This post is part of a series.
The first of the three philosophical arguments supporting Conditional Immortality is that of the mortality of man.
As we observed in Dr. People’s explanation of the scriptures in Part I, there is little scriptural support for the immortality of the soul, and some important passaes that support the soul’s mortality. Philosophicalal discussions of the mortality or immortality of the soul have gone on for millenia, so I won’t recapitulate those arguments ad nauseum.
However, let me summarize the philosophical ideas that we Conditionalists could use to support the idea of the inherent mortality of the soul.
- Dissolution: All that we see is destined for dissolution. Unless another principle is introduced, there is no reason to think that the soul is immune to this rule.
- The Soul’s Dependence on the Physical Body: Whether you are a dualist or physicalist, or on the spectrum in between, there is little argument that the conscious soul relies on, and is intricately tied to the physical body. Evidence of the independence of the soul from the body is speculative, if not contradicted by most of what we can know. In fact, we see NO unambiguous impact of disembodied souls in the real world. Therefore, it is more likely that, other things being equal, when the body is dissolved, so are the major, if not all parts of the person. Or, as the Philospher Pomponazzi put it:“In us intellect and will are not truly immaterial but relatively and to a slight extent (secundum quid et deminute)”, so that our “soul is essentially and truly mortal” and only “relatively immortal”, by virtue of its imperfect participation in an activity which, properly speaking, is performed only by the Intelligences. Thus, even an analysis of the highest human faculty—intellectual knowledge—reveals our inability to escape from our material condition. For this reason, philosophical arguments necessarily lead to the conclusion that, since our soul is never devoid of materiality, it must be mortal.
- Resurrection Provides Post-Death Existence for Justice: It is rightly argued that, in order for God to balance the scales of justice, some sort of afterlife must occur (be it suffering through reincarnation or divine punishment). However, having an immortal soul is just one possible way to exist in the afterlife, but requiring it in order for this justice to occur may be begging the question. If we have few other reasons for immortality, and post-death existence can be explained while keeping mortality intact (divine sustaining, divine resurrection for judgement), we can require an afterlife without assuming immortality. It is notable that the Bible describes physical bodies as part of resurrection, perhaps because the soul cannot have expression or existence apart from a physical body.
Of course, both mortal and immortal views have difficulties, so these arguments alone can not support Conditional Immortality – at best, we can argue that we do have a cogent philosophy that jibes well with what we observe, apart from divine intervention.
SIDEBAR: The Soul’s Dependence and the Tripartite Man
After making the second argument above, a Traditionalist who also believes in the Tripartite view of man (spirit, soul, and body) may mention that the death of the soul does not mean the death of the spirit, and even if you think the soul dies, the spirit can live forever in torment. While I myself subscribe to the tripartite view, the mistake in the above argument is in the many assumptions, among them are:
- That the use of the word ‘soul’ always means just the one part of the person, as opposed to its many uses (including that one), such as in referring to the whole person, to the immaterial person, or to all humanity.
- That the spirit exists without the soul
- That there are scriptures that teach that the spirit of man lives forever
These, of course, are scriptural, not philosophical arguments, so they are a little out of place here. However, if someone from that camp wants to argue for immortality from the perspective of the spirit alone, that would be interesting. But I don’t address it here.
One Weak Point – the Interim Period
One weak point associated with the mortality of the soul involves the intermediate period between death and resurrection, admittedly a tough subject for every view. In the case of the physicalist and Conditionalist, the question becomes “How does the soul maintain integrity as an entity, or continuity with the person who is resurrected?” – or put more simply, “Where is the personality ‘kept’ between death and resurrection?” There are a few possibilities, none of them awesome, but merely possible.
- Remembered by God: If they are not immortal, they exist in this period only in the mind of God, who reconstitutes their person (like their body) at the resurrection. This ‘storage of the soul’ could be in the form of ‘soul sleep,’ which would be a type of constituted but unconscious existence. Alternately, you could only exist as a ‘recipe’ in God’s mind, awaiting reconstitution.
- Hades: Their souls do exist consciously in Hades (the world of the dead), awaiting the resurrection. But if we are mortal, by what power could we exist in this period? It could be argued that we are maintained, not by our own intrinsic immortality, but by God’s sustaining power alone. So either of these intermediate positions are harmonizable with Conditionalism.
It is notable that even Martin Luther was a proponent of the soul’s sleep during the interim period, though his argument was not based on the mortality of the soul:
“A man tired with his daily labour… sleeps. But his soul does not sleep (Anima autem non sic dormit) but is awake (sed vigilat). It experiences visions and the discourses of the angels and of God. Therefore the sleep in the future life is deeper than it is in this life. Nevertheless, the soul lives to God. This is the likeness to the sleep of life.” ~ Luther 1830
Traditionalism and the Interim Period
One reason the interim period is also tough (though perhaps not as tough) for the Traditional view is that it requires a type of suffering for the impenitent, which it is assumed is the beginning of their suffering, even though judgment has not yet begun for them.
But is it ethical to penalize people before they are even tried? One of the few, if only picture of the interim period we have in the Bible is what is known as The Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. In it, neither have faced judgement yet, but the rich man suffers while the poor man is comforted.
Traditionalists often mangle this passage by assuming it is describing the post-judgment state (even though it is clear that the rich man’s brothers are still living), and it is arguable that this does not even describe the interim period, but was actually, as most translators label it, a parable, based on a commonly known moral story of the day.
The background of this parable is a tale from Egyptian folklore about the reversal of fates after death. It also has connections to rabbinic stories. In Greek the name Lazaroshas the same root consonants as the name Eliezer who, Genesis 15:2 tells us, was a servant of Abraham. Some rabbinic tales feature Eliezer Greek Lazaros) walking in disguise on the earth and reporting back to Abraham on how his children are observing the Torah’s prescriptions regarding the treatment of the widow, the orphan, and the poor. Lazarus is a poor beggar (16:20); he returns to Abraham’s bosom, and the rich man requests that Abraham send him as an emissary to his brothers (Lk 16:28). (Donahue, 169-170) ~ Patheos, Donahue (you can read more detail about this here.)
It is probable that Jesus did not intend this as a description of the interim period, but merely a parable about the dangers of being rich and outwardly pious in this life, contradicting the common idea that the rich were being blessed by God, and the poor cursed.
Neither side in the debate on hell is going to win an argument merely based on the philosophy behind mortality and immortality. Still, both sides must, of course, deal with this head on since it is part of the discussion.
In summary, the Conditionalist can undermine the Traditional view and support his own by showing that the mortal soul is a more likely reality based on what we observe, and is not required for post-mortem justice, since all that is required for finite justice is resurrection.
The Traditional position is also more complicated if one believes in Hades rather than soul sleep, since it must figure the punishment of the interim period into it’s calculus for justice. The Traditionalist could retort that ‘God will crunch the numbers so that all get the proportionate punishment,’ but this increased complexity argues, generally speaking, against the position (thanks to Occam’s razor).
The next argument, on the justice of each position, is where the gloves come off and the arguments try to knock one another out.