Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature

Article excerpt

Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature. Edited by Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy and H. Newton Malony. Theology and the Sciences series. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998. xv + 252 pp. $19.00 (paper).

One of the greatest challenges coming to theology from the sciences in recent years has been the view that the higher activities of the human being can be fully explained in terms of merely neurophysiological causes and effects. It is no longer necessary to explain human existence, even at its most remarkable levels of complexity, in terms of some nonphysical mental substance, as Descartes did when he put forward his view of radical body-soul dualism, or as Plato did when he suggested that we live not just in the body but in a parallel spiritual realm, and still less is it necessary to seek a divine cause. The aim of this book is to show that, while it may not be necessary to posit the Christian understanding of "soul" and "spirit," it is possible to do so in ways which do not contradict the recent advances in the physical sciences. Indeed, we can use certain recent advances, particularly in the area of brain research and the philosophy of mind, to develop a new view of the soul which is fully in keeping with the anti-dualist, physicalist direction of modern science.

This collection of ten essays was initiated at a conference at Fuller Theological Seminary in California in 1995, by authors who cross the disciplines of biological science, psychology and theology. Their central argument is that the soul can be understood by means of many of the same arguments that scientists are currently using to distinguish the mind from the brain, and the human person from other animals. Francisco J. Ayala avers that humans have developed not just by "biological evolution" but by a distinctively human "cultural evolution," which is a "superorganic" type of development using the "cumulative transmission of experience from generation to generation" (p. 38). The other essayists enlarge on this view, speaking of a "phase change" and a relationship of "supervenience" and "emergence" between human "higher order" functions and merely physiological "lower order" functions: they deny that "higher order" functions can be reduced to "lower order" ones. …

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