Dualism and the Goodness of Heaven

One of the courses I teach at Tyndale University College is Philosophy of Mind. We spend all semester talking about the common options one might take when it comes to the mind’s relationship to the body (assuming there is such a thing as a ‘mind’). Given that Tyndale is a Christian university, I like to conclude the term with a discussion of how one’s account of mind and body makes sense of the resurrection. To that end, I have my students read Trenton Merricks’s, “The Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting.”[1] I think he does a good job of setting up the various issues, the downside is that in it he also makes his case for physicalism (I say it’s a downside because I think physicalism is false—other physicalists will obviously see this as a benefit!).

One way the Christian physicalists might argue for their view is to try and show that physicalism is consistent with Christianity. That is, there is nothing in the Christian worldview that logically precludes one from being a physicalist. Merricks, however, does much more than that. He also argues that physicalism makes more sense of certain Christian ideas than does dualism. I think this attempt is admirable since holding views that are merely logically compatible with Christianity is a pretty low bar.[2] Ideally, our philosophical views will also enable us to have a better understanding of our Christian beliefs. In what follows I’d like to examine one of Merricks’s arguments for this contention and state why I think it fails.[3] Merricks writes:

The Bible treats the resurrection as very important. But if dualism were true, it is hard to see why our resurrection would be a big deal. Now the dualist might object that a soul in Heaven without a body is somehow mutilated or incomplete, and so the dualist might therefore insist that resurrection is a blessing. But it is hard to know just how much stress she should put on the value of resurrection, since stress on what we gain in resurrection is, by its very nature, stress on what we lack before resurrection. Preresurrection existence united with God in Heaven is not supposed to be too bad; indeed it is supposed to be very good.[4]

Here is a basic way of characterizing this argument.

  1. If dualism were true, then preresurrection existence wouldn’t very good.
  2. According to the biblical data, preresurrection existence is very good.
  3. Therefore, dualism is false.

As far as the structure goes, there aren’t any worries. However, I see no reason why the dualist should agree to (1). Why think that preresurrection existence wouldn’t be very good on dualism? Here’s what I think Merricks’s rationale for is. Let, A = earthly existence, B = preresurrection existence, and C = postresurrection existence. His point seems to be that on dualism, A is not as good as B and B is not as good as C. Fair enough, I’m inclined to agree. I don’t, however, agree that from this one ought to conclude that B is not very good. That simply does not follow.

The dualist can say that C “is a blessing” because C is far greater than B. And this is true even if B is also far greater than A. For all we know, B is very good. It’s just that C will be even better. Here’s another way of putting the point. In relation to A, B is very good and yet still not as good as it could be. That is, B is very good, but not as as good as C. While it’s true that Merricks’s physicalism skips B altogether, and thus makes the gap between A and C seem even greater, that doesn’t mean dualists can’t still maintain that there is a stop at B , and that it is very good. Denying that is Merricks’s point, but he simply has not given us reasons to think it must be denied.

There is, of course, much more to be said about how Christianity fits within physicalism or dualism, but this argument against dualism seems to be a failure.

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[1] Trenton Merricks, “The Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting,” in Reason for the Hope Within, edited by Michael Murray (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 261–286.

[2] I take it that logical possibility is all that Timothy O’Connor is after when proposing his “fission view” of the resurrection. Such a view, while possible, simply does nothing to further explain Christian beliefs. See this video (starting at about 39 minutes) for O’Connor’s account of his view and Richard Swinburne’s reply (immediately following O’Connor’s account).

[3] Just to be clear, this is not an argument against materialism itself. Instead it is simply a response to a physicalist’s argument against dualism.

[4] Merricks, “The Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting,” 281 (emphasis in original).

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3 comments on “Dualism and the Goodness of Heaven

  1. dlubbe says:

    I’m not a professional so this might be missing the point of what you getting at. If so sorry.

    I think the earthy body necessary comes to an end (something good). So, if we put sin aside, by which I’m saying – death or rather, going to sleep, is not due to sin in this case. Then it seems to me that the body is not eternal and hence is subject to being replaced (different properties altogether). But from biblical data we do seem to have a continuity personhood now and then (to be a person in eternity). Hence, I think the biblical necessity of the resurrection has to do with the restoration of the image of God in humanity (sin issue) and the fulfilment of the new creation (ascension transformation).

    So my problem is with the use body.

    • Paul Franks says:

      Hi there, thanks for commenting on my post. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure what point you’re making. I think you’re raising the general point that something unique is accomplished by having a resurrection body. With that, I think both Merricks and I would happily agree. Our disagreement is regarding whether there is an intermediate, non-bodily, existence prior to the resurrection. He suggests such an existence would de-value the resurrection and I disagree, but we both affirm the value of the resurrection itself.

      • Rich Davis says:

        I wonder what Merricks thinks of the incarnation. When God the Son (a divine, immaterial person) takes on a human nature (/body), isn’t that a case of dualism? If so, then dualism isn’t coherent on Christian theism.

        By contrast, on his view (and this, to my mind, would be a reductio of the position), wouldn’t Merricks be committed to saying that there are *two* persons involved in the incarnation: a disembodied divine person + an animate human body? After all, *other* human bodies (e.g., yours and mine) are persons on his view. So why wouldn’t Jesus’ body–the one assumed in the incarnation–also count as a person in its own right?

        There’s something Nestorian lurking in the nearby bushes, I think.

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