The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self (II)

“As in water face answers to face, so the mind of man reflects the man.” (Proverbs 27:19, RSV)

The 1st blog in this series is The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self 

Recent claims by some, especially neo-atheist writers, that neuroscience had in fact ‘proven’ that there is no such thing as self or free will but rather these experiences were an illusion created by brain cells, prompted me to look more into the topic and so I read a couple of books by scientists which temper or oppose the claims of the neo-atheists.

The Bible itself is brainless in the sense that it doesn’t mention the brain, that large organ of the nervous system which is so highly developed in humanity.  The Bible does speak numerous times of “mind.”  (Volumes have been and can still be written about the meaning of and the relationship between terms like brain, mind, self, soul, intellect, heart, person, and how these terms are understood differently in various biblical and Patristic contexts).  The biblical perspective is not based in the modern notion of materialism, so doesn’t see a need to connect or found everything in materialism.  Thus the bible offers no explanation about the connection between mind, self and the brain; even the need to do so would not have occurred to the biblical writer.  The authors of the Bible were also not dualists, so they didn’t oppose mind to matter but saw them both as being part of God’s creation;  mind, matter and soul all belong to the created world and so share created nature.

It really will be viewing the bible through such lenses as Platonism, Aristotelianism and modern scientific materialism that will force a dualistic interpretation on the biblical claims by imposing on them a logic and philosophy that wasn’t part of the inspired mindset of the biblical authors.

Modern science and philosophy are asking questions that the biblical authors could not even imagine.  The biblical authors were not trying to answer modern scientific and philosophical concerns which leaves today’s believers with the arduous task of trying to bridge the gap in knowledge and understanding between the questions of modern science and what questions the biblical authors were answering.  But some of the assumptions of the neo-atheists, their philosophical presuppositions and biases, are based in their belief system (materialism) rather than in proven propositions.  I intend to look at these in this blog series.

There really is a lot at stake in all of this.  For it is one thing for scientists in labs to be studying the material universe and offering their scientific observations about the nature of things.  But the neo-atheists are pushing to apply their thinking to social engineering, creating humanity in the image of their philosophical and ideological values.   The Judeo-Christian tradition accepted a notion that humans had been created in the image and likeness of God, and yet we had fallen far from the perfect image.  The religious tradition however saw humans as capable of aspiring to divinity, to uplifting all of humanity to something greater.  The neo-atheists on the other hand want to reduce humans to the common denominator with all the rest of creation:  mere matter which like putty can be shaped into whatever humans decide with no ultimate ethical consequences since humans are nothing more than matter, just like any rock or junk that happens to exist in the universe.  The neo-atheistic thinking by denying self and free will also deny that there is any significance in anything we do to creation or to our fellow human beings.  We saw that thinking play out in the fascism of Germany and Japan in the 1940s and in communism of the 20th Century.    Social engineering based in some heartless rationalism is quite willing to inflict global suffering on humanity in the name of science and ideological beliefs.

In the next few blogs, I want to look at the writings of Michael S. Gazzaniga,  WHO’S IN CHARGE?:  FREE WILL AND THE SCIENCE OF THE BRAIN, and Raymond Tallis,  APING MANKIND:NEUROMANIA, DARWINITIS AND THE MISREPRESENTATION OF HUMANITY.  Both authors are critical of the claims which are being made as a result of the current neuroscientific research, but both are committed to the scientific method and to the basic claims of evolution.

Gazzaniga attempts to put a more positive spin on what neuroscience is discovering and how it might shape the human future:

“It is that magnificence of being ‘human’ that we all cherish and love and that we don’t want science to take away. We want to feel our own worth and the worth of others. I have tried to argue that a more complete scientific understanding of the nature of life, of brain/mind is not eroding this value we all hold dear. We are people, not brains. We are that abstraction that occurs when a mind, which emerges from a brain, interacts with the brain. It is in that abstraction that we exist and in the face of science seeming to chip away at it, we are desperately seeking a vocabulary to describe what it is we truly are.”  (Kindle Loc. 3450-55)

Gazzaniga presents the issue as more about our “feelings” about being human and that science only “seems” to be chipping away at our understanding of what it means to be human.   Yet his book shows ways in which some are attempting to use the new neuroscience to change society itself.

Tallis sees the risks and dangers to humanity that the ideologues of the new neuroscience represent in more stark terms.   The danger of what Tallis calls neuromania can be seen for example in the writings of Julian Savulescu who argues that  “as technology advances more rapidly than the moral character of human beings, we are in increasing danger.  We must therefore seek biomedical and genetic means to enhance the moral character of humanity.”    Savulescu is saying that it is biomedical tinkering and genetic engineering  which are going to be needed to help humanity deal morally with the changes being brought about by modern technology.    The belief that scientists can biomedically engineer a morally superior human being causes Tallis to conclude: “Be afraid, be very afraid.”

In the next few blogs I want to look at the science of evolution: are humans merely matter (even if highly organized) or is there something that distinguishes humanity from the rest of matter and even from the rest of the animal kingdom?

Next:  The Matter of Evolution

3 thoughts on “The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self (II)

  1. Pingback: The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self | Fr. Ted's Blog

  2. Pingback: The Matter of Evolution | Fr. Ted's Blog

  3. Pingback: Evolution and the Ethical Human | Fr. Ted's Blog

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