Minding God: Theology and the Cognitive Sciences

Minding God: Theology and the Cognitive Sciences

Minding God: Theology and the Cognitive Sciences

Minding God: Theology and the Cognitive Sciences

Synopsis

Does it make sense to speak of the "mind of God"? Are humans unique? Do we have souls?

Our growing explorations of the cognitive sciences pose significant challenges to and opportunities for theological reflection. Gregory Peterson introduces these sciences -- neuroscience, artificial intelligence, animal cognition, linguistics, and psychology -- that specifically contribute to the new picture and their philosophical underpinnings. He shows its implications for rethinking longstanding Western assumptions about the unity of the self, the nature of consciousness, free will, inherited sin, and religious experience. Such findings also illumine our understanding of God's own mind, the God-world relationship, new notion of divine design, and the implications of a universe of evolving minds.

Peterson is gifted at explaining scientific concepts and drawing their implications for religious belief and theology. His work demonstrates how new work in cognitive sciences upends and reconfigures many popular assumptions about human uniqueness, mind-body relationship, and how we speak of divine and human intelligence.

Excerpt

In my junior year of high school, a friend introduced me to Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach, a weighty and entertaining introduction into the then current status and hopes of artificial intelligence. Little did I know at the time that the book was the beginning of a long conversation with what has since become known as the cognitive sciences. Hofstadter's witty dialogues between Achilles, the tortoise, and other sundry characters perplexed, delighted, and annoyed me all at once. At the same time, they also posed profound questions that remained always in the background and increasingly in the foreground of my thought over the next decade. As I progressed in the study of philosophy, theology, and religion, the significance of these questions and their potential for reshaping how we think about some of the most basic issues of life and nature became increasingly clear.

At the same time, I was frustrated to see how little awareness theologians and scholars of religion had concerning cognitive science and the challenges that it posed. The closest thing to a dialogue was that between religion and psychology, and then primarily with the psychoanalytic tradition of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, which many cognitive psychologists assign to the prehistory of the current discipline. During the 1970s and 1980s, Paul McClean, Eugene d'Aquili, James Albright, and John Eccles were among the first to explore the connections between religion, theology, and the claims made by the various disciplines that constitute the cognitive sciences. In the past decade scholars have built on this early work, but the full range of implications has yet to be considered in a single volume.

Thus the genesis of this book. I am convinced that the cognitive sciences have the potential to change how we think about a wide range . . .

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