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Are We More Than Bodies?

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July 4, 2010 Tags: Brain, Mind & Soul

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

Are We More Than Bodies?

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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merv - #21235

July 10th 2010

Faith is more than just happy thoughts——and yes it is confidence and trust in God.  But that doesn’t mean that positive thinking is not part of that whole God-given package that is *a part* of what faith does for us.

As for the rest of your last response which I think happened as a simultaneous post with my own, I think I address (at least to my own satisfaction) your fixation with data that purports to dismiss prayer.

—Merv


Greg Myers - #21265

July 10th 2010

Merv, there is no study that shows prayer is better than a placebo.  You came up with one study that the study author agreed did not reach the level of statistical significance, until he engaged in some additional (questionable) data tweaking.  Placebo effects are well established, and taken into account in clinical trial design.  That is to say, placebos work in many cases, and we have the data to prove it.  Prayer does not work, and the best you can come up with is one small study with a weak correlation.  For example the STEP study, with over a 1,000 participants, concluded “Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG”  Compare this with the routine clinical trial results (many 1,000s of trials a year) that routinely document the placebo effect.

As far as the “cosmic vending machine” effect, it is the bible that leads us to expect prayer to be effective for healing, and Jesus’ words no less.  Besides, I think it is a bit insulting to dismiss prayers for sick loved ones as some sort of shallow quid pro quo.

Anytime I am assured that I have to be a believer to see the effects of something, I am reminded of the Emperor’s New Clothes.  Healed, not healed - this does not take faith.


merv - #21276

July 10th 2010

I plead guilty to laziness here—-the one study I gave you was what I found in five minutes of perusal through a book I already own.  I could have spent time wading into other names given by Yancey who conducted their own (apparently positive) studies of the effects of prayer, or maybe dozens of others out there on the web, but I don’t feel motivated to do your work for you when I already know you will sift through each study, and find reasons to dismiss it.  This data fixation is yours, not mine.  The positive scientific claim here is also yours, not mine.  Yet you want to shift a burden of proof to me (a scientific one, no less) to show how prayer is effective to do things that I don’t even claim prayer does.  If you really wanted to understand (let alone investigate) prayer for real, you would be willing to look into prayer on religious terms instead of trying to force it to be something it isn’t:  a scientific phenomenon.        [cont.]


merv - #21277

July 10th 2010

As far as insensitivity goes—I hear you.  But I wonder what kind of world yours would be if prayer actually did what you claim it should do.  I guess nobody would ever die of anything since that might make somebody sad.  So we all live forever.  But wait a minute—can’t keep having kids, then:  over population.  No sadness or pain over anything—kind of like an early heaven on earth.  Christianity has never in twenty centuries claimed to live in a world like your imaginary one.  We have this stubborn propensity to live in the real world with pain, agony, anger with God, death, and yes—with relationships, joys, love for God, and answered prayers as well.  You are fixating on carefully selected data to dismiss a concept (“vending machine” -my name, but *your* claim) that isn’t even defended by any Christian I know.  A couple verses can be quote mined to reduce prayer to this.  But interacting with *all* of scriptures & life itself leads Christians to see a bit deeper than a cosmic ATM god.


Greg Myers - #21286

July 11th 2010

Merv writes:

But interacting with *all* of scriptures & life itself leads Christians to see a bit deeper than a cosmic ATM god.

I think there are more than a few isolated quotes that suggest that god answers prayers.  In fact, it is fair to say that the message of the bible as a whole is that god answers prayer.  That the only instances we can point to are less frequent even than the placebo effect, and at a frequency that looks just like random chance is a challenge.

The opening post quotes CS Lewis:

“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of”

But I think we’ve gone back and forth long enough.  Thanks for the exchange.


merv - #21291

July 11th 2010

Just remember that ‘no’ is an answer just as much as ‘yes’.

and thanks for your patience with me, Greg.

—Merv


merv - #21353

July 12th 2010

This is not directed to Greg, but I do feel I can’t leave my own words as stated in above posts without some due qualification or even outright retraction for the benefit of lurking readers.

In reactionary zeal, I made much ado regarding the deficiency of purely petitionary prayer claiming that I don’t know any Christians who would defend this concept of prayer.  This is surely over-stated as Greg had every right to point out—especially indefensible as I reflect on the fact that I do in my own needier (perhaps better?) moments treat God exactly that way with my hands pitifully out hoping for the handout.  And such a posture is not discouraged but seems even encouraged by Scripture.

What seems forgotten is that Scripture also provides us with examples of great heroes of faith that were not granted their petition including, as I believe Yancey phrased it, “the holiest of all petitioners” who asked that this cup be removed from him.  So before we even encounter recalcitrance from life itself, we already have from Scriptures a challenge on our simplistic and truncated understanding of “ask, and ye shall receive” to delve into the question of why we don’t always get everything we want.  And yet we still ask.


BenYachov - #21746

July 14th 2010

Prayer experiments?  How does one do a double blind experiment on an A-temporal Omniscient Being since He would know your intentions & the mechanics of your experiment from all eternity?


Greg Myers - #21847

July 14th 2010

Ben, if a particular group actually benefitted from prayer, it would show up in the statistics. Longer life, quicker recovery time, fewer complications- there would be a noticeable difference-that’s what effective means. Over a large sample, there would be no hiding it.  If you are suggesting that God is interested in hiding the effectiveness of prayer, note that this will also require that prayer be ineffective else it would show up in the stats.  Further, there is no reason for prayer to be effective, and for god to hide this fact.  True, folks can rationalize all sorts of excuses to explain the ineffectiveness, but the bible, for example, sets a clear expectation that prayer works.  What is more, a retreat to god-as-deceiver seems a pretty weak defense. So sure, God could wreck the trial, or cloud men’s minds, or just not answer prayer lest someone have proof of God, but these are not credible responses. What seems much more likely is that prayer does not work, and we have proof.


BenYachov - #22178

July 17th 2010

>Ben, if a particular group actually benefitted from prayer, it would show up in the statistics.

I reply: Not true.  Prayers would be answered individually tailored to specific individuals according to God’s will. Thus it would be futile to look at groups.

You did not answer my question “How does one do a double blind experiment on an A-temporal Omniscient Being since He would know your intentions & the mechanics of your experiment from all eternity?”  The answer is you can’t.  You can’t prove or disprove the existence of God by irrational prayer experiments that could only work in principle on a temporal, non- Omniscient “god”.  You can only use philosophy to prove or disprove God. 

>What seems much more likely is that prayer does not work, and we have proof.

I reply: Yet last time we spoke you said “not that I think we can run an experiment and prove God ” & later you said “I never said anything about using science to disprove God.”

Do make up your mind.


BenYachov - #22362

July 19th 2010

Prayer experiments are methodologically flawed in that they fail to make a distinction between a Necessary Causal Link vs. a Personal Causal link.  If I have some gas under pressure then there is a NCL between pressure & temperature.  If I increase one then I increase the other.  However if I have a Literary Benefactor who gives out money to aspiring authors the existence of said benefactor is not determined whether or not more or less than 50% of requested grants are given out.  Gas is NOT free to NOT increase it’s temp if pressure is increased.  Any personal causal link may or may not act as he freely wills.  Also a personal causal link need not act according to any discernable pattern since they are not operating according to any external regularities like gas conforming to the regularities of the Laws of physics but by ipure Will.  The problem with all so called prayer experiments is that they treat God like a NCL & not a PCL which renders them useless.


BenYachov - #22363

July 19th 2010

Besides it’s not a choice between a God who participates in the experiment and answers prayers purely for the purpose of generating a favorable statistical outcome vs. a God who sabotages the experiment because He is insulted by it’s blasphemous presumption.  There is a third alternative.  A God who ignores the experiment and answers prayers related to individual needs according to His will & judgment for them not some pop scientists profane idea of prayer.  Prayer experiments are what you get when you mix bad philosophy, bad theology with equally bad science.  It’s the ultimate example of trying to find a Galaxy under the microscope.  Not impressed.

BTW in line with the topic of the thread I offer the following philosophical paper by the late James Ross..  enjoy.

Immaterial Aspects of Thought
http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/43151/ross-immateriality.pdf


Greg Myers - #22374

July 19th 2010

Ben, you state, but do not explain, why you think that effective prayer (in James’ words, prayers that heal the sick) would not show up in statistics.  Nor do you explain why god would refuse to answer prayer for fear of showing up in the stats.  I read you as explaining away the lack of effectiveness - which is quite another thing altogether.

Prayer would be taken into account in clinical trials, just like the placebo effect is, if it were effective (otherwise, God would have to actively skew the results).  Clinical trials are not placebo effect trials - but as the placebo effect has been demonstrated, clinical trials take them into account. 

Again, we are not looking for a galaxy in a microscope, but looking to see that the parts of galaxies we’ve brought back to earth are consistent with what our telescopes discover.  If prayer were effective, our statistical studies would find it.  What we find is that prayer is not effective.

In terms of your literary analogy, in a large enough statistical survey of aspiring author’s bank accounts, the cash would show up - as in “authors applying to said benefactor have x% more cash than authors who do not.”  This independent of the # of grants - if, that is, the cash was given out.


BenYachov - #22392

July 19th 2010

>Ben, you state, but do not explain, why you think that effective prayer (in James’ words, prayers that heal the sick) would not show up in statistics.

I reply:  You still haven’t explained to me how you can statistically predict the actions of an a A-temporal Omniscient Being who would know your intentions & the mechanics of your experiment from all eternity?  You keep treating God like The Force or a Genie.  But that is not what God is at least according to the classical Thomistic definition.

Plus you contradict yourself.  You still can’t seem to discide whether or not God can be detected scientifically.  You affirm it in one post then deny it in another.  It makes discussion with rather impossible.  Plus you should know by now as a Catholic I reject your private interpretation of James.  You must first learn Catholic Theology & philosophy on the nature of prayer.  You present knowledge & dogmatic insistence on treating God like a NCL suggests you only have knowledge of Name It & Claim It versions.  I believe in something a tad bit more sophisticated.


BenYachov - #22394

July 19th 2010

BTW Greg just to put you on notice & so we don’t waste time with 100 posts tallking past each other. 

I will reject all of your arguments justifying a statistical study of prayer unless they are framed within Catholic Theology & Philosophy on the nature of prayer.  So giving me YOUR interpretation of isolated unstated verses from the Bible isn’t going to cut it.


BenYachov - #22453

July 19th 2010

>Ben, you state, but do not explain, why you think that effective prayer ...... would not show up in statistics.

I reply: I explained it rather clearly in post #22362.  What was unclear about what I said?


Greg Myers - #22549

July 20th 2010

Ben, I find your restrictions on the discussion bizarre - both humorous and arbitrary.

post #22362 misses the point.  Look, the definition of effective, when applied to healing prayer, means that the person prayed for becomes not sick.  If people become not sick more often when prayed for, we would notice.  For you to suggest that someone can become both not sick, and yet that better health not be noticeable is ridiculous.  Or are we going to go on and ask if god can make a rock that is too big for him to lift?  You write “I believe in something a tad bit more sophisticated.”  Evidently!


BenYachov - #22555

July 20th 2010

Greg why should I submit to your humorous and arbitrary & as of yet unstated & undefined definition of prayer over and against my Catholic view of prayer found

here ?  Until you answer that your artful dodging becomes even more tedious.


BenYachov - #22556

July 20th 2010

BenYachov - #22558

July 20th 2010

>post #22362 misses the point.

I reply: So there is no difference between experimenting on or making statistical predictions about or modeling such experiments between a thing which is a necessary causal link (like a regularity in physics or chemistry) vs an experiment on the behavior or choices of a person(i.e. a personal causal link)?  They are absolutly the same? You want to defend that because I don’t see how any sane rational person Atheist or Theist can make that claim.

> Look, the definition of effective, when applied to healing prayer,etc

I reply: Are we talking about the as of yet unstated & undefined definition of prayer held secretly by Greg Myers(who seems too scared to put it out there least it be proven to be a bogus definition of prayer) or the Catholic definition of prayer found in the link I gave?  Because reason dictates you can model an experiment which defines let’s say evolution strictly in terms of Lamarck’s views.  Debunking them scientifically & then proclaiming uncritically the results must apply to Darwin(which would require different experimental modeling to confirm or debunk).  How is that logical or rationally convincing?  It isn’t.  Neither is your humorous and arbitrary argument.


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