Tag Archives: philosophy

Neuroscience and the Soul

During the 2012-2013 academic year, Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought brought together a number of philosophers, theologians, and scientists to discuss the relationship between traditional views of the mind and body in light of the contemporary findings of neuroscience. Neuroscience and the Soul: The Human Person in Philosophy, Science, and Theology (2016) represents the content of these discussions and conference. Edited by Thomas Crisp, Steven L. Porter, and Gregg A. Ten Elshof, the book is divided into three major sections: 1) recent debates in philosophy about the Mind-Body Problem, 2) recent debates about the bearing of contemporary brain sciences on the Mind-Body Problem, and 3) recent debates in theology about the mind-body problem. Written primarily for non-specialists, the sections are structured as a series of essays with responses and rejoinders. The idea behind this structure is that a thoughtful non-specialist could get a glimpse into the debates happening in the pages of academic books and journals, without needing to wade through vast and technical literature.

Overview

Section one begins with an essay by William Hasker in which he argues for the view that material composition cannot make sense of the unity of consciousness. Timothy O’Connor responds by arguing that conscious experience is a property had by materially composed persons, but is such that no “part” of the experiences is had by any of those persons, or is itself had by any of their parts

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 are an exchange between J.P. Moreland and Jason Runyan regarding top-down causation. Moreland makes a case against it while Runyan argues that there are no reasons for skepticism about the existence of top-down causation in nature. He explains that if one remains skeptical about top-down causation, complex systems theory may be able to do the work top-down causation aims at.

Section two begins with a friendly dialogue between Richard Swinburne and Daniel Speak. Swinburne argues that the scientific theory that mental events are caused by brain events fails the prediction criterion, thus we can never know that it predicts successfully without assuming its falsity. Speak responds by saying that an argument demonstrating a theory is not scientifically well justified, cannot, by itself, constitute a case against the epistemic credibility of the theory.

In chapter 10 Kevin Corcoran and Kevin Sharpe build an argument for physicalism from three neuroscientific case studies; but they concede the fact that consciousness seems to be very resistant to physicalist explanations. They conclude that despite the problem of consciousness, given the explanatory irrelevance of the soul, we should accept physicalism. Erick LaRock and Robin Collins respond by arguing that Corcoran and Sharpe’s commitment to physicalism is not actually warranted by the currently available evidence, and that it is contrary to the main preferences of science, namely simplicity and being true to the data of experience.

Chapter 13, written by Erick LaRock focuses on the so-called “hard problem of consciousness” that plagues reductive physicalist accounts of the mind. He argues that reductive physicalism cannot account for a robust account of consciousness. Corcoran and Sharpe respond to LaRock agreeing that reductive physicalism cannot account for the hard problem of consciousness; so they put forward a non-reductive account of consciousness.

Section three begins with Veli-Matti Karkkainen’s explanation and defense of “multi-dimensional monism,” the view that mind and body “each denotes the entire human being, while connoting some angle of vision on who that human is and what he or she is called to be.” (212) Stewart Goetz responds by raising worries about what Karkkainen’s multi-dimensional monism does for accounts of personal survival after death.

The final three chapters of the book are a dialogue between John Cooper and Brian Lugioyo. Cooper suggests that the turn towards physicalism among Christian scholars represents the prioritization of science over the Bible. Lugioyo’s response seeks to demonstrate that, in fact, biblical exegesis supports a monistic position and that a monistic interpretation for Scripture is healthy for the church’s ministry.

Assessment

Neuroscience and the Soul is a fine collection of essays from a varied cast of authors. If the editors intended to give non-specialists a glimpse of current debates in the field, then they have certainly done their job. I wonder, however, if the purpose would have been better served if the authors hadn’t chosen to prioritize “traditional” accounts of the mind-body debate over newer accounts. As I note above, the structure is one long essay, followed by a short response, and an even shorter rejoinder. Most of the sets of essays (5 out of the 7) begin with traditional accounts. This means traditional accounts get the long form essay and the rejoinder. Naturally, it was the editors’ prerogative to prioritize whomever they wanted; however, if they really wanted to give readers a feel for the state of discussion in academia, they should have prioritized newer accounts, or at least should have tried to balance out the essays. Another critique one might make of the book, which is not unusual for edited volumes, is that some of the essays are poorer contributions than the others. For instance, I am unsure what Eric LaRock’s essay is doing in this volume. His main argument is against reductive forms of physicalism. Yet, one would be hard pressed to find any Christians in the field advocating for reductive physicalism. LaRock is arguing against a non-existent opponent. Also, I question the inclusion of John Cooper’s essay. Surely Cooper has written one of the most comprehensive accounts of dualism, Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting, but this work in its original form is almost 30 years old. It’s strange to think that the editors couldn’t find a more contemporary example of a Cooper-style defense of substance dualism.

Despite these minor drawbacks, I recommend this book for those looking to get their feet wet in the pool of Christian mind-body debates but don’t have time to go for a swim. It should also prove useful as an introductory volume for seminary and graduate students.

(Note: This was originally posted on Fuller Seminary’s Analytic Theology Blog.)

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Thoughts About 2017’s Jewish Philosophical Theology Workshop in Jerusalem

As I mentioned before on this blog, I recently spent some time in Jerusalem for a Jewish philosophical theology workshop. In light of my time there, I decided to write a few blog posts for Fuller Seminary’s Analytic Theology Blog.  Below you will find the links to various blogs, including a blog where I interact with Billy Abraham and a blog where I try to draw some connections between Yoram Hazony’s account of “Truth” and Wolfhart Pannenberg’s account. ENJOY!YSS

 

THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE HEBREW BIBLE

WHAT IS “THE PHILOSOPHY OF HEBREW SCRIPTURE?”

FATHER ABRAHAM AND THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF EXODUS

HEBRAIC AND PANNENBERGIAN ACCOUNTS OF TRUTH

The Herzl Institute – Young Scholars Workshop

Today I got word that I was accepted to be a participant at the Herzel Institute (Jerusalem) Young Scholar’s Workshop and Conference on Revelation at Mt. Sinai:

It is with great pleasure that I am writing to inform you that we are able to offer you a place at our Young Scholars Workshop which will take place in Jerusalem on June 12-22, 2017. The workshop will involve a week of classroom seminars and discussions, visits to key sites in Jerusalem, as well as an international conference at which leading scholars in Jewish Philosophical Theology from around the world will present. Our program includes lunches and informal meetings, and plenty of time to engage others in conversation.

During the workshop, participants will present a 15-20 minute symposium paper in response to reading materials that will be sent out prior to the workshop. The paper will be presented in a classroom seminar for discussion by workshop participants and scholars.

We will be discussing topics such as: “The Bible as Philosophy?” “The Metaphysics of Hebrew Scripture”; “Is the Biblical God Perfect Being?”; “What Does It Mean for God to Speak?”; “Bible as a Tradition of Inquiry”; “Approaching God Through Metaphor”; “God’s Plans, Failures and Alliances”; “Should God Be Our King?”; “Discovering a Name of God”; “Who Makes Things Happen in the Bible?”

I would never have imagined I would be going to Israel for a theological conference, let alone have the expenses covered by a scholarship. This is such an amazing opportunity. If you are wondering what the Herzl Institute is, here is some info:

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The Herzl Institute will serve as a hub of collaboration, research and joint learning for Jewish scholars, clergy, lay leadership and students who seek better answers to the challenges ahead through a more rigorous engagement with the riches of Hebrew Scripture and rabbinic sources.

The Herzl Institute welcomes the participation of Christian and other non-Jewish scholars and students who see the sources of Judaism as offering an opportunity for foundational renewal within the context of their own nations and faith traditions. The Herzl Institute will conduct an array of intensive outreach activities, including public events, publications, and new media platforms aimed at bringing the fruits of its work to a broad public in Israel and abroad.

Analytic Theology Seminars at Fuller Seminary Start Today!

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See the message below from Allison Wiltshire

Hello!

I would like to invite you to join us at Fuller Seminary for a weekly series of talks on human and divine love as part of the Analytic Theology for Theological Formation project.  Our team would be thrilled for you to attend any or all of the events. Feel free to pass along this information to your students or colleagues who may also be interested.
Attached you will find a schedule for the entire series that run January-June as well as a more detailed advertisement for the first 7 events. The first event is tomorrow, January 4, from 3-5pm in the faculty commons at the David Allen Hubbard Library on Fuller’s campus. Dr. Oliver Crisp will open up the series by giving an introduction to analytic theology.
For more information you can visit our website, facebook, or twitter. Feel free to contact me with any questions!
Best,
Allison Wiltshire


Allison Wiltshire 
Fuller Theological Seminary
Research Administrator AT project

What’s it Like Doing Theology With a Room Full of Philosophers

The following is a guest post by a friend of mine Derek Saenz. Here he reflects upon his past experience as a theology student at Talbot Seminary (which happens to be FULL of philosophy students).

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If you think that many seminary students look at philosophy students and think, “These guys are just a bunch of know it alls, gibbering on about a bunch of theoretical nonsense,” then you’d be right.

Why is this the case?  What is a philosophy student to do?

I’m glad you asked:

Many of us are fundamentally oriented toward more concrete thinking.

When we get some, “Really smart Philosophy guys,” in our classes we don’t know quite what to do with you all.

Sure, we can get a bit abstract with talk of different doctrines.  But the great simple truth of Christianity is that Jesus was a real man, who really lived, and really died – like physically.  And the resurrected and rose – again physically.  That’s the beauty of our faith, we can tell the story of Jesus to illiterate seven year olds anywhere in the world and they can rrock it.

Many of your non-philosophizing seminary classmates were those illiterate seven year olds.  And the sad truth is that many of us never gained a deeper understanding of our faith.

Which leads to my next point:

We come from fundamentally different backgrounds.

The last philosophy class I took was in my second year of junior college and it had to do with virtue ethics – and I was a little lost even then!  Philosophy folks eat this stuff for breakfast before pondering the deep significances of the Theory of the Analytic Whatever.

For many unwashed, dull, normal seminary students we come from the stale scent of old pizza and spilled soda from so many church youth rooms.  We love Jesus.  We got a Bachelor’s in something.  The sad thing is, our Bachelor’s degrees were focused on the retention of information.  Many times we were never pushed to question or truly understand what we were being taught.  We were incented to simply study the required information and bubble it in on a Scantron.

We do topical sermons based around the Ten Commandments.  We spend a week apiece on the different Fruits of the Spirit.  We are simple-minded.  We are concrete-thinkers.

Simply thinking concretely is dangerous because abstract ideas are actually the tool used in real life change.  You can tell a man to, “Be nicer to your wife,” but the real reason he is so terrible to her is that he is a misogynist who truly believes women are worth less than men.  You can’t combat this concretely, you must go to the magical land of abstract ideas – where real heart change happens.

Which leads to the greatest skills that all seminary students can learn from philosophy students:

We need to learn precision and tenacious curiosity from philosophy students.

I can’t tell you how many times a Master’s level student would say in class, “Well, I don’t get it!  But you know what, none of this has to do with real ministry anyway.”

Can I tell you a story from the aforementioned “real ministry” about why precision in language is important?

I recently started listening to a message from the senior pastor of a church I was trying to work at.  He was outlining his position on the roles women can hold in ministry.  I cannot tell you how confused this guy sounded in his own church, in front of his own people, talking about a subject that he was “very passionate” about.

He started discussing “how to really read the Bible,” yet he conflated genre and context when explaining hermeneutics to his people.  He was basically espousing a trajectory hermeneutic on stage, but he never used those words, he never even brought up to his people where he got the idea.*

At a church where nearly 500 people rely on this man to lead them in their pursuit of God, he was being more confusing than helpful.    I wasn’t convinced that he knew what he was talking about.  And in fact, it seemed like he was trying to hide that he didn’t really understand what he was saying by using common flowery preacher cliches.  He went on and on about the “beauty of this,” and “the gospel that,” oh, and my favorite, “the beautiful, broken story that God weaves throughout and scripture and our lives.”  These sayings can be used effectively, but if your main point is murky and all you can speak are these sayings, you’ve got trouble.

Here’s why this preacher was in trouble:

  1. He wasn’t precise in his language because he didn’t understand what he was talking about.
  2. He didn’t understand what he was talking about because he didn’t study enough.
  3. He didn’t study because he wasn’t really curious for the truth.

What can I do to help these poor, pathetic senior pastors to be?

Dear reader, I’m glad you asked:

Ask good questions, but don’t leave your classmates in the dust.

When you are in class, ask great questions of your professors.  Many of my, “Oh, I get it now,” moments in seminary happened when a really bright philosophy student would ask an incisive question.  The best questions brought clarity and precision to what the professor was trying to teach.  Many times I didn’t know that I was lost in a discussion until a philosophy student would ask a great question.  Remember, many of our undergraduate programs didn’t value questions or truly understanding material, they only valued the retention of information.

Philosophers, you are all experts in argument, logic, and the abstract.  Will you use your powers for good or for evil?  Will you shepherd those who are leading God’s people in their intellectual and spiritual pursuits?  Or will you tire of us and let us drown in the filth of our own incompetent, narrow-mindedness?

Grab lunch or coffee or vending machine goodies with your non-philosophy classmates.  Find a good blog or book that puts the Philosophy cookies on the low shelf for them.  Ask them thought provoking questions.  Teach and guide from a place of humility.

Because no one wants to listen to a know-it-all gibbering on about a bunch of theoretical nonsense.

*Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals, Webb.
Bio:  Derek Saenz went to Talbot and got an M. Div.  He has a wife, a daughter, and a cat.  He is too dependent on caffeine.  Follow him on Twitter @TheDerekSaenz

Love’s Essential Aspects and Diverse Forms – Thomas Jay Oord

The first plenary session at Biola’s CCT conference this year was given by Thomas Jay Oord. Here is an outline of his talk.

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Thomas Jay Oord

Introduction

  • Personal story: faith – atheism – faith
  • At the core of what makes sense of Christianity is love.

Love

  • Should we even attempt to define love? So many answers/possibilities
  • Can we define love?
  • Irving Singer’s series: The Nature of Love
    • Answer: Language analysis presupposes too many things
    • Answer: In Scripture, there are many normative claims about love, we should have some idea of what love means.
  • Love is?
    • Desire? Feeling? Choice? Relationships? Well-being? Somehow connected to God?
  • Definition: To Love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to others (including God), to promote overall well being.

Love is to act intentionally

  • Try to do harm but end up doing well, not love… (not accidental)
  • Motives matter
  • Freedom involved
  • Seen and unseen actions

In sympathetic/empathetic response to others (including God)

  • Relationality matters
  • Emotional response involved
  • Requires divine action (inspired to love unconsciously, prevenient grace)

To promote overall well-being

  • Common good, not utilitarian
  • Affirms self-love
  • Includes (distributive) justice

Forms of Love

  • Agape: form of love that promotes overall well being when responding to activity that generates ill-being. (In spite of love)
  • Eros: ……. When appreciating or seeking to enhance beauty or value. (Because of love)
  • Philia: ….. by seeking to develop cooperation, friendship, solidarity (Alongside of love)
  • Sometimes one of these three predominates….
  • Other forms
    • Compassion (doesn’t necessitate love)
    • Romance (doesn’t necessitate love)
    • Forgiveness (doesn’t necessitate love)
    • Self sacrifice (doesn’t necessitate love)
    • Special obligations (doesn’t necessitate love)

Eternal Functional Subordination – A Philosophical Argument

A large amount of work on Eternal Functional Subordination has been carried out in response to Tom McCall’s objection that

Apparently this guy is named Thomas McCall as well!

EFS implies a denial of homoousion. I personally think his argument is pretty solid – nevertheless I will leave you to decide whether you agree with it or not.

Here’s is McCall’s argument in a nutshell:

1)If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has the property being functionally subordinate in all time segments in all possible worlds.

2)If the Son has this property in every possible world, then the Son has this property necessarily. Furthermore, the Son has this property with de re rather than de dicto necessity.

3)If the Son has this property necessarily (de re), then the Son has it essentially.

4)If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has this property essentially while the Father does not.

5)If the Son has this property essentially and the Father does not, then the Son is of a different essence than the Father. Thus the son is heteroousios rather than homoousios.

This argument seems pretty solid to me. Nevertheless, I see at least one possible point of contention. This point of contention lies in premise (3). This is by no means an original thought – Andrew Naselli has pointed this out. The idea is that McCall might be conflating the word essentially with belonging to the essence. This may or may not be the case. What it ultimately boils down to is your answer to the questions – what makes something an essential property? And is an essential property the same thing as the essence of a thing? Whatever you make of those questions will determine whether or not you have problems with premise (3). My money’s on the notion that:

P is an essential property of an object o just in case it is necessary that o has P.

Or to put this in the language of possible worlds:

P is an essential property of an object o just in case o has P in all possible worlds, whereas P is an accidental property of an object o just in case o has P but there is a possible world in which o lacks P.

If we take this to be the definition of “essential” then it sure seems like there isn’t actually a problem with premise (3).