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"Neurophysiology of the person is valuable to the extent that it can open new frontiers of explanation. It may well provide considerable information and valuable new understanding about the functions of the human person.

But neuroscience is also freighted with considerable optimism and interest today because it seems capable of providing a degree of assurance regarding life beyond the grave.

Faith in science has become the modern mantra replacing faith in Christ.

Expectations are running high! Could we perhaps really know with scientific assurance that there is something personal that will survive our death?

Is there perhaps something "soulish" that could surely survive, something that we could detect and measure today?

Thad Tren


| articles | dialogue on mind-matter | evolutionary psychology  | Home | views on Biblical Counseling | further resources | mental health |

Psychology& Neuroscience
molecules, electrons, and mind; counseling

    A recent PSCF paper by Dr. Heather Looy offers an introduction to the field of  Psychology that gets at basic Christian Worldview questions.

    Counseling psychology as a psychological specialty facilitates personal and interpersonal functioning across the life span with a focus on emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental, and organizational concerns. Through the integration of theory, research, and practice, and with a sensitivity to multicultural issues, this specialty encompasses a broad range of practices that help people improve their well-being, alleviate distress and maladjustment, resolve crises, and increase their ability to live more highly functioning lives. Counseling psychology is unique in its attention both to normal developmental issues and to problems associated with physical, emotional, and mental disorders.

    Neuroscience studies the brain and nervous system, including molecular neuroscience, cellular neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, psychophysics, computational modeling and diseases of the nervous system.

Picture of Human Brain    In addition to these textbook definitions, the Christian would add the necessity for a Christian perspective on the theories, presuppositions, and practices of theses multi-faceted disciplines.  "The interface between psychology and Christianity is perhaps most apparent in the arena of counseling and clinical psychology."

    Today, we find ourselves in the midst of an explosion of new insights into the ways that the brain works and the implications that these findings have for human behavior and health. The computer, imaging, The Brainand a variety of micro-methods have provided the means for obtaining new and often surprising information. There are new challenges for the Christian at the ethical level and with what it means to be human. 

    An allied issue concerns the place of psychology in addressing human behavior. Is the Bible the sole authority in treating the human condition - the notion that all behavioral problems are rooted in spiritual issues - or, are some problems more properly handled by mental health professionals and physicians?

First: a historical introduction to the field. Then a representative series of papers on the scientific side and counseling. Use the search engine on the home page for a more complete survey of ASA thought.

Visual Introductions

Oxford developmental psychologist Dr Olivera Petrovich explains her research that suggests belief in a creator is the default position of children. (Video) 8 Minutes. Faraday Institute

Fraser Watts, "Relating Theology and Psychology: Distinctive Features and Methodological Principles"  MP3 Audio  46 Minutes. Faraday Institute

From An ASA Blog "Thoughts about Psychopathy and the Moral Law" Iain Strachan, 2010


From the September 2013 PSCF Theme Issue

Heather Looy, "Psychology at the Theological Frontiers," PSCF 65 (Sep. 2013) 147-155. PDF

This article is an invitation to dialogue about the foundational assumptions of North American psychology, and the implications of those assumptions in research and practice. Mainstream psychology uses a positivist notion of science to systematically study human experience and behavior. This “view from without” is a valuable means of obtaining certain kinds of information about ourselves. However, the unwillingness of many in the field to acknowledge the basic worldview assumptions that lead to the prioritizing of positivist science can limit and distort our human understanding. These problems include an extreme objectivism, bad reductions that leave out essential aspects of human experience, and decontextualized and individualized approaches to human distress. This type of science is also used to study religion and faith as variables rather than as foundational contexts, to push for a transhuman future, and to increase our disconnection with the natural world. Christians are called to make explicit, and where appropriate challenge, the foundational assumptions of psychology, to integrate the standard “view from without” methods with rigorous methods that take a “view from within,” and to reflect on the priorities of the field in light of Christian theology

Duane Kauffmann, "Biological and Environmental Constraints on Knowing the Self," PSCF 65 (Sep. 2013): 156-162. PDF

In the context of dialogue between psychological science and Christian faith, Heather Looy offered a critique of the assumptions and practices of psychology, especially as they pertain to self-understanding. In response, this article offers a brief review of research findings pertaining to automaticity, situational effects on behavior, and heritability components in belief patterns, and argues that this empirical work provides both insights into, and constraints on, self-understanding. The concluding section identifies issues and questions requiring attention as the dialogue Looy initiated continues.

Russell D. Kosits, "Deeply Engaged and Strongly Perspectival? The Impasse in the Psychology-Christianity Dialogue and It's Missional Resolution." PSCF 65 (Sep. 2013): 163-178. PDF

Christians in psychology tend to do two types of scholarship: (1) deeply engaged, weakly perspectival research, in which the work is done for mainstream audiences but Christian beliefs remain largely implicit, and/or (2) strongly perspectival, relatively disengaged research, in which Christian beliefs are made explicit but the work is done for a nonmainstream, typically Christian, audience. Though both of these types of scholarship are essential, there appears to be a paucity of (3) deeply engaged, strongly perspectival research, in which the work is done for mainstream audiences yet with an explicitly Christian perspective. That this is the case, why
it is so, and what we might do about it, is explored in this article

Noreen Herzfeld, "Outsourced Memory and Conversation," PSCF 65 (Sep. 2013):  179-186. PDF

Human memory is multilayered, partial, ephemeral, and fallible. Memory stored outside the person, as a photograph or in a computer, is quite different. Human memories change when retrieved, and new memories alter our perception of previous memories. Over time we forget, which can be a good thing. While human memory is a process, machine memory is a place. Its permanence can be an illusion (memory corruption). Its permanence can also become a problem, in that it does not fully allow for forgiveness and change. As we rely on computers more and more to be our external memories, we alter how we remember, what we remember, and our relationship to the past. Due to the differences in human and machine memory, outsourced memory should be seen as an aid rather than a replacement, and we should be wary of what we commit to digital storage.

D. Gareth Jones. "Moral Enhancement as a Technological Imperative," PSCF 65 (Sep. 2013): 187-195. PDF 

The inroads of biomedical technology into what human beings are as people manifest themselves in many ways, one of which is to explore whether and to what extent people can be enhanced, that is, perform better than they would have in the absence of the technology in question. Of the various possibilities discussed, one centers on cognitive performance, improving concentration, memory and the like. It is against this background that suggestions have been made that moral behavior can be, and even should be, improved using technological avenues provided by transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS), deep brain stimulation (DBS), serotonin, and oxytocin. The drive to augment morality using these means stems from the perception of some writers that current morality is unable to cope with the dire challenges facing humankind in the form of possible nuclear annihilation, the plight of the global poor, and the deep divisions between different cultural groups. This is the world of moral enhancement and moral technology. A theological context is sought by assessing how Jesus’s teaching on the greatest commandment, namely, loving God and one’s neighbor, might apply to drug treatments aimed at transforming individuals with different moral, mental, and spiritual needs. In this way The inroads of biomedical technology into what human beings are as people manifest themselves in many ways, one of which is to explore whether and to what extent people can be enhanced, that is, perform better than they would have in the absence of the technology in question. Of the various possibilities discussed, one centers on cognitive performance, improving concentration, memory and the like. It is against this background that suggestions have been made that moral behavior can be, and even should be, improved...

From the June 2010 PSCF Theme Issue

Editorial: Matthew S. Stafford, "Psychology, Neuroscience, and the American Scientific Affiliation," PSCF 62 (June 2010): 73-74.  PDF 

This special issue was developed with two goals in mind: first, to continue the long tradition of the ASA and PSCF in publishing quality, academic discussions in science and faith; and second, to serve as a resource that ASA members might use to engage their Christian psychology and neuroscience colleagues. It is anticipated that a common point of contact, such as this special issue, will open opportunities to invite your colleagues to attend the annual meeting or at least to visit the website to learn more about the society.

Paul  Moes, "Minding Emotions: The Embodied Nature of Emotional Self-Regulation, " PSCF 62 (June 2010): 75-87. PDF

This article addresses concerns that the “nonreductive physicalism” (NRP) approach to understanding human nature may lead to a new form of determinism. The principal thesis of the article is that we can retain the idea of willful and responsible action even within the NRP perspective. Three additional positions are advanced: (1) Emotional processes are an essential part of our willful nature; (2) Emotions participate in the emergent nature of thought that leads to the quality of “soulishness”; and (3) We can self-regulate our emotions, even within a seemingly “closed” physical system. The article draws from current psychological theories as well as a number of studies in neuropsychology to support these positions...

Kevin Seybold, "Biology of Spirituality," PSCF 62 (June 2010): 89-98. PDF 

The idea that there is a biological basis for human spirituality is controversial to many people. There is, nevertheless, a growing body of empirical evidence coming from neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, and related disciplines interpreted by some as suggestive of a biological basis for belief in God or the transcendent. The purpose of this article is to (1) review some of that evidence, (2) address the issue of how such a biological foundation to spirituality might have developed, and (3) construct a rationale as to why, from a Christian perspective, a biology of spirituality should be expected...

David O. Moberg, "Spirituality Research: Measuring the Immeasurable?,"  PSCF  62 (June 2010): 99-114. PDF  

The rising popularity of spirituality is accompanied by a flood of research in numerous disciplines to probe its relationships with health, wellness, and countless other topics. Initially subsumed under religion, especially Christianity, and still overlapping with it, spirituality is increasingly treated as a distinct topic that applies to all religions and to persons who have none with their diverse assumptions, variables, and terminology. Besides issues common to all social and behavioral sciences, spirituality research faces special challenges because of its subject matter. In the context of Christian values, it is immeasurable, yet numerous scales serve the measurement need as its indicators or reflectors. Much more research is needed, ideally with methodological and philosophical precautions to avoid reification, reductionism, and other traps. Because spirituality pervades everything that is human, its study is central to investigations of the essence of human nature...

Thaddeus J. Trenn, "Conscious Experience and Science: Signs of Transition," PSCF 62 (June 2010): 115-121. PDF

Available neurological correlates of personal conscious experience can often be detected, identified, and measured objectively. Substituting neurological correlates uncritically for personal conscious experience per se, if unintended, would constitute the error of reductionism. If intended, such substitution reflects decisions already taken on basic and highly contentious issues concerning the acceptable nature of the human person, offering no middle ground. Should personal aspects of individual conscious experience be disregarded out of hand simply for not being in conformity with available standards of objective scientific measurement? This logical quandary presents a serious bifurcating challenge bearing significant implications for current research in neuroscience cum neurophysiology, as discussed in the article...

D. Gareth Jones, "Peering into People's Brains: Neuroscience's Intrusion Into Our Inner Sanctum," PSCF 62  (June 2010): 122-132 PDF 

“Peering into the brain” has a number of connotations: from directly examining aspects of the functioning of an individual’s brain and hence what that individual may be thinking, to investigating the power of neuroscience to provide insights into characteristic features of our humanity. This article picks up on these different connotations and surveys several areas in neuroscience that raise issues of relevance for the Christian community. This is the domain of neuroethics, with particular reference to the prospects opened up by brain imaging and, in particular, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)....

Earlier Papers

Faw, Harold. "In the Image of God: Exploring Links with Cognitive Psychology", PSCF 58.4:310-314 (12/2006).

Constructive, ongoing conversations between cognitive psychologists and theologians are both possible and valuable. Indeed, these two fields need each other as they pursue a balanced understanding of the most complex  portion of God's creation of ourselves. Reasons for cooperation include the significant ways in which our cognitive capacities reflect those of our Creator, the rational nature of the theological enterprise, and the corrective reminders biblical theology provides concerning our creaturely status in God's world.

Trenn, Thad, "Science and the Mystery of the Human Person," PSCF 58.3: (September 2006): 216-225.

"Traveling with haste, in the unerring security which transcends all objects, instructed by the Spirit Who Alone can tell us the secret of our individual destiny, man begins to know God as he knows his own self. The night of faith has brought us into contact with the Object of all faith, not as an object but as a Person Who is the center and life of our own being, at once His own transcendent Self and the immanent source of our own identity and life." --Thomas Merton.

Malcolm Jeeves, "Neuroscience, Evolutionary Science, and the Image of God," PSCF 57 (September 2005): 170-186.

"Acknowledging the persuasive current impact of neuroscience and neuro-philosophy this paper urges us to remember that biblical warrant and scientific evidence join in reminding us that central to our understanding of what it means to be a person is our psychosomatic unity. We know each other, not as brains ensheathed in bodies, but as embodied persons. We are people who relate to each other as beings created in the image of God. This image is not a separate thing. It is not the possession of an immaterial soul. It is not the capacity to reason. It is not the capacity for moral behavior. It is not the possession of a God spot in our brains. It is acknowledging our human vocation, given and enabled by God, to relate to God as God's partner in covenant. To join in companionship of the human family and in relation to the whole cosmos in ways that reflect the covenant love of God. This is realized and modeled supremely in Jesus Christ...

David F. Siemens, Jr. "Neureoscience, Theology, and Unintended Consequences," PSCF 57 (September 2005): 187-190.

Most contemporary neuroscientists hold that soul or mind is no more than what emerges from complexly organized matter, that is, is strictly a function of brain. While not necessary, this view has been adopted by some evangelicals who seek current relevance. They, of course, have to posit a nonmaterial deity, something clearly not part of science. Their claims have been disputed on grounds of incompatibility with the resurrection, with spiritual beings, with free will, and with eternal life. None of these criticisms has noted an even more fundamental problem: non-reductive physicalism apparently makes
the Incarnation impossible.

Peter Rust, " Dimensions of the Human Being and Divine Action," PSCF 57 (September 2005): 191-201.

Humans are three-dimensional, body-soul-spirit entities, but nevertheless unitary, indivisible persons. Animal behavior includes deterministic and random constituents. It may be modeled in terms of information systems, containing regulatory loops. Goal settings for these may be fixed, as in ělowerî animals, or governed by internal adaptive supervisory systems freely selecting from alternative routines, as in conscious ěhigherî or soulish animals. A meta-supervisor in humans provides self-consciousness, free will, conscience and spiritual behavior. As with space, each further dimension includes the previous one, but cannot emerge from it or be reduced to it.

Trenn, Thad, "If the Spiritual Soul Were Beyond the Scope of Physicalism,"

Private communication. Paper presented at the ASA/CSCA/CiS meeting on the theme, Neuroscience and the Image of God, held 2004 July 22-26, at Trinity Western University, Langley, BC, Canada.

Moreland, J. P., "A Christian Perspective on the Impact of Modern Science on Philosophy of Mind,"  PSCF 55.1:2-13 (3/2003)
1909 Picture
Today it is widely held that, while broadly logically possible, dualism is no longer plausible in light of the advances of modern science. My thesis is that once we get clear on the central first and second-order issues in philosophy of mind, it becomes evident that stating and resolving those issues is basically a (theological and) philosophical matter for which discoveries in the hard sciences are largely irrelevant. Put differently, these philosophical issues are, with rare
exceptions, autonomous from (and authoritative with respect to) the so-called deliverances of the hard sciences.

Hall, Freud, Jung (front row) Clark University 1909

P. David Glanzer, "Mind Life,"  PSCF 53(June 2001): 74-83.

Donald F. Calbreath, "Aggression, Suicide, and Serotonin: Is There a Biochemical Basis for Violent and Self-Destructive Behavior?," PSCF  53.2 (June 2001): 84-95.

Contemporary biomedical science has attempted to explain behavior in terms of genetic determinism, with specific mental states being produced by alterations in the brain concentrations of one or more specific biochemical components. The literature relating to the presumed association between low brain levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin and aggression and suicide is reviewed and critiqued. Due to the variety of methodological shortcomings in this research, conclusions based on the data cannot be considered valid. Implications for the legal profession and for Christian moral principles are discussed.

Bert M. Hodges, "Remapping Psychology: A New Look at Values in Scientific Ontology, "Christian Scholar's Review XXI (Spring 2000): 471 - 497.

Hodges explores the possibility that values are the ontological fundamentals within which human activities such as perception, development, and emotion are enacted. The relation of values to "laws" and "rules" in scientific accounts is considered, and a theory of values is sketched that clarifies the enigmatic character of behavior. Values, it is proposed, are heterarchical, legitimating, and frustrating. Dr. Hodges teaches social, cognitive, and theoretical psychology at Gordon College.

Malcolm Jeeves, "Psychology and Christianity: the view both ways," A lecture delivered in the Winstanley Lecture Theatre, Trinity College, Cambridge on Tuesday, 28th November 2000.

Warren S. Brown and Malcolm A. Jeeves, "Portraits of Human Nature: Reconciling Neuroscience and Christian Anthropology," Science and Christian Belief 11 No. 2 (October 1999):139-150.

Polischuck, Pablo "Perspectives on the Self: Substantial and Dialogical Aspects," PSCF 50.2: 95 (6/1998)

Dialogue on Mind-Matter

Dembski, William A., "Converting Matter into Mind: Alchemy and the Philosopher's Stone in Cognitive Science," PSCF 42.4:202-226 (12/1990)


Clark, Gregory A., "Rsponse to W. Dembski's 'Converting Matter into Mind," (12/1990)" PSCF 43.2:103-106 (6/1991)

Feuch, Dennis, "The Mind/Body Debate," PSCF  43 (March 1991): 71-72.


Dembsky, William, "Conflating Matter and Mind," PSCF 44 (June 1991): 107-111.

Insertion of Electrode during Parkinson surgery

Evolutionary Psychology

J. Raymond Zimmer, "Evolutionary Psychology Challenges the Current Social Sciences," PSCF 50 (September 1998): 176.


Roger K. Bufford and Jonothan M. Garrison, "Evolutionary Psychology: A Paradigm Whose Time May Come: A Response to J. Raymond Zimmer", PSCF 50 (September 1998): 185.

Leda Cosmides & John Tooby, "Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer" Center for Evolutionary Psychology, UC Santa Barbara

Mental Health

Bill  Newsome God, Mind and Brain  Faraday Lecture 2010 
Allan Chapman, "Historical Perspectives on Mental Illness", 3 Feb. 2009 MP3 Audio Faraday Institute

Jep Hostetler, "Humor, Spirituality, and Well-Being," PSCF 54.2:108-113. (2000)

Struthers, William M., "Defining Consciousness: Christian and Psychological Perspectives." PSCF 53 (June 2001): 102-106.

Views on Biblical Counseling  The articles offered below reflect the tensions that may arise when one seeks to counsel or find a counselor within a Christian context.

Harold D. Delaney and Thomas E. Goldsmith, Scientific Psychology and Christian Theism

Some Thoughts on How to Provide Long Term Pastoral Care - Part 1

by Tim Lane

Are you facing a situation in your church that will require pastoral care over a long period of time? If you don't have a situation like that now ń you will in the future. Are you ready for it? Caring for people in the local church is challenging work. As a pastor, I remember numerous occasions where a need for long term care arose. These were always challenging situations and ones that caught the church by surprise. Over the span of a decade, though, I began to see some pretty obvious things that were essential for providing good long term care. I compiled these ideas into a chapter for my doctoral thesisi which I have updated to publish here. I must say that I learned these things simply by watching brothers and sisters in Christ pour out their lives in sacrificial love to friends and loved ones who were in need. Perhaps it will help you to prepare for the pastoral care demands that will come your way sooner or later...

Malcolm Jeeves, Psychology & Christianity - The View both ways

Christian Counseling

David Powlison,The Biblical Counseling Movement (2010) e-book version

“David Powlison has written the definitive account of a biblical counseling movement that arose in the 1960s and continues to influence the field of Christian counseling today. The reader is taken on a journey through the historical development of nouthetic counseling, its origins, influences, theological content, organizational fault lines, and key figures. Powlison is not a dispassionate outsider. He is clear in what he believes, but he approaches his subject with such a thoroughness and fairness in his research and assessment that he will leave readers from all sides of the Christian counseling field with a new comprehension of the theological, philosophical, personal, social, and cultural components of the movement. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the rapid and turbulent growth occurring in faith-based counseling in the latter part of the twentieth century.”-- Ian F. Jones, Ph.D.

David Powlison, What is wrong with the therapeutic approach to counseling -  9 Marks (2011)

In a nutshell, "the therapeutic" borrows a wonderful metaphor from medicine - "healing" - but treats it as a literal reality. Of course, when you are healed from having cancer, the flu, or a broken leg, that's a literal healing. Something bad happens to you. You are in some essential way passive, a victim, acted upon by forces external to your identity and responsibility as a moral agent. You are a "patient." You "have" or "suffer from" some disease or dysfunction. With healing, your body has now been restored, and that's good.

But counseling deals with a different kind of problem. ...

More about the CCEF approach

Further Resources

Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS)