emergentism need not be taken to imply the soul’s mortality. The analogy with the magnetic field may suggest that the field should disappear along with the generating body. But this may not be invariably true even of the fields of physics. A black hole, for example, is an incredibly intense gravitational field which is originally generated by a massive object. But once it has formed, it literally squeezes the generating object out of existence. Thus, according to Roger Penrose, “After the body has collapsed in, it is better to think of the black hole as a self-sustaining gravitational field in its own right. It has no further use for the body which originally built it!” Could the human mind then, like a black hole, become a self-sustaining field of consciousness?
Another possibility, perhaps of more interest to Christians, is suggested by the neurologist Wilder Penfield. He hypothesizes that throughout life the mind is supplied with energy by the brain, but, he says, “Whether there is such a thing as communication between man and God and whether energy can come to the mind of man from an outside source after his death is for each individual to decide for himself. Science has no such answers.”
To sum up this point: Emergentism does not guarantee the immortality of the soul; but it is consistent with the affirmation of life after death for human beings if evidence for a future life can be provided from another quarter. And surely this is sufficient. It should be enough for us if we are able, philosophically, to conceive the possibility of eternal life; it must be left to God to demonstrate the reality.
So much for the strengths of emergentism; what are its weaknesses? Since this view has not yet been subjected to the same sort of intensive investigation and criticism as have dualism and materialism, it may be premature to try to answer the question. It is clear that insofar as emergentism is in many respects positioned between dualism and materialism, it is open to attacks from both directions. Thus, some dualists will view emergentism as a thinly disguised materialism, and some materialists will regard it as merely a minor variant of dualism. The emergentist does share with the materialist the belief that mind and consciousness result from the functioning of the physical organism, and therefore also the difficulty of explaining how this is possible. To this the emergentist, if he or she is a Christian, may respond by citing the biblical testimony that man was created from the dust of the earth—dust which, itself the creation of the all-wise God, is rich with potential beyond our imagining. Whatever view we accept, there is plenty of mystery left.
Eternal Life: Immortality or Resurrection?
In the preceding sections we have implied that dualism is likely to be acceptable to religious believers because it implies the existence (or at least the possibility) of life after death, whereas materialism will be unacceptable because it denies this. A number of Christian thinkers, however, would find this emphasis misconceived. Dualism, they would say, does indeed offer support for the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, but this doctrine is not essential to Christianity and may not even be compatible with good Christian theology.
The belief in immortality, originating in Greek thought, is tied to such dubious notions as that the soul is inherently divine or quasi-divine and that the body is evil, a prison in which the soul is confined until its blessed liberation by death. In contrast to this is the Hebrew, and biblical, belief in the resurrection of the body: It is not that our “souls” survive, but that God on the day of judgment resurrects the entire person for a life either of blessedness or of damnation. Thus the dualist’s belief in a separable soul is at best irrelevant and at worst may represent a damaging intrusion of pagan philosophical concepts into the Christian faith.
Much of this can be dealt with summarily here. It is true that some dualists have believed in the inherent divinity of the soul and the inherent evil of the body, as well as in the superiority of a disembodied existence. But none of these notions are implied by the core conception of dualism as elaborated here, and Christian theologians who are dualists have generally managed to avoid these problematic notions. Thus according to Thomas Aquinas a human being is a composite substance consisting of both soul and body. The disembodied soul, in between death and resurrection, exists in a state of incompleteness, which will be remedied only when God raises us on the last day. While Aquinas does draw heavily upon Greek philosophical conceptions, it is hard to see what in his thought on these matters could be viewed as a betrayal of the Christian conception of human beings.
There remains, however, an interesting philosophical question: Is belief in a separable soul necessary for the doctrine of eternal life? According to one group of philosophers, who may be termed “Christian materialists,” the answer is no. There is no need of a soul to provide the link of identity between the person who dies and the same person resurrected; the truth is rather that the entire person perishes at death—ceases entirely to exist—and then is re-created by God in the resurrection. But, one might ask, is this really possible? Would a person, just like me, created after I have died, really be me? Or would it be a mere replica, a simulation of me? In order to answer such questions, John Hick proposes a couple of test cases:
Suppose, first, that someone—John Smith—living in the USA were suddenly and inexplicably to disappear from before the eyes of his friends, and that at the same moment an exact replica of him were inexplicably to appear in India . . . . Further, the “John Smith” replica thinks of himself as being the John Smith who disappeared in the USA. After all possible tests have been made and have proved positive, the factors leading his friends to accept “John Smith” as John Smith would surely prevail and would cause them to overlook even his mysterious transference from one continent to another, rather than treat “John Smith,” with all John Smith’s memories and other characteristics, as someone other than John Smith.
Suppose, second, that our John Smith, instead of inexplicably disappearing, dies, but that at the moment of his death a “John Smith” replica, again complete with memories and all other characteristics, appears in India. Even with the corpse on our hands we would, I think, still have to accept this “John Smith” as the John Smith who died. We would have to say that he had been miraculously re-created in another place.
An initial response to this might be that while Hick’s examples are somewhat plausible, this plausibility is due to reasons which have nothing to do with the case he is trying to make. In order to support Hick’s case, the examples must be seen as instances of total personal annihilation followed by re-creation. But to a generation of Star Trek fans the first example suggests merely an advanced form of transportation: It occurs to us that Smith’s reappearance should have occurred in the transporter room of the Enterprise! The second example, of course, excludes this interpretation. But I would suggest that all of us, even if we are not professed dualists, have a strong tendency to read the example as though Smith’s mind, or soul, having survived his physical death, is re-embodied in the newly created body. (Hick is, I think, correct in assuming that it doesn’t matter that it is not Smith’s original body which is resurrected. Surely God’s ability to raise us from the dead can’t be thought to depend on whether enough quarks, electrons and so on from our original bodies are available to make the resurrection bodies. For that matter, are resurrection bodies composed of ordinary physical “stuff’?)
Hick will insist, however, that the second example is to be read without the assumption of a soul which survives—that Smith has undergone total personal annihilation and has then been recreated. But is this intelligible? What exactly, according to Hick’s view, is a human being supposed to be? One possibility is that “John Smith” names a general category of some kind, so that there can be any number of John Smith’s so long as they are sufficiently similar in relevant respects. If this is correct, then there is no problem in saying that the “John Smith” replica really is John Smith. In fact there is no logical reason (though there might be other kinds of reasons) why God must wait until Smith is dead to re-create him—there could be any number of John Smiths alive at the same time, and all of them would have equal claim to being considered the real John Smith. And this leads to some interesting questions: If Smith is married, which of the numerous replicas is Mrs. Smith’s husband? And who would be responsible for the parking ticket he got last month?
The obvious alternative to this view—and the one which, I think, Hick and other Christian materialists are really bound to accept—is that John Smith is identical with a certain living human body. But if we apply this to Hick’s second example, then the conclusion we come to is that John Smith no longer exists. Smith’s body exists, all right, but the body is dead; and therefore so is he. The replica body is alive, but this can’t be the body that is identical with John Smith, for that body is stretched out cold and dead on the floor. So the replica is an imposter, a new person remarkably similar to John Smith.