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The Human Soul and Neuroscience: Is Belief in the Soul Obsolete?

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Duke University Libraries

411 Chapel Drive

Durham, NC 27708

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"I will try to show that what is known through scientific research on the brain does not conflict with evidence of a human soul."

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A lecture by Prof. Marie George (St. John’s University, NY)

This event is free and open to the public.

It is not uncommon nowadays to find scientists and philosophers of science who maintain that neuroscience poses a challenge to the positions Thomas Aquinas defends concerning the soul and the human mind and will. These thinkers regard the results of fMRI and other similar studies done on the brain to show that there are no grounds for holding that human beings have souls, since these studies appear to have uncovered neural correlates for many mental activities, such as moral decision-making. This seems to show that our mental activities result from what goes on in our brains and not because we have a soul. I will try to show that what is known through scientific research on the brain does not supplant or conflict with the evidence that serves as grounds for positing that humans have a soul. Before I do so, however, I will examine neuroscience-based claims concerning the two faculties of soul that Aquinas maintains are unique to humans, namely, the intellect and free will. I will address the claim that the ability of neuroscientists to read minds shows that the mind is material. I will then consider the view that neuroscience shows that we do not have free will. The claim here is that the experiments done by Benjamin Libet and others show that our brain make our decisions for us. Lastly, I will give a condensed explanation of the grounds for holding that humans, and indeed all living things, have souls. In doing so, I will argue against the position adopted by some neuroscientists that sense perception, imagination, and other mental activities are simply emergent properties of the brain.

About the Speaker:

Marie George has been a member of the Philosophy Department since 1988. Professor George is an Aristotelian-Thomist whose interests lie primarily in the areas of philosophy of nature and philosophy of science. She has received several awards from the John Templeton foundation for her work in science and religion, and in 2007 she received a grant from the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) for an interdisciplinary project entitled: “The Evolution of Sympathy and Morality.” Professor George has authored over 50 peer-reviewed articles and two books: Christianity and Extraterrestrials? A Catholic Perspective(2005) and Stewardship of Creation (2009). She is currently working on Aquinas’s “Fifth Way,” and also on a variety of questions concerning living things (self-motion, consciousness, evolution, etc.). Professor George is a member of ten philosophical societies, including the American Catholic Philosophical Association, the Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy, and the Society for Aristotelian Studies.

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411 Chapel Drive

Durham, NC 27708

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