3775 Neuroscience and Evangelical Christianity: Anticipating and Alleviating Concerns

Friday, February 18, 2011: 11:00 AM
147A (Washington Convention Center )
William Newsome , Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA
Neuroscience seeks to understand the biological mechanisms underlying behavior, including the most complex aspects of our mental lives.   To the extent that this project is successful—and progress has been substantial—fundamental questions arise concerning the nature of personhood, choice, and responsibility for behavior.  Are we nothing but the sum of our neurons?  Does my brain shape me, or do I shape my brain?  Is freedom of choice an illusion?  On such issues, resolutely reductionist accounts of behavior will no doubt create conflict with Christianity and other major religious traditions as well.  Mainstream Christian thought, for example, postulates the existence of an immortal soul, related to but potentially independent of the physical body, which comprises the most profound essence of personhood.  In contrast, Francis Crick's "astonishing hypothesis" postulates: "You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules."  Is it at all conceivable that these notions can engage constructively?  Can another round of conflict between religious and scientific communities be headed off, or at least steered in directions that are open and curious rather than dogmatic and destructive?  I hope to suggest ways in which both religious and scientific communities can move beyond their own "fundamentalist" tendencies toward a more nuanced conversation concerning human personhood and related social and policy issues such as criminal responsibility, cognitive enhancement, and end-of-life concerns.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation