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Neuroscience The Soul Does Neuroscience Disprove The Soul? Part 2
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If neuroscience could disprove the existence of a disembodied soul, then its ramification includes disbelieving the existence of God because God is a disembodied mind. The assault against the soul, and thus God, from the vantage point of neuroscience, is increasing.
In his blog entitled
A Brief Reflection on Neuroscience and the Soul
, J.P Moreland emphasizes the conflict between science and the soul or between physicalism
and dualism, and further adds that science cannot arbitrate this conflict:
The great Presbyterian scholar J. Gresham Machen once observed: “I think we ought to hold not only that man has a soul, but that it is important that he should know that he has a soul”…
From a Christian perspective, Machen offers a trustworthy saying. Christianity is a dualist, interactionist religion in this sense: God, angels/demons, and the souls of men and beasts are immaterial substances that can causally interact with the world. Specifically, human persons are (or have) souls that are spiritual substances that ground personal identity in a disembodied intermediate state between death and final resurrection…Clearly, this was the Pharisees’ view in Intertestamental Judaism, and Jesus (Matthew 22:23-33; cf. Matthew 10:28) and Paul (Acts 23 6-10; cf. II Corinthians 12:1-4) side with the Pharisees on this issue over against the Sadducees …
In my view, Christian physicalism involves a politically correct revision of the biblical text that fails to be convincing …
Nevertheless, today, many hold that, while broadly logically possible, dualism is no longer plausible in light of advances in modern science. This attitude is becoming increasingly prominent in Christian circles. Thus, Christian philosopher Nancey Murphy claims that physicalism is not primarily a philosophical thesis, but the hard core of a scientific research program for which there is ample evidence. This evidence consists in the fact that “biology, neuroscience, and cognitive science have provided accounts of the dependence on physical processes of specific faculties once attributed to the soul”…
Dualism cannot be proven false—a dualist can always appeal to correlations or functional relations between soul and brain/body--but advances in science make it a view with little justification. According to Murphy, "science has provided a massive amount of evidence suggesting that we need not postulate the existence of an entity such as a soul or mind in order to explain life and consciousness"…
I cannot undertake here a critique of physicalism and a defense of dualism. Suffice it to say that dualism is a widely accepted, vibrant intellectual position…I suspect that the majority of Christian philosophers are dualists. Still, it is important to mention that, upon reflection, it becomes evident that neuroscience really has nothing to do with which view is most plausible. Without getting into details, this becomes evident when we observe that leading neuroscientists—Nobel Prize winner John Eccles, U. C. L. A. neuroscientist Jeffrey Schwartz, and Mario Beaureguard, are all dualists and they know the neuroscience. Their dualism--and the central intellectual issues involved in the debate- are quite independent of neuroscientific data.
The irrelevance of neuroscience also becomes evident when we consider the…best seller
Proof of Heaven
by Eben Alexander. Regardless of one’s view of the credibility of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) in general, or of Alexander’s in particular, one thing is clear. Before whatever it was that happened to him (and I believe his NDE was real but no not agree with his interpretation of some of what happened to him), Alexander believed the (allegedly) standard neuroscientific view that specific regions of the brain generate and possess specific states of conscious. But after his NDE, Alexander came to believe that it is the soul that possesses consciousness, not the brain, and the various mental states of the soul are in two-way causal interaction with specific regions of the brain. Here’s the point: His change in viewpoint was a change in metaphysics that did not require him to reject or alter a single neuroscientific fact. Dualism and physicalism are empirically equivalent views consistent with all and only the same scientific data. Thus, the authority of science cannot be appropriated to provide any grounds whatsoever for favoring one view over another.
Dr. Michael Egnor is a neurosurgeon and a human brain expert. He contends that the
soul exists and that neuroscience points to the existence of the soul
. Here’s an excerpt from an article in
Egnor: Why Neuroscience Points to a Soul
…Is the mind simply another word for the brain, an organ in the head that fools us into thinking that the self, the “inescapable I,” is a genuine entity? Dr. Egnor explains the materialist view in its several successive historical manifestations, and why, despite its pervasive influence, it hardly qualifies as a serious perspective. Egnor details the findings of his own field, neuroscience. These indicate that something extra, something immaterial, is joined with the material body to form the complete human being. That something extra is traditionally designated as the soul.
You are more than a physical creature alone. Egnor cites, among other pieces of evidence, a 2006 study in the journal Science reporting that patients in a persistent vegetative state, contrary to how their condition appears clinically, are not all absent as personalities. Even with a severely damaged, shrunken brain, the non-material person is somehow still there, and aware. For example, as functional magnetic resonance imaging shows, many such patients, just like healthy people, can distinguish the sound of meaningful sentences from syntactical gibberish. That should be impossible under materialist assumptions.
This article also features a YouTube video entitled
No, You're Not a Robot Made Out of Meat (Science Uprising 02)
. This video highlights four pieces of evidence from recent research that supports an immaterial mind.
Recent research supports the existence of an immaterial mind: That
actually changes our brain.
First, Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a world’s leading expert in neuroplasticity, treats people from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). His treatment provides evidence that thoughts change the physical brain. The choices we make changes how our brain works. This research clearly supports mind over matter.
The second evidence for an immaterial mind comes from an operation called
. In this operation, if we cut the brain in half, the brain still seemed to be a unitary person. This implies that the human mind is not purely generated by the matter of the brain. Otherwise cutting the brain in half could result in two people. But it doesn’t.
The third evidence for an immaterial mind comes from
brain stimulation experiments
that seemed to show our intellect and identity are not found in our brain tissue. Neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield conducted numerous experiments wherein he found that there were aspects of the patient’s mind, which were not affected in spite of what he did to the brain. He could not change their consciousness, he could not change their intellect, and he could not change their sense of self, no matter what he did to the brain.
The fourth piece of evidence for an immaterial mind comes from
experiments about freewill
. Materialists try to convince us that freewill does not exist. Dr. Benjamin Libet’s experiments show that humans do have freewill; at least the freewill to say no.
Here’s more information about Dr. Libet’s experiment. This excerpt is from
from an article entitled
Free Won't: It May Be All That We Have (or Need)
In this case, Libet had participants in the same basic paradigm, but he instructed the participants that once you become aware of your urge to flex, then stop it. Don't flex your fingers or wrist. Libet believed that there was a window of about 150 ms in which the participant could do this (note that the whole 200 ms between conscious awareness and muscle movement is not available, because once the spinal nerves are activated, somewhere around 50 ms before the muscle movement, this can not be stopped). The results indicated that the cortical readiness potential did develop (even earlier than in the past experiments), but this brain activity flattened out just before the muscle action, which indicated the vetoing effects of conscious choice. Libet concluded that participants were using conscious choice to veto the muscle flex at the last moment.
We have free will to abort an action. So, we may better think of volitional action in this case not as free will, but as "free won't." We can stop an action initiated by our brain nonconsciously.
This capacity of "free won't" is generated by free choice. This is our conscious will at work.
To conclude, this information should be adequate to understand that neuroscience cannot disprove the existence of a soul. On the one hand, Christians can reasonably argue that science does not possess any authority to make a decision on the existence of the soul. On the other hand, we can cite evidence from neuroscience that points to the existence of the soul.
Physicalism is the position that everything that exists does so within the limits of its physical properties and that there are no other kinds of things other than physical. (https://carm.org/what-physicalism)
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