Am I Just My Brain: Can neurons explain belief in God?
Saturday 18 May 2019 at 10:50am UK time
LiveStream available here:
Join Dr. Sharon Dirckx for the first of today’s livestreams from our Why? Series event in London. Sharon is a Senior Tutor at the Oxford Centre of Christian Apologetics and has a PhD in Brain Imaging. In her latest book, Am I Just My Brain?, Sharon lays out the current understanding of who we are from the perspective of biologists, philosophers, theologians and psychologists.
What is the relationship between our brains and our minds—and ultimately our sense of identity as a person? Are we more than machines? Is free-will an illusion? Do we have a soul?
Join the discussion to share your views and questions below.
Some great scientific pointers for the soul in this talk which could be a starting point in conversations with pure physicalists. Dr. Dirckx quotes Michael Egnor from Stony Brook University-
“Materialism, the view that matter is all that exists, is the premise of much contemporary thinking about what a human being is. Yet evidence from the laboratory, operating room, and clinical experience points to a less fashionable conclusion: Human beings straddle the material and immaterial realms.”
Dr. Dirckx makes two bold claims based on Scripture:
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
Dr. Dirckx: “If God exists, then mind and consciousness have always existed within the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, mind, the mind of God, is fundamental to the cosmos and is primary to humanity and everything else. If that is true, then there is hope for solving the hard problem of consciousness.”
Genesis 2:27 The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:27)
Dr. Dirckx: “If that is true, then even if the most sophisticated of algorithms improve our efficiency, humans still have a unique contribution to make. The God of the Bible is a God who made human beings with purpose and they therefore still have a future.”
I’d love to flesh this out more with everyone. I’m not certain I see how they flow together. What were y’alls thoughts?
I dont remember very well the sequence of her statements. The way I understood is that, we being in the image of God we have an imprint of His consciousness in us, i.e. our mind, that allows us to think, feel, reason and be in relationship with God. We are more than our brains chemicals that can’t reason. We have reason because of our minds. We have a will because of our minds as opposed to being programmed by our brain. So even if our brains become very efficient, it is only our minds that can fulfill the purpose we are made for, which is to reason our way to God and be in relationship with Him.
Thanks, @Lakshmismehta! I guess I hadn’t really considered how the fact God was intentional in His creation as evidence of my hope. Honestly, I’ve wrestled a lot lately with why I exist and why God decided to create me or humanity in the first place. I think I was hoping for more Scriptural references as a bridge to Dr. Dirckx’s conclusions, but I know she was short on time with so many speakers that day. Do you think the intention of focusing on God creating us was the assumption that being created shows a deliberate decision from God, which assumes a purpose? For example, a car is deliberately created and therefore it is assumed there is an intended purpose to use so much effort.
That would pose a problem with the rest of nature also being created, though. Yet, all things exist to bring glory to God, and nature’s intricacy brings glory to the mastermind of the Creator. In contrast, human being’s natural inclination for reason would give us a longing for relationship. We give glory to God by allowing Him to show us grace and love through relationship. So I guess we can marvel at the scientific intricacy of our minds, which reflects a Creator, but we can see the longing of our heart as evidence of that Creator’s desire for relationship. This article adds interesting thoughts.
I missed that clarification of mind and brain, with mind being a hint towards being made in the mage of God, while brain is purely physical. Thanks! This thought of reason being a way for us to discover God is quite interesting, too,
the purpose we are made for, which is to reason our way to God and be in relationship with Him.
@Brittany_Bowman1, I agree with you …I do think purpose was assumed based on the idea of man being created by God in the talk. The existence of mind was supported by the inadequacy of brain to explain things like qualia (the individual subjective conscious experience), free-will and reason. Time may have been the limiting factor to delve into the subject with scripture.
Why we exist? Deep and important question. The classic Christian response is that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Since you were looking for scriptural references, here are a few key verses -
Isaiah 43:7 Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
I was not sure why an intended purpose would be a problem for nature. I suppose you are saying that because nature lacks ability to make choices. Nature’s purpose seems to be the same from scripture , it’s His glory again and it does so by pointing man to fulfill His purpose of glorifying God. Man has to choose to glorify God but nature doesn’t have a choice. Even after the fall, though thorns came and ground was cursed, nature didn’t stop giving glory. It seems like nature fulfills its purpose by both humbling us and awing us so that we may ascribe glory to God.
Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Romans 1:16-17 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
One question we end up asking is why God needs us to give Him glory when He should be self sufficient. As John Piper says, " God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him". He had a wonderful message addressing your question here. This thread started by @Olivia_Davis, also has many helpful thoughts.
Glad you brought this great question up for further discussion! God bless!
Thanks, Lakshimismehta. Your response is so thorough, and I really appreciate it.
I really found the most recent Ask Away podcast helpful on the topic of giving God glory this weekend. Qualia is such a beautiful concept, and I see how it could relate to the second part of our purpose, experiencing God’s goodness.
@Brittany_Bowman1, Praise God that you found the response helpful. There is so much to unpack and meditate on about the mysterious ways God works just so that we may enjoy His true glory one day. I can only imagine! …just as the song goes. Looking forward to listening to the Ask Away episode. Thank you too for your valuable insights! Qualia relating to God’s goodness is indeed a beautiful concept!