Tag Archives: J. P. Moreland

What Explains the Massive Changes in Jewish Social Structures Among Early Christians?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Lest anyone forget, Christianity was born out of Judaism. Jesus was a Jew and his disciples were Jews. Immediately after Jesus died, and his teachings were carried forward by his disciples, they continued to attract mostly Jewish followers. The Book of Acts even reports Jewish priests and Pharisees joining the movement in the early years (see Acts 6:7; 15:5). The Christian movement would eventually become dominated by Gentiles, but only years later.

Something that is usually forgotten is that these early Jewish believers left behind several foundational social structures of Judaism. Philosopher J. P. Moreland explains how important these key structures were in his book Scaling the Secular City:

In New Testament times and earlier, at least five religious and social beliefs formed the very core of Jewish corporate and individual identity. Centuries of dispersion and captivity by Gentile nations reinforced the social importance of these beliefs which were already valued for their religious content. These structures defined the Jews as a people and kept them from falling apart as a nation.

They were major elements in education of the young, and the early converts to Christianity, including the disciples (most of the early church was composed of Jews for the first few years of its existence), would have been taught to cherish these structures from their youth.

What are these social structures?

First, there was the importance of the sacrifices. While obedience to the law was slowly eroding the centrality of the sacrificial system, nevertheless the importance of sacrificing animals for various sins was a major value in first-century Judaism.

Second, emphasis was placed on keeping the law. Regardless of whether one was a Sadducee or a Pharisee, respect for the law of Moses and its role in keeping people in right standing with God was a major value.

Third, keeping the Sabbath was important; several laws were formulated to help define Sabbath-keeping and to maintain its prominence.

Fourth, clear-cut non-Trinitarian monotheism was a defining trait of the Jew. The Shema asserts that God is one, and this doctrine was nonnegotiable. Specifically, there was no belief that God could ever become a man.

Fifth, the Messiah was pictured as a human figure (perhaps super-human, but not God himself), a political king who would liberate the Jews from Gentile oppression and establish the Davidic kingdom.  No conception of a crucified messiah who established a church by raising from the dead was known.

Moreland reminds us that “the early church was a community of Jews who had significantly altered or given up these five major structures” and he asks, “What could possibly cause this to happen in so short a time?”

Keep in mind that

society did not change rapidly in those days. Jews would risk becoming social outcasts if they tampered with these five major beliefs, not to mention that they would risk the damnation of their own souls to hell. Why was such a change made in so short a time after the death of a carpenter from Nazareth – of all places – who had suffered the death of a criminal on the cross, a death expressly detested among the Jews in their belief that “cursed is he who dies on a tree”?  How could such a thing ever take place? The resurrection offers the only rational explanation. (emphasis added)

What could cause these Jews to abandon their beliefs, their social institutions that had survived for centuries? Something dramatic, something never before seen, something amazing – Jesus rising from the dead. That is what the New Testament historical documents report, and there has never been a better explanation offered.

Why Is Physicalism Self-Refuting? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 of this series, we argued that physicalism and determinism are self-refuting because they undermine rationality.  At the end of part 1, we said that there are three conditions of rationality that physicalism does not allow, and Dr. Moreland explains them below:

First, humans must have genuine intentionality; they must be capable of having thoughts and sensory awareness of or about the things they claim to know. For example, one must be able to see or have rational insight into the flow of an argument if one is going to claim that a conclusion follows from a set of premises. We can simply see that if you have: 1) If P, then Q, and, 2) P, therefore, you also have, 3) Q. This requires an awareness of the logical structure of the syllogism itself.

 As we saw earlier in this chapter, intentionality is a property of mental states, not physical ones. Thus, this first feature of rationality is incompatible with physicalism . . . . Intentionality is not a physical property.

The second factor is the enduring I.  Moreland explains:

Second, in order to rationally think through a chain of reasoning such that one sees the inferential connections in the chain, one would have to be the same self present at the beginning of the thought process as the one present at the end. As Immanuel Kant argued long ago, the process of thought requires a genuine enduring I.

In the syllogism above, if there is one self who reflects on premise 1), namely, “If P, then Q,” a second self who reflects on premise 2), namely, “P,” and a third self who reflects on the concluding statement 3), namely, “Q,” then there is literally no enduring self who thinks through the argument and draws the conclusion. As H. D. Lewis noted, “One thing seems certain, namely that there must be someone of something at the centre of such experiences to hold the terms and relations together in one stream of consciousness.”  

However, we have already seen in a previous blog post that physicalism denies a literal, enduring I, and thus physicalism is at odds with this necessary condition of rationality.

The third necessary condition for rationality is libertarian freedom of the will.

Finally, rationality seems to presuppose an agent view of the self and genuine libertarian freedom of the will. There are rational “oughts.” Given certain evidence, I “ought” to believe certain things. I am intellectually responsible for drawing certain conclusions, given certain pieces of evidence. If I do not choose that conclusion, I am irrational.

But “ought” implies “can.” If I ought to believe something, then I must have the ability to choose to believe it or not believe it. If one is to be rational, one must be free to choose her beliefs in order to be reasonable. Often I deliberate about what I am going to believe, or I deliberate about the evidence for something. But such deliberations make sense only if I assume that what I am going to do or believe is “up to me”—that I am free to choose and, thus, I am responsible for irrationality if I choose inappropriately. But we have already seen that physicalism . . .  rule[s] out libertarian freedom.

Moreland, thus, concludes that physicalism rules out the possibility for rationality.  “It is self-refuting to argue that one ought to choose physicalism . . . on the basis of the fact that one should see that the evidence is good for physicalism. Thus, substance dualism is the best view of the self and is most consistent with the preconditions of rationality.”

Why Is Physicalism Self-Refuting? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the previous post, we saw that physicalism seems to inevitably lead to determinism.  Determinism, if you recall, means that every event, including all of your thoughts, feelings, desires, and choices, is determined by the physical conditions antecedent to it.  The renowned atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell said it this way: 

When a man acts in ways that annoy us we wish to think him wicked, and we refuse to face the fact that his annoying behavior is a result of antecedent causes which, if you follow them long enough, will take you beyond the moment of his birth and therefore to events for which he cannot be held responsible by any stretch of imagination.

If determinism is true, then what follows?  J. P. Moreland points out that “a number of philosophers have argued that physicalism . . .  must be false because [it] impl[ies] determinism and determinism is self-refuting.”  Moreland quotes J. R. Lucas speaking of the determinist:

If what he says is true, he says it merely as the result of his heredity and environment, and of nothing else. He does not hold his determinist views because they are true, but because he has such-and-such stimuli; that is, not because the structure of the universe is such-and-such but only because the configuration of only part of the universe, together with the structure of the determinist’s brain, is such as to produce that result. . . . Determinism, therefore, cannot be true, because if it was, we should not take the determinists’ arguments as being really arguments, but as being only conditioned reflexes. Their statements should not be regarded as really claiming to be true, but only as seeking to cause us to respond in some way desired by them.

Moreland also quotes H. P. Owens:

Determinism is self-stultifying. If my mental processes are totally determined, I am totally determined either to accept or to reject determinism. But if the sole reason for my believing or not believing X is that I am causally determined to believe it, I have no ground for holding that my judgment is true or false.

Determinism, and therefore, physicalism, then appear to be self-refuting.  It might be helpful to flesh this out more.  Moreland argues that physicalism, itself, undermines rationality.  The physicalist cannot claim to know that physicalism is true, or claim to believe in physicalism for good reasons, because to know something is true for good reasons requires at least three factors be assumed.

These three factors are intentionality, an enduring I, and genuine libertarian free will.  All three of these are conditions of rationality will be discussed in part 2 of this series.

Is Free Will Possible for the Physicalist?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If you recall, at the end of the series comparing physicalism and dualism, I promised to look at additional problems for physicalism.  Before doing so, let me remind you what physicalists believe.  Here is philosopher J. P. Moreland:

According to physicalism, a human being is merely a physical entity.  The only things that exist are physical substances, properties, and events.  When it comes to humans, the physical substance is the material body, especially the parts called the brain and central nervous system.  The physical substance called the brain has physical properties, such as a certain weight, volume, size, electrical activity, chemical composition, and so forth.

Physicalists are usually metaphysical materialists who believe that all that exists is matter in its different forms.  There is nothing immaterial that exists.

Moreland brings us to a fundamental human capacity that we all take for granted, that of free will.  What do we mean by free will?  Moreland explains:

When we use the term free will, we mean what is called libertarian freedom: Given choices A and B, I can literally choose to do either one. No circumstances exist that are sufficient to determine my choice. My choice is up to me, and if I do A or B, I could have done otherwise. I act as an agent who is the ultimate originator of my own actions.

Is there room for free will under physicalism?  Moreland argues that there is not.

If physicalism is true, then human free will does not exist.  Instead, determinism is true.  If I am just a physical system, there is nothing in me that has the capacity to freely choose to do something.  Material systems, at least large-scale ones, change over time in deterministic fashion according to the initial conditions of the system and the laws of chemistry and physics.  A pot of water will reach a certain temperature at a given time in a way determined by the amount of water, the input of heat, and the laws of heat transfer.

There are other problems that follow if determinism is true.  What about moral obligation or responsibility?  What about moral praise or blame?

Now, when it comes to morality, it is hard to make sense of moral obligation and responsibility if determinism is true.  They seem to presuppose freedom of the will.  If I “ought” to do something, it seems to be necessary to suppose that I can do it.  No one would say that I ought to jump to the top of a fifty-floor building and save a baby, or that I ought to stop the American Civil War, because I do not have the ability to do either.  If physicalism is true, I do not have any genuine ability to choose my actions.

Moreland concludes with the following:

It is safe to say that physicalism requires a radical revision of our commonsense notions of freedom, moral obligation, responsibility, and punishment.  On the other hand, if these commonsense notions are true, physicalism is false.

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 8

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Last post we looked at the issue of personal identity through change.  Dualists explain this phenomenon by positing the existence of a soul which remains constant throughout a person’s life.  Physicalists, however, deny that there is an absolute sense of personal identity, but this creates problems for their view.  J. P. Moreland draws out those problems below:

First, the fact that I can have a memory that an earlier self had presupposes that I am the same person as that alleged earlier self. Memory presupposes personal identity; it does not constitute it.

Second, in self-awareness I seem to be aware of the fact that I am literally the same self that continues to exist throughout my life and that unites my stream of consciousness into one stream that is mine. How can a physicalist . . . explain this basic awareness?

Third, why should I ever fear the future, say, going to the dentist next week? When the day arrives, I will not be present; rather, another self who looks like me (or has my memories) will be there, but I will have ceased to exist. The same issue arises with any emotion or attitude related to the future.

Fourth, why should anyone be punished? The self who did the crime in the past is not literally the same self who is present at the time of punishment.

Dr. Moreland summarizes the problems faced by the physicalist:

Physicalism . . . seems to require a radical readjustment of these basic, commonsense notions because these notions presuppose a literal, absolute sense of sameness through change, and this makes sense only if the soul is a substance that is a continuant (something that remains the same through change). If the intuitions expressed in points one through four above are reasonable—and we maintain that they are—then this provides further evidence for substance dualism.

The cumulative case for dualism and against physicalism continues to mount, but we have not even touched on some of the most important problems for physicalism.  In future posts, we will look at the issues of free will, morality, responsibility, and punishment.  Stay tuned!!

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 7

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The next major difference between mental and physical entities is how personal identity through change is handled.  Dr. Moreland asks us to…

Imagine a wooden table that had all its parts removed one by one and replaced with metal parts. Now suppose someone took the original wooden parts and made a new table.  Which one would be the original table – the metal one or the wooden one?  The answer seems to be clear.

The original table would be the wooden one. Why? Because if something is made out of stuff called parts, then it cannot remain identical to itself if it gains new parts and loses old ones. If a table here and now is going to be the very same table as one that was here, say an hour ago, this table must be made out of the same stuff as the one an hour ago. If not, then they are different tables. In general, physical objects cannot remain literally the same if they gain new parts and lose old ones.

But what about people?  How do we view the identity of human persons who are constantly losing parts?

Each moment I lose hundreds of thousands of skin cells, some hair, and other microscopic parts. In fact, every seven years my cells are almost entirely replaced. Do I maintain literal, absolute sameness through change?

Dualists argue that persons do maintain absolute identity through change, because they have, in addition to their bodies and current mental experiences or mental capacities (say, the capacity to remember a childhood event), a soul that remains constant through change. Personal identity is constituted by sameness of soul, not sameness of body or mental abilities, such as memory.

How do physicalists handle personal identity through change?

Physicalists . . . have no alternative but to hold that personal identity through change is not absolute. Usually they argue that persons are really ancestral chains of successive, momentary “selves” (called person-stages) that are connected with one another in some way. At each moment a new self exists (since the organism is constantly in flux, gaining new parts and mental experiences and losing old parts and mental experiences), and this self resembles the self prior to and after it.

The relation of resemblance between selves, plus the fact that later selves have the same memories as earlier selves and the body of each self traces a continuous path through space when the whole chain of selves is put together, constitutes a relative sense of identity. At this moment I merely resemble a self that existed a moment ago: My body resembles that body; my memories resemble the memories of that earlier self; my body was reached by the body of the earlier self through a continuous spatial path.

So substance dualists hold to a literal, absolute sense of personal identity, and physicalists . . . hold to a loose, relative sense of personal identity that amounts to a stream of successive selves held together by resemblance between each self in the stream— similarity of memory or brain, similarity of character traits, and/or spatial continuity. But this perspective creates certain problems for physicalism.

Next post we will look at the problems it creates.

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 6

Post Author: Bill Pratt

After a little break from this series, it is time to pick it up again because there is plenty more to discuss.  Philosopher J. P. Moreland explains yet another way that mental and physical entities differ: the first person perspective.

A complete physicalist description of the world would be one in which everything would be exhaustively described from a third-person point of view in terms of objects, properties, processes, and their spatiotemporal locations. For example, a description of an apple in a room would go something like this: “There exists an object three feet from the south wall and two feet from the east wall, and that object has the property of being red, round, sweet,” and so on.

The first-person point of view is the vantage point that I use to describe the world from my own perspective.  Expressions of a first-person point of view utilize what are called indexicals—words such as I, here, now, there, then.  Here and now are where and when I am; there and then are where and when I am not. Indexicals refer to me, myself. “I” is the most basic indexical, and it refers to my self that I know by acquaintance with my own consciousness in acts of self-awareness. I am immediately aware of my own self, and I know who “I” refers to when I use it: It refers to me as the owner of my body and mental states.

But how does physicalism handle the first-person point of view that we all clearly have?  Is there room for the first-person perspective?  Moreland thinks not.

According to physicalism, there are no irreducible, privileged first-person perspectives. Everything can be exhaustively described in an object language from a third-person perspective. A physicalist description of me would say, “There exists a body at a certain location that is five feet, eight inches tail, weighs 160 pounds,” and so forth.

But no amount of third-person descriptions captures my own subjective, first-person acquaintance of my own self in acts of self-awareness. In fact, for any third-person description of me, it would always be an open question as to whether the person described in third-person terms was the same person as I am.

I do not know my self because I know some third-person description of a set of mental and physical properties and I also know that a certain person satisfies that description. I know myself as a self immediately through being acquainted with my own self in an act of self-awareness. I can express that self-awareness by using the term “I.”

“I” refers to my own substantial soul. It does not refer to any mental property or bundle of mental properties I am having, nor does it refer to anybody described from a third-person perspective. “I” is a term that refers to something that exists, and “I” does not refer to any object or set of properties described from a third-person point of view.  Rather, “I” refers to my own self with which I am directly acquainted and which, through acts of self-awareness, I know to be the substantial possessor of my mental states and my body.

It seems that the physicalist cannot account for the first-person perspective that we all have.  Surely this is a serious deficiency in any theory that attempts to explain what human beings are.

Continue with part 7 of the series.

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 5

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the book Beyond Death, philosopher J. P. Moreland continues to review differences between the mental and the physical.  The next point of departure is the awareness each of us has of our own self.  Here is Moreland:

When we pay attention to our own consciousness, we can become aware of a very basic fact presented to us: We are aware of our own self (ego, I, center of self-consciousness) as being distinct from our body and from any particular mental experience we have.  We simply have a basic, direct awareness of the fact that I am not identical to my body or my mental events; rather, I am a self that has a body and a conscious mental life.

Moreland offers the following experiment in case you doubt his point:

Right now I am looking at a chair in my office.  As I walk toward the chair, I experience a series of what are called phenomenological objects or chair representations.  That is,  I have several different chair experiences that replace one another in rapid succession.  As I approach the chair, my chair sensations change shape and grow bigger.  Further, because of the lighting in my study my chair experiences change color slightly.  Now the chair doesn’t change in size, shape, or color; but my chair experiences do.

I am, of course, aware of all the different experiences of the chair during the fifteen seconds it takes me to walk across my study.  But if I pay attention, I am also aware of two more things.  First, I do not simply experience a series of sense-images of a chair. Rather, through self-awareness, I also experience the fact that it is I myself who has each chair experience.  Each chair sensation produced at each angle of perspective has a perceiver who is I.  An “I” accompanies each sense experience to produce a series of awarenesses – “I am experiencing a chair sense-image now.”

I am also aware of the basic fact that the same self that is currently having a fairly large chair experience (as my eyes come to within 12 inches of the chair) is the very same self as the one who had all of the other chair experiences preceding this current one.  In other words, through self-awareness I am aware of the fact that I am an enduring I who was and is (and will be) present as the owner of all the experiences in the series.

So what does this mean for dualism and physicalism?

These two facts – I am the owner of my experiences, and I am an enduring self who exists as the same possessor of all my experiences through time – show that I am not identical to my experiences.  I am the thing that has them.  In short, I am a mental substance.  Only a single, enduring self can relate and unify experiences, a fact that . . . physicalists cannot adequately account for or explain away.

Continue with part 6 of the series.

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 4

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most important differences between the mental and physical is the property of intentionality.  Philosopher J. P. Moreland explains just what intentionality is and why physicalism does not account for it.

Intentionality is the mind’s ofness or aboutness.  Mental states point beyond themselves to other things.  Every mental state I have is of or about something – a hope that Smith will come, a sensation of the apple, a thought that the painting is beautiful.  Mental states can even be about things that do not exist – a fear of a goblin or a love for Zeus.

Does physicalism account for intentionality?

Intentionality is not a property or relation of anything physical.  Physical objects can stand in various physical relations with other physical objects.  One physical thing can be to the left of, larger than, harder than, the same shape as, or the thing causing the motion of another physical object.  But one physical object is not of or about another one.

Moreland gives a concrete example to draw out the difference:

When I am near a podium, I can relate to it in many ways: I can be two feet from it, taller than it, and my body can bump into it.  These are all examples of physical relations I sustain to the podium.

But in addition to these, I can be a conscious subject that has the podium as an object of various states of consciousness I direct toward it.  I can have a thought about it, a desire for it (perhaps I want one like it), I can experience a sensation of it, and so forth.  These are all mental states, and they have intentionality (ofness, aboutness) in common.

Hence, mental states possess intentionality, while physical states do not.  Mental states are not physical states.

Continue with part 5 of the series.

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

There is another way that the mental differs from the physical, and that is in the subjective nature of experience.  J. P. Moreland offers the following illustration:

Suppose a deaf scientist became the world’s leading expert on the neurology of hearing.  It would be possible for him to know and describe everything there is to the physical aspects of hearing.  Nothing physical would be left out of his description.  However, something would still be left out: the experience of what it is like to be a human who hears.

Moreland quotes Howard Robinson: “The notion of having something as an object of experience is not, prima facie, a physical notion; it does not figure in any physical science.  Having something as an object of experience is the same as the subjective feel or the what it is like of experience.”

Moreland explains that “subjective states of experience are real.  I experience sounds, tastes, colors, thoughts, and pains, and they are essentially characterized by their subjective nature.”

Philosopher Thomas Nagel points out the problem this causes for physicalism:

If physicalism is to be defended, the phenomenological features [the felt quality or experiential texture of experiences that make them the kinds of things they are, e.g., the painfulness of pain, the sounds, colors, odors, of sensory experiences] must themselves be given a physical account.  But when we examine their subjective character, it seems that such a result is impossible.  The reason is that every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view.

In summary, Dr. Moreland argues:

The subjective texture of our conscious mental experiences – the feeling of pain, the experience of sound, the awareness of color – is different from anything that is simply physical.  If the world were only made of matter, these subjective aspects of consciousness would not exist.  But they do exist!  So there must be more to the world than matter.

Stay tuned for more differences next week!