Theology, Anthropology and Neuroscience

(2015/4) Editor(s): Thierry-Marie Courau(c), Hille Haker Regina Ammicht-Quinn, Marie-Theres Wacker
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Articles of the issue

Theology, Anthropology and Neuroscience, Concilium 4-2015

              Editorial 

Neurosciences,Experience and Philosophy

The human brain is being unveiled in a new form as a result of recent discoveries. The nervous system is showing itself to have capacities to reconstruct its neural circuits that only quite recently were unsuspected. The suppleness with which it can change and adapt allows us to imagine therapeutic application of transformations of the mind, of the psyche. Different theories are appearing especially with regard to the abilities of consciousness to relieve pain, and to produce happiness, peace and love. The pace of research is increasing and new hypotheses are being put forward that may make redundant the predecessors that made them possible. It is difficult to know where we really are.

In this way neurosciences have become an important line of development for research, not only about our knowledge of the brain but also about psychology, the management of emotions, living with others. What concept of the human being emerges from this work? Are mental states nothing more that a purely biological product of the brain, independent of any other reality? One thing is sure. Present-day neurosciences are producing an evolution in the way we see, understand and imagine human beings and consciousness. They thus also affect our grasp of our relationship with God, our understanding and talk about God. How do philosophy, anthropology, theology and ethics approach these questions and enter the debate? While preserving their critical capacity, they cannot ignore the results and the methods of scientific research if they are to analyse the relevance of the resulting propositions to the future of the world and human beings, their progress and their salvation.

The authors of this issue on neurosciences come mainly from the North of the planet. This is because of the great interest in the brain shown by many North American and European researchers and the government and business finances that encourages them. But we live in a global world. Our attitude to these new ways of thinking about human beings and the resulting evolution of anthropological theories will have a decisive impact for all of us, on the way we live and the way we think.......

Table of Contents 2015/4

Concilium 2015/4 - Theology, Anthropology and Neuroscience

Editors: Thierry-Marie Courau, Regina Ammicht Quinn, Hille Haker & Marie-Theres Wacker

Editorial: Neurosciences, Experience and Philosophy

Part one: Neurosciences, Experience and Philosophy

Inner Experience and Neuroscience – Matthieu Ricard

The Philosopher’s Generosity and its Limits: Paul Ricoeur and Neurophilosophy – Will Crichton

The dulcet tones of a new doctrine of salvation?: On the achievements and limits of neurosciences – Klaus Müller

Part Two: Ethical Questions

Looking for the Basis of Morality: Brain Research moves from Helping Hand to Moral Authority – Stephan Schleim

Brain, Morals and Ethics: What is the connection? – Elisabeth Hildt

Gender Identity, Brain and Body – Hille Haker

Part Three: Theological Perspectives

Human Fallibility and Neuroscience – Joel Molinario

Homo Capax Dei (Man is capable of receiving God): Neurosciences and the New image of God – Edurado R. Cruz

Part Four: Theological Forum

The questions of same-sex marriage in France: What is at stake in the debates – Catherine Fino

So where are the Women – in 50 years of Concilium? – Marie-Theres Wacker

The Synod on the Family – Susan A. Ross

A future in solidarity with Christians in the Middle East – Pascal Gollnisch

Refugees: A conversation between Danny Pilario (Philippines) and Norbert Reck (Germany) – Danny Pilario and Norbert Reck

Inner Experience and Neuroscience

Mathieu Ricard

Abstract

Is there any connection between contemplative life and the neurosciences? Does spiritual experience escape any material investigation or, on the contrary, is it only the result of physical processes? For many years studies have been carried out into the emotions and the mental state of people who have engaged in intensive ‘meditation’ exercises. The results seem to show that the brain can be trained and changed physically with the production of beneficial effects on health and the transformation of negative emotions into positive resources. The brain evolves continually as a result of the experience to which a person is subjected. This is described today as its ‘neuroplasticity’. The author uses the example of the distinction between Buddhist compassion and empathy and the way they are practised, concluding that it is important to realise the potential for mind transformation if we wish to serve others as we should.

The Philosopher’s Generosity and its Limits: Paul Ricoeur and Neurophilosophy

Will Crichton

Abstract

Paul Ricoeur has been hailed as a ‘generous’ philosopher, perhaps owing to his accommodating, tensive style of philosophical investigation, which pits competing theories against each other in productive, dialectical encounters, while always trying to unearth positive contributions and build common ground between them. This paper will explore certain limitsto Ricoeur’s generosity, focusing on how he conceives of the relationship between philosophy and neuroscience, highlighting his concerns and anxieties about the potentially reifying effect of the latter on problems of freedom and ethics, while arguing that several key aspects of his philosophical system are actually highly compatible with current ‘neurophilosophical’ research.

The dulcet tones of a new doctrine of salvation?: On the achievements and limits of neurosciences

Klaus Müller

Abstract

Not primarily the old philosophical riddles about consciousness and free will, but the challenges created by the increase in neurological illnesses as result of increased life expectancy, have made the neurosciences into a cutting edge discipline. Via a partial intersection with research on artificial intelligence, a combination of medicinal and information technology interventions has emerged that is leading to cultural changes that far surpass the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries and are introducing ways of life that a few years ago could not even be remotely imagined.

Looking for the Basis of Morality: Brain Research moves from Helping Hand to Moral Authority

Stephan Schleim

Abstract

Since the early 2000s neuroscientific investigation of morality has attracted great attention. My thesis is that this is mainly a media phenomenon: the suggestion has been skilfully put about that brain research can take over an area traditionally reserved for moral philosophy, moral theology and moral psychology as a result of genuinely new, scientifically based discoveries about moral thinking, feeling and action. As a result, an older view has been reasserted, namely that, because of the decisive role of the brain for the whole psyche, brain research has particular importance, if not ultimate authority. After a description of the media phenomenon, theoretical difficulties of research into morality are discussed. In conclusion it is made clear that this research, despite all its practical and methodological limitations, has practical consequences that require critical inter-disciplinary and social reflection.

Brain, Morals and Ethics: What is the connection?

Elisabeth Hildt

Abstract

The following article focuses on the question of the connection between neuroscientific study results, morally-based decisions and ethics. In the foreground is the question of in how far neuroscientific knowledge of the mechanisms underlying moral decisions or judgements can have influence on our views with regard to morally based decisions or the suitability of theories on ethics. The corresponding complex of themes is based essentially on the results of studies published in 2001 by an interdisciplinary group headed by Joshua Greene. These are described and subsequently evaluated with regard to their reception in ethics and legal theories.

Gender Identity, Brian and Body

Hille Haker

Abstract

Hardly and field of science is regarded as having so much objectivity as brain research. If brain research can demonstrate on a neurological level that there is a gender difference corresponding to traditional manhood and womanhood, then this is of central relevance to theology. Critical analysis of scientific studies, however, shows that the interpretation of neurological findings id steered more by social assumptions than empirical data. This article points out how ‘sex’, even in science, is by no means ‘found’, but in fact ‘constructed’, without the need to deny biological facticity. The only thing is that this takes place not along the line of sexual difference, but characterises the bandwidth between the idealised poles of manhood and womanhood. The right course for theology is to make an effort to understand the scientific research in order to place its own judgements on a surer footing.

Human Fallibility and Neuroscience

Joel Molinario

Abstract

There are many viewpoints in neuroscience and new theories occur at the speed of the scientific progress being made. However, the theoretical reflection that accompanies the development of neuroscience is not devoid of philosophy. Neuroscience could be the decisive argument in a clearly stated will to put an end to the Western metaphysics borne of Judeo-Christianity. To clarify this issue, this paper will report on two debates. The subject of the debate between Changeux and Ricœur is: ‘Can neuroscience create a more ethical human species?’ and the debate between Schaeffer and Valadier is on this question: Is a person reducible to neurobiological description alone?’ Although the discussions do not entirely fulfil their promise, their importance is in highlighting some crucial anthropological issues raised by the development of neuroscience. The challenge is to determine whether there is indeed a vulnerable ‘I’ which thinks; a fallible ‘I’ which decides.

Homo Capax Dei (Man is capable of receiving God): Neurosciences and the new image of God

 Eduardo R. Cruz

Abstract

Theological debate, describing the divine reality in analogous from only, draws on knowledge based on specific sciences fro selection of the analogies deployed. This knowledge base is both negative (questioning freedom of choice, criticism of projections and antromophisms, deception and self deception) and positive, since it can also reinform longstanding theological concepts. In particular, natura pura and Potentia obedientialis, drawn from the tradition of Thomas Aquinas tradition stand out. Through these, the integrity of the nature and autonomy of his knowledge are preeminent. This autonomy also implies that the scientific debate is symmetrical regarding the existence or not of the objects of faith. This works to the defence of the nation of homo capax dei, which can be both supported and reshaped through contemporary neurosciences.

Theological Forum

The Questions of same-sex marriage in France: What is at stake in the debates - Catherine Fino

So where are the women – in 50 years of Concilium? – Marie- Theres Wacker

The Synod on the Family – Susan A. Ross

A future in solidarity with Christian in the Middle East – Pascal Gollnisch

Refugees: A Conversation between Danny Pilario (Philippines) and Norbert Reck (Germany) - Danny Pilario and Norbert Reck