Monday, March 05, 2007

I don't understand that so I'll ridicule it

There's a tradition, going back some centuries, which says that mind is not matter. The brain is matter but the mind (or the psyche) is not. Recently, people like Pinker and the Churchlands (recently profiled in the New Yorker) have objected vehemently to this, insisting that the mind is nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain. They don't like the idea that something without a material component (a soul or a nonphysical "mind" or something) could have effects on the physical world, and so they say that whatever isn't matter can't exist. Lewis pointed out the folly of this over a half century ago:
If thought is the undesigned and irrelevant product of cerebral motions (or, we would say today, electro-chemical reactions between neurons), what reason have we to trust it?
Evil and God,
from The Spectator
vol. CLXVI (7 February 1941),
reprinted in God in the Dock
(Eerdmans, 1970), p.21
Materialistic psychologists and philosophers are not, of course, making a brand new error. They are making the same error committed by the Sadducees in Mark 12. Today's New Testament reading tells of an encounter Jesus had with them. They came to him "with a question," Mark tells us:
19"Teacher," they said, "Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. 20Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third.... 23At the resurrection, whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?"
from Mark 12.19-23
Now did the Sadducees start off hating the idea of a resurrection, and go looking for paradoxes? Or did they wonder about some of these things and end up rejecting the idea of a resurrection afterwards?

I'll tell you: I don't know. But they were mistaken, as Jesus explains:
24Jesus replied, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26Now about the dead rising — have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!"
Perhaps I shouldn't enjoy this so much, but he really lets them have it here. He chides them for not knowing the Scriptures -- something I'm sure they prided themselves on. Then in particular, "have you not read...?" Ouch! Every Jewish boy reads that passage and probably recites it.

These Sadducees had read that but evidently had forgotten it, and forgotten the implication that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob must have still been alive at that time, because God wouldn't identify himself as the God of dead people. Hence there must be a resurrection.

The Sadducees didn't understand how the resurrection worked, so they rejected it and forgot (as Jesus pointed out) what they had read in the Bible. In a similar way, these psychologists and philosophers, and maybe some neuroscientists too, don't understand how a nonphysical mind could influence a physical world -- so they reject the idea. But none of them can answer Lewis's rhetorical question -- a question old enough to be drawing Social Security -- and thus make the same mistake as the Sadducees.

And what about me? Do I reject things just because I don't understand how they could be? May God help us to be open to the truth, even if we don't quite understand it all, or understand how something could be. May he protect us from the error of the Sadducees.

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