I found a great book review of “The Spiritual Brain” on the Poached Egg – an excellent place for Christian apologists to find things to read. The book review is hosted at Probe Ministries and is authored by Heather Zeiger. The book talks about evidence from neuroscience showing that the mind cannot be reduced to merely physical processes.
We have shown, however, how the evidence from neuroscience doesn’t seem to fit the materialistic worldview. As we will see, some experiments reported in The Spiritual Brain cannot be explained from this worldview. What we will find is that they fit nicely within a Christian worldview.
The first example is obsessive compulsive disorder therapy. Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, occurs when a person has distressing or unwanted thoughts that dominate their thinking, and these obsessions trigger an urge to do some kind of ritual behavior, also known as a compulsion. The interesting thing about OCD is that the person knows that the obsession is irrational and the ritual won’t really fix it, but their feelings tell them otherwise. Scientific studies have shown that the brain is actually misfiring. The part of the brain that tells a person, “There’s a problem, do something to fix it,” is firing at the wrong times. OCD is a clear case of a healthy mind and a malfunctioning brain.
A materialistic worldview would say that the only way to treat OCD is by physically fixing the bad neurons. However, the treatment that actually works involves the patients mentally fixing the bad neurons. Patients learn to take control of their OCD by recognizing when their brain is misfiring, and try to starve the urges to do the ritual. After treatment, brain scans show that the brain of an OCD patient is starting to fix itself. The patient is changing his physical brain with his mind!
Similar kinds of therapies have been applied to depression and phobias.In both cases, The Spiritual Brain reports instances where a patient’s brain chemistry was directly affected by their mind.
Another phenomenon that can’t be explained from a materialist’s worldview is the placebo effect. The patient is given a medicine that they are told will help them, but in actuality they are given a sugar pill. Interestingly, the patient’s belief that the sugar pill will help them has caused measurable, observable relief from symptoms. Many doctors say that a patient’s attitude oftentimes can help or hinder real medicines or therapies from working.
The ability of the mind to change the brain’s chemistry does not fit within a materialistic worldview. But as Christians we know that our minds are very real and can have a very real effect on our physical bodies.
I liked “The Spiritual Brain” so much that I gave away copies to my co-workers a few years back. When I am talking to people about the mind and the brain, I like to augment the philosophical arguments (free will, intentionality, identity over time, etc.) with arguments from neuroscience, and even corroborative near death experiences. You can make a pretty good case for the soul if you pull together evidence from lots of disciplines.
By the way, if you like this topic, and want a resource to show your friends, be sure and get a hold of the debate on mind vs. brain between Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Michael Shermer.
UPDATE: I just received word from a commenter (below) that Dr. Beauregard has a new book coming out next year. Good news!