International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Neuroscience and the Person (Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action)

edited by Robert John Russell , Nancey Murphy , Theo C. Meyering , Michael A. Arbib

Introductory Essay by Sangeetha Menon

Neuroscience and the Person brings to the reader a set of twenty-one papers that relate to different aspects of current research in neuroscience, with reference to philosophical, anthropological and Christian theological implications. This collection of articles is a resultant of the fourth conference in a series held in Poland and organised by the Vatican Observatory, and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences.

The papers are arranged under four themes: Resources, From Neuroscience to Philosophy, From Science and Philosophy to Christian Anthropology¸ and Contrasting Reflections on the Theological Context. Joel Green argues for focusing on the human capacity and vocation for community with God, with the human family, and in relation to the cosmos rather than focusing on questions of body-soul dualism or human sin and its remedies. According to Fergus Kerr, who considers the works of many theologians, “a certain philosophical psychology is put to work to sustain a theological construction” [37] and it has been mostly influenced by the role of the Cartesian ego and the cognitive subject. William Stoeger, Nancey Murphey and Theo C Meyering focus on the philosophical implications of the mind-body problem, non-reductive physical accounts of human action, and the autonomy of the person. Philip Clayton, Arthur Peacocke, Ian Barbour, Stephen Happel, George Ellis and Ted Peters write on various theological issues concerning neuroscience, emergentism, mind-god relations and the embodied soul.

In the two papers by Joseph Ledoux, the primary argument distinguishes between emotional behavior, or associated physiological responses, and the subjective feelings experienced by humans. In a similar vein, Leslie A. Brothers describes recent findings on the neural substrate of social behavior. In another paper with Wesley Wildman, Brothers writes on ‘ultimacy experiences’ and holds that the neurosciences have largely succeeded in portraying that which is distinctively human as continuous with natural laws.

Peter Hagoort writes in a captivating manner that the complex retrieval processes that humans have to decipher the meaning of language occur at high speed and are temporally orchestrated with millisecond precision. Language itself mediates our sense of self. Hence it is vital to understand the neural substrate of language so as to understand the human person.

Marc Jeannerod, in his two papers, sheds light on the relation between intention, act, and self-consciousness, and the limits of human abilities to know other minds. Since no two human’s global neural states will ever be the same, neuroscientific understanding based on similar or identical neural representations will not be able to shed light on all aspects of personal identity.

According to Michael Arbib a complete science of the person should also include theology. He suggests the possible role of computational neuroscience in bridging levels between neuron and person.

As a whole, this is a must-read book if one is interested in having an inclusive approach to understanding the place of neurosciences and Christian theology in a theory of the human person, which also seems to be the intractable problem for a science of consciousness.