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Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? (Current Issues in Theology)

3.9 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521676762
ISBN-10: 0521676762
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"When this book turns from dealing with our inward, metaphysical relationship to God and addresses instead God's dealings with us, Murphy offers fsome useful reminders. She suggests that physicalists anthroplogy 'requires Christians to pay adequate attention to incarnation--if humans are purely physical, then there is no getting around the scandal of enfleshment' (25)...These statements ring true for believers who understand teh importance of our Lord's incarnation, our own resurrection to life on the Last Day, and the very tangible means of grace that sustain us between those two great physical events." - Carol Geisler

"Elegantly written volume, her book provides an eloquent and valuable stimulus to further theological research on this topic"
Matthew Levering, Ph.D., The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Book Description

Are humans composed of a body and a nonmaterial mind or soul, or are we purely physical beings? In this clear and concise book, Nancey Murphy argues for a physicalist account, but one that does not diminish traditional views of humans as rational, moral, and capable of relating to God.
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Product Details

  • Series: Current Issues in Theology (Book 3)
  • Paperback: 166 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (February 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521676762
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521676762
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #516,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By wolvie05 VINE VOICE on June 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
What conception should Christians hold about human nature? It is safe to say that most Christians think of the human person in terms of a body 'animated' by a soul which detaches from the body at death. There are a variety of theological and scriptural reasons for thinking this, but then again it is not the only option consistent with Christian belief. In her book Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? Nancey Murphy makes a compelling case for a nonreductive physicalist account of human nature, which in her words is the thesis that "first, that we are our bodies-there is no additional metaphysical element such as a mind or soul or spirit. But, second, this 'physicalist' position need not deny that we are intelligent, moral, and spiritual" (p. ix). There are a variety of reasons for adopting this position, including the fact that there is no specific Biblical stance on the subject anyway, recent advances in cognitive neuroscience and the importance in Christian spirituality of recognizing our embodied, social and relational aspects. With regard to this last reason, theologian John Garvey pointed out recently that:

"We find it hard, especially in a culture that stresses individualism, to accept the idea that the self exists only in relationship. In fact, who we are is formed by the family we are born into, the language we learn, the culture we are immersed in. Finally, we are, we exist, because we are loved by God, who wills us to be. Even within the Trinity, the persons exist separately only in relation to one another. The moment we think that our being is in any way independent of relationship, we fall into the trap Genesis warned us about: We want to be like Gods.
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In this book Murphy provides an excellent concise statement of the Christian Physicalist position. In fact I would say it is one of the clearest statements on the subject that I have read. Her arguments are strong and clear for the most part. There are only a few down sides that I can find with this book.

1) I found her Biblical arguments to be very thin. Part of that is due to the length of this book. It would be hard to give an exhaustive survey of Biblical anthropology in such a limited space.

2) Her account of Nonreductive Physicalism ultimately fails. She notes in the introduction that she herself is not satisfied with her arguments for this position.

3) If you have read her other works then you will not find many new things here. There is a lot of repeat material taken from some of her other writings which she also admits in several footnotes.

I am not convinced that dualism is false after reading this book, but I will admit that I became convinced of the defensibility of the Christian Physicalist position. Murphy's clarity and fairness in her arguments make this book worth reading.
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In "Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?" Nancey Murphy investigates the question of whether humans are purely physical beings, or whether a metaphysical component is essential to our humanness (146). Using theology, neuroscience, and philosophy, she argues that moral and religious experiences are made possible by the complexity of cultural and neurological systems (6). Her thesis unfolds in three claims: first, neither the Bible nor tradition provides a normative account of human nature (23); second, we are our bodies--not hybrids of matter and something else (ix, 69); third, non-reductive physicalism does not deny our capacity for intelligence, morality, and spirituality (121). Murphy, writing in a conversational tone, concludes that Christians have much to gain by recognizing their kinship with the physical world: embodied selfhood is not an obstacle to a relationship with God, but is what enables one (6, 55, 147). Murphy gives theologians an entrance into a discussion between neuroscientists and philosophers of mind (most of whom are physicalists) concerning morality, free will, and religious awareness.

The book has only four chapters. In Chapter One, Murphy begins by tracing the history of theological positions that have influenced Christian views of anthropology, and demonstrates that dualism is not theologically necessary. In Chapter Two, Murphy highlights three instances where Western science contradicts dualism: modern physics, the Darwinian revolution, and contemporary neuroscience. Having built a theological and scientific case against dualism, Murphy develops her own position: non-reductive physicalism. The argument of Chapter Three is two-pronged--it first involves arguing against causal reductionism, and second building a case for a complex organism's self-direction.
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In this short - but eminently clear - book, Nancy Murphy takes on the challenges posed by modern science to the traditional Christian conception of the "soul".

Before getting to the Science, she looks at the philosophical and biblical basis for the belief in a "soul" separate from the body (dualism) as opposed to "spirited bodies" (a view she will later argue for) hinting at possible theological implications. She fairly summarizes the vast literature on the subject boiling the issues down in a very readable form for the average reader.

Then, in the second nature, she adeptly summarizes three major challenges coming from modern science. From physics (the Copernican revolution), from biology (human evolution) and from neuroscience (modern studies on the brain).

The third chapter addresses mainly the issues of reductionism and free will. This area is more complex and debatable, but she gives an excellent summary.

She then goes on to discuss how a non-reductive physicalist view of human nature might be compatible with Christian salvation - finishing with a passage from James Dunn (a biblical scholar) who pulls together the view of humans as reflected in the New Testament by Saint Paul - arguing for compatibility (as long as reductionism is rejected).

Ultimately, it is up to the reader to decide if the case she makes is convincing. It is certainly will challenge the presuppositions of many, but is generally well argued.
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