Strange Bedfellow

new-york-times-hed-2013In a recent New York Time article, Thomas Nagel offers a brief but robust explanation why a purely physical explanation of the universe will not work.  This may not seem, at first glance, to be a big issue.  However, if it is true that the universe is only physical, then there can be no human mind/soul and certainly no god.  Here is the kicker: Dr. Nagel is an atheist.  And, he is arguing for a position that is favorable to theists in general and Christians in specific.  How are we to understand this?

In short, Nagel is not arguing for Christianity nor for theism.  He is careful to say, “Even though the theistic outlook, in some versions, is consistent with the available scientific evidence, I don’t believe it, and am drawn instead to a naturalistic, though non-materialist, alternative.”  What Nagel is arguing is that, though he does not believe in a god, a dualist view of reality is more consistent with the human experience and knowledge.

Here Christians have common ground with Nagel.  Christians are dualists.  Dualists believe in both physical and non-physical aspects of reality.  Christians would augment Nagel’s view of this non-physical reality to include things like God, angels, demons, and so on.  Nagel, on the other hand, is simply arguing that there is a non-physical aspect to humans which he calls “mind.”

The important apologetic point to learn from Nagel is that, in certain cases, we can benefit from those who may argue for a different final position if we agree on a more foundational issue.  So, the foundational view of dualism is required to argue for a soul and for God.  In this case, any dualist argument will do, even if it is from a strange bedfellow like Thomas Nagel.

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DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About Jim Shultz

Jim serves as Millennial Pastor at Hope Presbyterian Church in Cordova, TN as well as Philosophy instructor for Union University’s A.Div. program. His passions are to see God’s love work through transformational friendships and to equip the Church to think deeply about their faith in order to recover the knowledge of God in culture. Jim is a pastor and teacher at heart, having trained leaders and pastors, and lectured to undergraduate and graduate students in areas such as philosophy, theology, and apologetics at colleges and universities all over the United States including University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Oklahoma, University of North Texas and Texas A&M University. After completing coursework at Covenant Theological Seminary, Jim received his M.Div. from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2009. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology focusing on apologetics and culture studying under Drs. J.P. Moreland and Garry DeWeese.

Twitter: @jimhshultz
Blog: jimshultzblog.com

  • Philip Wilson

    If he is arguing for a non materialist construction when does he propose that it came into being? Did this non material reality exist causally prior to the creation of the universe or does he believe that it came into being simultaneously with the universe? Was its presence in the universe prior to the origin of life, or of humans?

    • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

      Hey Phil, he believes in some form of Strong Emergence.

      Greetings from continental Europe.

      Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

      http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  • ldwaddell

    Millennial Pastor? He ministers to a year in the past? Or is that a buzz word for youth and young adults? Thank God for our ability to adapt to the culture.

    • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

      Don’t judge if you don’t want to be judged :=)

      Greetings from continental Europe.

      Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

      http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

      • ldwaddell

        If observations are judgment regarding a persons standing with God then I suggest you retreat to the closet.;-)

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  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    Hello Jim,

    I think you should be more careful with the word “dualism” which has several definitions.

    If by that one means the denial that mental phenomenons are identical to brain processes, then Nagel and I are dualists.

    But if it means the existence of a soul existing independently of the body, we are clearly no dualists.

    Greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  • tildeb

    It’s not that Nagel is an atheist that matters; it’s that he’s a philosopher skimming evolutionary biology and pronouncing it Rong based on a very poor understanding of the science. This is endemic among those who criticize evolutionary biology.

    An excellent step-by-step take down of Nagel’s book is by biologist H Allen Orr. You can Google it if you want, but Rosenhouse does a very readable job explaining why Nagel’s defenders share the same dismal quality of knowledge supporting his thesis not with good science but it’s lack. This is a clue…