Neuroscience, Spiritual Formation, and Bodily Souls: A Critique of Christian Physicalism
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AbstractThe link between human nature and human flourishing is undeniable. "A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit" (Matt. 7:18). The ontology of the human person will, therefore, ground the nature of human flourishing and thereby sanctification. Spiritual formation is the area of Christian theology that studies sanctification, the Spirit-guided process whereby disciples of Jesus are formed into the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29; 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Peter 3:18). Until the nineteenth century, there was an overwhelming consensus among Christian thinkers that some form of mind-body (or soul-body) dualism is true of human beings. Recently, that consensus has eroded, and with it the availability of a shared body of knowledge about spiritual formation. Some Christian physicalists argue that dualism is incompatible with central elements of spiritual formation. Neuroscientist Warren Brown and psychologist Brad Strawn offer the only substantive account of spiritual formation from the view of Christian physicalism and its accompanying objections to dualism. It is on their arguments that this chapter focuses. We argue that Brown and Strawn fail to support their incompatibility thesis. Additionally, we argue that Christian physicalism stands in tension with important philosophical and theological foundations of Christian spiritual formation. In doing so we offer a specific form of dualism, the bodily soul view, and explain how this view illuminates the importance of embodiment, our neurological and social development, and hence the important physical aspects of Christian spiritual formation.