Saturday, July 12, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Soul, by J.P. Moreland

J.P. Moreland.  The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.

I would like to thank Moody Publishers for my review copy of this book.  See here for Moody’s page about it.

J.P. Moreland is an evangelical Christian apologist and philosopher.  In The Soul, he defends the belief that human beings have souls, which can exist apart from the body.  Moreland does so philosophically, and he also appeals to Scripture, both the Hebrew Bible and also the New Testament.  Moreover, Moreland refers to near death experiences that he finds credible.  Moreland also interacts with related issues, such as the question of whether animals have souls (his answer is a qualified yes), as well as heaven, hell, and the question of how God will judge those who never heard the Gospel.  On the topic of hell, Moreland disputes annihilationism and universalism, defending hell as an eternal place for the unsaved.

The parts of the book in which Moreland interacts with the Bible were quite lucid, in my opinion.  The philosophical parts were mostly clear—-at least I think that I got the gist of what Moreland was arguing—-but there was one section that was particularly difficult, and Moreland warns the reader that it will be!  Each chapter closes with a bullet-point summary of the chapter’s points, as well as a glossary of terms.  The end of the book has a glossary of all of the key terms.

The topic of the soul is of interest to me, on account of my own religious background.  My experience has been in Armstrongism and Seventh-Day Adventism, and they did not believe in an immortal soul; rather, they maintained that the dead are unconscious until the resurrection.  Interestingly, biblical studies and theology have moved a bit away from emphasizing the immortal soul, as some claim that such a concept does not exist in the Hebrew Bible, and others maintain that focusing on the immortal soul is anti-physical and detracts from what the New Testament itself emphasizes: the bodily resurrection and God’s redemption of the physical world.  Moreland is contending against these trends and is attempting to correct what he believes are misunderstandings.

There is also the question of whether the soul is even necessary to explain human consciousness and thoughts, as many hold that these things are natural or physical results of the brain.  (Ironically, on the very night that I was reading this book, the TV show Extant, starring Halle Berry, made reference to this debate.  And Moreland himself refers to the AMC series The Walking Dead!)  Can we truly say that the soul causes consciousness, when damage to the brain can result in a loss of consciousness, which may indicate that it is the brain that causes consciousness in the first place?  My impression is that Moreland argues that the soul and the brain interact with each other, that one has an effect on the other.  In the same way that the soul sees through the eyes, and damaged eyes can affect what the soul sees, so likewise can a damaged brain impact how a soul thinks or whether a person is conscious.  The soul is like the driver of a car: the driver is not the car, as the soul is distinct from the body, but a damaged car can affect the driver and what the driver can do.

I found this book to be thoughtful.  I wish that Moreland had addressed in more detail the biblical passages that describe death as a sleep (though I was impressed that he acknowledged that parts of the Hebrew Bible present shades in the afterlife sleeping).  Moreover, I thought that his discussion of the soul in the Hebrew Bible sought to impose a uniform meaning on nephesh throughout the Hebrew Bible (though he did indicate his awareness of nuance).  Overall, however, Moreland anticipated and wrestled with objections, and I give him credit for that.

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