Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Emergent Dualism

William Hasker’s chapter on emergent dualism in For Faith and Clarity is clear and lucid. The argument is easy to follow and flows smoothly. At times I was tempted to say, “Almost thou persuadest me to be an emergent dualist.” But at the end of the day I didn’t see what it offered me that a more traditional form of dualism didn’t. I guess I don’t feel the need to make my view more palatable to evolutionists and physicalist neuroscientists.

Hasker’s chapter consists of arguments against physicalist theories of mind, traditional dualist theories (e.g., Cartesian dualism), Christian physicalist views, emergent materialist views, as well as a positive statement of emergent dualism in light of the difficulties the aforementioned positions face and how emergent dualism fares in light of the critiques leveled against the aforementioned positions.

Rather than discuss all of this, I’d like to focus on just one small aspect of Hasker’s chapter. One puzzling feature arises when we look at one of Hasker’s (according to Hasker) strongest arguments against traditional dualism vis-à-vis the way he responds to one of the strongest (according to Hasker) arguments against emergent dualism.

Hasker thinks that the traditional dualist has “no plausible explanation” for the “dependency problem” (cf. p.249).1 Simply put, the “dependency problem” is that Cartesian dualism would not lead us to expect the sort of dependency of the mind on the brain that we find to be the case. Given all that we know about this dependency, it seems to be difficult to maintain the type of independence traditional dualism seems to require. A paradigm case that illustrates this problem is, say, that of a blow to the head that causes changes in the mental life. Presumably, according to Hasker, this demonstrable dependency goes far beyond anything this theory would lead us to expect.

One thing I find puzzling in all of this isn’t the fact that Hasker seems to answer this alleged conundrum in the preceding paragraph in recognizing what Charles Taliaferro has called “integrative dualism.” According to this view “mind and body form an integral unit, so that I live through my body and my body’s life is my own life” (ibid). My problem is rather with how Hasker answers what he takes to be a significant challenge to emergent dualism.

Hasker notes that emergent dualism requires us to attribute to ordinary, everyday matter, viz., sticks, stones, bones, and ice cream cones, highly remarkable powers that can produce, when arranged just right, “emergent minds with the capacity to seek truth, enjoy beauty, perceive good and evil, and enter relationship with God." Apparently one critique has said this is impossible. That might be too strong of language. But another objector maintains that the view is “hard to swallow.” Hasker says, “He may be right; perhaps this view is a lot to swallow” (p.260).

So this view seems to force us to hold beliefs far beyond what “what we have been led to expect” (ibid). But somehow this isn’t a problem for Hasker since when God “chose to make humans…out of the dust of the earth, we may well suppose that [God] had the foresight to endow that dust with powers that would enable such a creation” (ibid).

In other words, when faced with the prospect of believing something to occur that “we wouldn’t expect” on Hasker’s thesis, he appeals to a “Goddditit”2 view. But, when the traditional dualist has a similar problem, it is an objection “not easily met” (p.249). If Hasker gets to say “Goddidit” when things get tough, so does the traditional dualist. This is not to say that I find Hasker’s worries all that worrisome, myself, it is just to say that I see a bit of special pleading on his end.


1 His other example of a difficult objection to traditional dualism is the “continuity problem” (cf. p.249-50). Hasker thinks it difficult for the traditional dualist to claim that only man has a soul over against all the other creatures. I suspect I don’t owe an answer to one of his reasons why this view is troublesome for us, i.e., it’s “chauvinistic,” since one might say that his view not attributing minds to sticks, stones, bones, and ice cream cones is likewise “chauvinistic.” His stronger objection is that other animals are similar to us in both structure and function so why would we have minds and not them? Well, (a) that’s the way God chose to create, and (b) man is the imago Dei and , apparently, the soul is a means to exhibit certain features and functions of the imago Dei. Didn’t Hasker tell us one function of the soul (mind) is “the capacity to seek truth, enjoy beauty, perceive good and evil, and enter relationship with God”?

2 I likewise don't have a problem with "Goddidit." I don't use this term as a pejorative.

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