Sunday, December 14, 2008

My Amazon Review Of Nancey Murphy's Book

I used Murphy's Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies for two classes this past semester. I then had my classes to compose reviews that outlined their basic impressions of this book. Certain remarks were common in their reviews. I will list some of those comments in this review of Murphy's book. First, let me say that I was surprised at how many students recommended this book for future courses. Nancey Murphy explicitly advocates and offers arguments for a thoroughgoing form of non-reductive physicalism. She does not denigrate opposing positions, but her view of the body and soul is not the popular or traditional religious view of the body or soul. Murphy ultimately contends that we are spirited bodies (i.e. we do not have souls, but we are purely physical). Now I thought that my students (attending a Lutheran university) would immediately say that this book should not be used in future courses at Lenoir-Rhyne University. Boy, was I mistaken!

Along with their enthusiastic recommendations for using Murphy's book, whether they hated or loved it or felt lukewarm about it, some oft-heard criticisms regarding the text were as follows:

Murphy's work is too detailed for those who are just beginning to undertake a study of philosophy or theology. Moreover, it is too redundant, inconsistent, and unclear at points. The least favorite part of the book (for the professor and students) was the information-engineering diagrams that Murphy included on pages 86, 89, and 101. These diagrams were supposed to shed light on non-reductive physicalism. Unfortunately, they left most students scratching their heads and wonder what was the point of the diagrams. Even I had to read those pages three times to understand what each thing stood for in the diagrams. However, I understand why Murphy included those diagrams. But in my opinion, they were only helpful to a point.

In addition to the numerous criticisms of Murphy's book, there were statements that reflected praise for her work. Some students wrote that her text contained a clear statement of her physicalist thesis, they thought the book was well-written, and they expressed praise for her efforts to substantiate her general thesis by the employment of manifold scholarly sources. Most students offered a hearty recommendation for the book, although most took issue with her thesis or felt that she relied too much on science or reason as opposed to relying on Scripture. Finally, while most students did not find Murphy's arguments compelling enough to make them change their minds, certain students did begin to entertain non-reductive physicalism, and others at least began to question the traditional body and soul view. My overall goal was achieved. I wanted to critique dualism, trichotomism and physicalism for a semester with my students help. I believe that we all walked away with a deeper knowledge of the issues. Furthermore, they now are more familiar with an alternative worldview vis-a-vis human nature.

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