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5. A Physicalist Approach to the Person

A fifth approach to theological anthropology in light of evolution is that of “nonreductive physicalism.” It has recently been explored, along with the views of the person discussed above, in several research programs relating scientific studies in the cognitive and neurosciences, philosophical discussions of the mind/brain problem, and theological anthropology. In a 1998 anthology, Whatever Happened to the Soul? Nancey Murphy, "Human Nature: Historical, Scientific, and Religious Issues," in Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature, ed. Warren S. Brown, Nancey...Nancey Murphy defines nonreductive physicalism as the view that “the person is a physical organism whose complex functioning, both in society and in relation to God, gives rise to ‘higher’ human capacities such as morality and spirituality.”Murphy, "Human Nature," 24-25. Murphy’s term, ‘holistic dualism’, is roughly equivalent to Barbour’s ‘dual-aspect monism’, since she means by it "the person...As she admits, physicalism must meet two objections: is it preferable theologically to dualism? how is it truly different from materialism? Much of her work, and that of her colleagues in this volume, involves responding to these issues. Nonreductive physicalism was defended by Malcolm Jeeves in light of recent advances in the cognitive neurosciences.Malcolm Jeeves, "Brain, Mind, and Behavior," in Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature, ed. Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy and and H. Newton Malony...J. Elving AndersonAnderson, "A Genetic View."drew on recent work in genetics to challenge reductive materialism and Joel GreenJoel B. Green, "Bodies --- That Is, Human Lives," in Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature, ed. Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy and and H. Newton... argued that recent Biblical scholarship rejects a ‘body/soul dualism’ in favor of ontological monism and soteriological wholism. Murphy argued that philosophies of emergence and top-down causation mitigate against materialism, while scientific evidence such as Jeeves describes supports physicalism instead of dualism.Nancey Murphy, "Nonreductive Physicalism: Philosophical Issues," in Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature, ed. Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy and... Moreover, instead of appealing to the ‘soul’, various types of religious experience can be accounted for, as Warren BrownWarren S. Brown, "Cognitive Contributions to Soul," in Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature, ed. Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy and and H. Newton...suggests, by the emergent human capacities for higher cognitive and emotional experience as well as human relatedness.

Murphy returned to the topic of nonreductive physicalism in the context of the cognitive and neurosciences a year later.Nancey Murphy, "Supervenience and the Downward Efficacy of the Mental: A Nonreductive Physicalist Account of Human Action," in Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action,...Her primary goal was to explain why, given supervenience, complete causal reduction of the mental to the neurobiological sometimes fails. To do so Murphy argued that many supervenient properties are codetermined by context; when entities participate in the context of higher levels by virtue of their supervenient properties, downward causation is possible. At the same time, mental causation (e.g., reasons effecting neural states) is possible because a) Murphy first expands the concept of ‘environment’ to include the ‘intellectual environment’ and then b) she shows how neural networks are formed and reshaped by feedback loops with the environment, some of which reinforce these networks. It is the intellectual environment in particular which, through the supervenience relations, exerts ‘selective pressures’ on brain states. Bill StoegerWilliam R. Stoeger, "The Mind-Brain Problem, the Laws of Nature, and Constitutive Relationships," in Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell,...and Theo MeyeringTheo C. Meyering, "Mind Matters: Physicalism and the Autonomy of the Person," in Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, Nancey Murphy,...have also discussed mental states as supervenient on brain-states in ways that guard the integrity of a causal explanation at the neurobiological level and the distinctive causal role for mentality.Murphy’s work is ‘profiled’ in the December, 1999 issue of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science.The problem of reductionism, downward causation, and free will in the context of the cognitive and neurosciences was treated further in very recent articles by Meyering,Meyering, "Mind Matters." Murphy,Nancey Murphy, "Downward Causation and Why the Mental Matters," CTNS Bulletin 19.1(Winter 1999).Brown,Warren S. Brown, "A Neurocognitive Perspective on Free Will," CTNS Bulletin 19.1(Winter 1999). RichardsonW. Mark Richardson, "Response to Meyering, Murphy and Brown," CTNS Bulletin 19.1((Winter) 1999).and Bielfeldt.Dennis Bielfeldt, "God, Physicalism, and Supervenience," CTNS Bulletin 15.3(Summer 1995).

Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell

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