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The Table Video

Dean Zimmerman& Thomas M. Crisp

Is Science Sure There's No Soul? - CCT Conversations - Zimmerman/Crisp

Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University / Director of Rutgers Center for the Philosophy of Religion
CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Philosophy, Biola University
December 13, 2013

Has science proven that there’s no such thing as an immaterial soul? Are we purely physical bodies? Or something more? Philosophers Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers University) and Tom Crisp (Biola University) discuss.


Yeah, so you want to talk about basically, what kinda thing is a human person? Its a question each of us can ask ourselves. You know, sort of look into yourself close your eyes and think okay, what sort of thing am I?

Tom Crisp: Right.

One thing that’s sort of maybe, well to me it seems kind of surprising is the confidence with which so many people nowadays so many people nowadays in the sciences in particular, but really anywhere in the academy, how confident they are that we are entirely physical. And that no talk about spooky immaterial souls And that no talk about spooky immaterial souls is to be countenanced at all, its not to be heard.

Well what’s of interest about that for the Christian community is historically Christians have thought that we aren’t just physical beings. That we have an immaterial soul and so I think its disconcerting for some to be hearing from the academy that well we all now know that of course that’s not true.

Yeah, and when you think about it a little bit you realize its not just the Christians have thought this its that everybody has thought this for eons. And you know the founders of the And you know the founders of the modern scientific revolution, most of them thought that we were not entirely physical.

So what is it that’s changed in the last say, hundred years that has made it clear to us that there’s no such thing as a soul? I mean one thing that has become clearer and clearer is the extent to which our ability to think and many of our and many of our our character traits and lots of aspects of who we are, are dependent upon the brain in very complicated and deep ways.

So, you know, brain lesions can produce all kinds of brain lesions can produce all kinds of inabilities can produce all kinds of bizarre agnosias and the depth with which you know, and the depth with which you know, the depth to which our thinking and our conscious life is tied to the brain has become more and more obvious.

So Descartes famously thought perhaps the connection between mind and brain is mediated by some tiny little part of the brain and we know that’s not right. It looks like the connection between mind and brain is pervasive any kind of change to or very tiny changes to the brain all throughout the brain cause changes to the mind changes to the consciousness. There’s a very tight dependence of mind on brain.

Dean Zimmerman: Right. But just because there’s dependence, doesn’t mean that there’s identity. So I’m also dependent upon my glasses for seeing, I’m dependent upon lots of things that aren’t strictly speaking, part of my body to do things. Could it still be that the soul uses the brain to think in some sense? [low piano tones]