Science in Christian Perspective
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE SOUL? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature by Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy, and Newton H. Malony, eds. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998. 252 pages, index. Paperback; $19.00.
Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary
Hamilton MA 01982
Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 51 (June 1999):122.
Departing from organismic systems and
appealing to top-down aspects of transcending nature, Fuller Theological
Seminary authors have edited this provocative and challenging book. Brown is a
highly respected neuropsychologist who has done much work at the University of
California Los Angeles' Neuropsychiatric Institute; Murphy is a well-known
participant in the philosophy-science-theology dialogue; and Malony is an
emeritus professor of psychology, prolific in the integration of psychology and
theology. The authors reflect collegiality, interdependence, and
interdisciplinary respect in their approach, which may be attributed to the
intensive days they spent together exploring the issue under a generous grant by
the Templeton Foundation. In such context, the consonance, agreement, and
confluence of diverse backgrounds and philosophies seem to aggregate and display
of its own. They cite each other in their arguments and conclusions, thus giving
the reader a glimpse of group dynamics that reveals both the unique contribution
of each author and a continuous flow of a complex theme. This allows for a
diversified yet mutually illustrating, sequential unraveling.
In this book, the soul is treated as a subject matter from philosophical, scientific, and theological perspectives. The authors trace the development of notions and interpretations given by Christian thinkers and theologians throughout history, including contemporary theologians. Genetics, the neurosciences, and evolutionary theory are invited and given ample room and the same defining power, in an attempt to present portraits of a complex, yet unified nature. In sum, the soul is seen as an aspect of the whole person in a physicalist, nonreductionistic definition that, in the authors' purpose and intention, does not appear to violate scriptural data, but rather reformulates dualistic notions into scientifically appropriate perspectives.
The opening chapter by Nancey Murphy introduces the subject matter with a succinct preview of the following chapters, setting the frame for the pictures of the human being from the perspective of "nonreductive physicalism." The secular scientific and philosophical fields have opted for either dualism or reductive materialism. In agreement with the current trends in philosophy and science, Murphy chose to depart from dualistic notions, without falling into materialistic reductionism. Thus, for her, Christian thinkers and scientists have the option to follow along nonreductive physicalism (arguably consistent with theological, biblical, philosophical, and scientific disciplines) in which the person is a physical organism whose complex functioning is capable of higher capacities (such as conscious self-awareness and relatedness) as well as supervenient capacities for morality and spirituality not present at basic organismic levels.
Chapter two deals with human nature through the eyes of Francisco Ayala's naturalistic epistemology. Continuity with the animal world is stressed with no sharp distinction drawn between us and other primates, except that small anatomical differences in the brain have enabled the process of cultural evolution in humans. Ayala gives us an introductory glimpse in reference to God's image as being somehow present in the human, rendered as an emergent property related to cultural evolution. Such a process transcends biological evolution in shaping human's abilities to anticipate behavioral consequences, to make value judgments, and to choose among alternative courses of action, thus allowing for the development of morality.
Chapter three deals with genetics, in which Vesents the notion that genes, while ontologically necessary for human uniqueness and characteristics, are not sufficient determinants of such. Scientific understanding of genetics does not entail reductionistic materialism.
Malcolm Jeeves in chapter four emphasizes nonreductionistic physicalism as expressed in "one set of events" seen from different perspectives, leading to "aspects" (vs. divisible "parts") of human nature portrayed by descriptors at various levels of analysis. Thus, understanding the role of neurological substrata of human higher cognitive and spiritual capacities helps us understand ourselves as well as others. The role of the brain and localization studies are presented as being open to diverse interpretations, such as the polar opposites of Sir John Eccles, a dualist; and Francis Crick, a "nothing-but"" physicalist; and, in the middle, Roger Sperry, a secular nonreductive physicalist. The logical complementarity of Donald MacKay is presented to buttress the notion of duality of aspects within a complex system (vs. substance dualism), regarding mental activity as embodied in the brain but not being identical with its activity. In Jeeves' view, such emphasis rules out neither free will nor accountability. His lectures at Fuller in the past have been functional in provoking members of the faculty to engage in the integrative task along nonreductionistic physicalism that culminated in the publication of this book.
Contributions to the Soul"
(chapter five), Warren Brown rejects mind-body dualism and presents the
uniqueness of human capacities once attributed to the soul in terms of
relational and cognitive avenues. The most important function of the human
involves personal relationships "to
self, to others, and to God. In terms of cognitive capacities, language, a
theory of other minds, episodic memory, conscious top-down agency, future
orientation, and emotional modulation of social behavior are seen as emergent
properties, enabling the relational processes. These emergent properties are
dependent upon, but not reducible to, the neurobiological structures and
processes that enable higher cortical functioning and affective valence. The
embodied integration of such aspects is seen as the alternative construct to the
notion of a separate soul indwelling the body.
Murphy takes the lead again in chapter six. In arguing her points, she recognizes that the scientific evidence gathered so far does not amount to a conclusive proof for physicalism, but the existence of enough data corroborates the reasonability of such a doctrine. Following Jeeves' argument, she poses the dilemma: if neurobiological processes are governed by natural laws, and mental events depend upon such for their existence and expression, then the conclusion should be that mental events are just the product of blind biological processes. She answers this dilemma by introducing the issues of emergence and top-down causation previously argued by Brown. She argues that the same faculties that enable higher cortical/cognitive and deeper affective experience also account for the human capacity for relatedness and religious experience.
A re-examination of human nature in the Bible is presented by Green in chapter seven. Texts drawn from Luke and Paul are interpreted in ways that reject dualistic notions in favor of ontological monism. Notions such as being disembodied or escaping from a corporal medium are discarded. Instead the human is considered a complex yet unified entity. Struggles with the reconstruction of a human portrait from Old Testament and New Testament writings are presented. The task is a challenging one, given the diverse and complex nature of the currents of philosophy, cultural tones, and contextualization in view of our present lenses and the nature of a post facto analysis of such texts. The issue of "Greek dualism vs. Hebrew holism" receives a fair treatment, pointing to the diversity in both camps and to the lack of consensus in the field. The inadequacy of word-studies is pointed out (e.g., the terms nephesh, ruach, psyche, soma, etc.) in favor of more comprehensive constructs drawn from co-textual analysis. In Green's opinion, the New Testament writers are concerned with soteriological holism, treating the human beyond mere ""soul" saving.
In chapter eight, Ray Anderson presents the saga of a creaturely soul in theological perspective as the whole, or some aspect of the person, that never exists outside a person. In his view, the concept of an immortal soul is without clear biblical support. In line with Barth, Bonhoeffer, Torrance, and Pannemberg, Anderson's notion of the human being is based on relational premises, contingent upon God's life. Beyond substantial definitions and dualistic understandings, the self exists as a personal, social, and spiritual being who denotes the Imago Dei, emerges from the physical properties of the cosmos, but engages in social interactions and is grounded in God for his or her existence and definition. Several informative and clarifying points are made with suggested conclusions that concisely present a summary of Anderson's treatment of the subject matter. In his interpretation, different emphases in the Bible represent aspects of the self (soul, spirit, body), destined to die and resurrect, after the resurrection of Jesus, the prototype of humankind's hope and continuity.
Chapter nine deals with practical
considerations of nonreductionistic physicalism as related to ethics. Here
Stephen Post examines the historical connotations of dualism in its positive and
negative aspects. He shows the positive role it has played in the respect for
human life (e.g., in the issues of abortion, euthanasia, and regard for people
with diminished capacities) and the negative role it has played in the
justification of practices such as slavery, the inferior status of women, and
the degradation of marriage. Without the necessity of a separate soul indwelling
the body, an approach is postulated based on inclusivity and regard for
community as expressions of human capacity for relatedness, with agape
Finally, Warren Brown summarizes the chapters of the book and provides further thrust to the issues of the integration of faith and science, in attempts to reconcile portraits of human nature drawn from both fields. If an integrative label is sought, such would be either an egalitarian version in which science and faith issues are given the same credit; or a hierarchical integration in which the findings of science are corrective to views held by tradition based upon erroneous interpretations. Some qualifiers are given to convey a supervenient status to theology, a top-down process that gives credit to notions of God's creative endeavor and sustaining power over a lower-level analysis of reality.
In sum, at the basic substructural levels of analysis, Darwin's concepts are expressed "right from the front porch" in Ayala's chapter, and subtle versions "come out of the closets" of evangelical writers endowed with academic freedom. The core philosophy that animates the endeavors aimed at portraying human beings as refined physical organisms reflects a close philosophical-scientific kinship with naturalistic epistemology and also an emphasis on theological notions of top-down nature. The supervenience of emergent, higher-level explanations achieving transcendence by virtue of connectedness to God and others, is grounded in a perspective outside space and time, revealed by a Creator to creatures, who uses evolution as a means to accomplish a transcending purpose. To regard humans alone as having the gift of a soul from God (either in traducianistic or creationistic versions) seems to force an arbitrary distinction among scientists working with the brain, where there is much evidence for continuity of the species. Yet, the issue of human distinctiveness is a major theme in the book, approached in a nonreductionistic fashion.The book succeeds in stirring further avenues of inquiry in open-minded thinkers. It has the potential to elicit responses, "provoking to love and good works" by challenging the ruts of established traditional stereotypes. An important aspect for integrators of Christian belief and anthropology is a differential notion, a qualitative "distinctiveness within distinctiveness" of being a "redeemed" human. Thus, "knowing" and actually (not just potentially) relating to God (or not) is perceived as a major determinant of character and conduct. Any rendering of the human that includes the need for the redemption paradigm has to deal with a consequential result of salvific belief and obedience to God. Such relatedness in faith leads to a differential, qualitative human existence defined scripturally as "being a new creation," (with discrete allusions of being a "believer," "born again," "born of the Spirit," "saved," a "disciple," and so on).
In what qualitative ways is such human existence changed? The book emphasizes quite emphatically the aspect of "salvation" as a holistic endeavor (beyond "saving souls") by pointing to examples of the restoration of the human to community, to relatedness, and to physical well being (Green). Yet, basic to an overt behavioral repertoire, a "change of mind" is descriptive of personal, substantial (hypostatic) conversion (from an hypostatic-apostatic to a hypostatic-ecstatic endeavor, or change in the direction and thrust of the relating being, with reference to the object of love). How is that realized? At ontological, substructural, or hypostatic levels, as well as relational ones, how is it that a person "without God," "dead (incapable, unresponsive to relatedness) in trespasses and sin" is changed after an encounter of transcending, transforming nature? Such a question needs addressing in any anthropology that seeks to integrate faith into the paradigm of "soulical" aspects.
The authors sought to elucidate questions of old: Where is the soul when the body is being formed, or diminished by physical contingencies, or at death? What happens to the soul in the body's intermediate state and resurrection? Such questions arose from dualistic traditions, regarded now as obsolete. The authors seem to convey the notion that the soul has vanished as a separate entity, being the expression of nonreductionistic physicalism manifested in development, functioning, and final decay. The "intermediate" state is seen as a nonexistent one, with notions of resurrection as "re-creation" under the auspices of God, who knows, remembers, and can reprint the same person on nonbiodegradable stuff.
Theologians in the book allude to a
Christocentric anthropology, which is a progressive move vs. the regressive
trends to recapture and elucidate Adam's original state of being. If Jesus is
not only the guarantee of resurrection and eternal life, but also the standard
for our humanness in the present (as the target of imitation in terms of being,
doing, relating, etc.) as well as our eschatological destiny (the hope of
acquiring his bodily likeness), what happened at his death? Ontological monism
as expounded in the chapters stresses the interpretation that a person can only
be or experience reality exclusively "in
as over against a dualist statement such as being "out
of the body."
Some differentiation would be helpful, as we read in Scriptures that Jesus' body
was placed in a real tomb. Was he disintegrated totally, a nonbeing analogous
with his dead body, and reintegrated at the third day? Was his dead-time (three
while awaiting resurrection or was he in disembodied fashion elsewhere? Was he
or consciously actualizing some redemptive work anywhere? (Compare credal
allusions to "descending"
somewhere.) Was his continuity "in
the mind of God"
to be reprinted on a nonbiodegradable medium and not an intrinsic capacity for
during this apparent intermediate state? Further inquiry can be made with regard
to Jesus' statement to one of the crucified criminals at his side, "Today
you will be with me in Paradise,"
as to convey the hope of life after death in proximal, not yet resurrected
aspects. Thus, although silent in such matters, the book succeeds in fostering
cognitive and spiritual appraisal of such dilemmas.
The authors (e.g., Anderson, Brown, and Green) emphasize the relational aspects of the Imago Dei in the human, prompting further questions as what is to be understood as being a human 'indwelt" by the Spirit. To "indwell" is to intrinsically coparticipate somehow in the process of "internal dialogue" and relate to the human without being just an introjection construed by the human mind. It should not be equated with the natural emergent property of the evolved capacity for transcendence. Such would be a case of solipsistic (if not self-fabricated, delusional) phenomena. Thus, for a relational dialogue to take place between the Indweller and the indwelt, a dynamic contact between the two entities needs to take place. Can a nonmaterial entity causally affect a material one? Science would negate such a possibility. The Spirit (really, a person without a body) is presented scripturally as a causal force. It is said to empower and renew, being coparticipatory in reshaping the human's character and conduct and in transforming the human into the creature envisioned by God and molded into a "Christlike" resemblance (a process known as "sanctification" of a progressive, asymptotic nature). The "point of contact" in physicalism is the brain's substratum that allows for higher, emergent properties. Some empirical measures might be gathered as to measure the interaction, at least in terms of operationalized variables describing the human reaction to such prompting. This proves to be a formidable task. Furthermore, the authors would agree that any attempt to ascertain the promptings of a transcending, yet immanent variable, the Holy Spirit, would prove to be a more difficult, even impossible, task. Though ascertained by the observable effects in the person in the cosmos, the Spirit defies final scrutability at an ontological, substantial level. Along such conjecture, the portrait of the Imago Dei may refer to such ontological challenge with respect to the human, not mentioned in the book: As God has been revealed to creatures, yet is ultimately incomprehensible, perhaps the human is "revealed" to the sciences and philosophy, but ultimately incomprehensible as well. Such a statement places this reviewer in the field of "mysterians" alluded to by Dennett, but also in line with humble theologizing/physicalizing.
This is a relevant, challenging, and important book for philosophers of the mind, theologians, neuroscientists, and psychologists written with thoughtfully-developed positions. It demands a thorough reading to capture a multifaceted, yet cohesive portrait of the human. It challenges the reader to consider comparisons and contrasts about the nature, capacity, and functions of the proposed soul's functional equivalents.