The Mind’s Design
Does the mind have a spiritual dimension, which we might call the soul? Does the mind follow a spiritual design and behave according to spiritual laws? Can the scientific study of the mind provide answers to hitherto unanswerable spiritual questions? Welcome to SOUL SCIENCE! We are a brand new blog that explores these and related questions. When things are really up and running, you can expect to see a regular column by me and a weekly podcast show called, logically enough, Soul Science. Here at SOUL SCIENCE, we explore the intersection of science and spirituality as a pathway to health, happiness, and heaven. Those were the ideas I explored in my first book. It received high praise from Kirkus Reviews, which led to a speaking invitation at Duke Medical School.
I think the simplest way to get a picture of our project here at SOUL SCIENCE is to literally look at the pictures I selected for this post. They could be misleading. For they depict the brain, or mind, in a very mechanistic manner. Where is there room for a soul in all that metal and axle grease? Do I mean to eradicate the spiritual and reduce the human person to purely material, mechanistic forces? Absolutely not. Quite the contrary in fact.
To understand the iconography here, we need to talk about William Paley.
Evidence of Design Is Evidence of a Designer
William Paley was an influential 18th century clergyman and philosopher best known today for his “watchmaker analogy.” In a nutshell, Paley argued that a person can readily tell the difference between a rock and a watch, the latter displaying clear evidence of design. His argument was that nature itself displayed the telltale signs of design. This is a significant feature of the natural world, for wherever we see evidence of design, we see evidence of a Designer as well. Thus, the signs of rational, intelligent design in the natural world are evidence of an Intelligent Creator-God.
Paley vs. Darwin
Paley’s writings predate the work of Charles Darwin, and some have thought that Darwin’s work on evolution provided an explanation for the complexity of nature that obviates the need for an intelligent Creator-God. My purpose here is not to evaluate these various arguments. For what I will be presenting here at SOUL SCIENCE does not depend on the success of Paley’s argument, which admittedly suffers from some weaknesses. For SOUL SCIENCE, Paley’s argument serves mainly as a metaphor or icon.
This is not to say that I agree with the position that Darwin refuted Paley. One of the reasons that Paley is so famous to this day is that advances in science have revealed a remarkable degree of complexity and apparent design. Recent scientific discoveries point to a “fine-tuned” universe that appears to have been designed to create life. For if the universe had turned out only slightly different, life would have been impossible. For an excellent and accessible discussion of the design implications of the fine-tuned universe, I recommend the Eric Metaxas bestseller Is Atheism Dead?
Intelligent by Design
Paley was not the first person to propose an intelligent design argument for the existence of God. In fact the argument is found in the Bible in many places, including Psalm 19 and Rom. 1. What these arguments have in common is that they locate the evidence for design in the cosmos, in the order of the stars and the heavens and the natural world. But the Bible contains another subtler design argument, which was known to the ancient world, but which modern humanity has forgotten. Not only did God design and create the cosmos, he also designed and created human nature.
Introducing the Soul Hypothesis
God’s design of human nature is important for this simple fact. Whereas God neglected to share with us his design for the universe and the laws of physics which govern that design, God did share with us his design of human nature and the laws that govern it. They are contained in the Bible. (The laws of physics had to wait for scientists to discover them. And we’re still waiting!) The Bible teaches us that we are immortal beings who will survive the death of our physical bodies. This is due to our possession of a spiritual soul. Now the soul turns out to share many properties with the mind. It is conscious, and it preserves our earthly memories, for example. Otherwise, heaven would just be an eternity in a giant Alzheimer’s ward. Not fun!
The Biblical thesis that the mind possesses a spiritual dimension, or soul, has many implications. One implication is that mental health also possesses a spiritual dimension. St. Paul makes this implication explicit in Galatians 5 where he enumerates the fruits of the Spirit. They turn out to include all the major dimensions of mental health—joy, peace of mind, and self-control. Joy is the spiritual antidote to depression. Peace of mind is the spiritual solution to anxiety disorders. And self-control is the spiritual fix for substance abuse and other various addictions. Thus, according to St. Paul, mental health is spiritual.
Mental Health Crisis
That’s a bold and controversial assertion by St. Paul, to be sure. For one thing, it proposes an understanding of human psychology that would be roundly rejected by the entire profession. And it’s so easy to disprove too. Yet the crazy fact remains that it never has been disproven. What’s more, the late Pope John Paul II actually advanced the spiritual theory of the mind in his seminal work The Theology of the Body. The core insight of my first book was that John Paul’s Theology of the Body stood in a long and ancient tradition that saw in the Gospel an intelligent design theory of the human mind. He called it the “moral psychology of the Bible,” and he predicted that science would one day discover the truth of it (Theology of the Body, lecture 38).
The question I explored in my first book was whether science has already confirmed or refuted Pope John Paul’s prediction. Here at SOUL SCIENCE we will continue to explore these questions. It’s important for everyone to understand that questions about the nature of the mind are not mere ivory-tower foolishness. Without a better understanding of the mind, the future of mental healthcare is bleak. The CDC just issued a report that suicide reached an all-time high in 2022, a fact that cannot be ignored, especially now, since September is “Suicide Prevention Month.”
Here at SOUL SCIENCE we propose a theory to explain the suicide epidemic. We have a mental health crisis because we have a mental healthcare crisis. And we have a mental healthcare crisis because we have a mind science crisis. Mental health will not improve until science is willing to accept the spiritual nature of the mind. That is our bold and controversial thesis. We hope you will join us for the conversation.