Neuroscience and the Soul?

I ran across this totally fascinating article a while back at the UM Portal. Scientists (once again? because it seems like I've heard this every couple of years) have discovered the chemical/electrical processes in the brain that kick in during moral decisions, religious experiences, and so forth. This leads many of them to dismiss the Judeo-Christian idea of the "soul" - which is also one of the primary reasons we believe in the sacredness of the human individual and in human rights in terms of political philosophy - but that raises a WHOLE different angle on this discussion.

Check out this passage:
"The study raises more questions: Can spirituality be drug-induced? Are practices of spiritual formation—such as meditation or fasting—really just ways of tinkering with our brain chemistry? And the ultimate question: Does a human being have a soul or just a chemistry set?

Not so fast, says James R. Thobaben, professor of social and medical ethics at Asbury Theological Seminary. “The best way for a Christian to respond to this is to question the question,” he said. “We don’t have a soul. We are a soul.”

Craig Hill of Wesley Ministry Network agrees. “This notion that, ‘Now that we understand the brain, we can dismiss the Christian notion of the soul,’—well, that shows how little people understand Christian theology,” he said."

I think these guys are off to the right start in addressing the latest objections to (supposedly) Christian teachings from science, but I especially want to zero in on this last point. I hear such wild mis-representations of Christian teachings in media and higher ed contexts that I am often quite discouraged. Our faith mis-understood and then mis-represented by people who ought to do their homework.

I heard one instance recently in fact.

Check out this ABC video story about how many Americans believe in guardian angels. The reporter spoke about our belief in angels and then went on to say that "many established churches teach that miracles only happened in Biblical times" while the camera zooms in on a Bible and other non-biblical holy books. The reporter's voice continues, "but many Americans disregard official church teachings" now there is a picture of a pastor in what appears to be the National Cathedral "and believe in guardian angels anyways."

FIRST of all who says that a guardian angel is the same thing as a miracle? There is a fundamental confusion of categories here that thoughtful Christians (like the ones who inform official doctrinal statements) would clearly recognize.

Second of all, there are very few churches if any that teach that miracles have ceased as a matter of dogma - certainly the Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches do not teach such a thing as is visually implied by the video of the priest and choir.

Is this some conspiracy to make Americans even more anti-clerical and unwilling to submit to established church teachings than we already are? Or is it one more intance of gross mis-understanding and consequent mis-representation that occurs when reporters go on and on about things they know very little about? In either case I would say it is irresponsible reporting.

Scientists should stick to science, instead of jumping to conclusions about the theological impacts of their findings. They haven't (in most cases) been trained in the nuances of theology (this works both ways, I might add). And reporters should take more seriously the dangers of slandering "many religions groups" by spreading false information about religious groups, simply because it sounded better or the reporters were too lazy to do their homework.


Blogger Mark said...

It seems we have another Lewis citing. "You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body."

I don't think it's as much an example of conspiracy as it is an example of incompetence and intellectual inbreeding. It shows again the need for there to be more Christian journalists, scientists, economists, etc., because when entire professions like these get dominated by one worldview, we get shoddy reporting like this.

7:09 PM, September 29, 2008  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Hey Mark,
I don't actually think it is a conspiracy either - that was sarcasm that may not have carried over very well. I agree that it is simply ignorance in action.

That's funny that I'm more influenced by Lewis than I know. My Systematics professor, William Abraham, at SMU used to say that back in his home of Ireland they would sometimes refer to individuals simply as "souls."

9:31 AM, October 01, 2008  

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