealism: it's always worthwhile to check the latest sources:
Pluralistic Idealism- Only Mind, Many Minds -- Alan Anderson (1997). He provides a synopsis of modern idealism. Alan participates in the New Thought Movement, allegedly based on idealism
The Personalist Forum is another bastion of contemporary idealism.
Borges, the Apologist for Idealism: Marina Martin argues that Hume was an implicit idealist, and traces a complete lineage.
Current Issues in Idealism, eds. Paul Coates and Daniel D. Hutto (1997): just this blurb:
This collection of original papers, the only current anthology on twentieth century idealism, shows the debate between idealism and realism to be as important now as it was at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It brings together an exciting range of views by some of the most distinguished writers in the field.
Focused on the idealist/realist dispute, contributors also discuss the relation of idealism to ethics, metaphysics and epistemology. The volume also deals with the distinction between ontological and conceptual forms of idealism, the place of idealism within the analytic tradition of philosophy and the coherence of the idealist/realist distinction.
The contributors include: Donald Davidson, Timothy Sprigge, Tom Sorrell, Phillip Ferreira, Leslie Armour, Michele Marsonet.
Not exactly a ground swell, not yet. Nicholas Rescher is not a contributor, and none of his many articles is listed as online. That Davidson is an idealist would be a surprise to me.
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ANGLO-AMERICAN IDEALISM At the Olympic Centre for Philosophy and Culture and the Municipality of Pyrgos of Elia, Greece, 20th-25th August 2003. It sounds nice. Includes a long list of participants.
....and (iii) a discussion of the continuation and revival of Anglo-American Idealism in the work of Dorothy Emmet, Errol E. Harris, Rex Martin, Peter P. Nicholson, Nicholas Rescher, Timothy Sprigge, and others.
The first two listed are no longer with us. Still no groundswell. I see no linkage between this list of idealists and our previous list of anti-reductionists.
Despite the paucity of these lists, I'm under the impression that, of the philosophically active theists, most are also idealists of one sort or another, and vice versa; Nancey Murphy being a very conspicuous exception. This important fact of philosophical life has not registered with the theistic community.
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