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Are We More Than Bodies?

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July 4, 2010 Tags: Brain, Mind & Soul
Are We More Than Bodies?

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team. You can read more about what we believe here.

In much of his writing, C.S. Lewis explored the cultural consequences of scientific knowledge. In particular, as a scholar of the sixteenth century, he was acutely aware of the influence of the Copernican Revolution. Copernicus upended the notion that Earth was the center of the universe by showing that Earth and the other planets revolved around the Sun. Lewis felt the significance was not simply that new knowledge had been born, but that the new mechanical view of the Universe was supplanting the traditional spiritual view.

Lewis scholar Michael Ward explains, “Since the Copernican revolution, the heavenly bodies had been steadily evacuated of spiritual significance until they were regarded as no more than large aggregations of rock or gas.” Lewis, Ward argues, preferred the more imaginative, medieval view of the heavens, not because he believed astrology was literally true, but “because the pre-Copernican model of the cosmos viewed the planets as more than merely material it was a model worth keeping in mind. It was, in this sense, a more Christian model than the Newtonian or Einsteinian versions which have succeeded it.”

Lewis brought these ideas powerfully to life in his fiction. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace declares, “In our world a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” The fallen star Ramandu replies, “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of” (emphasis added).

Just like the heavens, some believe that living beings—especially humans—have become de-spiritualized in the wake of modern biological science. Because we now understand the inner workings of our bodies, and the progressive development of their structure, they seem to have less spiritual significance. But we are more than the molecules that make up our bodies! We are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

If we as Christians are to continue worshiping God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, we must fight to retain the spiritual value of our bodies, even as we continue to understand them better through scientific discovery. What does that mean to be made in God’s image? Does it have anything to do with our bodily composition? Does it have anything to do with the physical process by which God made us?

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

--Psalm 8:3-5

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Bilbo - #20461

July 4th 2010

I know the cell is made in God’s image.  DNA represents the Father.  RNA, which is the expression of DNA, represents the Son, who is the [removed]Word) of the Father.  And just as the Son is the right hand of God, RNA is made of right-handed nucleotides.  And Proteins, which do most of the work in the cell, represent the Spirit of God, who carries out the will of the Father.

Bilbo - #20462

July 4th 2010

BTW, it was the agnostic Francis Crick who referred to DNA, RNA, and proteins as the “trinity.”  Confirmation.

Bilbo - #20463

July 4th 2010

For some reason “expression” was removed from my first post.

Glen Davidson - #20470

July 4th 2010

But we are more than the molecules that make up our bodies!

Why yes:

The cumulative results show with piercing clarity that life is based on machines—machines made of molecules! 

Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, pp. 4-5

Despite their rampant dualism (so that intelligence isn’t natural), the supposedly “scientific” side of ID is probably the most thoroughgoing reduction of life to machinery that has ever been seen.

Glen Davidson

Bilbo - #20474

July 4th 2010

Glen: “ ...the supposedly “scientific” side of ID is probably the most thoroughgoing reduction of life to machinery that has ever been seen.

But we can fix that by saying that just as stars are more than just “huge balls of flaming gas,” so living organisms are more than just machines.  That just happens to be what they are made of.

beaglelady - #20477

July 4th 2010

The matter in our own bodies originated inside stars!

Rich - #20484

July 4th 2010

Glen Davidson:

1.  “Dualism” is an ambiguous term, with many different meanings, both in philosophy and in theology.  Not every application of the term is necessarily unsound, and not every application of the term is necessarily incompatible with Christian teaching.  It depends on exactly what is meant. 

2.  ID makes no statement about whether or not intelligence, as such, is natural.

3.  Saying that life is “based on” machines does not reduce life to machinery.

4.  The Deistic tendencies found in many TE writings (tendencies acknowledged by Karl Giberson himself, in his “Through a Glass Darkly” post) put TEs who wish to accuse ID people of “mechanism” in a “people who live in glass houses” position.

I hope I have avoided “ad hominem” remarks.

Rich - #20488

July 4th 2010

I’m pleased to see a discussion of C. S. Lewis, and of Psalm 8, up here on Biologos.

The language of Psalm 8 is, of course, design-friendly.

Of course, TEs will be quick to point out that the language is “poetic”, and to draw the inference that God did not literally use his fingers, or “set” anything in the heavens, etc., and thus clear the way for an evolutionary account.  The poetic character of the language can readily be granted; however, poetic language still points to a truth, in this case the truth of God’s intentionality: he intended something, and he achieved it.  He certainly did not leave the outcome to “chance”.  However evolution works, something more than “chance” is going on.
It is worth pointing out that C. S. Lewis is a big favorite of ID people.  On the “top five” book list over at Uncommon Descent, his works were picked almost as many times as Behe’s, as books that directly dealt with, or had implications for, religion and science questions.  I’m particularly fond of “Is Theology Poetry?”

Merv - #20489

July 4th 2010

I love that particular Lewis quote about stars.  It is quintessential Lewis! 

I think Lewis wrote elsewhere about the absurdity of a reductionist arguing that smatterings of ink on paper are nothing more than that - a notion that is blind to how those “smatterings” may compose a beautiful poem. Very rough paraphrase, but a very similar notion.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #20557

July 5th 2010

It seems that there are at least two questions here.  First is do humans have a mind, much less a spirit.  The answer in my opinion is yes.

The second is from whence does the mind and spirit come, with the implied question as to how are they formed.  The Christian and Jew clearly believe that the mind and spirit come from God.  For the non- believer the answer could be from nature, but since most scientists agree that nature does not think, the question arises as to how can that which does not think give rise to that which does think.  If that is true, then humanity is clearly supernatural, in that it has powers above and beyond nature.  Since science does not reguard humans as supernatural, this is extremely problematical.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #20558

July 5th 2010

Evolution seems to reject the special creation of humanity found in Genesis 1 & 2, but if God is truly able to do whatever God chooses to do, then certainly God can find a way to create beings with minds and spirits as well as bodies.  Thus evolution and Genesis are not necessarily at odds.  Clearly there are aspects of human mind and spirit found in other creatures as well as aspects of the human body.

The fact that God can produce the human being by means of evolution, indicates that the universe is both rational and meaningful, meaning being the realm of the Spirit.  The universe is rational in that it is governed by rational laws created by a rational Creator.  The universe and the life it has produced is meaningful in that it has purpose.  This is more diffecult to pin down, but if life and the universe were without meaning, then it would be impossible as well as useless to study and discuss.     

Please check out my new book, DARWIN’S MYTH, on my website, rightrelates.org for more information.

Mel Stefffor - #20655

July 6th 2010

I would like to expand on the topic that Glen brought to attention here on:

Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, pp. 4-5

This is my statement concerning the Black Box:

Life is like a Black Box

What this means is that the box works for the owner but how the box works is a mystery.  What that means is that there forces at work in the universe that are even greater than the abilities of God himself.  God also has a black box.  Just like you have parents, so does God.  Did you ever ask, “Where did God come from?’.

You are born, live your life, die, born again, live, die, born again . . . .  God also goes through this cycle of life.  It is my opinion that you will have to repeat a number of these cycles before you have some understanding of the origins of life.  That is how complex life is.

dave - #20670

July 6th 2010

““In our world a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” The fallen star Ramandu replies, “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of””

Ramandu is making the common mistake of confusing what we feel about something with what it is. A star is a huge ball of flaming gas. We might perceive it as beautiful and awe-inspiring, but that’s not what the star is, that’s how we feel about it.

Merv - #20698

July 6th 2010

Dave, I don’t think Lewis’ is suggesting that what we feel about something need be confused with its objective reality.  I think he goes deeper than that to suggest that there is a bestowed (independent) realtiy that goes deeper than the atoms & molecules of something.  And the “bestower” presumably is God.  So regardless of somebody’s opinion that perhap we are “nothing more than our molecules”—-their denial & sincere belief that they were correct in this assessment would still not make it correct.  If the Christian is right, they are much more than that whether they believe it or not.


Greg Myers - #20726

July 6th 2010

The challenge that evolution puts forward is that the creation stories are revealed as myths.  God did not shape Adam from the dust of the earth, or Eve from Adam’s rib.  Given that fact, there is no reason to assume that the bible is right about the notion of soul or spirit, either.  If you insist that the creation stories are metaphor, why not soul a metaphor for our sense of identity?

There is no evidence for a soul or spirit, and the brain-body connection is made pretty plain in horrible diseases like Alzheimer’s.  Is there a spirit or a soul?  The best you can say is that the evidence that all human processes can be explained by chemistry and biology is not yet incontrovertible.  So we are in the all-too-familiar position of looking to the “god of the gaps.”

I am not sure why we are unwilling to face the likelihood that we are our bodies.  The world is full of awe and wonder, delight and promise, even without a soul or an afterlife.  Evolution does not eliminate free will, not does survival of the fittest require selfishness or conflict.  A positive willingness to face life as it is and make the best of it can result in better decisions and a better quality of life, and it certainly does not require that it be less.

Merv - #20764

July 7th 2010

Your first thoughts already betray the persistent god-of-the-gaps confusion that so many atheists and hyperorthidox alike cannot seem to escape.  God did shape Adam from the dust of the earth.  Just as God brings rain.  The ancient psalmists also knew that clouds bring rain.  No problem.  No contradiction.  Both/and. 

Regarding body-soul duality, the situation seems more complicated in sorting out how much of that was Greek influence (Plato) overlaid onto later Christian orthodoxy.  But wherever Christians are on dualism vs. monism, one thing is certain:  We most certainly ARE our bodies.  Christians ought to be the first to agree with you on that.  The importance of the physical body is evident in Paul’s insistence that Christ’s resurrection not be seen as spiritual only, and also in his insistence that we will be given transformed bodies.  Christianity is a highly physical thing—-which (as you note, I think) is not to deny its spiritual and eternal aspects.  Both/and.


Greg Myers - #20765

July 7th 2010

Merv, I appreciate your response, but I am interested in what it means for God to have shaped Adam from the dust, and later to have made Eve from Adam’s rib.  It seems to me that when you insist that the ancients knew that clouds bring rain, and so does God, and that Adam was shaped by God, and is also the end result of evolution, you are reading your modern knowledge back into the text.

I think that it is more accurate to say that the ancients both thought the Genesis creation stories to be historical fact, and to be fraught with allegorical and metaphorical meaning.

Luther’s response tot he idea that the earth revolves around the sun is a good example of what I mean.  In Luther’s time, it was far from clear if Galileo and Copernicus were correct.  Luther did not say. “Of course, the ancients always believed in heliocentrism.”  He denounced the idea as a modern notion, and said that we have to believe that the earth does not move, as the Bible teaches.

So what does it mean to say that God breathed life into the first Adam, if Adam was the result of billions of years of evolution?  Why do genetics rule out the idea of a single common ancestral couple, if indeed there was one?

Greg Myers - #20766

July 7th 2010

But back to the dualism question - you say “We most certainly ARE our bodies,” yet orthodox Christian theology (and most other religions) hold that we have a spirit, separate from our bodies.  So perhaps you are not an orthodox Christian - which is fine, but beside the point of the discussion.  I am responding to the opening post, which affirms “But we are more than the molecules that make up our bodies! “

I think the evidence is leaning heavily in favor of rejecting that view - but just like in Luther’s time, the evidence is not yet complete enough to say with certainty.

My problem with both/and is that it ends up not saying much.  Notice the shift you made with Adam and Eve.  The Genesis story affirms the creation of all living things, pretty much as they are today, in the fairly recent past.  This is not wooden literalism, just a respect for the text.  It is not accurate to say that the ancients knew that this was not the case.  Knowing this, you make Adam and Eve something less than historical.  They weren’t even a couple, according to genetics, and given that, there is no reason to think they existed at all.  So they are a myth; instructive, but not historical.  This is a shift in belief, not a both/and.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #20802

July 7th 2010

First of all the Bible does not teach heliocentrism.  Aristotle taught heliocentrism and when the Church bought into Aristotle, it accepted heliocentrism.  Luther was educated as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church.

If the human being is just a body, then it follows that humans are not rational.  The universe made up of matter/energy cannot think and therefore is not rational in that sense.  If an unthinking universe produced rational beings, that defies every law of logic and is in itself irrational.  Rational living beings in a dead, unthinking universe also would make humans supernatural, that is beyond or above the natural.

Where do the rational laws of nature except from beyond nature which cannot think, even though many habitually personalize nature as if it could think and act?  The only way in which one can, and some do, rationalize the existence of rational laws of nature with the absence of a rational God is to deny their existence also.

Merv - #20819

July 7th 2010

Greg, I’m a Christian—though whether I earn the label ‘orthodox’ or not may be in the eye of the beholder.  I’d like to think I’m orthodox in terms of belonging to a larger Christian community with its bodies of councils and creeds.  But the definition of ‘orthodox’ is its own controversy.

Regarding your comment about reading modern knowledge back into the text, I think that is a valid concern.  The example I used was intended to be a non-threatening way to show how both/and works and how we (and the ancients) have really already accepted such a duality.  I don’t argue that they had non-literal notions of Adam and Eve—I’m sure most were quite literal about that.  BUT to argue that a scientific explanation overturns or competes with a Divine explanation is something that even the ancients had overcome (or more accurately never had a problem with in the first place).  They didn’t call

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