Recently, at the Neuroscience and the Soul Conference at Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought – I had the great privilege of attending several talks among Christian thinkers such as J.P. Moreland (who has already gone down in history as one of the greatest thinkers of our time). Many of you wanted to know more about these ongoing discussions regarding important topics such as…
What is the soul? Where is it? Where does it go when you die? What makes up the soul? Are the mind and the brain the same thing? When does the soul come into existence? etc. Please know these are VERY complex philosophical, theological and scientific topics and at the risk of inaccuracy through oversimplification I will attempt to put these issues in simple, bite-sized terms aimed to help you explain them to someone else (hopefully your children). Let’s start with…
Where is the Soul?
Throughout history the vast majority of scientists and scholars (both Christian and even most non-Christians) accepted the “dualist” view that you and I are composed of two parts; (1) an immaterial mind or soul and (2) a physical, material body. The soul inhabits and animates the body to experience reality. Though the two parts are intrinsically connected in life, most Christians believe your soul will separate from your body upon death and continue to live in an eternal state. Simply put, the soul is the real you. It is the “You” that you talk to when you talk to yourself.
Is my brain the same as my mind?
No. Your body (including your brain) is physical matter and as such is subject to the laws of nature. Without a soul to animate it, your physical brain is incapable of decision, reason or rational thought. So it is your immaterial mind (which is a faculty of the soul) that actually uses the brain to think, reason, feel, decide and form memories. That’s why when we open your brain, we don’t see things like thoughts and memories of your last vacation floating out. Instead, we see physical brain tissue; neurons and dendrites.
You see, if things like memories were part of the material brain then when your body is six feet under, your memories would die too – which means you could not remember your grandmother in heaven and according to the Bible after death, you will remember people you knew in life (Luke 16:19-31).
You may be thinking, “Wait a minute. I thought my brain was the thing that thinks, reasons, feels, remembers, etc.” Well, yes and no. Recent advancement in neurological imaging equipment allows us to actually see which parts of your amazing brain “light up” when you think, reason, experience pain, emotion, etc. But we must not mistake the evidence of mental activity with that which is causing the mental activity itself.
In other words, when I see your car driving down the road, I know you are in your car causing it to function. But I would never make the mistake of thinking you and your car are the same thing (in logic this violates the law of identity resulting in a logical fallacy). So when you see the brain functioning, you are actually watching the mind or soul “driving” the brain and experiencing reality. Therefore, your mind and brain are not the same things and just as you drive your car, your mind has executive control over the brain.
Why is this important? Because there has been a radical shift in our culture and the existence of the soul is under attack… Why? You’ll have to stay tuned because if I told you all of this at once, it would blow your mind (or is it your brain?)