Ever since Descartes, the soul understood as immediate mental consciousness has tended to stand as a last bastion securing religious belief against naturalistic reduction. But today that bastion is under assault from the ‘new atheists’. However, the bastion is proving very hard to storm, with increasing numbers of even atheist thinkers denying that its capture by neuroscience will ever prove possible. Meanwhile, more subtle naturalisms are arguing that the body and the environment as well as the brain are involved in thinking processes. Thus we are seeing the emergence of a tripartite debate between lingering dualism, outright denial of the reality of mind and various accounts of mind-body unity, sometimes embracing panpsychism. Within this third option there exists scope to revisit traditional, pre-Cartesian monothesitic accounts of the soul as the form of the body as well as the site of an immortal spark of reason. This debate is of crucial cultural significance, because, if the last bastion cannot be stormed, it will throw the intellectual coherence of naturalism into doubt and encourage a new intellectual boldness on the part of believers. Since most people assume, against naturalism, the reality of things like free will, intentionality and love, it might well be that religion, rather than scientism, will soon be generally perceived as more aligned with common sense. For if mind and soul are not readily derivable from below, must they not rather be derivable from above? The topic of this conference therefore could not be more crucial and timely.
Featuring: John Behr, Terrence Deacon, William Desmond, John de Gruchy, Jonathan Lowe, Iain McGilchrist, John Milbank, Nancy Murphy, Marilynne Robinson
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