Neuroscience, Spiritual Formation, and Bodily Souls

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Summary of Neuroscience, Spiritual Formation, and Bodily Souls

231 Chapter 12 Neuroscience, Spiritual Formation, and Bodily Souls A Critique of Christian Physicalism Brandon Rickabaugh and C. Stephen Evans The link between human nature and human flourishing is undeniable. “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit” (Matt. 7:18). The ontology of the human person will, therefore, ground the nature of human flourishing and thereby sanctification. Spiritual formation is the area of Christian theology that studies sanctification, the spirit-guided process whereby disciples of Jesus are formed into the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:28–29; 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Peter 3:18).1 Talk of such transformation perme- ates the New Testament.2 As a natural part of salvation, spiritual formation includes every aspect of our being, “spirit, soul, and body” (1 Thess. 5:23– 24), as it is the whole person that is sanctified.3 Until the nineteenth century, there was an overwhelming consensus among Christian thinkers that some form of mind-body (or soul-body) dualism is true of human beings. Recently, that consensus has eroded, and with it the availability of a shared body of knowledge about spiritual formation.4 Two views dominate this discussion. Substance dualism (hereafter referred to as dualism) is the thesis that we consist of soul and body. The following distinction is helpful: Minimal Dualism: The self and its body are distinct entities.5 Significant Minimal Dualism: The self and its body are distinct entities, while the self is an agent with causal powers such that it can affect the physical world and be affected by that world.6 Christian dualists are at least committed to Significant Minimal Dualism. According to the alternative view, Christian physicalism, we are physical bodies or at least parts of physical bodies, like the brain and central nervous system.7 Some Christian physicalists hold that these physical bodies have Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 231 15-11-2017 19:46:58 In Keith Loftin and Joshua Farris (eds.). Christian Physicalism? Philosophical Theological Criticisms, pp. 231-256. Lexington Books, 2018. 232 Brandon Rickabaugh and C. Stephen Evans nonphysical emergent properties. Some Christian physicalists argue that dualism is incompatible with central elements of spiritual formation. Neuro- scientist Warren Brown and psychologist Brad Strawn offer the only substan- tive account of spiritual formation from the view of Christian physicalism and its accompanying objections to dualism.8 Hence, it is on their arguments that this chapter focuses. Although some argue that dualism is the biblical backdrop which informs and makes intelligible Christian spiritual formation, Brown and Strawn argue that contemporary neuroscience proves this false while supporting Christian physicalism.9 On their view, spiritual formation is illuminated by a set of neuroscientific data. This data, they claim, supports a view of spiritual for- mation that requires special attention to the physical nature of our spiritual life. As such, it emphasizes our embodiment and neurological and social development, which they claim is incompatible with dualism.10 Call this the incompatibility thesis. We argue that Brown and Strawn fail to support their incompatibility the- sis. Additionally, we argue that Christian physicalism stands in tension with important philosophical and theological foundations of Christian spiritual formation. In doing so, we offer a specific form of dualism, the bodily soul view, and explain how this view illuminates the importance of embodiment, our neurological and social development, and hence the important physical aspects of Christian spiritual formation. WHY DUALISM IS COMPATIBLE WITH EMBODIED SPIRITUAL FORMATION Just how is dualism supposed to be incompatible with a neuroscientifically informed account of spiritual formation? The strongest statement of the incompatibility thesis is one of logical impossibility. This view is impossible to defend for one simple reason: there is no logical contradiction between dualism and the neuroscientific data. The truth of dualism and the importance of the physical nature of our spiritual life do not entail a contradiction. God could have created natural laws uniting soul and body, such that neuroscience studies the bodily aspects of this unity. Likewise, the incompatibility thesis cannot be stated in terms of metaphysical impossibility. This thesis entails that God could not create a world where dualism is true and the neuroscien- tific data of this world obtain. That is a considerable constraint on God’s cre- ative capacity. This strikes us as highly implausible, and Brown and Strawn do not give us reason to think otherwise. Hence, the incompatibility thesis can make only the much weaker claim, that the conjunction of dualism and the neuroscientific data is improbable or less probable than the conjunction Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 232 15-11-2017 19:46:58 Neuroscience, Spiritual Formation, and Bodily Souls 233 of Christian physicalism and the neuroscientific data. So, how do they defend this thesis? We must recognize that Christian physicalists cannot make use of popular objections to dualism, especially the conservation of energy11 and causal clo- sure arguments, which rely on an in-principle rejection of causation between the physical and the nonphysical and the causal closure of the physical. Chris- tianity is necessarily committed to causation between the nonphysical and the physical, at least with respect to God and his creation.12 Sanctification, for example, requires the causal interaction of the Holy Spirit with human per- sons (e.g., Gal. 5:16–24). Hence, Brown and Strawn must object to dualism in other ways, to which we now turn. WHAT HAS DUALISM TO DO WITH GNOSTICISM AND INDIVIDUALISM? The main objection from Brown and Strawn is that dualism leads to Gnosticism, which is incompatible with biblical and neuroscientific data. Gnosticism, they explain, is the view that the material world is evil, while nonmaterial reality is good. Human souls are saved from this material world only by embracing the fact that we belong in a heavenly realm of light.13 “The inward focus on the soul, fostered by dualism,” they say, “creates a strong magnet drawing modern religious perspectives almost inevitably toward Gnosticism.”14 From this they conclude that dualism is false. We find this objection unconvincing. Brown and Strawn offer no empiri- cal support for this hypothesis, much less an explanation as to how dualism leads “almost inevitably” to Gnosticism. It isn’t clear what is their argu- ment, as they can be read in several ways. If taken in the anthropological or psychological sense, their conclusion does not follow. That many people believe or are caused to believe x does not tell us if x is true or false, or if x is unreasonable to hold. Furthermore, conflicting empirical evidence is easy to furnish. After surveying the main Christian proponents of dualism, one is hard-pressed to find a single Gnostic among them. Instead, we find outright rejections of Gnosticism. For example, Dallas Willard, a dualist and spiritual formation scholar, explicitly rejects the Gnostic view that what is immaterial and spiritual is inherently good, while the body and other material things are inherently bad.15 On Willard’s view, the soul and body are both in a ruined condition in need of redemption.16 The body is central to Willard’s detailed account of how the entire person is sanctified in Christ.17 If taken in the philosophical sense, the Gnostic thesis faces other problems. First, dualism is not and does not entail a thesis about what is or is not valu- able, the nature of sanctification or salvation. Brown and Strawn admit that Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 233 15-11-2017 19:46:58 234 Brandon Rickabaugh and C. Stephen Evans we cannot equate dualism with Gnosticism.18 Contra Gnosticism, Christian dualists hold a very high view of the body. Charles Taliaferro, for example, argues that given dualism, embodiment allows for the exercise of six types of virtue: sensory, agency, constitutional, epistemic, structural, and affective.19 Richard Swinburne argues that embodiment makes possible great goods that souls otherwise couldn’t have, such as the ability of free choice between good and evil and the ability to influence others and the inanimate world.20 Howard Robinson defends a robust view of the soul’s dependence on the brain and body for the great good of psychological development.21 Contrary to what Christian physicalists claim, Christian dualism maintains that the telos of the human soul, as created by God, is embodiment.22 This alone entails the rejec- tion of Gnosticism. Of course, it is true that dualists have a history of valuing the soul more than the body. Augustine considers the soul as a much higher degree of real- ity and value than the body, with the soul surpassed only by God.23 However, this does not mean that Augustine holds a low view of the body. That one takes x to be more valuable than y does not entail that y is not of great value. One could value their spouse more than their parents, and yet maintain a very high value of their parents. The Christian physicalist surely admits this when valuing God above creation although highly valuing creation. Additionally, Brown and Strawn argue that belief in dualism leads to indi- vidualism, as dualists look inwardly at the soul rather than outwardly toward God and others. Like their previous Gnostic objection, Brown and Strawn fail to show a necessary connection between dualism and individualism. Even if there were a correlation, it would not follow that holding dualism leads to indifference toward others, the natural world, or historical events. Consider Kierkegaard, who, although a dualist, does not think of the self as merely a mental substance. For Kierkegaard, the self is a kind of synthesis of contrast- ing elements—finitude with infinitude, necessity with possibility. Human selves are a work in progress, involved in making themselves the persons they become, and doing so always in relationship to others. Far from being an individualist, Kierkegaard understands that we all are who we are by virtue of the relationships with others. He is interested in helping individuals develop a relation to God which relativizes those human relationships.24 It is just false that dualism qua dualism leads to individualism. Lastly, there are more plausible accounts of the turn away from embodi- ment and toward individualism that do not place the blame on dualism. Some have argued that the turn toward individualism is the result of theologians and then pastors abandoning the soul, which paved the way for the contem- porary mental health movement.25 This may be overstated, but it is relevant. Additionally, it seems far more plausible that the problem of contemporary individualism is with the conception of salvation as mere forgiveness of Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 234 15-11-2017 19:46:58 Neuroscience, Spiritual Formation, and Bodily Souls 235 sins. Willard points out that such a view makes Paul’s statement that we are “saved by his [Jesus’s] life” (Rom. 5:10) unintelligible. Willard observes, “How can we be saved by his life when we believe salvation comes from his death alone? So if we concentrate on such theories exclusively, the body and therefore the concrete life we find ourselves in are lost to the redemption process.”26 In fact, we find dualists, such as Willard, holding the exact opposite of Gnosticism and individualism. Spirituality in human beings is not an extra or “superior” mode of existence. It’s not a hidden stream of separate reality, a separate life running parallel to our bodily existence. It does not consist of special “inward” acts even though it has an inner aspect. It is, rather, a relationship of our embodied selves to God that has the natural and irrepressible effect of making us alive to the Kingdom of God—here and now in the material world.27 The problem of individualism, escapism and rejection of embodiment is solved, not by rejecting dualism, but by embracing the Gospel of the King- dom of God, that God’s project of redemption has come and we are invited into that life of Kingdom community here and now. The Gnostic and indi- vidualistic objections to dualism are both unsupported, and fail to diagnose the real problem. Rejecting dualism isn’t the solution, as dualism isn’t the problem. WHERE IS THIS SOUL OF THE GAPS? The main argument from neuroscience proffered by Brown and Strawn against dualism is a soul-of-the-gaps objection. They write, However, three centuries ago, Descartes did not have access to what is known in modern neurology. Thus, he could not imagine how it could be that matter—that is, physical bodies and brains—could do anything rational or intelligent. So he concluded that these human capacities must be due to a nonmaterial thing.28 “Descartes,” say Brown and Strawn, “was forced to the conclusion that we must have a nonmaterial soul due to the lack of knowledge during his time of the functioning of the human brain.”29 Brown and Strawn seem unaware of Descartes’s extensive anatomy and physiology research.30 Descartes knew quite well that mental states often depend on brain states. Regardless, this soul-of-the-gaps objection fails to understand why Des- cartes and many others are dualists. Plato, Augustine, Descartes, Butler, and Reid held dualism in virtue of being aware of themselves from the Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 235 15-11-2017 19:46:58 236 Brandon Rickabaugh and C. Stephen Evans first-person perspective as not reducible to or identical to their body.31 Others, such as Aristotle and Aquinas, arrived at different kinds of dualism by ana- lyzing positive arguments for the soul. After a detailed look at the literature, Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro conclude, “There is not the least bit of evidence for the idea that they arrived at their belief in the soul’s existence after failing to explain various experiences in terms of what goes on in the physical world.”32 It is the awareness of self and metaphysical arguments that motivate dual- ism. This accords well with the prevailing view among cognitive scientists that dualism is a widespread, pretheoretical belief, shared across cultures, and developed in infancy.33 This shouldn’t be the case if dualism is simply main- tained out of ignorance. We are, as Paul Bloom says, “natural Cartesians.”34 Moreover, this soul-of-the-gaps objection presumes that dualists are igno- rant of the neurosciences. This is certainly not the case today. Nobel prize winning neuroscientist John C. Eccles defended dualism,35 as did Nobel Prize winning physicist, Eugene Wigner.36 Likewise, neuroscientists Wilder Penfield37 and Matthew Stanford,38 research psychiatrist Jeffery Schwartz,39 and psychologists Nancy Duvall,40 Todd W. Hall,41 Jeffrey H. Boyd,42 Eric L. Johnson,43 Sherwood Cole,44 and Stephen Greggo are all dualists who take embodiment seriously.45 Many dualists conversant with the relevant neuroscience make their case from neuroscientific data.46 Even nondualists begrudgingly recognize that the neurosciences are often based on the con- ceptual framework of dualism.47 Moreover, several dualists, after analyzing the data, argue that neuroscience fails to support physicalism over dualism.48 While one might disagree with their arguments, one cannot claim these dual- ists are neurologically ignorant. It is simply false that dualism is the result of neuroscientific ignorance or soul-of-the-gaps reasoning. Finally, this objection presumes, quite prematurely, that neuroscience has somehow undermined dualism. There is a growing skepticism, even among neuroscientists, about inflated claims from neuroscience.49 This is certainly true regarding philosophical issues like free will and the mind-body prob- lem.50 Skepticism aside, several nonreductive physicalists, in accord with dualists, are convinced that even a complete understanding of all the physical facts about the universe could not explain consciousness. One reason for this is what Joseph Levine calls the explanatory gap, our inability to provide or even comprehend a plausible explanation of how consciousness could fully depend upon a nonconscious, physical substrate.51 David Chalmers explains, “If this is right, the fact that consciousness accompanies a given physical process is a further fact not explainable simply by telling the story about the physical facts. In a sense, the accompaniment must be taken as brute.”52 Secondly, nonreductive physicalists are in widespread disagreement over how to explain consciousness. This can be seen in the “new mysterians,” Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 236 15-11-2017 19:46:58 Neuroscience, Spiritual Formation, and Bodily Souls 237 who hold that although materialism must be true, we will never understand how it could be true.53 Moreover, the recent turn toward panpsychism and panprotopsychism, which view consciousness as an irreducible, fundamental feature of reality, belies the devoted confidence of nonreductive physicalists who take neuroscience to fully explain consciousness. Neuroscience is far from proving physicalism or disproving dualism. Curiously, Brown and Strawn fail to address the work of any dualist we’ve mentioned, much less interact with their arguments. How can one make the claims Brown and Strawn have about a view they don’t seem to have seri- ously researched? Ironically, it is out of their own ignorance that Brown and Strawn presume dualism to be held out of ignorance or a soul-of-the-gaps thesis. NO, NEUROSCIENCE HASN’T EXORCIZED THE SOUL Brown and Strawn offer two types of argument from neuroscience against dualism. The first is that dualism is committed to a disembodied view of spiri- tual formation, which is incompatible with neuroscientific findings. Accord- ing to Brown and Strawn, “We are formed into mature, virtuous, and wise persons, not by some disembodied mystical process, but by life together in a body of persons.”54 The assumption here is that dualism is somehow com- mitted to a disembodied mystical process of spiritual formation. Of course, historically some dualists have embraced a mystical process of spiritual formation that denigrates the body. Ascetic Christians, such as the Desert Fathers, are often cited as examples. However, such a sweeping claim is naïve. In his seminal work on views of the body in early Christianity, Peter Brown observes, Yet to describe ascetic thought as “dualist” and motivated by hatred of the body, is to miss its most novel and its most poignant aspect. Seldom, in ancient thought, had the body been seen as more deeply implicated in the transformation of the soul; and never was it made to bear so heavy a burden. For the Desert Fathers, the body was not an irrelevant part of the human person, that should, as it were, be “put in brackets” . . . It was, rather, grippingly present to the monk: he was to speak of it as “this body, that God has afforded me, as a field to cultivate, where I might work and become rich . . . In the desert tradition, the body was allowed to become the discreet mentor of the proud soul.55 Dualism didn’t always or even commonly lead to a mystical disembodied process. Most dualists embraced the body and its positive role in spiritual formation. However, even if some Christian dualists did neglect the body, a historical connection is not a logical connection. Brown and Strawn fail Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 237 15-11-2017 19:46:58 238 Brandon Rickabaugh and C. Stephen Evans to demonstrate a logical link between dualism and a mystical disembodied approach to spiritual formation. Therefore, we have no reason to think that dualism must embrace a disembodied notion of spiritual formation. While we can think of no contemporary Christian dualists who adopt such a view, there are many Christian dualists who reject it. For example, spiritual disciplines, a historic cornerstone of Christian spiritual formation, are not dis- embodied mystical processes.56 J. P. Moreland, who is as dualist as anyone, explains this well: A Christian spiritual discipline is a repeated bodily practice, done over and over again, in dependence on the Holy Spirit and under the direction of Jesus and other wise teachers in his way, to enable one to get good at certain things in life that one cannot learn by direct effort.57 Willard arranges spiritual disciplines into two categories: abstinence/detach- ment (solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice) and engagement (study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, con- fession, submission).58 These disciplines, says Willard, “essentially involve bodily behaviors” as “whatever is purely mental cannot transform the self.”59 This is an outright rejection of a disembodied mystical process. The second argument from Brown and Strawn is that neuroscience has made certain discoveries that present an understanding of spiritual growth that is incompatible with dualism. These discoveries support three theses. Developmental Thesis: Spiritual formation is a process that continues through adulthood.60 Interpersonal Thesis: Spiritual formation takes place in virtue of interpersonal interactions such as imitation, shared attention, attachment, empathy, language, and story. Bodily Process Thesis: Human characteristics, such as rationality, relationality, morality, and religiousness are the outcome of the functioning of our bodies and brains, not a nonmaterial soul or mind.61 Let’s begin with the developmental thesis. That sanctification is a gradual process has been known for quite some time (2 Cor. 4:16; Gal. 4:19), and is recognized by dualists.62 It isn’t clear how these are incompatible, and Brown and Strawn present no argument for us to analyze. Perhaps this objection is motivated by presuming that a soul is fully formed once it comes into exis- tence and therefore cannot develop. But why should the dualist embrace this? There is nothing contradictory in holding that the soul psychologically devel- ops in conjunction with the body over its lifetime. While most dualists hold that the soul is mereologically simple, as it has no parts, the soul is complex with respect to its modes or properties and causal powers. These features are Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 238 15-11-2017 19:46:59 Neuroscience, Spiritual Formation, and Bodily Souls 239 what change as the person, body and soul, matures.63 Hence, there is nothing about dualism that is incompatible with the developmental thesis. Likewise, it is not at all clear how dualism is incompatible with the inter- personal thesis. Again, Brown and Strawn merely assert this incompatibility without explanation or argument. Rather, they presume that dualism leads to individualism, which undermines the importance of interpersonal relations for spiritual formation. However, we have shown that dualism does not nec- essarily lead to individualism. Moreover, there is nothing inconsistent about the dualist holding that the ontology of the soul is such that we require inter- personal relationships in order to grow spiritually.64 Consequently, dualism is not incompatible with the interpersonal thesis. The bodily process thesis, or something like it, is popular among Christian physicalists when objecting to dualism. The strength of this objection comes from what “the outcome of the functioning of our bodies and brains” means exactly. Presumably, that will be determined by the neurological evidence. Here are some examples they discuss. Rationality: fMRI studies show that brain activity increases in specific areas of the brain in conjunction with certain mental acts: the left side of the cerebral cortex when asked to perform language tasks, different but overlapping areas of the left cerebral cortex when listening to someone talk, and a different pattern of cerebral cortex areas when solving mathematical problems. Relationality: fMRI studies show that a participant’s subjective experience of being shocked triggered a very similar pattern of brain activity that is triggered when they expect their friend to be shocked. Morality: fMRI studies show that the more complexity the moral reasoning the more intense is the brain activity in a particular region of the brain. Individu- als with damage to the lower middle portions of their frontal lobes exhibit an inability to use moral guidelines. Religiousness: According to fMRI studies, when Buddhist monks and Catho- lic nuns reported reaching a state of “oneness” during meditation there was increased frontal lobe activity, and decreased right parietal lobe activity. Similar studies showed that when speaking in tongues activity in the frontal lobes and left temporal lobe decreased significantly. From these studies, among others they mention, Brown and Strawn make the following conclusions: acts of rationality are “based on” and are “an outcome of” patterns of brain activity;65 “interpersonal empathy is based on mirroring the emotional experience of the other’s pain within your own brain”;66 morality is based on brain activity; and “religious states are associ- ated with identifiable changes in the distribution of brain activity.”67 Taken together, Brown and Strawn conclude that rationality, relationality, morality, and religiousness are outcomes of the functioning of our bodies and brains, not a soul or mind. Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 239 15-11-2017 19:46:59 240 Brandon Rickabaugh and C. Stephen Evans Much can be said in reply to these kinds of arguments. First, these studies only show close correlations between specific mental states and localized brain states. This correlation may be evidence of a causal interaction between mental states and brain states. However, the direction of causation is by no means always clear; in some cases, it looks like the causal relation may be from the mental state to the brain state. However, in cases where mental states do seem dependent on brain states, there is no reason for a dualist to resist such claims. So, when Brown and Strawn speak of certain mental states as “based on” or “an outcome of” certain brain states, we can only take them to mean that there is a causal or dependence relation between these mental states and these brain states. However, almost every dualist affirms this kind of dependence and interaction. Although neuroscience has helped us under- stand how the mind depends on the brain in some cases, that biology plays a role in our thoughts and behavior was known by the ancient Hebrews and first-century Christians.68 Brown and Strawn seem to assume that if dualism is true then the mind should not depend on the brain in any way. However, minimal dualism accepts the possibility that such dependence may be pervasive. However, the fact that mental states may depend on brain states does not show that they are identical. Nor does it show that there is no dependence in the other direction. No discoveries in neuroscience show that mental states play no important causal role in our lives. In fact, if neuroscience did show anything like that, it would undermine the kind of “nonreductive physicalism” Christian physi- calists typically affirm. If mental states are completely explicable in terms of brain activity, then it is hard to see how one could resist a reductive form of physicalism. Physicalists often fail to recognize the logical relations that hold between self-conscious beings and their bodies. For example, it does not follow from any neuroscientific findings that because the brain is used to do certain things that the brain is what does those things. As Roderick Chisholm observes, Many have assumed—quite obviously incorrectly—that from the fact that one thinks by means of the brain, it follows logically that it is the brain that thinks. We walk by means of our feet, but our feet do not walk in the sense we do (if they did, then they would have feet).69 Even ardent antidualist Nancey Murphy admits that current neurological evidence does not rule out dualism.70 The dualist can always interpret such studies as showing that the nature of the soul is such, that while embodied, it is dependent on the brain in a variety of ways. Significant minimal dualism is completely open to whatever causal dependence is supported by the evi- dence. The only way neuroscience could disprove this kind of dualism would Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 240 15-11-2017 19:46:59 Neuroscience, Spiritual Formation, and Bodily Souls 241 be to prove epiphenomenalism. But as one of us has argued elsewhere, the discovery that the mind is epiphenomenal would imply that our experience of ourselves as conscious agents is illusory. However, this cannot be the case, as all of science, including neuroscience, depends on our self-understanding as conscious agents.71 PROBLEMS FOR CHRISTIAN PHYSICALISM AND SPIRITUAL FORMATION So far, we have shown that each objection from Brown and Strawn fails to undermine dualism in favor of Christian physicalism. In the following sec- tion, we demonstrate how the Christian physicalism of Brown and Strawn is incompatible with certain theological and philosophical preconditions of spiritual formation theory and practice. First, an observation: it isn’t clear how the view of spiritual formation that Brown and Strawn present is distinctively Christian, or Christian at all. For example, their view lacks a robust role for the Holy Spirit’s active role in sanctification. The clear teaching of scripture is that the Holy Spirit is the empowering/transformational agent of ongoing sanctification (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 5:16–24; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). Hence, any account of spiri- tual formation must be grounded in the sanctifying activity of the Holy Spirit. Yet, Brown and Strawn fail to attribute any activity to the Holy Spirit. All the work is done by church bodies functioning as self-forming systems, networks of communication and interaction between persons who imitate those who imitate Christ. However, it is in partaking of and participating in the divine nature—not the mere moral influence of a church body—that the believer is sanctified (2 Peter 1:4; see also 1 Cor. 1:9). It is entirely possible for their account of sanctification that God does not even exist. Of course, this needn’t be the case for all Christian physicalist accounts. It seems to be produced by an overemphasis on a purely scientific, rather than a scientifically informed, account of spiritual formation. Christian Physicalism’s Fragmented Persons According to Brown and Strawn, Christian physicalism holds that, as bodies, we have a single, unified nature.72 However, we will argue that their ontol- ogy of the human person is neither holistic, unified, nor substantial. Rather, it implies we are biological aggregates. Consequently, their view cannot ground central features of human persons like persistence, agency, and the unity of consciousness, each of which is necessary for any account of Christian spiri- tual formation. Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 241 15-11-2017 19:46:59 242 Brandon Rickabaugh and C. Stephen Evans Their account in the chapter titled “How Bodies Become Persons” is often unclear, moving between talk of the person, the brain, and the human mind, each of which are characterized as having a self-organizing nature.73 Elsewhere, they state that a person is “a uniquely organized pattern that is dynamic in its developmental process of self-organization”74 and that, “we human beings are also complex dynamical systems.”75 They seem to reject the self as a substance, a genuine unified entity, and identify the self as a function or process. Brown and Strawn offer two pictures of the self. They maintain that we are wholly physical bodies. Yet, they also assert that we are a function or process. It isn’t clear how both descriptions can be correct. But suppose we assume that the human person is a wholly physical body and that such a body is just a collection of complex processes and functions. It is not clear how such a view can explain how humans can be subjects of consciousness and agents. Nor it is clear how it can explain how humans can undergo psychological and spiri- tual transformation. These facts pose significant problems for physicalists.76 As a biological organism, the human body undergoes an unrelenting pro- cess of part replacement. Moment by moment your body absorbs new parts and expels old parts. This takes place through respiration and metabolic processes, among others. Strictly speaking, the body you had twenty seconds ago is not exactly the same body you have now. It is similar, but not identical. This is true for the same reason that the body you have now is not identical to the body you had when you were an infant. If your body is nothing more than a wholly physical biological organism comprised of various complex pro- cesses and functions, then your body does not exist from one moment to the next. Your body five minutes ago does not have all the parts that your body has right now. It is fairly obvious that they are not identical. However, if you are identical to your body, a wholly physical biological organism comprised of various complex processes and functions, then you do not persist through part replacement either. That is, the person that existed five minutes ago is not the person you identify as yourself right now. Like other Christian physicalists, Brown and Strawn hold that there are features of your consciousness, agency, and psychology that are emergent and thus not reducible to your body. So perhaps they can escape this objection by holding that although the body to which you are identical does not persist, the emergent properties that are a part of what comprises you do persist, and so in some sense you do as well. But why think this is possible? If it is pos- sible, this implies that the persisting entity is not wholly physical, since it has nonphysical emergent properties that seem essential to it. Consciousness, agency, and psychological change are features of an indi- vidual person. Consciousness does not exist without a subject of conscious- ness. The same is true for agency and psychological change. However, if the Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 242 15-11-2017 19:46:59 Neuroscience, Spiritual Formation, and Bodily Souls 243 body does not persist and the body is the person, then the consciousness and agency of that person, that biological organism, does not persist. Likewise, if the body I am identical to does not persist then there is literally nothing that undergoes psychological change. Hence, emergent properties are not suffi- cient to ground the persistence of a human person. Consequently, Christian physicalism, at least the version of Brown and Strawn, makes the notion of spiritual formation incoherent. Spiritual forma- tion is a process that an individual person goes through. When a self grows in patience or peace that self must persist through that change. If some other thing replaces the self, then the initial self does not develop but passes out of existence. A self that does not persist cannot undergo any transformation at all. Ironically, like many Christian physicalists, Brown and Strawn present Christian physicalism as a holistic and unified view of human persons, and claim that dualists must reject this. However, as we have shown, the opposite is true. Interpersonal Knowledge, Phenomenal Consciousness, and Christian Physicalism Eternal life, and by extension spiritual formation, is characterized by Jesus as knowledge of God (John 17:3). As one of us has argued elsewhere, the kind of knowledge Jesus refers to here is an interpersonal knowledge, which is a species of knowledge by acquaintance.77 To see this, consider the following propositions: a. Laura and Jan know that Jesus is the smartest person to have ever lived. b. Laura and Jan know Jesus. These two propositions express different kinds of knowledge. In (a) what is known is a proposition about Jesus, that he is the smartest person to have ever lived. However, in (b) what is known is not a proposition, but a person, Jesus. Here is another way to understand how these two kinds of knowledge are distinct. Suppose that Jan knows everything there is to know about Laura, even though they’ve never met. Consider what happens when Jan spends the day with Laura. Clearly Jan “gets to know” Laura in a way different from all the facts that Jan knows about Laura. Jan gains interpersonal knowledge of Laura in virtue of her experience of Laura, her knowledge by acquaintance of Laura. This knowledge couldn’t have come from any more propositional knowledge about Laura. This kind of interpersonal knowledge by acquaintance is present in instances of shared attention and interpersonal attachment between individu- als, both of which Brown and Strawn recognize as of great developmental Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 243 15-11-2017 19:46:59 244 Brandon Rickabaugh and C. Stephen Evans importance.78 Moreover, the kind of knowledge present in many spiritual formation practices is a type of intrapersonal self-knowledge, which is also a species of knowledge by acquaintance. Knowing the truth that anger keeps me from unity with God is vastly different than my experiential knowledge of a lack of unity with God when I am angry. Consequently, knowledge by acquaintance is a central feature of spiritual formation. However, we argue that Christian physicalism is at odds with interpersonal knowledge by acquaintance. A prominent thought experiment many take seriously to undermine physi- calism can be adapted for our purposes here.79 In Eleonore Stump’s version, we are invited to consider Mary, a neuroscientist who is omniscient of the scientific facts about interpersonal knowledge. However, Mary has never met another person before. That is, Mary has never experienced interpersonal knowledge. Imagine one day Mary is united with her biological mother who loves her very much. For the first time, Mary will come to know what it is like to be loved by another. Stump writes, And this will be new for her, even if in her isolated state she had as complete a scientific description as possible of what a human being feels like when she senses that she is loved by someone else . . . Mary will also come to know what it is like to be touched by someone else, to be surprised by someone else, to ascertain someone else’s mood, to detect affect in the melody of someone else’s voice, to match thought for thought in conversation, and so on.80 Mary will also come to know her mother—have knowledge of her mother—in addition to knowing what it is like to know and experience her mother. Cases like this have proven extremely difficult for physicalism. We argue this difficulty extends to Christian physicalism as well. If physicalism is true then the physical facts about the world should exhaust all the facts about the world. Hence, if one knows all the physical facts about interpersonal knowl- edge, then there are no further facts one can know regarding interpersonal knowledge. However, this is not what happens in Mary-type thought experi- ments. Mary knows all the physical facts about interpersonal knowledge, however, she still comes to know something new when she meets a person, her mother, for the first time. That is, the physical facts are not the only facts. Hence, physicalism is false. Consider again the intrapersonal self-knowledge mentioned earlier. This kind of knowledge is necessarily first-person and cannot be known through third-person scientific inquiry. I can read in the Bible or learn from a friend that my anger keeps me from full unity with God, but that is not sufficient or even necessary for me to attend to the phenomenology of feeling God’s Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 244 15-11-2017 19:46:59 Neuroscience, Spiritual Formation, and Bodily Souls 245 distance from me in my anger. That knowledge I gain in my first-person experience, not through third-person propositional knowledge. But the kind of knowledge that Brown and Strawn focus on and ground their view of spiri- tual formation in is third-person scientific knowledge. That is, their account of spiritual formation does not have, and can’t seem to gain, the recourses to account for the kind of self-knowledge involved in important aspects of spiritual formation. Christian Physicalism and the Nature of Emotions Lastly, we wish to draw attention to the metaphysics of emotion that Brown and Strawn advance. This is significant, as emotions have been taken as a sig- nificant aspect of spiritual formation. Jesus, for example, begins his Sermon on the Mount with a profound treatment of anger and contempt. He does so as these complex mental states, including emotions, are at the ground floor of what needs to be transformed in us. Although Brown and Strawn recognize that emotions are an important part of spiritual formation, their account of emotions faces difficult problems. According to Brown and Strawn, “Emotions are continuous brain-body adjustments and attunements to our current situation, most particularly our social situation.”81 They continue with the following: “they [emotions] are by-products of automatic bodily adjustments to the situation that, when experienced consciously, provide information about the nature of our current relationship to the social surrounding.82 In a later chapter, Brown and Strawn state, [W]e are not saying that subjective, inner experiences and emotions are not important in the Christian life. Rather, emotions and feelings are bodily reac- tions that serve the purpose of giving us information about the significance of the events, including religious events, that we are involved in, physically or in our imaginations.83 The view as stated is at best unclear and at worst obviously incoherent. Brown and Strawn first say that emotions are “by-products of bodily adjust- ments,” but then go on to imply that emotions are “subjective, inner experi- ences.” But it is not clear how both can be true. Emotions, as subjective inner experiences with motivational and epistemological components, cannot be identical to bodily reactions.84 Identity is a necessary relation. A thing must be identical to itself. So, if emotions are identical to bodily reactions or brain states, then there cannot be an instance of an emotion that is not a bodily reaction or brain state. However, the Christian physicalist is faced with the following counterexample: biblically, God has emotions, but does not have a Loftin & Farris_9781498549233.indb 245 15-11-2017 19:46:59