International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Human Nature: Reflections on the Integration of Psychology and Christianity

by Malcolm Jeeves

Introductory Essay by David Myers

In this wise volume, an international leader in psychological neuroscience reflects on the implications of mind-brain science for our self-understanding and for Christian faith.  Malcolm Jeeves, a former chair of the International Neuropsychological Symposium and editor-in-chief of Neuropsychologia, takes the big questions head-on: Are we free to make responsible judgments? Are we embodied souls or mere DNA-reproducing machines? How should we regard – and connect – the data of science and the data of Scripture?

After introducing contemporary psychology – which is psychological science – Jeeves recaps the history of science-faith dialogue, with particular attention to the past “warfare” between psychology and faith. Those who seek a more fruitful “partnership” between psychological science and religion will want to avoid repeating past errors, and will want to understand the presuppositions, powers, and limits of the language of science and of faith.

Jeeves then turns his attention to the history of humanity’s quest to link brain and mind and offers his reminder that brain and mind can be studied at different levels of analysis, each of which has its functions and significance. If everything spiritual is simultaneously neurobiological, then altered neurobiology may cause altered spirituality.  That is indeed the case, as he shows with examples drawn from studies of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and mental illness. Nevertheless, a “holistic biblical view of human persons” [70] allows him to embrace spirituality – albeit embodied spirituality.

Next, he turns his laser beam on the emerging scientific understanding of genetic and neurological influences on behavior. Psychobiological investigations, he notes, inform our understanding of the sculpting of sexual orientation, aggression, and personality traits. Yet he contests “a simplistic, unidirectional view of the causes of human action” [85]. Mind matters, too.

Christians who are troubled by the scientific discounting of a separate “soul” that animates human life will find comfort in Jeeves’ explanation that the supposed immortal soul is actually a Platonic idea. The biblical “soul” is instead a living being, a term for one’s sense of self, and not something separate from one’s body. Unlike ancient Greek thought and modern New Age thought, the biblical view of an embodied self is deeply complementary to today’s mind-brain science.

Later chapters explore

  • the similarities and differences between humans and other animals,
  • a scientific and Christian assessment of psychotherapy,
  • classic descriptions of the human predictions by psychologists (Freud, Erikson, Maslow, Rogers, and Fromm) and by theologians (Augustine, Aquinas, Edwards, and Rahner),
  • the problem of how a material brain gives rise to immaterial consciousness, and the range of scientific interpretations of the significance of consciousness,
  • the coexistence of a deterministic universe with meaningful freedom and responsibility.

The bottom line of this wise and helpful book is this: “Believing that the data from nature and the biblical data both reveal God’s truth, we can peaceably allow the scientific and theological perspectives to challenge and inform each other.  . . .  We shall do this ever conscious that science and theology operate at different levels of explanation and mindful of the distinctive natures of scientific theory and theological doctrine” [229].