The "dualism was not originally part of ancient belief systems" proposal

From Myth #2. Religion Is about the Spiritual (John Morreall and Tamara Sonn):

(excerpt) Closely related to the idea that religion can be separated from non-religious spheres of life is the notion that religion is about what is spiritual. This is another distinction that is prominent in some religions, but not in all, or even most. Dictionaries tell us that the adjective "spiritual" is based on "spirit," and "spirit" is contrasted with what is material. As the first meaning of "spiritual," 'Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary' has: "Consisting Of spirit; not material; incorporeal; as, a spiritual substance or being."

With that meaning of "spiritual," another way to express the claim made in this myth is to say that religions are about what is not material. To today's Christians, this idea looks familiar and fits with the distinction between the material body and the non-material spirit or soul. Christian preachers have often described their work as "saving souls," that is, saving the nonmaterial part of human beings that will spend eternity in heaven or hell.

It was in the Middle Ages that Western Christian theologians developed the distinction between the material body and the non-material spirit or soul. Thinkers such as Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas were influenced by Greek philosophers, especially Plato, for whom the soul was the center of consciousness and the core of a person's identity, while the body was not essential to the person. This view is called 'dualism,' from the Latin word 'duo,' meaning "two." Dualists believe that although our bodies - being material and part of the natural world are subject to change, there is something nonmaterial that gives stability and consistency to our unique identity. Unlike the material body, Plato said, the soul is naturally immortal - it cannot die. Medieval theologians described not just the soul as spiritual, but God, angels, and demons.

With the spiritual/material distinction, Christians could then talk about their "spiritual lives" as distinct from their "material lives." By the seventeenth century, the 'Oxford English Dictionary' tells us, the word "spirituality" had come to mean "attachment to or regard for things of the spirit as opposed to material or worldly interests."

But many religions do not have a distinction between the material and the spiritual. Hundreds of traditional religions of the Americas and Africa, for example, involve animism, the belief that all things are animated by souls or spirits. In these traditions, spirits are all around in objects such as trees and rocks; they are not part of some nonmaterial "spiritual" realm.

Traditional Chinese religions, too, aren't about "the spiritual." For 2500 years, Taoism and Confucianism have taught people how the universe is ordered, how society should be organized, and how people should treat each other, talking about "the spiritual." Taoism teaches about the Tao, "the Way" that natural processes work and that we should follow. Taoists view life holistically without making a radical distinction between what is material and what is not material. The same is true of Confucianism. Confucius taught an ethical system in which people respect and care for each other. The central virtue in Taoism is 'wu- wei,' living m accordance with the Way of the cosmos (the 'tao'), rather than trying to control events. Confucianism and Taoism share a worldview in which Tao is all-pervasive; it is in the things and events all around us, not in a separate nonmaterial realm.

The distinction between what is spiritual and what is material is not even evident in early Biblical literature. Consider the descriptions of God in the Hebrew Bible. In Genesis, the Creator is male. He makes the world in six days and then rests from his work: "The I Lord God formed man from the dust Of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed." (Genesis 2:7-8)

Describing Adam and Eve after they had eaten from the forbidden tree, Genesis 3:8-9 says that: "They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the Garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?'"

Here God is not "spiritual." He shapes dirt into a human form, breathes into its nostrils to bring it to life, plants a garden, and walks in the garden as the day cools off. In creating Adam and Eve, he said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness" (Genesis 1:26).

Physical descriptions of God continue throughout the Bible. In Exodus 33:20-23, God tells Moses that he won't show him his face but show him his back. In Psalm 18:8, God was angry and "smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth." Joshua 10:11 says that to help the Israelites do battle with the Amorites, "the Lord threw down huge stones from heaven on them." Heaven, God's abode, is a place above us but not a separate realm. It is often pictured as a city ruled by God, who sits on a throne, with the angels as his courtiers (Psalm 103:19-21; Job 1:6). Isaiah (63:15) asks God to "[l]ook down from heaven and see, from your holy and glorious habitation." God is "El Elyon," the Most High, living in the highest place. --50 Great Myths About Religions

- - -

From Nature’s God: An Interview with Nancey Murphy ... As you’ve pointed out, science has made it extremely hard to posit something like the soul that exists independent of the body, or a mind that exists independent of physical processes in the brain. Some would say the dualistic view was never a biblical view to begin with, though it has long been part of Christian tradition. Do you agree?

Nancey Murphy: I follow New Testament scholar James Dunn in holding that the biblical authors were not interested in cataloguing the metaphysical parts of a human being -- body, soul, spirit, mind. Their interest was in relationships. The words that later Christians have translated with Greek philosophical terms and then understood as referring to parts of the self originally were used to designate aspects of human life. For example, spirit refers not to an immaterial something but to our capacity to be in relationship with God, to be moved by God’s Spirit.

It is widely agreed that the Hebrew Bible presents a holistic account of human nature, somewhat akin to contemporary physicalism. The New Testament authors certainly knew various theories of human nature, including dualism, but it was not their purpose to teach about this issue.

- - -

Closer To The Truth excerpt ... Episode: Can Web Believe in Both Science and Religion? (transcript)

NANCEY MURPHY: Well this is a very interesting point of contact between science and Christianity. It may look to the outsider as though Christians have been dualists throughout their history, continue to be dualists…

ROBERT KUHN: Dualists meaning…

NANCEY MURPHY: Believing in not just a body, but some other component, generally called the soul, but the concept of soul at certain points in history is equivalent to the concept of mind. So a dualist is a person has been thought to be essential to Christianity. Now it looks as though the neuroscientists are coming along and they’re saying, ah, there is no soul, in fact there is no substantial mind. It’s actually the brain or the nervous system that does all of the things that were once attributed to soul or mind. So it looks like yet another place where science encroaches and religion has to step back. But in the, in the liberal half of Christianity, those who have a higher degree in theology are almost all phsyicalists.


ROBERT KUHN: Physicalist meaning that there is no…

NANCEY MURPHY: We’re just bodies.

ROBERT KUHN: There is no non-physical element required to make us human beings.

NANCEY MURPHY: We’re just bodies. That’s right.

MICHAEL SCHERMER: Now when you’re resurrected, how old will you be?


MICHAEL SCHERMER: Really? You have an answer.

NANCEY MURPHY: Augustine thought about that, that’s when you reach the height of your powers but before you start to disintegrate.

- - -

RELATED: Early use of "religio" referred to having "responsibility in all areas of life"
Once again, we have Morreall and Sonn using specific examples within the broadness of religion as a tool for designating the remainder as "myth."

In one sense, Taoism and Christianity are similiar because they borrowed heavily from external established philosophical systems later on as part of their development as dominant world religions : Namely the Greeks for the Christians (and the Muslims, I might add ...) and the (Buddhist) Indians for the Taoists/Confucianists .... and therein lies a vast chunk of the origins for their respective dualistic and nondifferentiated monistic philosophical origins. The authors' presentation seems to play "philosophy" as some sort of blurred distinction where wisdom traditions become interchangeable  with developed ontology. I think they are taking undue advantage of the historical ambiguity surrounding the development of orthodoxy within these religions in order to assert an agenda.

For instance, to suggest that early Christianity has no inherent dualistic concepts requires some very radical prohibitions on reading material (such as neglecting the New Testament). But anyway, just to follow the authors' lead and focus exclusively on the Old Testament, there are various arguments reasoning why an omnimax God does (some would even emphasize, "must") not have a dualistic relationship with this world. IOW just because God is doing various divine things in this world (such as creating life from dust), this does not establish that this world is also a nondualisic experience for us. God has a very unique job description. You could say that at the core of (Christianity's Plato influenced) dualism is the notion that everything exists in a state of contingency on God, hence duality arises in our noncontingent existence, and not God's .... which I would have thought was a no-brainer.

As for Nancy, she is jumping from one wild claim to another, so it's difficult to know where to start. Only outsiders view Christians as dualists? Mind and soul means the same thing? Neuroscients established there is no soul? We are just this body? A world of resurrected thirty year olds (reeks of the adolescent fantasy that makes The 100 popular)? All this sounds like the words of a very confused person, made all the more tragic by her academic and ecclesiastical credentials.

To be fair, Descartes has a lot to answer to.
(Jan 16, 2020 04:19 AM)Anu Wrote: To be fair, Descartes has a lot to answer to.

From the article: "A modern reader of Descartes who wanted to refute this view would probably begin by attacking his idea of the soul as the source of subjective experience. Today, we tend to believe that subjective experience arises from the brain rather than from some mysterious non-physical entity. If subjectivity is generated by the brain, then the structural similarities between human and animal brains strongly suggest that animals (and especially mammals such as puppies) have subjective experiences. If animals’ brains give them subjective experiences like ours, then we cannot kill, eat or harm them with total insouciance, as we might scrap an old lamp or a set of headphones that definitely lack that subjectivity."

Given the tendency of humans to creatively pursue and exhaust every permutation, a different school of thought might take half of Descartes' claim the other way in the context of today's brain-science update, and assert if that animals don't have experiences, then neither do we. (illusionism ... eliminative materialism)

Galen Strawson: "Some philosophers, including Humphrey's long-time collaborator, Daniel Dennett, seem to think that the only way out of this problem is to deny the existence of consciousness, ie to make just about the craziest claim that has ever been made in the history of human thought." --Soul Dust review

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