Does Modern Psychology Challenge Traditional Christology? [Questions That Haunt]

Does Modern Psychology Challenge Traditional Christology? [Questions That Haunt] January 15, 2013

This week, Aaron Berkowitz asks a question that, I think, will tax all of us who hope to maintain a fairly traditional Christology:

I don’t know if this counts as a Question That Haunts, but I think it might. It seems that modern psychology doesn’t leave much active role for the human “soul” in cognition (unless I’m greatly mistaken). Instead of imagining the soul as a little homunculus in our heads that makes decisions for us, it appears that thought is a byproduct of neurons firing, etc. in our heads. I’m not saying that there’s no room for the soul to interact there, but it certainly isn’t clear how it would work.

Here’s my question: how does this affect traditional understandings of Christology? When you look at debates about Monphysitism and Monothelitism and the like, they are really based on philosophical assumptions about “natures” and “wills” that don’t really seem compatible with contemporary understandings of psychology. What does it mean in terms of neurobiology to say that Christ had both a human and a divine “will” if all thought is really just neurons firing?And if Jesus doesn’t have a brain that is noticeably different from you or I, how does his divinity interact with his thought process? I guess this is just a small piece of a larger issue relating to interpreting traditional notions of Christology in general in light of contemporary scientific and philosophical categories, but it definitely leaves me scratching my head…

Wowzers, that’s a tough one. I’m looking forward to reading responses below from the regular crew of contributors, and I’m hoping that we’ll have some psychologists and physicians weigh in as well. I’ll take a crack at an answer on Friday.

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