By Craig Branch

When our staff was planning future journal themes some time ago, the topic of the “Mind-Body Problem” was added, and I was a bit ambivalent about it. The reason was that I thought this topic not only seemed abstract, but was a bit too intellectual for the average person, or even the above average. And as I began to acquaint myself with the subject for this introductory article, my concern grew. But then I began to think through some of the implications and applications of the issues involved, and I realized that this subject should not be confined to the philosophers.

 

The Attack on the Soul

The mind-body “problem” has to do, ultimately, with what is the nature of man, especially the meaning of humans being made in the image of God. And to take it further, what are the implications for right living based on how we understand (or lack true understanding) of our human nature. Another issue entwined in this topic is whether there is a supernatural component of our being, and if so, what implications does that have for us?

Is human nature strictly materialistic? Are thoughts, feelings, and decisions merely complex chemical reactions in our brains governed by purely physical processes? Or are humans composed of a physical body and an immaterial soul or mind? Or, is man composed of three parts—a body, soul, and spirit? Are these parts distinct, or united, or both? Errors on these questions abound in atheistic naturalistic materialism, heresies in cults such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventism, eastern religions and new age spiritualists, and even within Christian circles.

For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists teach that the soul is inseparable from the body, and therefore upon death, the soul sleeps until the resurrection of the body, when it is reunited. They also teach the annihilation of the soul and body at judgment for those whose works are not perfect. But Scripture does not allow for this view. God reveals that our soul or spirit (terms used interchangeably throughout Scripture) continues a conscious existence after physical death, awaiting the reuniting of body and soul either unto eternal life or eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46; Phil 1:22-23; Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:6-8; Matt. 10:28; Rev. 6:9).

Also the error of trichotomy, dividing man into three distinct parts—body, soul, and spirit—has resulted in numerous errors including support for the Gnostic heresy. Ancient gnosticism, the basis of many expressions of new age spirituality today, holds that the body is really nothing important. Gnostics believe the spirit is the essential “person,” which evolves and goes from discarded body to discarded body.1

Probably the most significant movement attacking the truthfulness of Christianity is scientific materialism embodied in atheism and Darwinian evolution. Christians must awaken from their slumber and understand the significance of these attacks. With the retreat of Christianity partly due to the neglect of worldview discipleship and missional engagement, we are experiencing a growing intolerance towards our faith. One Christian thinker recently shook up the Christian consensus in a published article titled, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.” He wrote, “Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes…. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress.”2

Evidence for this has been escalating. After this past election, the dominant liberal media have been aggressively attacking Christianity. Atheism is on the rise. Militant atheism is especially the carrier of the virus of evolution and scientific materialism. A cornerstone in materialism’s philosophy is that humans are strictly material or physical beings without an immaterial mind or soul. Dr. William Provine, Professor of Biological Sciences at Cornell University, summarizes the perspective of atheistic Darwinian evolution as, “There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces, no life after death, no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, no free will.”3 Another necessary conclusion from a materialist only view is that Jesus did not really rise from the dead and there is no afterlife for us. The Bible is therefore just a bunch of superstitious myths.

More evidence of the media’s growing hostility toward Christianity is an ongoing series of featured stories on the mind-body connection in Time magazine. For example, “Glimpses of the Mind” by Michael Lemonick (7/17/95), “The New Science of

Happiness” by Claudia Wallis (1/9/2005), “The Mystery of Consciousness” by Steven Pinker (1/19/07), and “The New Map of the Brain” by Jeffrey Kluger (1/18/07).

Steven Pinker is a psychology professor at Harvard University. His special focus is in “evolutionary psychology.” He writes that “the brain is a product of evolution,” and that science has demonstrated that “every act of conciousness can be tied to the brain.”4 Pinker, like others of his ilk, believes that neuroscientists and other specialists have significantly established that the mind or soul or consciousness is merely a physical phenomenon of the brain’s functions. Hence, humans are not more than their physical bodies. When you are dead, you cease to exist.

Pinker also concludes that “the biology of consciousness offers a sounder basis for morality than the unprovable dogma of an immortal soul.”5 The gist of the Time series is that all that is going on inside our heads is just chemical reactions that are governed by genes, outside influences and inputs, and other physical processes. This is also the conclusion of the new wave of militant atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and others.

In This Issue

Our first article, “Body and Soul: A Biblical Case for Dualism,” is written by Keith Loftin, ARC Book Review Editor and adjunct professor at Southeastern Bible College. Keith presents a biblical answer to the question, “Are humans strictly material beings (the view known as physicalism), or do they possess both material and immaterial parts (the view known as dualism)?” Keith shows how the writers of both the Old and New Testament, and the Lord Jesus, clearly taught a metaphysical distinction between soul and body. Jesus, for example, said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Keith also argues that the highly substantiated event of the resurrection of Christ (and the promise of believers’ resurrected bodies) reveals the distinction of the two parts of man, as well as their unity.

Our second article, “A Philosophical Case for Mind-Body Dualism,” is written by James Spiegel, Professor of Philosophy at Taylor University. He, too, argues for mind-body dualism against physicalism, but from a philosophical perspective. Dr. Spiegel presents an overview of the most influential philosophers who historically promoted mind-body dualism, beginning with Descartes. He also offers the argument of Near-Death Experience to help validate that mental events can occur apart from the brain. He then deals with the question of how natural (brain) and non-material (mind/soul) substances interact, and he determines that, all things considered, “mind-body dualism is the most reasonable position regarding the nature of the mind.”

Our next article is written by Angus J. L. Menuge, Professor of Philosophy and Computer Science at Concordia University, titled, “What’s Wrong with Evolutionary Psychology?” Dr. Menuge responds to Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins’ Darwinian view of the mind as a purely mechanical, physical entity. He concludes that a “dogmatic commitment to materialism leads to a self-defeating loss of confidence in human rationality and a corruption of the scientific method,” and is thus self-refuting. We are also grateful to Dr. Menuge for his valuable editorial advice throughout the production of this issue of Areopagus Journal. The last article is by Denyse O’Leary, titled, “How Medicine Lost—and then Slowly Regained—its Mind.” O’Leary builds the case that the initial popularity for mechanistic and materialistic theories of the mind in the field of medicine has been significantly undermined by the “extensive documentation” of the role of spirituality in healing and maintaining and improving health.

Also included in this Areopagus Journal issue is a review of the book, In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem. This book presents four Christian perspectives on the mind-body problem and allows for criticism by those of different views. All-in-all, this issue of Areopagus provides a thorough and helpful critique of the materialist view of human nature that is becoming more popular in our culture.

Craig Branch is Director of the Apologetics Resource Center, Birmingham, Alabama.

Notes

1 For an excellent theological study of the composition of our human nature made in the image of God, and a response to the errors mentioned above, see Anthony Hoekema’s Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986).
2 Michael Spencer, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse,”
Christian Science Monitor (March 10, 2009).

3 W.B Provine, Origins Research 16(1), p. 9, 1994.
4 Steven Pinker “The Mystery of Consciousness”
Time (Jan 19, 2007).
5 Ibid.

Recommended Books

The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul
Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary (HarperOne).

Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate John W. Cooper (Eerdmans).

In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the
Mind-Body Problem

Joel B. Green and Stuart L. Palmer, eds, (IVP).

(First published in the Areopagus Journal Vol 8 No 6 – Nov/Dec 2008)