Friday, December 14, 2012

Religion vs. Science, the Vast Gulf Part Ten: Mind and Spirit

I have just posted a video on my YouTube channel that corresponds to this topic.

I now come to perhaps the most striking difference between the ancient Biblical and the modern scientific understanding of the world. In the Biblical view, you are a lump of flesh (actually, of dust of the ground) quickened by a spirit. It is the spirit that causes all of your thoughts and actions and feelings.

We now understand that every thought, feeling, and action is caused by nerve transmissions: positive ions going in and out of nerve cells, neurotransmitters going between nerve cells, neuropeptides and hormones influencing the activity of nerve cells. The brain has trillions of nerve cells, each of which can form hundreds of connections with other nerve cells, producing a “connectome” of astonishing complexity, which makes a galaxy seem simple by comparison. Every time neurobiologists have looked for a part of the brain that functions in a certain mood, or emotion, or thought process, they have found it. It is seldom as simple as they hoped: nearly every action and feeling is caused by more than one part of the brain. But the neurological basis is always there. The parts of the brain that are active when you are angry are different from those that are active when you are at peace. I keep up with the major scientific journal in the world, Science, and at least once a month there is an article in which a brain scan shows the brain-chemistry basis of a certain pattern of thought.

There is only one thing this can mean. It can only mean that brain activity causes feelings and thoughts. If you are angry and fearful, it is related to activity in your amygdala, not to your having a bad spirit. If the spirit does anything at all, it only mirrors what the brain does. Since the spirit has no independent activity, and since it cannot be detected, it is reasonable to conclude that it does not exist. The causation cannot be the reverse: a spiritual cause of nerve cell activity has never been found.

This is the tenth essay in a series about how a literalistic Biblical view of the world is utterly contradictory to a scientific view. And you will notice I have not even mentioned evolution—because everybody already knows this one. Biblical science would have to reject biochemistry, genetics, the germ theory of disease, and human physiology, especially neurophysiology. If I were a creationist, I would be a lot more worried about psychology than about evolution as a threat to faith.

1 comment:

  1. What if the spirit is acting on the amygdala or another part of the brain, and that activity is observed via the brain scan? It's comparatively easy for an atheist/scientist to dismiss Bible-based thinking, but the spiritual theories of the Hindus and Buddhists are more sophisticated. Hinduism teaches that the spirit or Self is real and permanent, that the mind and the brain are impermanent, and that what goes on in the brain and the mind is influenced by the spirit or self. The Hindu point of view may be unproven, or even unprovable, but that is not the same as being disproved. Since the spirit, soul, or Self is by definition non-physical, we should not expect to be able to prove, or disprove, its existence with physical methods or measures.