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Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature Paperback – November 4, 1998
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About the Author
Warren S. Brown is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Travis Research Institute at the Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary. He is a research neuropsychologist with more than eighty peer-reviewed scientific papers on human brain function and behavior. He has also edited or co-authored four previous books, most recently Neuroscience, Psychology and Religion (with Malcolm Jeeves, 2009).
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Much recent work in the field of neurology points to an increasing correlation between the physical and the mental. Though work in this area is embryonic and far from definitive, it does raises important theological and philosophical questions. In particular, how does this growing physical-mental relationship impact the classic theistic view of man? In popular writing the mind-body issue has traditionally been framed as a dichotomy between either Cartesian substance dualism (brain and soul interact but are distinct substances) or reductive materialism (ultimately everything can be reduced to physics). Both of these approaches have there challenges.
With regard to dualism, the oft-cited question of how two distinct substances interact is not as troublesome to me as the implications of an increasing correlation between the physical brain and the mind (soul) - e.g. impact of injury, disease and the genetic-personality link. Despite dualism's difficulties, however, reductive materialism is even less satisfactory. For example, reductionism fails to account for free will, the nature of consciousness or the veracity of rationality - not minor problems.
The current text argues for what is known as non-reductive materialism. In this model, the soul is tied to the brain but an emergent quality that is not explainable by reductionism. I find this approach to have its own challenges. On the positive side the authors do a good job of dispelling the overstated popular conception of Christianity as necessarily entailing Cartesian dualism. It also provides a helpful means to see humans in a more holistic manner. On the negative side, the argument has a bit of a slippery feel. Unexplainable emergent qualities do not seem any easier to comprehend than substance dualism - at some point a miracle occurs (may be the case).
Overall, I thought the book was well written and thought provoking. Brown's pieces were particularly enjoyable. Although I think I may share many of her views, I found Murphy's contribution regarding current reductionist arguments a bit muddled - for someone interested in Christian take on these issues J.P. Moreland is much clearer
Overall, I highly recommended the book for readers interested in the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of the mind.
It is a decidely Christian rejection of substance dualism, something that has been wanting in a popular yet still academic format for some time now. This book argues persuasively that a dualistic mindset is not only unnecessary, but a real hindrance to Christian thought.
As to the accusations of heresy given by some earlier reviewers - it seems that the reactions were a little ill-reasoned. In particular I would like to respond to Bruno D. Granger. Granger attacks the book because:
But even much more important, I think that Christian anthropology is fundamental for one of the most basic Christian dogma: the double nature of Christ, both human and divine. Traditionally it was thought that Christ had a human physical body and the third person of the Trinity as soul. But if humans are only physical beings without a (spiritual) soul then Jesus of Nazareth could not have been been both human and divine.
I don't doubt that many modern Christian dualists also think this way - that Jesus' BODY could not have been the divine "part," it was His SOUL that was the divine nature. However, this is heretical as far as historical Christian Orthodoxy is concerned. it is the christological herey called "nestorianism," splitting the divine and human natures up into two distinct substances. This, naturally, makes the body of Jesus nothing more than human (i.e. not divine at all), and renders the atoning work on the cross totally useless. But the obvious reason to reject this dualistic heresy present by Mr Granger is that it basically denies the incarnation altogether. If the "divine" and "human" parts remained so separate, did God really become man at all? Did the word really become flesh?