Dualism and Materialism

Ideas of life after death in various world religions rely on some PHILOSOPHICAL ASSUMPTIONS about the nature of a human being. For example, Hindus need the soul to be separable from the body; to be able to survive the death of that body and move onto another body. This requires that the body and soul are DIFFERENT SUBSTANCES. However, this is difficult to prove, especially given the evidence from modern science!

Key Terms:

DUALISM – the belief that body and soul are separate substances; that the soul can survive the death of the body.

MATERIALISM – the belief that there is only material; there is no separate soul. All our mental / spiritual ideas are part of the body.

If you are a Hindu, a Protestant or a Roman Catholic Christian you need dualism to be true in order for your beliefs about life after death to make sense. You need to argue for Dualism!


We can create an argument for dualism by considering the different properties of body and mind. For example:

Properties of the Body Properties of the Mind

  •   The body is physical
  •   The body performs actions
  •   The body is a machine, with systems that make it work.
  •   The body is constrained, can be locked up or chained down.

  •   The mind is not physical
  •   The mind is defined by ideas
  •   The mind is not made up of moving parts.
  •   The mind is free and can travel around with only a thought.

The argument then runs that if mind and body have all these different properties then they must be different things. One substance cannot be both free and imprisoned, physical and non-physical.


However, in the modern world the evidence from MEDICAL SCIENCE, as well as from PSYCHOLOGY / NEUROLOGY and SOCIOLOGY are beginning to suggest this might not be true.

  • Psychology suggests that we might not be as free as we thought. We can often explain people actions and attitudes by looking at their upbringing and past experiences.
  • Sociology tells us that our values might be made by the societies we grow up in, not formed in some other spiritual realm.
  • Medical science is showing us evidence that we can look inside people’s brains and identify thoughts with activity in certain parts of our brains – thought seems to have a physical (chemical) element.

If all this is true we don’t need a soul to explain how we think and feel. Thought becomes a physio-chemical (material) event or action, not a spiritual one.

This is a problem for Hindus, Protestants and Roman Catholics because if the ‘soul’ depends on the body then it can’t survive the death of the body.

It might not be a problem of Muslims and Evangelical Christians who emphasise the RESURRECTION OF THE BODY by God on the Last Day or Day of Judgement. We can still have life after death if the soul depends on the body as long as our bodies are recreated by God!

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