The division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow

A friend sent me this piece on medical metaphors in ancient Christianity. This particular point caught my attention:

First, the articles here resist a rigid distinction between the domains of medicine and religion. It was not the case that medicine’s purview was the body, while religion’s purview was the soul, with religious authors borrowing medicine’s concepts about bodily health in order to speak about the health of the soul. Rather, medicine and religion were both concerned with the health of bodies and souls alike; both domains understood the health of body and soul to be interdependent. The articles in this special issue demonstrate the shared purviews and aims of these two spheres, revealing fuzzier boundaries between late ancient religion and medicine than previously assumed.

1. I suppose this one of the most fundamental problems with modern medicine. Modern medicine (along with much of modern science) has become secular/materialist in its basic philosophical outlook. It has reduced soul to body at best. By contrast, medicine has traditionally and across many cultures been about treating the entire human person as a whole.

2. I suspect a lot of the deficiencies if not failures in modern medicine are due to this paradigm, where doctors continue to be taught, continue to think, and continue to practice in purely physical terms or in a naturalistic framework. This is especially evident in psychiatry which deals more directly with the mind than any other field or specialty. For example, perhaps modern psychiatry has run out of steam or reached the point it has (e.g. trying to find a biological basis for so many mental issues) because naturalism itself can only go so far in explaining and understanding the mind. Perhaps a new paradigm is needed. Rather, an old paradigm needs to be made new again.


What is the meaning of life?


Man, I tell you what, Hank, ’bout there-that dang ol’ meaning o’ life, man. It’s like this, man. You like a butterfly flappin’ its wings deep-down in that forest, man. It gon’ cause a tree fall like five thousand miles away, man. If-an ain’t nobody see it, nobody don-doesn’t even happen, you know. If da baby born into this world, if it no ain’t got no God dang friends, it got no nothin’ but to come in and to find out all about ’em ol’ evil, man. Man, see, like, you don’t even know, man. What you gon’ – it’s like you born into this world, man, and you got like – it’s like this, man. Dust in the wind, man. Or like a dang ol’ candle in the wind, man. You gon’ – it don’t matter, man. It’s not the old oldies all how, man. You know what I think, man? It’s like the dang ol’ I think therefore you are, man.

Here’s a remix of the same:

1. This seems to be a mishmash of popular philosophical clichés. The philosophical clichés touch on topics ranging from the butterfly effect, chaos theory, free will vs. predestination, the problem of evil, the impermanence of life, the foundation for knowledge, among others.

2. Similarly it echoes questions like “What is the meaning of life?”, “Who am I?” or “Who are we?”, “What is our purpose?”, “Why are we here?”, “Is there a God?”, “What is good?”, “Why is there evil?”, and others. These are questions most of us have asked since we were children.

3. However, left to our own devices, what would we really know? Could we ever find the answers to these questions? Are there even answers in the first place?

a. We’re finite beings. We’re not omniscient or omnipotent. We don’t have access to everything all at once. We can’t even see past the known universe.

b. Logic and reason have their limitations. They can only get us so far.

c. Likewise math and science, which presume logic and reason, as well as make other assumptions like the uniformity of nature.

d. Science and math are descriptive, not prescriptive.

e. Our greatest intellects and geniuses say things like: “I know that I know nothing” (Socrates) and “I was born not knowing and have only had a little time to change that here and there” (Richard Feynman).

f. In short, we can’t answer the most basic questions children ask. At best we’d have to guess about the meaning of it all. Some of our guesswork might be reasonable, some of it might be unreasonable. Some of it might be true, some of it might not.

4. I think we could be able to reason to a God like the God of classical theism, but I don’t see how we would get much further. We’d be largely ignorant about God.

However, reasoning to the God of classical theism, or something like the God of classical theism, isn’t nothing. For example, it means reasoning to an omnipotent and omniscient creator who created all things including the universe in which we live and including ourselves. It means reasoning to a transcendent yet personal God. It means reasoning to a good God.

That’s about as far as we might be able to go on our own, but at least it’s something.

5. At the same time, I don’t see any way out of our conundrum. We could reason to classical theism, but we probably couldn’t go much further. Not on our own. We would need this God to reveal himself and explain the meaning of it all to us.

6. It would make sense such a God would want to reveal himself to us. After all, if the God of classical theism exists, then it stands to reason this God is good, not evil. Likewise, though there’s certainly much evil, we likewise see many evidences of good in life. Why wouldn’t a good, omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent, and personal God who created us wish to reveal himself to us, at least to some degree?

7. Yet there are only a handful of religions which (a) believe in a God like the God of classical theism and (b) claim this God has revealed himself to us. Namely: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The Eastern religions are by and large pantheism or atheistic. But these quite arguably fall apart logically, in my view. I’ve talked about how so in the past (e.g. the pantheism of Hinduism is impersonal, but how can the personal arise from the impersonal?).

In this respect, we have our choices narrowed down for us. It must be the God of the Abrahamic religions. But which one?

8. In brief, as Steve Hays has put it: “The dilemma for the Muslim is that Muhammad presents himself as a successor to the Biblical prophets. So Islam can’t be true unless the Judeo-Christian tradition is true. If, however, Islam contradicts the Judeo-Christian tradition, then Islam is falsified by the Judeo-Christian benchmark.”

Indeed, there’s much evidence Islam contradicts the Bible. There are too many examples to list, but some obvious ones center on Jesus. For instance, Islam believes Jesus is not the Son of God, and in fact that it would be wrong to say God has any “son”, but Christianity does teach this. Islam teaches Jesus is a prophet, not God incarnate. Moreover Islam does not believe Jesus died on the cross, while Christians do. Christianity and Islam can’t both be right about Jesus. This is just the tip of the iceberg too.

So it’s really a choice between Judaism and Christianity. The key question (among many questions) is who is Jesus? Is Jesus the promised Messiah? Jews say no, Christians say yes. In fact, the first Christians were Jews who argued yes. Christian simply means “little follower of Christ” and “Christ” is the Greek term for “Messiah”. So Christians are “Messiah followers”.

The New Testament supplies answers and arguments as to why Jesus is the Messiah. The One to come. The One predicted from ages past who would come and save the world and restore it to Edenic paradise after all his people are gathered in.

9. So, if anyone wants answers, I’d say pick up and read the Bible, along with a book like The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Tom Schreiner), which shows one how the biblical storyline fits together and unfolds. You don’t have to agree with the Bible, but reason and honesty do require understanding the Bible on its own terms rather than on our terms.

Evidence for life after death

The following is taken from If God Made the Universe, Who Made God?: 130 Arguments for Christian Faith.

More Evidence for Life After Death
By J.P. Moreland

The case for life after death consists of empirical (observable) and nonempirical (theoretical) arguments. The empirical arguments are two: near-death experiences (NDE’s) and the resurrection of Jesus. A sufficient body of evidence exists for the view that people have died, left their bodies, had various experiences, and returned to their bodies. Attempts to explain NDEs naturalistically fail in those cases where the disembodied person gained knowledge about things miles away (e.g., conversations of family members). One must be cautious about theological interpretations of NDE’s, but their reality is well established. Some argue that, even if true, NDE’s only provide evidence for temporary existence beyond death. Strictly speaking, this is correct. However, if biological death does not bring the cessation of consciousness, it is hard to see what could do so after death.

Jesus’ resurrection is defended elsewhere in this collection of essays. Suffice it to say that if Jesus rose from the dead, this qualifies Him to speak about life after death because His resurrection provides evidence that He was the Son of God, and means He has returned from the afterlife and told us about it.

The nonempirical arguments divide into theistic-dependent and theistic-independent ones. The former assume the existence of God and therewith argue for immortality. If God is who He says He is, the case is proven beyond reasonable doubt. Three such theistic dependent arguments are especially important.

The first is two-pronged and argues from the image and love of God. Given that humans have tremendous value as image bearers and God is a preserver of tremendously high value, then God is a preserver of persons. Moreover, given that God loves His image bearers and has a project of bringing them to full maturity and fellowship with Him, God will sustain humans to continue this love affair and His important project on their behalf.

The second argument, based on divine justice, asserts that in this life goods and evils are not evenly distributed. A just God must rectify these inequities, and an afterlife is thus required.

Finally, there is the argument from biblical revelation: It can be established that the Bible is the truthful Word of God, and it affirms life after death. For this to be an argument, rational considerations must be marshaled on behalf of the Bible’s divine status.

Two non-theistic dependent arguments exist for immortality. The first is the argument from desire: (1) The desire for life after death is a natural desire. (2) Every natural desire corresponds to some real state of affairs that can fulfill it. (3) Therefore, the desire for life after death corresponds to some real state of affairs-namely life after death-that fulfills it.

Critics claim that the desire for immortality is nothing but an expression of ethical egoism. People do not universally desire it, and even when they do, it is a learned, not a natural, desire. Further, even if it is a natural desire, sometimes such desires are frustrated. While adequate responses exist for these rebuttals, they weaken the force of the argument, though it is hard to say precisely how much.

The second argument claims that consciousness and the self are immaterial, not physical, and this supports belief in life after death in two ways: (1) It makes disembodied existence and personal identity in the afterlife intelligible. (2) It provides evidence for the existence of God. This, in turn, provides grounds for reintroducing the theistic-dependent arguments for life after death.

The argument for consciousness being nonphysical involves the claim that once one gets an accurate description of consciousness-sensations, emotions, thoughts, beliefs-it becomes clear that it is not physical. Conscious states are characterized by their inner, private, qualitative feel made known by introspection. Since physical states lack these features, consciousness is not physical.

The case for an immaterial self is rooted in the claim that in first person introspection, we are aware of our own egos as immaterial centers of consciousness. This awareness grounds intuitions that when one has an arm cut off, has a portion of one’s brain removed, or gains/loses memories and personality traits, one does not become a partial person or a different person altogether.

While these two arguments provide some grounds for belief in an afterlife, they are far from conclusive. At the end of the day, the justification of belief in life after death is largely theistic dependent.