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An indelicate stomp through muddy waters
on October 16, 2005
This book wasn't quite what I expected. What I thought it would be is a thorough survey of Biblical anthropology--that is, human nature as presented in the Bible--and a philosophically-minded hermeneutics thereof to extract some data with respect to the mind/body and monism/dualism question. And it is that, sort of. But a more complete description of what it is is an opinionated quasi-screed against monism as the philosophical Zeitgeist of our age. The author has an agenda, and he minces no words furthering it. The thing is, this kind of book is just the thing that could always stand more word-mincing, so to speak. I have no problem with the author having an opinion on his chosen subject and being open about it, it's just that the tone of his particular approach comes out sounding to this reader like at least two parts rhetoric for every one part argumentation.
To begin the book, we're harangued repeatedly with the reminder that if traditional dualism is false, then almost all of Christendom has believed a fundamental falsehood about human nature. Then, the traditional dualist view is presented as under attack from all fronts in Christian scholarship and direly needing defending. This dichotomy sort of sets the tone for the rest of the book.
The OT portion of the book mainly analyzes the various uses of the Hebrew words "ruach" and "nephesh," especially with respect to Sheol. I found all this thoroughly confusing, but Cooper, from somewhere, pulls the conclusion that the data _in toto_ support his own "holistic dualist" view. Then there's a lot of space given to analyzing such language in the intertestamental Apocrypha, and I just did not find this of much interest, these works being noncanonical in the Protestant church. There are all *kinds* of loopy stuff in the Apocrypha, and I really did not understand the point of trying to extract a coherent anthropology from it all. In total, the emphasis of this first 40% or so of the book seemed to be on "What various people through the ages have believed" rather than "What the Bible teaches or assumes". That's kind of disappointing.
Around the middle of the book, where the NT is discussed, a serious and identifiable problem emerges in Cooper's methodology: he sets up a trichotomy between dualism, and, with respect to the resurrection, "extinction-recreationism" and "immediate resurrectionism." Now, "immediate resurrectionism" seems all but untenable Biblically, yet the author spends a lot of time debunking it next to dualism. So all that just comes off as so much straw-man-beating. The deeper and purely philosophical problem with this approach is in Cooper's other straw man, "extinction-recreationism." He simply equates death with nonexistence, and this is a thesis that needs argument, not assumption. In fact, it seems to practically beg the question in favor of his own position.
To me, the mere future fact of the general resurrection just prima facie points to an anthropology of human persons as essentially material beings, to where there needs to be an independent reason shown for thinking that we're consciously disembodied in the interim before being reunited with our bodies: otherwise, it just seems blatantly arbitrary that there should be a resurrection. Cooper does not address this issue by giving reasons for thinking of ourselves this way, but rather simply demolishes some suspiciously gerrymandered-looking strawmen, leaving his own view as the sole remaining competitor. He does say against "extinction-recreation" that if a person is to be re-created, it is logically possible for duplicates of the person to be re-created, and hence there is a fundamental problem with reinstantiation of the original identity rather than duplication of the originally-born person. Here, at last, is an interesting philosophical argument (although not quite a persuasive one, seeing as how it leans on purely "logical possibility," which I'm inclined to be maximally skeptical about--it's "logically possible" I could wake up tomorrow morning as a centipede, but I'm also quite sure it's 100% metaphysically impossible, and hence impossible _tout court_, that I will, or could); unfortunately, it's about the only one in the book I could detect.
At the end of the book, I am still not sure what "holistic dualism" is and how to picture it conceptually. What it does smack of is giving a name to a sort of mathematical mean of all different positions and thereby trying to get the best of all worlds, rather than presenting a unified, explanatory, and independently desirable picture of human nature.
Up to now it probably sounds like I almost hated the book, yet I gave it three stars. Really, I'm being more cranky than I should (largely because it's late and I'm tired); _Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting_ is not totally unhelpful. Although lots of ink is spilled jostling ham-fistedly with strawmen or otherwise being awfully contentious, Cooper is quite conversant with the scholarly Biblical literature, although somewhat less so with the contemporary philosophical literature. The book does give a broad survey of views on the topic; it's just that I found the author's approach far more irksome than winning.