June 4th, 2018 by

Coming in with home court advantage at our April 25th Analytic Theology seminar was Fuller’s own Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (affectionately known around Fullerland as “VMK”). VMK proffered an exposition of—his term—“multidimensional monism” (MDM) as an account of human nature. Folks seem to love the word “monism” around this land of Fuller where the work of such proponents as Nancy Murphy, Joel Green, Warren Brown, and Brad Strawn are well known for articulating some kind of monism. Some are happy to adopt a description of their views from the realm of philosophy such as “non-reductive physicalism,” a term VMK eschews. None have a snappier name for a view of human nature than Brown and Strawn’s “Complex Emergent Developmental Relational Linguistic Neurophysiologicalism,” but we can’t all be in marketing.

When it comes to discussions of the ontology of human beings there are some fairly easy diagnostic questions one can ask of someone to elicit one’s view:



If you answer “yes” to the first question, you are a physicalist, but also probably not a Christian because Christians hold that God exists and God is not physical. If you answer “yes” to the second question, you are probably a substance dualist, holding that humans are essentially immaterial souls, but are typically connected to a human body. If you answer “yes” to the third question, you are also a physicalist, but you might answer “no” to the first question so you could think that God is not physical, but humans are.

Substance dualism and pure physicalism (or “reductive” physicalism…because everything about the human can be “reduced” to the physical) are two competing views on the nature of humans. But there is also a strange DMZ between these two extremes wherein wander non-reductive physicalists, hylemorphists, Complex Emergent Developmental Relational Linguistic Neurophysiologicalists, and, apparently, multidimensional monists. The wanderers of this realm want to maintain—with physicalists—a monism of a sort, but—with dualists—want to hold that not everything about the human is physical.

The problem with this DMZ, however, is that depending upon what angle one glances at the zone, these wanderers can look a lot like a resident of one of the two borderlands. This is the impression I had of VMK’s view. At times, he would say something about the corrupting Hellenistic influence on the Christian notion of the immaterial soul and I’d think he is leaning toward physicalism. At other times, he would say something like there is “more to human than just physical” and morality and ethics “calls for more than the material,” and I’d think he is leaning toward dualism.

What VMK wants to keep as paramount are a few principles: that there is an “integral connection” between brain events and one’s mental life, that Scripture does not require dualism or any particular ontology of the human being, that the ultimate reality is God and God is spirit, and that we should not downplay neuroscience. To the diagnostic questions, I think, VMK would say, 1: “no”; 2: “maybe/kinda/not sure”; and 3: “no.” So, if this is right, it seems to me that he is already about 80% of the way to the dualist side. VMK explicitly says he endorses property dualism, the predominant form of which is non-reductive physicalism (…don’t even ask me how a “monisim” can be labeled a “dualism”) and that he accepts the causal power of the mental on the physical.

Is MDM still monist despite such dualist leanings? Well, the verdict is still out. However, I conveniently failed to mention some of the more exotic wanderers in the DMZ between substance dualism and physicalism: these include your idealists, your Type F Monists, and your [insert ghoulish voice] panpsychists. These are tricky views to articulate and the ink continues to flow trying to do so. It might be that VMK’s MDM property dualism view can be identified with one of them. The wanderers of the DMZ between dualism and physicalism want to have their cake and eat it too.

Given all that VMK says about the existence and irreducibility of the mental, why not just be a substance dualist? Why continue to insist on being a monist when all indications point to dualism? My impression is that VMK seems to be worried about “spooky” substance dualism. The kind of distorted-neoplatonist Gnosticism that holds the physical to be the locus of all that is horrible in the world (see here for an interesting take on this view in contemporary Evangelicalism). But, of course, that isn’t a necessary entailment of a substance dualist position. The dualist can just as easily describe an “integral connection” between the soul and the body, the brain and the mental life without untoward ramifications (for a recent treatment, see Joshua Farris’s The Soul of Theological Anthropology). So, to VMK, I say, “bring some of those worries with you, but cross the border and come on over to the dualist side!”


James M. Arcadi is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Analytic Theology Project at Fuller Theological Seminary and a Templeton Research Fellow in the Jewish Philosophical Theology Project at the Herzl Institue. He completed his PhD in Theology and Religious Studies from the University of Bristol where he focused on a philosophical explication of the doctrine of the Eucharist.

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