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Dualism in Religion and Science Nowadays Research Paper


The term “dualism” the most often associates with the name of the French scientist and philosopher Rene Descartes who discussed the difference between mind and matter in his works. Today the relation between mind and matter, body and soul remain the issue for active discussion: we cannot state with confidence whether it is solvable or not, but at the moment, a single answer has not been found

However, while centuries ago relation between mind and matter was discussed from the angles of philosophy and religion, today science has “joined in with the conversation”: researchers try to study the relationship between mind (our thinking) and matter (our brain) using scientific methods. Some of the approaches to this problem are “pro-dualist”, while other ones oppose the dualist ideas. In this essay, we review modern dualist ideas in science and religion. We discuss different views on mind and matter, without supporting or disproving them.

First, let us discuss how relations between mind and matter have been presented in religions. No doubt, Descartes was not the first person to introduce the ideas of dualism. Centuries ago, dualist views could be seen in different world religions. In his (2009), James M. Nelson states that we can see bright manifestations of dualistic ideas in Hinduism, especially at the early stages. Particularly, Hinduism implies that the “physical world” which is the sense that our body has, and the “spiritual reality” which refers to a human’s mind, are separated (p. 79). The author refers to the early Vedas and Samkhya’s ideas. However, the author points out that gradually, the nondualist ideas had been developing in Hinduism. Today, we cannot state that Hinduism is a dualistic religion. Nondualist ideas have influenced schools of Hinduism, particularly, later yoga schools.

Nelson also studies dualism in Christianity. He mentions two contexts of dualism in Christian thought that existed in the Middle Ages: “good-evil dualism” and “body-soul dualism” (p.95). Both ideas were historically popular; however, despite certain disagreements existing about these issues, Christianity nevertheless tends to reject them, says the author.

Thus, we see that in different religions dualist and nondualist ideas compete historically. However, today we should study this issue not only from the angle of religion; science has also joined the discussion of the relation between mind and matter. For centuries, science and religion interacted and influenced the development of each other. That is why speaking about modern dualism and religion, we cannot omit science.

First of all, science tries to evaluate ideas that we can find in different religions. Clayton (p.318) says that “there is hardly good evidence that biblical anthropology does not treat a mental substance as the essence of humanity”. In turn, Churchland (1989) criticizes substance dualism based on neurophilosophy. The author outlines the problems with substance dualism, for example, “interaction between two radically different kinds of substance” (p. 318), and inability to explain “the unity of consciousness” (p. 321).

At the same time, scientists do not limit their study to discussing religious views: they develop their positions about dualism. Nelson formulates a set of questions that refer to dualism as a “mind-brain problem” (p. 176). From the dualistic perspective, the brain refers to the “physical world”, while the mind is intangible. The question arises: how do the brain and the mind relate to each other? Today scientists demonstrate different approaches to this problem.

Ian Barbour studies modern dualism in his (2002). He provides a review of different views on the “mind-brain” problem. Particularly, the author emphasizes that the positions of the body/soul dualism become weaker, though some researchers continue supporting it (p. 79). At the same time, he says that the discussion of the issue can be much broader. One of the possible approaches to discussing the issue is expanding beyond the body/soul dualist dimension: the author mentions the “developmental view”, which implies that as the body develops, “personhood” develops as well (p. 65). Though according to Barbour, this view also has its weak points, it is valuable in terms of giving the opportunity not to choose between materialism and body/soul dualism, but to discuss a “holistic view of persons with a hierarchy of levels” (p. 71).

Another view on the “mind-brain” problem is an “emergent phenomenon of brain”. It implies that mental events should not be boiled down to physical processes, and they are broader and require other categories, other levels of discussion (Deacon, p. 108). Besides, some researchers support the idea that the mind is “a property of the universe” (Nelson, p. 176), which is consonant with definite religious traditions (for example, Hindu).

There are also attempts to settle the “conflict” between science and religion and integrate. Mark Graves says that one should not necessarily “take one side” and “dismiss the other”; it is necessary to study cognition not limiting to studying the brain. “When one studies cognition in a Christian body, no conflict exists”, says the author (p. 7).

Thus, nowadays dualism remains a discussed issue. Though science and religion are in perpetual competition, the more advanced science becomes, the more complicated the discussion becomes. Today it is difficult to say whether one-day religion and neurophilosophy will agree or not.

References

Barbour, J. G. (2002). Nature, Human Nature, and God. Minneapolis: MN Fortress Press.

Clayton, P. (2007). Toward a Constructive Christian Theology of Emergence. In N.C. Murphy (ed), Evolution and Emergence: Systems, Organisms, Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Churchland, P. S. (1989). Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Deacon, T. W. (2007). Three Levels of Emergent Phenomena. In N.C. Murphy (ed), Evolution and Emergence: Systems, Organisms, Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Graves M. (2008). Mind, Brain, and the Elusive Soul: Human Systems of Cognitive Science and Religion. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate.

James, N. M. (2009). Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality. New York: Springer.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Dualism in Religion and Science Nowadays." January 4, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/dualism-in-religion-and-science-nowadays/.

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