Substance dualism is the idea that a soul (non-physical substance) exists and that it is related to the body (physical substance), though still different (Moreland & Rae, 2009). Substance dualism argues that, at the very least, the non-physical substance will endure through time, as opposed to the no-subject view, which denies that this is the case (Lee & George, 2007). A Christian worldview is compatible with substance dualism for many reasons, but here is one example: the Bible teaches that people are made in God’s image, and God is the ultimate example of a non-physical (spiritual) being. Further, as Moreland and Rae point out, careful study of the Hebrew shows that the spirit is a separate substance from the body of a person, but is given by God from His essence, which is spirit/soul itself (Moreland & Rae, 2009).
Functional holism states that although the soul/mind and the body are separate, they interact with and depend on one another (Moreland & Rae, 2009). It is important as a nurse to recognize that the mind and body each require different kinds of care, and that caring for one can enhance the health of the other. Holistic care is also important to use because it requires us to be conscious of patients’ spiritual needs as well. Studying the whole being and understanding these interactions help us as nurses realize that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (Dossey, 1997, p. 6).

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Two important Hebrew words that can help understand the connection between substance dualism and functional holism are nephesh (soul) and ruach (spirit). An interesting alternate translation for ruach is “breath.” One thing the Old Testament reveals about the nature of nephesh is that it is a substantial, life-crucial part of a person that “departs” after death. An example of its use can be found in Genesis 35:18, when Jacob’s wife Rachel dies (Moreland & Rae, 2009). Ruach is similar to nephesh in the Old Testament, but ruach seems to mean something closer to God, or more powerful a spirit than a human soul (Moreland & Rae, 2009). Several verses also note that “ruach also refers to…various states of consciousness, including volition…cognition…emotion…and moral or spiritual disposition” (Moreland & Rae, 2009). Ruach can be interpreted, spiritually speaking, as the part of a person’s soul that directly connects to, and is aware of, God’s presence.

The results of Edwards et al.’s study do seem to be consistent with a Christian worldview. Although the results do not say that it must be the only worldview that is compatible with holistic end-of-life care, the results speak to a universal need for spirituality and God among patients. A portion of their results which provides convincing evidence for this is when they note that “unmet spiritual needs could give rise to spiritual distress, which could worsen physical and emotional symptoms” (Edwards et al., 2010, 760). While this quote represents an educated guess and not a result, their previous mention about hope, meaning, and a relationship with a higher power being important to nearly all patients is a result. And it is a result that directly correlates with the previously mentioned speculation.

Furthermore, these results about spiritual needs directly connecting with people’s physical, mental, and emotional health reinforce substance dualism. The reason for this is, as mentioned earlier, that substance dualism regards the separate mind-body substances as being codependent on one another, and that the condition of one will influence the other. Edwards et al.’s study provides some scientifically verifiable evidence for substance dualism.

  • Dossey, Barbara M. (1997). Core Curriculum for Holistic Nursing. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
  • Edwards, A., Pang, N., Shiu, V., & Chan, C. (2010). The understanding of spirituality and the potential role of spiritual care in end-of-life and palliative care: a meta-study of qualitative research. Palliative Medicine 24(8), 753–770.
  • Lee, P., & George, R.P. (2007). Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics. Cambridge University Press.
  • Moreland, J. P., & Rae, Scott B. (2009). Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics. InterVarsity Press.