Posted by: gcarkner | May 1, 2017

Ghost in a Machine? Identity Crisis?

The Ongoing Debate about the Relationship between Mind & Brain

(Self, Soul, Mind, Consciousness)

Professor William Newsome, distinguished neurobiologist from Stanford, will visit UBC and Lower Mainland January 29-31, 2018 to open up some of these questions.


Is there a ghost in the machine? Mind-Brain Debate

Richard Swinburne (Oxford), Raymond Tallis (Manchester),

Martha Robinson (University College London) & Dr Stuart Derbyshire (Birmingham)


William Lane Craig, The Materialist and the Mind


Professor Raymond Tallis debates RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor

Neuromania: can neuroscience explain human behaviour and culture?

See also the volume Carl Cramer, Explaining the Brain.


Four Principles of Self-transcendence from Philosopher Bernard Lonergan

Be Attentive

Be Intelligent

Be Reasonable

Be Responsible

Thomas Nagel’s Big Question in Mind & Cosmos.

1. He discusses the conflict between reductionist and antireductionist views of reality: he is convinced as a philosopher that physicalistic and naturalistic view of the human brain (and the universe) is fundamentally flawed.

“My aim is not so much to argue against reductionism as to investigate the consequences of rejecting it— to present the problem rather than to propose a solution. Materialist naturalism leads to reductionist ambitions because it seems unacceptable to deny the reality of all those familiar things that are not at first glance physical. But if no plausible reduction is available, and if denying reality to the mental continues to be unacceptable, that suggests that the original premise, materialist naturalism, is false, and not just around the edges.” (p. 15)

2. Nagel focuses on three different aspects of the the amazing world of mind: consciousness, cognition (mental functions such as thought, reasoning, and evaluation) and value. In each case, he explains why a reductionist explanation is inadequate. In the chapter on consciousness he writes:

“What kind of explanation of the development of these organisms, even one that includes evolutionary theory, could account for the appearance of organisms that are not only physically adapted to the environment but also conscious subjects? In brief, I believe it cannot be a purely physical explanation. What has to be explained is not just the lacing of organic life with a tincture of qualia but the coming into existence of subjective individual points of view— a type of existence logically distinct from anything describable by the physical sciences alone.” (p. 44)

“The existence of consciousness is both one of the most familiar and one of the most astounding things about the world. No conception of the natural order that does not reveal it as something to be expected can aspire even to the outline of completeness. And if physical science, whatever it may have to say about the origin of life, leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, that shows that it cannot provide the basic form of intelligibility for this world.” (p. 53)

According to the reductionist point of view, every aspect of reality can be explained in terms of physics, chemistry and the initial conditions of the universe. The origin and development of life, consciousness, and the capacity of human beings to understand the universe via science can all be explained in terms of biochemical processes that are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry. For an alternative well-informed perspective, see Alister McGrath’s excellent work A Fine-Tuned Universe. Philosophy of mind and Christian theism (to name just two domains of human knowledge) has long held there are problems with this view of reality. From these disciplines the explanation is offered that nearly every aspect of the life of the mind is best explained by appealing to a comparable cause, another mind.

Other Scholarly Reading on Neuroscience, Philosophy of Mind & Religion

(in consultation with Dr. Judith Toronchuk, Biopsychology, Trinity Western University)

Barrett, Justin. Why would anyone believe in God? AltaMira Press, 2004.

Barrett, Justin. Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds. Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2011; Born Believers.

Beauregard, Mario. Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives, Harper One 2012.; The Spiritual Brain: a neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul. (with Denyse O’Leary)

Brown, Warren S. and Brad D. Strawn. The Physical Nature of Christian Life: Neuroscience, Psychology, and the Church. NY: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Corcoran, Kevin. Rethinking Human Nature. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006.

Green, Joel. Body, Soul and Human Life. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008.

Green, Joel, ed. What About the Soul? Neuroscience and Christian Anthropology. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2004.

Green, Joel and Palmer, Stuart. In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body problem. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005.

Hasker, William. The Emergent Self. Cornell University Press, 1999.

Jeeves, Malcolm, ed.  From cells to souls–and beyond: changing portraits of human nature. GrandRapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004..

Jeeves, Malcolm. Human Nature: Reflections on the Integration of Psychology and Christianity . Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2006.

Jeeves, Malcom.ed., Rethinking Human Nature: A Multidisciplinary Approach.Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.

Jeeves, Malcom and Warren Brown. Neuroscience, Psychology and Religion. Conshohoken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press. 2009.

McNamara, Patrick. The Neuroscience of Religious Experience. Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Markham, Paul N. Rewired: Exploring Religious Conversion. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2007.

Murphy, Nancey. Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? New York, NY: Cambridge, 2006.

Murphy, Nancey and Warren Brown, Did MNeurons Make Me do it?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will. Oxford: Clarendon, 2007.

Newberg, Andrew and Mark Waldman, How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist. Ballantine Books, 2010.
Russell, Robert John et al (eds.) Neuroscience and the Person: scientific perspective on divine action 4. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, 1999.

Schjoedt, Uffe. “The Religious Brain: A General Introduction to the Experimental Neuroscience of Religion”, Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 21 (2009): 310-339.

Schloss, Jeffrey & Michael Murray (eds.) The Believing Primate: scientific, philosophical and theological reflections on the origin of religion.

Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford University Press.

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