Ask Sharon Dirckx (December 17-19, 2018)

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends, @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM,

I am so pleased to share that we have the opportunity to hear from @Sharon_Dirckx this week.

Please do ask your tough questions about faith and evangelism to her. Sharon has written an award winning book on suffering titled Why?. I also understand that she has done considerable study on questions related to consciousness and the soul as well.

I know that you will personally benefit and that the Q&A will be enormously helpful to many others as well.


Sharon Dirckx’s bio:

Sharon Dirckx is a Senior Tutor at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA) and an RZIM Apologist. Originally from a scientific background, she has a PhD in brain imaging from the University of Cambridge and has held research positions at the University of Oxford, UK, and the Medical College of Wisconsin, USA. Sharon is an OCCA Alumna and graduated from OCCA in 2005 during its founding year. She is invited to speak and lecture in a variety of contexts across the UK, including the 2014 Veritas Forum at the University of Oxford.

Sharon has also appeared on BBC Songs of Praise, Justin Brierley’s program, Unbelievable, on Premier Christian Radio, BBC Radio 2 Good Morning Sunday with Clare Balding, and BBC Radio 4 Beyond Belief. Her topics of interest focus on the interaction of belief in God with Science and with the problem of evil and suffering. Her book, Why? Looking at God, Evil, and Personal Suffering, won the prize for best book at the 2014 Speaking Volumes UK Christian Book Awards (presented by Pam Rhodes). Why? interweaves the stories of people who have suffered, with a practical look at some “Why?” questions on suffering.

Sharon lives in Oxford with her husband and two young children.

(Carson Weitnauer) #2

Hi @Sharon_Dirckx,

I was wondering if you could comment a bit on what you learned while doing a PhD in brain imaging and how that has informed your understanding of the Christian view that we are embodied persons? Does the Christian view seem a bit outdated now that we have so much more information about how the brain works? Or, on the contrary, do you think that the most recent scientific understanding of the brain presents a greater challenge for naturalistic accounts of consciousness?

(Brittany Bowman) #3

What was your experience as a Christian grad student? Was there a strategy you used to balance your time, and were there interesting conversation starters you remember with classmates/professors?

(Kathleen) #4

Hello, Sharonnnnn! (@Sharon_Dirckx) So wonderful to have you with us for a couple of days! I wanted to follow @CarsonWeitnauer’s simple question with another simple one. :wink:

I am curious what your working definition of ‘soul’ is? There are many philosophical and theological conceptualisations of it, and there is even a strand of evangelical thought that would be soul-denying…though I’m not really sure what aspect they’re denying. I was just wondering if there is a certain way you conceptualise the soul as you research and write about brain, mind and consciousness? :slight_smile:

(Albin Siby) #5

Hello @Sharon_Dirckx ma’am.
I want to ask, What are your views on the relation between the sovereignty of God and responsibility of man, which I guess is somewhat, the centre theme of your book- “Why?”, And great theologians have arrived to answer, And I myself am struggling with this issue. And also what kindof image the Bible paints of God with the mix of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. So could you please light this issue with you views?


(Sharon Dirckx) #6

Hi Carson
Thank you for this kind introduction. I look forward to taking questions over the next couple of days.

(Sharon Dirckx) #7

Hi Brittany, Thank you for asking this question. My time as a PhD student was a really interesting season. I should say that i was involved in 100% research (slightly different set up to in the USA) and so was in a laboratory of about 20 students most the time rather than in lectures. I was quite a new Christian and just discovering what i now know to be an evangelistic gift - a heart and desire to share the Christian faith. As students we were essentially left to structure our own time and so there were lots of interesting conversations over lunch. Every few weeks we might be there discussing things for couple of hours. My conversations were mostly with peers at that point. There was no specific strategy, however, today i recommend the kinds of principles laid out in Michael Ramsden’s conversational evangelism training and Vince Vitale’s lectures on the art of conversations. Some essential themes are 1) if we are living a distinctive, countercultural life then sooner or later this will provoke questions in the people around us, 2) when we are asked a question about something spiritual, be ready to ask questions back and have a conversation rather than deliver a monologue, 3) if people aren’t asking us questions then pray for opportunities to come up, eyes to see them, courage to take them and wisdom to know what to say - Colossians 4. 4) Read a couple of popular level books to be equipped toddle with some of the common objections. Grad school does provide a unique opportunity. I hope this helps! Sharon

Feeling lonely at church
(Sharon Dirckx) #8

Hi Carson
This is a really huge question and one that is hard to do justice to in this format. It’s worth saying that i have a book on this coming out on 1st May, entitled ‘Am I Just my Brain?’ that looks at this topic. The question at the heart is to do with the relationship between the mind (thoughts) and the brain (neurons). Neuroscience, and brain imaging in particular are showing that mind and brain are clearly very closely connected. When a person uses their mind, the brain gets involved, and vice versa. As with many topics, Christians hold a range of views on this subject. Some Christians hold a view that some atheists and agnostics also hold, that the brain generates the mind (non-reductive physicalism or emergentism, or Christian monism), others hold the view that the mind is distinct from the brain but interacts very closely with it (substance dualism). And there are myriad other views in between. Both views mentioned have explanatory power, and both have limitations and points of weakness. I wonder if scripture and medicine hints at both of them. We are embodied and physical, but the functioning of the mind (and consciousness therein) seems also to go beyond the workings of the brain. Watch this space for ‘Am I just my Brain?’ in early summer next year. Published with The Good Book Company, and should be available to buy in the USA.
Thanks for the question,

(Sharon Dirckx) #9

Continuing the discussion from Ask Sharon Dirckx (December 17-19, 2018):

Hi Kathleen
Great to hear from you! Thank you for asking another straight forward question :slight_smile: Sorry for the shameless book plug, but Chapter 2 of ‘Am I just my brain?’ addresses the subject of the soul - ‘Is belief in the soul out of date?’. A working definition of ‘soul’ is simply ‘life’. If i can refer to my reply to Carson above, there are times in scripture when ‘soul’ refers to the whole person eg. praise the lord o my soul - which would resemble the non-reductive physicalist view. But there are other times in scripture when ‘soul’ refers to a part of the person that is distinct from body and mind (and Spirit - which is another layer altogether) eg. 2 Thess 5:23, which would resemble the substance dualist approach. Its important to say that Christian ideas of soul can often centre around an immaterial part of a person that floats off to heaven to be with God when the body dies. We want to say this more resembles a Greek Platonic view of soul than a Hebrew view in which the person is more than material but is fully embodied both in this life and in the life to come. Some philosophers and theologians might describe mind and soul as synonymous. Others describe soul as the ‘umbrella’ under which mind and consciousness fit. Obviously, skeptics would argue either that there is no soul or that it is entirely physical. As a starting point i would recommend, ‘In search of the soul: Four views on the mind-body problem’ by Joel Green and Stuart Palmer. Thanks for the question! Sharon

(Brittany Bowman) #10

Thank you! It is encouraging to hear of your experiences, and I will look into those resources.

(Sharon Dirckx) #11

Hi Albin, Thank you for your question. The subject of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man is a huge topic. My book on suffering actually focussed more on the apologetics questions that non-Christians are asking and combined this with stories from Christians of how they have journeyed through suffering. My view is that somehow both God’s sovereignty and man’s or woman’s choice are both fully at work. This is a mystery, meaning that God is fully in control and we can trust him with the events of history, but humans are also fully free to live a meaningful life. Ofcourse, humans use their freedom to do awful things sometimes and so we need to be active in seeking to overturn injustices and help those who suffer as a result of the folly of others. We see these Gods sovereignty and mans choice being upheld throughout scripture eg. in The Exodus from Egypt - Pharaoh chooses to say no to God but God also hardens his heart, and Gods plans to free his people come about despite Pharaohs power and attempts to keep them. Its hard to imagine why God would allow some of the horrors of our world to happen. I do struggle with this, but ultimately i end up at the Cross. God’s sovereign plans to save mankind - having been predetermined hundreds of years beforehand (arguably before time even began) - are fulfilled through the real and genuine choice of Jesus to lay down his life, and to overcome evil not by taking it away but by journeying through it. Its hard to understand. But somehow we have a God whom we can trust not to let the events of history spiral out out of control, whom has also given us the dignity of freedom, and has fully entered into our suffering as Jesus and journeys with us in it. Thank you for asking this question, Sharon

(Carson Weitnauer) #12