Neuroscience and the Soul - J.P. Moreland
J.P. Moreland (Biola University) reflects on the significance of studying Neuroscience and the Soul (CCT’s 2012-2013 theme) in light of human personhood, life after death, scriptural teaching on the nature of human persons, and the origins of the conscious mind.
About the Author
J.P. Moreland (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology. He is an influential Evangelical philosopher, theologian, and apologist.
Song: “Cinnamon Hills” by Brian Lee & His Orchestra (brianleehisorchestra.bandcamp.com)
Neuroscience and the soul is very, very important to the Christian Church for two reasons. First of all, Gallup polls have indicated that there has been a steady loss of belief in life after death as there has been an increase in the belief that we’re our brains. The idea that many people have, and sensibly enough, is that if you’re a brain and your brain dies, that’s the end of you. If there is a soul, this means that there is more to us than our brains and it tends to lend support to the idea that there’s life after death.
The neuro-scientific findings, if they do, in fact, undermine belief in the soul, it has, for many people, undermined the belief in life after death and made the gospel sort of pointless. What is the point of the gospel if this life is all there is? The second reason that this is important is because it appears that the Bible teaches that there’s a soul and if we are to revise the Bible’s teachings in this area, under the pressure of neuroscience, what’s next? It’s important to ask the question has science undermined traditional Biblical teaching?
There is actually another reason why this matters to the average person. Darwin admitted, when he came up with his Theory of Evolution, that it could not explain the origin of mind. That what his theory could do was to explain the origin of animal bodies and brains, but it couldn’t explain the origin of mind. And so Darwin was a materialist and argued that his theory should be understood as promoting a materialist view of living things, that living things are strictly brains and central nervous systems.
If, on the other hand, there’s reason to think that consciousness and the soul aren’t physical, that provides reasons for thinking that there are limits to Darwinian explanation in that there is need for a god to create the soul and to create consciousness, so this lends support to a theistic view of the world. The soul has been historically been understood as an immaterial substance that contains consciousness and animates the body or makes the body enlivened. The problem for the atheist is to explain how you could get mind from matter.
If you start with the Big Bang and the history of the universe is a history where matter simply rearranges to form increasingly larger or more complicated chunks of matter, for many thinkers, what you’re gonna end up with are rearranged chunks of matter. There will be no account for how you could get mind coming into existence. The Christian theist doesn’t have that problem because for the Christian believer in God, the fundamental reality is not particles or matter, it’s a conscious soul, God himself.
If the universe begins with a soul or a spirit that’s conscious, there is no difficulty in explaining where this comes from because it’s part of your fundamental reality. But if you say instead of in the beginning was the logos, in the beginning were the particles, then you have a difficulty accounting for where consciousness and soul or self come from. [somber music]