Mind Boggling Silence

There are two basic views (and some sub-categories of each) about how to understand the relationship between the brain and the mind. The first, physicalismsays that the mind is nothing more than an extension of the brain. The second, dualism, says that the mind and brain are different things altogether.

Physicalism insists that there is no difference between the mind and the brain — that the “mind” is simply a way to refer to the results of chemical processes that go on in the neural network controlled by the gray matter between your ears.

“According to strict physicalism, a human being is merely a physical entity. The only things that exist are physical substances, properties and events … The physical substance called the brain has physical properties such as a certain weight, volume, size, electrical activity, chemical composition and so forth … when someone has an occasion of pain or an occurrence of a thought, physicalists hold that these are merely particular physical events — events where certain C-fibers are firing or certain electrical and chemical events are happening in the brain and central nervous system.”*

Since thoughts and feelings are nothing but physical events that result from electrical impulses between neural cells, we can actually connect electrodes to the brain, stimulate it in different ways, and observe which area of the brain “lights up.” We can manipulate that area of the brain with surgery or chemicals and thereby alter behavior, or at least understand what made you act the way you did when you felt sad, or angry, or happy, or attracted to a mate.

Once we know where our different behaviors and inclinations reside, we are well on our way to solving all the mysteries of the origin and operation of imagination, concepts, thoughts, instincts, and morality. Since these are nothing but different kinds of chemical reactions, and “free will” is really nothing but an illusion about the responses the chemicals in your brain have to various inputs from physical events that preceded the actions you take, neuroscientists like will soon be able to explain and control each of them.

You are your brain and your brain is a computer made of meat.

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In A “Perfect” World

We recently had a great discussion with some good friends whose first grade son is just becoming exposed to the differences between the Old Earth (OE) and Young Earth (YE) Creationism. This is not an easy topic to confront with a first grader, but parents must be prepared and equipped to face it. Talking about it reminded me of one of my favorite books so I thought I’d try to summarize a thorny issue.

At its core, the OE/YE debate is about how we view the relationship between science and theology. There is a methodical way to think about that relationship that I have discussed elsewhere but here I’d like to address an internal, theological aspect of the OE/YE debate: “Death before the Fall” of Adam and Eve. I want to say that even though I hold a different view, I greatly respect the YE stridency on this topic because it is vitally important. It strikes at the heart of the entire plan of salvation.

At the center of this issue is the answer to the question about what God meant when He declared His creation “very good” in Genesis 1:31. On the YE view, there is no room for interpretation of this phrase. YE proponents insist that the OE view violates a central doctrine of the Christian faith. They reason that if there was already death in the world God created, that would negate the very reason that Christ died on the cross. As I said, I have great empathy for their concern here.

These are serious issues and they deserve to be answered. I applaud and accept the challenge of the YE side on this because I fully understand their reluctance to accept the obvious OE implication that if the Earth had been around for a few billion years before Adam and Eve showed up, there would have been a whole lot of “death before the fall.” If the YE view is correct about the meaning of “very good” and the implications of death before the fall, the OE view would necessarily be false. We need to be very clear, and very careful, about how we approach this issue.

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