Dialogue Events – February/March 2013 – God and the Brain

Sunday, Feb. 10 at 6pm

This Is Your Brain on God: Insights from the Cognitive Science of Religion
Melanie Nyhof, post-doctoral research fellow, Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary

In the past several years, the field of the cognitive science of religion has shed light on the cognitive underpinnings of religious belief. Some scholars have interpreted these findings as indicating that belief in God is merely a product of the human mind/brain. Others argue that this research speaks to how ordinary human minds/brains are able to conceptualize and engage in religion, rather than speaking to the truth of those religious beliefs. In this talk, I will present a summary of findings in the cognitive science of religion, discuss what conclusions may and may not be drawn, and explore the implications of these findings for faith.

Sunday, Feb. 17 at 6pm

Is God a Delusion?
Kelly James Clark, senior research fellow, Kaufman Interfaith Institute, Grand Valley State University

According to philosopher Daniel Dennett and biologist Richard Dawkins, science has shown us that God is a collective illusion or a delusion fobbed off on us by our genes. They claim that we have discovered the natural (and irrational) cognitive and evolutionary processes that produce belief in God—much like belief in ghosts and goblins. So belief in God, in fully mature adults, is no better than belief in ghosts and goblins. Is God really a delusion?

Sunday, Feb. 24 at 6pm

What Are Bodies For? How Our Bodies and Brains Make Us Human
Paul Moes, professor of psychology, Calvin College

What is the purpose of my body if the “real me” is found in a “transcendent” soul? A growing number of Christian scientists and theologians answer this question by suggesting that soul is not a thing but a quality of our being (i.e., we are “soulish” beings rather than beings who possess a soul). This presentation explores the notion that bodies are designed for relationship with God and other persons – and that this aspect of humans is what constitutes our soulishness. The primary focus will be on the amazing qualities of brain function (language, memory, emotions, etc.) and how the complex interaction of these qualities creates our relational nature. We will also examine what happens to relationality when these qualities are diminished (e.g., with autism or other neurological conditions) and the implications for the Christian community.

Sunday, March 3 at 6pm

Is the Human Soul Material or Immaterial? The Two Views Defended
Robin Collins, distinguished professor of philosophy, Messiah College
Kevin Corcoran, professor of philosophy, Calvin College

Collins: I will defend a view I call entity dualism. This is the view that the human person is an immaterial entity – typically called the soul – that is intimately intertwined with the body. Those who reject this view usually argue that a materialist view, in which the brain and body are the seat of consciousness and action, provides a simpler account of the relation between our mental lives and our physical lives than that of entity dualism; hence, since science prefers simple theories over complex theories, on scientific grounds we should prefer materialism. I will argue that just the opposite is the case – the right form of entity dualism has the potential of offering a much simpler view than materialism of the relation between the mind and the body; at the same time, it accounts for the available data from our own experience and neuroscience. After presenting this argument, I will offer some theological reasons for preferring entity dualism.

Corcoran: I subscribe to the view that humans are physical through-and-through. In other words, I don’t believe that we have, or are, nonphysical souls. The physical stuff that I believe wholly composes us, being the product of a lavish and creative God, is chock-full of mind-blowing mysteries and potentialities, such as the potential to produce the Technicolor phenomenology of consciousness from the spectacularly complex network of one hundred billion nerve cells and their several hundred trillion synaptic connections in the wetware of the human brain. My goal in this talk is to use a number of examples from neuroscience to explain why I believe that physicalism, not dualism, best fits the neurobiological data. I will also consider a couple of theological doctrines that may seem to require belief in a nonmaterial soul and show how, in fact, those doctrines do no such thing.

All events take place at Church of the Servant CRC
3835 Burton St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546
Phone: 616-956-7611

To download recordings of previous talks, visit the Faith & Science audio archive.


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Presenters – February/March 2013

Melanie NyhofMelanie Nyhof is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Graduate School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, where she is conducting research on conceptions of personhood. She has studied the development of concepts such as God and immaterial personal identity (mind, soul, spirit/vital energy) in different religious and cultural traditions in the United States, Indonesia, and China. She has a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh.

Kelly James Clark is senior research fellow at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University. He has held visiting appointments at Oxford University, the University of St. Andrews, and the University of Notre Dame. He works in science and religion, philosophy of religion, ethics, and Chinese thought and culture. Clark is the author or editor of several books, most recently Abraham’s Children: Liberty and Tolerance in an Age of Religious Conflict (Yale University Press, 2012). He has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame.

Paul Moes is a professor of psychology at Calvin College. His scholarly interests are in brain and behavior relationships, with a focus on brain hemisphere interaction. This research includes the study of neurological conditions such as autism and other developmental disorders that have inter-hemispheric dysfunction. In addition to empirical studies, Moes has collaborated with Christian neuropsychologists Malcolm Jeeves and Warren Brown, exploring the implications of brain function for our understanding of human nature. He received his Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Texas Christian University.

Kevin Corcoran is professor of philosophy at Calvin College. His research interests include metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, and the emerging church. He is the author of Rethinking Human Nature: A Christian Materialist Alternative to the Soul (2006) and the editor of Soul, Body, and Survival: Essays on the Metaphysics of Human Persons (2001). Corcoran has a master’s degree in philosophical theology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Purdue University.

Robin Collins is distinguished professor of philosophy and chair of the Department of Philosophy at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. He has graduate-level training in theoretical physics and has written over thirty-five articles and book chapters on a wide range of topics in philosophy of physics, philosophy of religion, and philosophy of mind. His talk will be based on a recent contribution to the book the The Soul Hypothesis: Investigations into the Existence of the Soul (Continuum, 2010), in which, on scientific grounds, he defends the view that humans have an immaterial soul. Collins has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame.