As a psychologist I spend a great deal of time in this blog trying to reconcile psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral genetics with theological systems. As I argue across these posts, scientific research is leading modern persons to question, for lack of a better description, the doctrine of the soul.
For many Christians, the doctrine of the soul embodies (no pun intended) some form of Cartesian dualism, the belief (often attributed in Philosophy 101 to the French philosopher Rene Descartes) that body and mind are composed of two different kinds of "substances." Bodystuff is physical material, the stuff that makes up our bones, blood, and brain. Bodystuff is the stuff of the physical/material universe. As such, Bodystuff is governed by the laws of cause and effect and, thus, is describable by science. In contrast, Mindstuff is the mental (for secular dualists) or the spiritual (for theistic dualists) stuff that cannot be reduced to matter and energy. As such, Mindstuff is not located in space or time (as Descartes put it, Mindstuff has no "extension"). For religious persons, due to this capacity to "transcend" the physical flux, Mindstuff grants the human person a source of free will and radical volitional range. That is, will and choice--aspects of Mindstuff--cannot be "reduced" to Bodystuff. Thus, Mindstuff is not governed by the clockwork, deterministic laws of Bodystuff.
The trouble is, due to the rise of psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral genetics, scope for the soul--quintessential Mindstuff--is being greatly circumscribed if not eliminated from educated discourse altogether. That is, the doctrine of the "ghost in the machine," a pejorative way of describing the idea that you have a "soul" inhabiting or interacting with your body/brain, is growing increasingly untenable in the age of neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral genetics. We are living in what I call the post-Cartesian situation. Living in the aftermath of the demise of dualism.
And yet, theologians and contemporary Christians still refer the the "soul" and "spirit" as if nothing is amiss. As a Christian psychologist I live with this tension on a daily basis. This tension has forced me to think about theological categories and systems in a post-Cartesian fashion. The implications are huge and, for many, disturbing (for my single best post illustrating the problem read The Cartesian Race). Yet, I see no other option for us. We cannot go back and neuroscience will continue its reductionistic advance. In short, you think the Faith vs. Evolution debates are hot? Wait until the Christian community broadly wakes up to the post-Cartesian crisis! Johnny will not only learn in the classroom that he is descended from primates. He'll also learn in biology that he has no soul. Speaking of the soul will be like speaking of Santa Claus. How are Mom and Dad and the Preacher going to react to that?
For my part, I'd like to act preemptively. To do a little theological spadework from both sides (psychology and faith) to prepare us for the coming Cartesian storm.
Because the clouds they are forming.
Trust me. I live in West Texas and I know all about thunderstorms.
Miscellaneous Posts (in chronological order of posting)
Moral luck and its implications for salvation
Salvation in the post-Cartesian situation
Is free will required for salvation? Surprisingly, no.
Strong and weak volitionists
Ministering in the post-Cartesian situation
The moral implications of implicit cognition
Dispatches from the post-Cartesian world
The illusion of conscious will?
On the incompatibility between free will and moral character, Part 1
On the incompatibility between free will and moral character, Part 2
Want to be more like Jesus? Drink a Coke.
Toward a Post-Cartesian Theology Series (These posts need to be read in order to be understandable)
Eight Theses on Theology in the post-Cartesian Situation
Freedom for finite creatures
Love and normativity
Weak volition and moral responsibility
Volitional views and politics
Divine volitional unanimity
The Light Touch