Dr. Michael Egnor, professor of neurological surgery at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, reveals here his conclusion that materialism cannot explain the whole being of a human.
Francis Crick, neuroscientist and co-discoverer of the helical structure of DNA, expressed the widespread view that the mind is a function of material stuff: “A person’s mental activities are entirely due to the behavior of nerve cells, glial cells, and the atoms, ions, and molecules that make them up and influenced them.” How, then, is it possible to converse with someone while removing the large portions of her brain that serve thought and reasoning?
I’m a neuroscientist and professor of neurosurgery. The mind-brain question haunts me. Neurosurgeons alter the brain on a daily basis, and what we find doesn’t fit the prevailing view that the brain runs the mind as computer hardware runs software.
I have scores of patients who are missing large areas of their brains, yet who have quite good minds. I have a patient born with two-thirds of her brain absent. She’s a normal junior high kid who loves to play soccer. Another patient, missing a similar amount of brain tissue, is an accomplished musician with a master’s degree in English.
How can this be? It wasn’t until I read Thomas Aquinas that I began to understand ......
.... In the past decade, British researcher Adrian Owen has found using fMRI imaging that some patients with such severe brain damage that they are considered to be in a persistent vegetative state are actually capable of sophisticated thought. The “comatose” patients’ brain scans show that, in reply to questions by an examiner, the patients are in fact thinking and imagining.
The woman on the operating table who was talking to me while I removed her frontal lobe had both material and immaterial powers of mind. Our higher brain functions defy precise mapping onto brain tissue, because they are not generated by tissue, as our lower brain functions are.
Materialism, the view that matter is all that exists, is the premise of much contemporary thinking about what a human being is. Yet evidence from the laboratory, operating room, and clinical experience points to a less fashionable conclusion: Human beings straddle the material and immaterial realms.
There is a fusion of the material part of man and his immaterial part. These are united in one person and the totality of that person is properly said to be in the image of God. Mankind represents God in the universe. We can’t emphasize one over the other; they are both important. In John 14:9, Jesus makes the astonishing declaration that, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” The incredible point is that in the incarnation everything that God is in terms of being infinite is "scrunched" and "packed down" into the highest possible perfect expression of deity in finite form - the person of Jesus Christ in His humanity.
Death is the temporary and unnatural division of man's material and immaterial. This is one reason why death is so unnatural (death is only "natural" in a fallen world.) For those in Christ, the material (rejuvinated and perfected) and immaterial are gloriously reunited at the Resurrection.
Earlier, I wrote here about the "super spirituality" of much of modern evangelicalism which often tends to downplay the material part of man. In contrast, materialism denies the immaterial part. Both views are deficient. It is the glorious fusion of material and immaterial that constitutes mankind. The denial of this cardinal truth will always have destructive consequences.