Dallas: Well I can say one thing for Bethel College; I have never been in a place where they have such announcements in chapel as they do here. [Laughter] They sure get your attention.
I’d like to begin this morning by reading a passage or two from the scriptures. First of all in the 46th Psalm, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. (Selah.) There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most high. God is in the midst of her . . . God shall help her, and that right early.” [1:14]
And then again in Psalm 118, “I called upon the Lord in distress: The Lord answered me, and set me in a large, (open) place. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear what man can do unto me.” The Lord is on my side; I will not fear what man can do unto me. “The Lord taketh my part with them that help me: therefore shall I see my desire upon them who hate me. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” (Psalms 118:4-9)
Then just a few words from the remarkable presentation, which Paul made on Mars Hill, in the 17th chapter of the Book of Acts, “God that made the world and all things therein . . . ” this is verse 24, “seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all of the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in Him we live, and move, and have our being . . . ” (Acts 17:24-28) Though He be not far from us: For IN Him we live, and move, and have our being. [3:25]
Now the passages, which I have read, could be extended to many, many parts of the Bible, and could be extended to much of the testimony of the church though out its history, and indeed beyond that, to religions other than Christianity.
One of the difficulties of the modern worldview is that it has made this seem to be implausible or impossible, and I think that for thoughtful Christians, as well as thoughtful religious people generally, the primary problem has been created that the world presented to them by science does not seem to be the kind of world in which all of this could be true. And each of you, individually, must at some point ask the question: What does it mean, to me personally, to speak of God being very present to me, being near to me, to speak of God being something or someone in whom I live, and move, and have my being? At that point, I think, frankly, many times our faith simply fails us, and while we may go through the motions, we do not have any experience that corresponds to it, and a part of the problem is because of the other half or more of our mind, which is trained in such a way that all of this talk about being close to God makes no sense. [5:19]
Now last time I talked about matter and this time I’m going to carry on by talking about mind. And what I am saying to you in these two sessions is simply that at present there are encouraging differences showing up in scientific research that’s characteristic of these sorts of changes that often you don’t know whether to call it scientific or not; which make the view of the Bible about the Kingdom of God and the rule of God in the affairs of men and man’s participation in the rule of God, to seem a much more reasonable thing. The impression, which I wish to gleam from yesterday’s lecture is that of an objective world, permeable throughout, by various sorts of qualitative structures that are not reducible to and are not exclusive of those hard, externalistic structures or entities, which we have come to associate with classical mechanics and Physics. [6:30]
Now, it is interesting that in the day when many leading physicists seriously considered consciousness as an integral part of physical reality. Biology and Psychology, as academic disciplines are often found plugging for very old-fashioned kind of complete materialism, in the interpretation of the human organism.
The view of large numbers of contemporary physical scientists are summed up in an essay, Remarks on the Mind-Body Question, written by a Nobel prize winning physicist by the name of Eugene Wigner. Those of you who want to follow up on this can find his remarks in a book called Symmetries and Reflections, which was published in 1967.
Wigner begins by pointing out that most physical scientists have returned to the recognition that thought, meaning the mind, is primary. He goes on to state, “It was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics, in a fully consistent way, without reference to consciousness.” And he concludes by noting how remarkable it is that the scientific study of the world led to viewing the content of consciousness as an ultimate reality. [7:57]
Indeed Wigner and a Princeton physicist, by the name of John Wheeler, and many others have gone so far as to suggest that the probabilistic or seemingly random phenomena that shows up in the foundations of material substance; such, for example as Schrödinger tries to capture in his famous wave formula; that these phenomena are actually controllable by the observing consciousness. And Wheeler, he says that what we ought to do is not to talk about the observing mind but the participating mind, and to regard the universe as a participatory universe, not one which is simply there to be observed. [8:50]
I think Wigner and Wheeler go a little further in this than most physicists, but there are many, many physicists following the developments from Werner Heisenberg’s researches, often associated with what is called The Indeterminacy Principle, that have come to think that you can not describe the basic, physical realities without a constant reference to consciousness, and its relationship in observation and participation with those realities.
So there has emerged a curious kind of circle in contemporary scientific thinking about the nature of the human self. Many Psychologists, partly, I think because the status of their own discipline is one which is in question constantly—many Psychologists insist that the human mind, including consciousness and reflective thought can be explained and reduced entirely to the biological and chemical functioning of the central nervous system of the brain. And then many Biologists insist that all biological and chemical processes reduce to the facts dealt with in atomic Physics. And then along comes the Physicist and remarks that quantum mechanics, fundamental to atomic Physics must be formulated in such a way that consciousness or mind is a primitive and essential component in the system. [10:26]
And so we have a curious circling back to the introduction of consciousness in the foundations of Physics, which is thought of by the Psychologist sometimes, by the Biologist sometimes as being the fundamental discipline, which dispenses with consciousness.
However, there is a lot to Psychology other than academic Psychology, and as a whole, encompassing all of the areas of research and writing about the nature and foundations of human experience, as well as Clinical Psychology, and then that huge, sprawling activity, which we call Counseling, which covers so many different kinds of things and goes—Do you have people on the radio here who counsel people who call in? Do you have talk counselors here? Yes, well we have a lot of them out in California, and I know they’re in New York, but perhaps they haven’t creeped into Newton yet, or Wichita. They’ll come, no doubt. Counseling is just this huge, sprawling, indefinable discipline, if it is a discipline—one discipline at all, and that too is a part of Psychology. [11:46]
So really there is a great deal to Psychology other than academic Psychology. I think academic Psychologists tend to be put on the spot because it isn’t clear exactly what kind of discipline they have, and in their efforts to be scientific, it may well be that they exaggerate the relationship between what they regard as their discipline and what is often regarded as the fundamental discipline, namely Physics.
We can say, I think, that the whole field of Psychology today is not predisposed against and indeed suggests much that is conducive to a view of the human self, congenial to that type of divine-human interaction presupposed in the Biblical view of the Kingdom of God. That is to say, a view of the self in which causal influence is not restrained within strictly physical, mechanical models, but extends to the non-mechanical properties of human experience, and the social, and physical, and natural environment. It has got to be so if you are going to make any sense out of the events of the Scripture, and probably if you are going to make any sense out of your own religious experience. The agency that you exercise in the Kingdom of God, for good, is not one, which is going to be understandable, simply, in terms of the traditional model of materialistic signs. [13:16]
Emergent properties of holes and influences exercised by such emergent properties are, of course, familiar within common life as well as in the physical sciences. If you speak about Hydrogen and Oxygen combining, for example, to form a substance we are all familiar with called water. Well, water has a lot of interesting properties, which belong neither to hydrogen nor to oxygen. These properties emerge when they are appropriately combined; and then they can exercise causal influence on all sorts of things, like putting out fires, and you drinking it and keeping yourself from being thirsty, and things of that sort. But don’t drink pure oxygen, or don’t drink pure hydrogen, because, I assure you, they don’t have the same effect—same thing with ordinary table salt, sodium and chlorine.
So I think all of this is pretty clear and I just want to make sure that we understand that the idea of emergent, novel properties emerging from a whole of certain parts, and then exercising causal influences familiar within what we may safely regard as the strictly, physical context. These novel, emergent properties are further recognized as being causally advocatious. [14:41]
Now from the viewpoint of empirical science, appropriately theorized, and I’m speaking from that viewpoint alone now for the moment; we know that at some level of complication—roughly that of the human brain—thought, emotion, and volition in their familiar, human forms, emerge. And it is with these that the Gospel of Christ primarily deals—thoughts, emotions, and volitions.
Now I lay aside here all questions of, at exactly what level these mental properties emerge to concentrate upon what little we know about some aspects of their relationships to the brain, and perhaps here, the word “know” is too strong. And if that bothers you, I will simply back up and say that I want to dwell upon some results of recent speculations and experiments, or other studies that bare upon the nature of the mind and its causal role in human life. [15:46]
First of all, I’d like to mention, just to set aside, the view that the mind is just identical with the brain. Today this is often discussed under the title of The Identity Thesis in Philosophy, and it is the view that when you think all that is going on is just a chemical process in the brain. Old fashioned materialist, a man named Kobonis, and then others named—a couple of Germans, Vaught and Büchner. Back in the 19th century, they used to like to say, “The brain secretes thought like the liver secretes bile.”—and they just treat it as if it is some sort of thing oozing out of your brain. [16:32]
Well the truth of the matter is—now, I’m not going to take time to prove this, but if you want to talk about it later I’d be glad to—that view is just silly. And it is a silly excess, which people engaged in because they were grinding a particular axe. And if we wanted to take time to go into this we could spend, I think, fruitful time if we had enough of it and didn’t have other things to talk about, explaining why that view can’t possibly be true.
I think what I’ll do is just refer you to a very old fashioned refutation of it; which is in an old book by James Orr, called The Christian View of God in the World. On page 143 and following, you will find a discussion of that view and the truth is, although its quite an old view, it hasn’t changed much in its recent form, which I’ve referred to as The Identity Thesis. So I refer you to that and, in general, just say that the main reason for rejecting that view is that the properties of thought are just not the same as the properties—as chemical processes in the brain. [17:46]
Of course, other attempts—there have been many attempts—I remember, as a student, I spent a lot of time reading the behaviorist John Watson, who identified thought with the minute movements of the musculature of the chest—Sub-vocal Speaking—he called it. There have been many attempts to get rid of thought as a distinct, spiritual, or non-physical kind of reality, at least; in favor of something, which would fit the old-fashioned, materialistic view. All of those blunders fall simply on the point, which is, as I say, I’d be happy to elaborate on. If you want to this afternoon sometime, come by and visit me. It is simply that properties of the one don’t belong to the other, and conversely, and that’s what means non-identity. [18:41]
So I want to just set aside then this view that thought is simply identical with the brain on these general grounds, and go on to some rather interesting things that have been studied in more recent days having to do with the causal influence of acts of will, and thought, and imagery on the body. I’m going to talk a little while here about what is sometimes called Biofeedback. I hope that some of you are familiar with that—have any of you heard of Biofeedback? Perhaps some of you have done a bit of it. It is quite an interesting phenomena and again, it has many, many aspects to it.
In the phonetic quest of modern American humanity to find some degree of peace and control over their lives, attention has been redirected to age-old techniques of mind-over-matter as it has been called; and these are, in some measure, encompassed under the title Biofeedback. Electronic gadgetry has been developed, which allows people to monitor their own heartbeat, their skin temperature, and brain waves. Some Biofeedback machines provide rewards to their users in the form of flashing lights and electronic beeps like a pinball machine, so if you get your heart down to a certain level, well, you see a light. [20:03]
In one arrangement, a subject’s amplified Alpha waves—Alpha waves are the ones you want to get to. You want to turn off the Beta waves and other brain phenomena if you are trying to get to peace. Set off a toy train in motion—a person had it wired up where when he got down to Alpha waves; well then, this train would start up. In another one, the subject’s control of his heartbeat won him a peep show glimpse of a pinup girl. I’ve always thought that one was strange because it would’ve seem that if that had any interest at all it would’ve made the heartbeat go up again, but I don’t know. [Laughter] Maybe that was the challenge to him.
Well, but as you probably know, there are really serious applications of this stuff. For example, it seems to many serious workers in medical or healthcare fields that they offer a way of treatment of a number of serious, physical afflictions, such as high blood pressure and migraine headaches. Migraine headaches are very common. They try to treat them with this: there is a training process where the patient is taught to force the blood to the extremities of their hands and their feet, because the idea is that a migraine is caused by certain engorgement of blood vessels in the side of your head, so if you can send all the blood to your feet and get it out of your head, your migraine will quit. People can actually be trained to do this. [21:40]
Sufferers from a variety of circulatory ailments have been trained to direct their minds in such a way that both the symptoms and the physical effects have been relieved. Age-old, meditative techniques capitalize on the power of the direction of the mind to reorder bodily processes. Intense visual or auditory concentration on a simple object—and in some traditions these are what are called mantras—causes the brain to switch off the Beta waves of alertness and subside into Alpha rhythms. In one experiment Biofeedback volunteers were fitted with special lenses, hooked up in such a way—hooked up to a little projector—in such a way that they could only see a single image, no matter where they moved their eyes. And curiously enough, faced with this unchanging image, they found in a short time that the image itself seemed to disappear and just at the moment it vanished, Alpha waves appeared in the EEG machine. The mind is capable of being trained to do all of this, of course, without the electronic fireworks.
I recently read a study in which it was shown that children who sit down to watch television, in a very short time, go into Alpha waves. That’s why, I guess, they have to turn up the volume when the commercial comes on. You may have noticed that. If you watch any television, very often the volume goes up when the commercial break comes on. It’s to get you out of your Alpha waves. [23:22]
So it is a fact, I think, that the production of Alpha wave dominance leads, in general, to slower heart beat, lower production of blood lactate—which is a substance associated with anxiety and a number of afflictions which result from it—and in purely physiological terms, meditative techniques produce symptoms that are exactly opposite to those produced during times of stress. This has lead some researchers to suggest that Biofeedback training may become a useful tool in the prevention and cure of such typically modern afflictions as hyper-tension, high blood pressure, ulcers, heart disease, and headaches. [24:00]
What I’m saying is simply this: that there is here strong evidence from certain quarters of contemporary, physiological research that acts of will, especially of a properly disciplined will, through direction of the mind has power—or they have power to modify the states of that exquisitely, complicated piece of matter known as the human brain. Without insisting that the last word has been said on any of this, at an experimental level, we find that matter responds to our choice of mental direction. Our vision affects our body, which in turn, affects the larger physical world.
What is the brain like? The nature of the brain has the habitat of qualities of mind, causally, determinative of physical states of the body, and of its surrounding physical world, has been elaborately studied, of course in recent years, and now I think there is a sub-science some people refer to as brain science—a whole science of the brain. [25:19]
One of the leading researchers in this area is a man named Roger W. Sperry, who has, for years, been located at the California Institute of Technology, and was co-recipient of last year’s Nobel Prize for the Biological Sciences. His training is physiology. He is a Physiologist and that is his position there at Cal Tech, but he is a scientist in a certain grand ole manner, where he is not only just concerned about some little piece of research that he has picked out, but he is rather concerned with knowledge in general, and reality in general, and he tries to understand the connection of his specialty with the general concerns of human beings.
He unites the most careful research with his interest in the development of new ethical, and practical political policies on a scientific basis to meet the crying needs of our day. Those of you who are engaged in what you hear called “peace buddies,” I would challenge you to look at some of Mr. Sperry’s writings, and if you’d like to have a bibliography on them you can contact me for them, because he is very vitally concerned with the role of social institutions in the attainment of peace and he sees this concern as a direct extension of his work in Physiology, and I hope that, perhaps, in a minute or two you will see how that could be true. [27:02]
The statements of this hard scientist come as almost a shock because of their invocation of a conceptual framework, congenial to, if not actually implying something very like the Kingdom of God. This is all the more shocking because Sperry, himself, is not a Christian. He is not a religious man at all. He did not come to this from religious studies. He was driven to this by his attempts to understand how the brain works.
He acknowledges that “personal and social values (and I’m going to quote him for a while here) depend on whether consciousness is believed to be mortal, immortal, reincarnate, or cosmic, and whether consciousness is conceived to be localized and brain-bound, or essentially universal.” He goes on to say that, “Current concepts of the mind-brain relation involve a direct break with the long established materialist and behaviorist doctrine that has dominated neuroscience for many decades, instead of renouncing or ignoring consciousness, as was the custom in other days, the new interpretation gives full recognition to the primacy of inner-conscious awareness as a causal reality.” [26:26]
Sperry holds a quite general view about parts and wholes according to which the higher entities, such as man and the social groupings of man, church, community, nation, are not determined completely, though they are in part, by the causal laws and properties of their components, rather the properties which belong to the brain as a whole, or to the whole human organism, and to larger units of human organization actually determine, in some measure, the behavior of the parts and exercise influence far beyond the confines of their own being. The idea is, in many people’s minds, that whatever happens, say at the level of group phenomena—take Social Psychology—think about which is the primary discipline. I would suppose in these studies, from the secular point of view, the phenomena of Social Psychology. [29:31]
Now the idea of many people in the past has been whatever happens at that level must simply be a consequence of what happens at the atomic level. So that ideally the picture was you should be able, if you knew enough about brains and bodies, and things banging around in the old, classical way, you would be able to deduce that a lynching would occur from the phenomena of the body.
And what Sperry is rejecting is that model of everything coming from the bottom-up, as it were. He is saying there is, not only two-way causality, from the top-down and from the bottom-up, but he wants to keep himself open to many sorts of trans-lateral, causation relationships, which might be tied into the properties and structures which emerge—remember what we said about emergent properties—which emerge at various levels of complication, social and individual. [30:38]
The fundamental forces of Physics are then to be viewed only as building blocks used in creating bigger and more variously, competent entities and forces, although causal forces at the lower quintal or atomic or molecular, and so on, levels in the infrastructure of human experience and organization continue to operate in full force, as usual, they become in greater or lesser degree—and here I quote him—“enveloped, encompassed, overwhelmed, superseded, supervened, and outclassed by the new causal properties that emerge in the totality.” According to Sperry and to others, instead of the universe completely controlled by quantum or Newtonian mechanics and the basic forces of Physics, science presents us with a universe controlled by a rich, profusion of qualitatively diverse, emergent powers that become increasingly complex and competent.
With reference to the brain in particular, he remarks, “The brain controls at the physical, chemical, and physiological levels are superseded by new forms of causal control that emerge at the level of conscious, mental processing, where causal properties include the content of subjective experience. The flow of nerve impulse traffic and related physiological events, in a conscious process, is no longer regulated solely by events of the same kind as those at the molecular level but become caught up in and moved by the higher mental controls, somewhat as the flow of electrons in a television set is moved and differently patterned by the program content on the different channels.” [32:41]
Well these astounding kinds of remarks are not just restricted to Sperry. There are quite a number of outstanding thinkers in recent decades in the fields of Systems Theory and Physiology and so on, who have come to much the same conclusion.
Sir John Eccles, a British physiologist, has developed similar views at greater length in his books, and especially in a book called The Self and Its Brain, co-authored with the philosopher Karl Popper. Then again in a book called The Human Mystery, which was the Gifford lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 1977 and 1978. Eccles, on the other hand, and it’s interesting to see how he suffers from this. Eccles, himself, is a Christian. And many people discount his findings on that basis—sort of a typical ploy that goes on in academic life. [33:49]
So it’s good to have someone like Sperry who isn’t, if we can put it in those terms—glad Sperry isn’t a Christian, well in that sense only. Also, Ludwig Bertalanffy simply states that the concept of matter in the classical sense, is abandoned in modern Physics and Science and immediately he applies this to the case of the mind-body interaction, to admit the kind of reciprocal influence that is contemplated by Sperry, Eccles, and by Popper. [34:23]
Well now, I have mentioned today only the current interest in so-called biofeedback and then the remarks by Sperry and other physiologists as one area, or two areas in which contemporary psychological research throws a spiritually, interesting light upon the nature of the human self. Many other topics could also have been mentioned. I have, in fact, shied away from them because they are so bizarre, but you know, if you have read Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, you know how he comments—he is a historian of science—how in moments where there are building up what he calls paradigm shifts, that is radically different ways of approaching a field. You always go through the period where all kinds of data and phenomena are showing up, which no ones knows what to do with and people who take them seriously are thought to be dealing with snake oil, and patent medicine, and magic, and all sorts of things of that sort. [35:37]
There are all kinds of phenomena. I’m just going to mention a few of them here that are receiving a kind of attention, which was unthinkable 10 or 20 years ago. There is, first of all, the various phenomena collected under the title ESP, clairvoyance, precognition, telepathy, psycho-kinesis, such as nail-bending, which gets you on television shows—things of that sort–Kirlian photography, so-called after-death experiences also, as is as well known are now seriously studied.
Out in California we have something called secular healing. You have that here in Kansas yet? These are people who don’t—they just profess to have it in their hands and they can work on you and heal you. That also—you seem to be able to get some correlations. No one knows why it works. It may just be an extension of the placebo effect, you know and no one really thinks there’s anything awfully supernatural about the placebo effect. The placebo effect is where you get a pill, you know, that is supposed to be for something, but it’s really just sugar, and in many cases, it turns out that people respond as if it had the real stuff in it.
Now if you want to really stagger your mind, you might look at a book, by Ostrander and Schroeder, called Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. Some of these are also recorded in a book by Marilyn Ferguson called The Brain Revolution. In such books, you read about psychotronic motors; where so-called psi-phenomena are harnessed to move tiny motors of distinguishing colors with one’s fingers for eyes. There’s a funny thing that has happened here and that is that scientists in communist countries, for many years they’ve been taking these things seriously and I think in a large part, because of Marx’s view of matter according to which really matter is a sort of quasi-living substance. They have a greater respect for mental phenomena than have scientists in the west. Some of the western scientists say that’s just because they are more superstitious. [38:06}
Well enough of this. I want to conclude by making clear what seems to me to follow from all of this for the possibilities of a Christian Apologetic in the 1980’s, and it is this—a new picture of the power of the unseen realm even if of a strictly natural level is emerging from psychological and physiological research. If at a naturalistic level such phenomena are countenanced, then the general objection to extra-psychical powers is weakened and in many minds, it is dismissed.
Now far be it from me, here, to suggest that such supraphysical works are proofs of righteousness before God or have anything essentially to do with being religious or spiritual; I’m not suggesting any such thing. I’m also not suggesting that all that is claimed or any substantial measure that is claimed for paranormal phenomena, parapsychology, such as we have referred to is true. Undoubtedly, much that has been said and done is illusion or falsehood. [39:23]
The point is simply this—that the progress of secular inquiry has suggested, and widely disseminated a view of man and his world in which the events of the Bible and life in the Kingdom of God—the verses which I read to you about the nearness of God seem much more understandable. The honest doubter, whether within the church or without can find release from perplexities based on the supposed, general impossibility of events transcending obvious, physical nature. For that nature, now appears, to be nothing incompatible with, and indeed something congenial to such events, that in Him, in God, we live and move and have our being seems quite reasonable, given plausible interpretations of current research into mind and into matter. [40:24]
We all know that in one sense, the human brain has the power to affect fundamental transformations of material substance. For it has done so; on the one hand through its grasp of nuclear energy; on the other hand through its grasp of the genetic code. The implications for these two general areas of human understanding at present, are staggering beyond imagination and most of us, I think for the most part, just don’t think about it. Through its insights, it is able to intervene with atom bombs, and differing kinds of viruses at least, or bacteria possibly. I’m not sure where the level is. It is able to—I had a man tell me the other day that we were in a position now to simply eliminate genetic defects from the human race.
With this fact before us on the one hand, and the events of religious history before us on the other, it is at least interesting and useful to think that some much more direct, though by no means arbitrary and unlimited impact upon the nature and course of the material world, is possible for those who in the spirit of Christ labor in the Kingdom of God. The New Testament doctrine of Christ as the all-encompassing logos through whom all things consist, as Colossians 1:17 tells us, and the sense there is that Christ is in effect the glue of the universe. Everything stands together in Him or as we are told in Hebrews 1, the 3rd verse, “who upholds all things by His almighty word.” [42:17]
This view makes it reasonable that at His word, the dead should rise, the storm-tossed sea should be still, and the leper should lose his spots. How much of such power resides with us if he who is with us always has all power given unto Him? It is for us each, I believe, to learn for ourselves the answer to this question. And here, as always the rule as is our faith so shall it be unto you holds true. I’m inclined to think that there is much more therefore than we believe.
The English poet, Francis Thompson, in his poem, The Kingdom of God put it very well on this point, I think, when he said, “The angels keep their ancient places;–turn (but) a stone, and start a wing! ‘Tis ye, ‘tis your estranged faces, That miss the many-splendoured thing.” [43:34]
May God help us to understand and use these things in our lives. Thank you.