One of the quandaries I ran into in writing my paper on Berkeley on resurrection is the question of what the 'revealed' Christian doctrine is supposed to be. In particular, there is the question of natural versus miraculous immortality of the soul. Some writers who seek to defend the Christian doctrine of survival of death assume that it is part of the doctrine that this survival is miraculous. (For a recent example, see Lynne Rudder Bakker's "Persons and the Metaphysics of Resurrection" which appeared in Religious Studies in 2007; James Ross also brought this up in his criticisms of my earlier work on this subject.) However, many early modern thinkers - including some theological traditionalists like Berkeley - seem to assume that the soul is naturally immortal, as the ancient Platonists did. (On Berkeley's view, see Marc Hight's "Berkeley and Bodily Resurrection," JHP 2007.)
In terms of the dogmatic dimension of the disagreement, it seems that the 'naturalists' were (and are) concerned to show that Christianity was reasonable, whereas the 'miraculists' (pardon the coinage) were (and are) concerned that making Christianity too reasonable might leave no role for divine revelation, impute too much ability to the human intellect, or conceal some sort of objectionable deism.
In the Preface to the New Essays, Leibniz weighs in:
The arguments of the free thinkers collapse all at once with [my] explanation of things, in which it is no more difficult to conceive the preservation of souls (or rather, on my view, of the animal), than it is to conceive the change from caterpillar to butterfly and the preservation of though in sleep, to which Jesus has divinely compared death. Also, I have already said that no sleep can last forever; but it will have less duration or almost no duration at all in the case of rational souls, which are always destined to remain the persons they were in the city of God, and consequently, to retain their memory, so that they can be better able to receive rewards and punishments ... But the ease with which these people have abandoned the ancient doctrine that angels have subtle bodies (a doctrine which has been confused with the corporality of angles), the introduction of the allegedly separated intelligences among created things (to which the intelligences that rotated Aristotle's heavens have contributed much), and finally the poorly understood opinion some have held that we cannot retain the souls of beasts without falling into metempsychosis, all these in my opinion have resulted in the neglect of the natural way of explaining the preservation of the soul. This has done great harm to natural religion, and has led many to believe that our immortality is nothing but a miraculous grace of God. Our celebrated author [i.e. John Locke] speaks with some doubt about this, as I will soon point out. But I wish that all who are of this opinion discussed it as wisely and as sincerely as he does. For it is to be feared that several who speak of immortality through grace merely do so in order to preserve appearances, and are at bottom not very far from those Averroists and certain pernicious Quietists who imagine an absorption and reunion of the soul with the ocean of divinity, a notion whose impossibility is clearly shown by my system alone, perhaps.Posted by Kenny at May 7, 2009 6:19 PM
- Leibniz, preface to New Essays on the Understanding in Leibniz, Philosophical Essays, tr. Ariew and Garber, pp. 298-299
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