Neuroscience is advancing human understanding of the brain in profound ways. These explorations present us with not simply greater insight in understanding the inner works of the brain, but also present us with opportunities to better understand people, their problems, and potential solutions. Yet, neuroscience also presents us with a temptation to explore everything through the lens of the brain and thereby fall prey to a sort of “neuromania.” In her short but profound work Am I Just My Brain? Dr. Sharon Dirckx helps readers to relate rightly to both neuroscience and the Christian faith.
The question, “What is the mind,” represents one of the most significant issues facing philosophy, psychology, theology, and science today. It has a long history of thoughtful discussion but the developments in modern neuroscience have reignited this discussion with a fervor. Many have concluded that with our new understanding of the human brain the questions about the mind are irrelevant. “The mind is the brain,” they state plainly, “end of story.” Except it isn’t the end of the story, and Sharon Dirckx is here to help us see that. Dirckx knows what she is talking about too. She has a PhD in Brain Imaging from University of Cambridge, over a decade of experience in functional magnetic resonance imaging, and has held research positions in both the UK and USA. She is qualified to speak to these issues. Dirckx is also a Christian apologist and Senior Tutor with the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. She relies on all these fields of expertise as she presents her argument.
Here argument is significant too. For, as one trained in the field of brain imaging she seeks to refute the standard arguments for reductive physicalism – the view that “the mind is reducible to physical processes in the brain.” In other words, I am just my brain, just a biological machine. While her book is short it is significant. Across eight chapters she wrestles with some of the most significant questions in modern philosophy and science, questions about the brain, the mind, the soul, free will, religious faith, and religious experience. In the book she helps readers to understand the concepts, writing at an entirely accessible level, and helping them to relate rightly to scientific studies and to religious faith.
Neuromania attempts to explain all issues of life, struggle, and faith in relation to brain chemistry. Dr. Dirckx demonstrates that this is a flawed model and does not account for a number of related issues, and does not solve the complicated “mind-brain problem.” Christians can, indeed must, respect and appreciate the science of neuroscience, but without fearing that they are giving away important ground when they do. Christianity still holds out reasonable explanations and valid contributions to our understanding of people, problems, and life in general.
Am I Just My Brain? Is a tremendous resource and one that many Christians should read. For those working in Biblical Counseling in particular it is a great encouragement, which adds some philosophical support to many of our convictions. We don’t have to fear neuroscience, nor do we have to bend to everything that claims to be supported by neuroscience. Dr. Dirckx helps us understand the difference. I highly recommend this short but profound work.