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"Neurophysiology of the person is valuable to the extent that it can open new frontiers of explanation. It may well provide considerable information and valuable new understanding about the functions of the human person.

But neuroscience is also freighted with considerable optimism and interest today because it seems capable of providing a degree of assurance regarding life beyond the grave.

Faith in science has become the modern mantra replacing faith in Christ.

Expectations are running high! Could we perhaps really know with scientific assurance that there is something personal that will survive our death?

Is there perhaps something "soulish" that could surely survive, something that we could detect and measure today?

Thad Tren


| articles | dialogue on mind-matter | evolutionary psychology  | Home | views on Biblical Counseling | further resources | mental health |

Psychology&Neuroscience: molecules, electrons, and mind; counseling

Psychology is both an applied and academic field that studies the human mind and behavior. Research in psychology seeks to understand and explain thought, emotion, and behavior. Applications of psychology include mental health treatment, performance enhancement, self-help, ergonomics, and many other areas affecting health and daily life.--Kendra Van Wagner

Neuroscience studies the brain and nervous system, including molecular neuroscience, cellular neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, psychophysics, computational modeling and diseases of the nervous system.

Picture of Human BrainIn addition to these textbook definitions, the Christian would add the necessity for a Christian perspective on the theories, presuppositions, and practices of theses multi-faceted disciplines.  "The interface between psychology and Christianity is perhaps most apparent in the arena of counseling and clinical psychology."

Today, we find ourselves in the midst of an explosion of new insights into the ways that the brain works and the implications that these findings have for human behavior and health. The computer, imaging, The Brainand a variety of micro-methods have provided the means for obtaining new and often surprising information. There are new challenges for the Christian at the ethical level and with what it means to be human. 

An allied issue concerns the place of psychology in addressing human behavior. Is the Bible the sole authority in treating the human condition - the notion that all behavioral problems are rooted in spiritual issues - or, are some problems more properly handled by mental health professionals and physicians?

First: a historical introduction to the field.
Then a representative series of papers on the scientific side and counseling. Use the search engine on the home page for a more complete survey of ASA thought.

Visual Introductions

Oxford developmental psychologist Dr Olivera Petrovich explains her research that suggests belief in a creator is the default position of children. (Video) 8 Minutes. Faraday Institute

Fraser Watts, "Relating Theology and Psychology: Distinctive Features and Methodological Principles"  MP3 Audio  46 Minutes.
Faraday Institute

From An ASA Blog : Thoughts about Psychopathy and the Moral Law
 Law,  Iain Strachan, 2010


From the June 2010 PSCFTheme Issue

Editorial: Matthew S. Stafford, "Psychology, Neuroscience, and the American Scientific Affiliation," PSCF 62 (June 2010): 73-74.  PDF  This special issue was developed with two goals
in mind: first, to continue the long tradition of the ASA and PSCF in publishing quality, academic discussions in science and faith; and second, to serve as a resource that ASA members might use to engage their Christian psychology and neuroscience colleagues. It is anticipated that a common point of
contact, such as this special issue, will open opportunities to invite your colleagues to attend the annual
meeting or at least to visit the website to learn more about the society

Paul  Moes, "Minding Emotions: The Embodied Nature of Emotional Self-Regulation, " PSCF 62 (June 2010): 75-87. PDF This article addresses concerns that the “nonreductive physicalism” (NRP) approach to understanding human nature may lead to a new form of determinism. The principal thesis of the article is that we can retain the idea of willful and responsible action even within the NRP perspective. Three additional positions are advanced: (1) Emotional processes are an essential part of our willful nature; (2) Emotions participate in the emergent nature of thought that leads to the quality of “soulishness”; and (3) We can self-regulate our emotions, even within a seemingly “closed” physical system. The article draws from current psychological theories as well as a number of studies in neuropsychology to support these positions...

Kevin Seybold, "Biology of Spirituality," PSCF 62 (June 2010): 89-98. PDF  The idea that there is a biological basis for human spirituality is controversial to many people. There is, nevertheless, a growing body of empirical evidence coming from neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, and related disciplines interpreted by some as suggestive of a biological basis for belief in God or the transcendent. The purpose of this article is to (1) review some of that evidence, (2) address the issue of how such a biological foundation to spirituality might have developed, and (3) construct a rationale as to why, from a Christian perspective, a biology of spirituality should be expected...

David O. Moberg, "Spirituality Research: Measuring the Immeasurable?,"  PSCF  62 (June 2010): 99-114. PDF  The rising popularity of spirituality is accompanied by a flood of research in numerous disciplines to probe its relationships with health, wellness, and countless other topics. Initially subsumed under religion, especially Christianity, and still overlapping with it, spirituality is increasingly treated as a distinct topic that applies to all religions and to persons who have none with their diverse assumptions, variables, and terminology. Besides issues common to all social and behavioral sciences, spirituality research faces special challenges because of its subject matter. In the context of Christian values, it is immeasurable, yet numerous scales serve the measurement need as its indicators or reflectors. Much more research is needed, ideally with methodological and philosophical precautions to avoid reification, reductionism, and other traps. Because spirituality pervades everything that is human, its study is central to investigations of the essence of human nature...

Thaddeus J. Trenn, "Conscious Experience and Science: Signs of Transition," PSCF 62 (June 2010): 115-121. PDF  Available neurological correlates of personal conscious experience can often be detected, identified, and measured objectively. Substituting neurological correlates uncritically for personal conscious experience per se, if unintended, would constitute the error of reductionism. If intended, such substitution reflects decisions already taken on basic and highly contentious issues concerning the acceptable nature of the human person, offering no middle ground. Should personal aspects of individual
conscious experience be disregarded out of hand simply for not being in conformity with available standards of objective scientific measurement? This logical quandary presents a serious bifurcating challenge bearing significant implications for current research in neuroscience cum neurophysiology, as discussed in the article...

D. Gareth Jones, "Peering into People's Brains: Neuroscience's Intrusion Into Our Inner Sanctum," PSCF 62  (June 2010): 122-132.  PDF  “Peering into the brain” has a number of connotations: from directly examining aspects of the functioning of an individual’s brain and hence what that individual may be thinking, to investigating the power of neuroscience to provide insights into characteristic features of our humanity. This article picks up on these different connotations and surveys several areas in neuroscience that raise issues of relevance for the Christian community. This is the domain of neuroethics, with particular reference to the prospects opened up by brain imaging and, in particular, functional magnetic
resonance imaging (fMRI)...

Earlier Papers

Faw, Harold. "In the Image of God: Exploring Links with Cognitive Psychology", PSCF 58.4:310-314 (12/2006). Constructive, ongoing conversations between cognitive psychologists and theologians are both possible and valuable. Indeed, these two fields need each other as they pursue a balanced understanding of the most complex  portion of God's creation of ourselves. Reasons for cooperation include the significant ways in which our cognitive capacities reflect those of our Creator, the rational nature of the theological enterprise, and the corrective reminders biblical theology provides concerning our creaturely status in God's world.

Trenn, Thad, "Science and the Mystery of the Human Person," PSCF 58.3: (September 2006): 216-225. "Traveling with haste, in the unerring security which transcends all objects, instructed by the Spirit Who Alone can tell us the secret of our individual destiny, man begins to know God as he knows his own self. The night of faith has brought us into contact with the Object of all faith, not as an object but as a Person Who is the center and life of our own being, at once His own transcendent Self and the immanent source of our own identity and life." --Thomas Merton.

Malcolm Jeeves, "Neuroscience, Evolutionary Science, and the Image of God," PSCF 57 (September 2005): 170-186. "Acknowledging the persuasive current impact of neuroscience and neuro-philosophy this paper urges us to remember that biblical warrant and scientific evidence join in reminding us that central to our understanding of what it means to be a person is our psychosomatic unity. We know each other, not as brains ensheathed in bodies, but as embodied persons. We are people who relate to each other as beings created in the image of God. This image is not a separate thing. It is not the possession of an immaterial soul. It is not the capacity to reason. It is not the capacity for moral behavior. It is not the possession of a God spot in our brains. It is acknowledging our human vocation, given and enabled by God, to relate to God as God's partner in covenant. To join in companionship of the human family and in relation to the whole cosmos in ways that reflect the covenant love of God. This is realized and modeled supremely in Jesus Christ.î

David F. Siemens, Jr. "Neureoscience, Theology, and Unintended Consequences," PSCF 57 (September 2005): 187-190.
Most contemporary neuroscientists hold that soul or mind is no more than what emerges from complexly organized matter, that is, is strictly a function of brain. While not necessary, this view has been adopted by some evangelicals who seek current relevance. They, of course, have to posit a nonmaterial deity, something clearly not part of science. Their claims have been disputed on grounds of incompatibility with the resurrection, with spiritual beings, with free will, and with eternal life. None of these criticisms has noted an even more fundamental problem: non-reductive physicalism apparently makes
the Incarnation impossible.

Peter Rust, " Dimensions of the Human Being and Divine Action," PSCF 57 (September 2005): 191-201. Humans are three-dimensional, body-soul-spirit entities, but nevertheless unitary, indivisible persons. Animal behavior includes deterministic and random constituents. It may be modeled in terms of information systems, containing regulatory loops. Goal settings for these may be fixed, as in ělowerî animals, or governed by internal adaptive supervisory systems freely selecting from alternative routines, as in conscious ěhigherî or soulish animals. A meta-supervisor in humans provides self-consciousness, free will, conscience and spiritual behavior. As with space, each further dimension includes the previous one, but cannot emerge from it or be reduced to it.

Trenn, Thad, "If the Spiritual Soul Were Beyond the Scope of Physicalism," Private communication. Paper presented at the ASA/CSCA/CiS meeting on the theme, Neuroscience and the Image of God, held 2004 July 22-26, at Trinity Western University, Langley, BC, Canada.

Moreland, J. P., "A Christian Perspective on the Impact of Modern Science on Philosophy of Mind,"  PSCF 55.1:2-13 (3/2003)
1909 PictureToday it is widely held that, while broadly logically possible, dualism is no longer plausible in light of the advances of modern science. My thesis is that once we get clear on the central first and second-order issues in philosophy of mind, it becomes evident that stating and resolving those issues is basically a (theological and) philosophical matter for which discoveries in the hard sciences are largely irrelevant. Put differently, these philosophical issues are, with rare
exceptions, autonomous from (and authoritative with respect to) the so-called deliverances of the hard sciences.

Hall, Freud, Jung (front row) Clark University 1909

P. David Glanzer, "Mind Life," Perspectives on Science And Christian Faith, PSCF 53(June 2001): 74-83.

Donald F. Calbreath, "Aggression, Suicide, and Serotonin: Is There a Biochemical Basis for Violent and Self-Destructive Behavior?," PSCF  53.2 (June 2001): 84-95. Contemporary biomedical science has attempted to explain behavior in terms of genetic determinism, with specific mental states being produced by alterations in the brain concentrations of one or more specific biochemical components. The literature relating to the presumed association between low brain levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin and aggression and suicide is reviewed and critiqued. Due to the variety of methodological shortcomings in this research, conclusions based on the data cannot be considered valid. Implications for the legal profession and for Christian moral principles are discussed.

Bert M. Hodges, "Remapping Psychology: A New Look at Values in Scientific Ontology, "Christian Scholar's Review XXI (Spring 2000): 471 - 497.
Hodges explores the possibility that values are the ontological fundamentals within which human activities such as perception, development, and emotion are enacted. The relation of values to "laws" and "rules" in scientific accounts is considered, and a theory of values is sketched that clarifies the enigmatic character of behavior. Values, it is proposed, are heterarchical, legitimating, and frustrating. Dr. Hodges teaches social, cognitive, and theoretical psychology at Gordon College.

Malcolm Jeeves, "Psychology and Christianity: the view both ways," A lecture delivered in the Winstanley Lecture Theatre, Trinity College, Cambridge on Tuesday, 28th November 2000.

Warren S. Brown and Malcolm A. Jeeves, "Portraits of Human Nature: Reconciling Neuroscience and Christian Anthropology," Science and Christian Belief 11 No. 2 (October 1999):139-150.

Polischuck, Pablo "Perspectives on the Self: Substantial and Dialogical Aspects," PSCF 50.2: 95 (6/1998)

Dialogue on Mind-Matter

Dembski, William A., "Converting Matter into Mind: Alchemy and the Philosopher's Stone in Cognitive Science," PSCF 42.4:202-226 (12/1990)


Clark, Gregory A., "Response to W. Dembski's 'Converting Matter into Mind' (12/1990)" PSCF 43.2:103-106 (6/1991)

Feuch, Dennis, "The Mind/Body Debate," PSCF  43 (March 1991): 71-72.

Dembsky, William, "Conflating Matter and Mind," PSCF 44 (June 1991): 107-111.

Insertion of Electrode during Parkinson surgery

Evolutionary Psychology

J. Raymond Zimmer, "Evolutionary Psychology Challenges the Current Social Sciences," PSCF 50 (September 1998): 176.


Roger K. Bufford and Jonothan M. Garrison, "Evolutionary Psychology: A Paradigm Whose Time May Come: A Response to J. Raymond Zimmer", PSCF 50 (September 1998): 185.

Leda Cosmides & John Tooby, "Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer" Center for Evolutionary Psychology, UC Santa Barbara

Mental Health

Bill  Newsome God, Mind and Brain  Faraday Lecture 2010 
Allan Chapman, "Historical Perspectives on Mental Illness", 3 Feb. 2009 MP3 Audio Faraday Institute

Jep Hostetler, "Humor, Spirituality, and Well-Being," PSCF 54.2:108-113. (2000)

Struthers, William M., "Defining Consciousness: Christian and Psychological Perspectives." PSCF 53 (June 2001): 102-106.

Views on Biblical Counseling  The articles offered below reflect the tensions that may arise when one seeks to counsel or find a counselor within a Christian context.

Harold D. Delaney and Thomas E. Goldsmith, Scientific Psychology and Christian Theism

Some Thoughts on How to Provide Long Term Pastoral Care - Part 1

by Tim Lane

Are you facing a situation in your church that will require pastoral care over a long period of time? If you don't have a situation like that now ń you will in the future. Are you ready for it? Caring for people in the local church is challenging work. As a pastor, I remember numerous occasions where a need for long term care arose. These were always challenging situations and ones that caught the church by surprise. Over the span of a decade, though, I began to see some pretty obvious things that were essential for providing good long term care. I compiled these ideas into a chapter for my doctoral thesisi which I have updated to publish here. I must say that I learned these things simply by watching brothers and sisters in Christ pour out their lives in sacrificial love to friends and loved ones who were in need. Perhaps it will help you to prepare for the pastoral care demands that will come your way sooner or later...

Malcolm Jeeves, Psychology & Christianity - The View both ways

Christian Counseling

David Powlison,The Biblical Counseling Movement (2010) e-book version

“David Powlison has written the definitive account of a biblical counseling movement that arose in
the 1960s and continues to influence the field of Christian counseling today. The reader is taken on
a journey through the historical development of nouthetic counseling, its origins, influences, theological content, organizational fault lines, and key figures. Powlison is not a dispassionate outsider. He is clear in what he believes, but he approaches his subject with such a thoroughness and fairness in his research and assessment that he will leave readers from all sides of the Christian counseling field with a new comprehension of the theological, philosophical, personal, social, and cultural components of the movement. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the rapid and
turbulent growth occurring in faith-based counseling in the latter part of the twentieth century.”-- Ian F. Jones, Ph.D.

David Powlison, What is wrong with the therapeutic approach to counseling -  9 Marks (2011)

In a nutshell, "the therapeutic" borrows a wonderful metaphor from medicine - "healing" - but treats it as a literal reality. Of course, when you are healed from having cancer, the flu, or a broken leg, that's a literal healing. Something bad happens to you. You are in some essential way passive, a victim, acted upon by forces external to your identity and responsibility as a moral agent. You are a "patient." You "have" or "suffer from" some disease or dysfunction. With healing, your body has now been restored, and that's good.

But counseling deals with a different kind of problem. ...

More about the CCEF approach

Further Resources

Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS)




Most Recent Entry: 9/5/2012