Acton Institute Powerblog

The Scientific Study of Consciousness

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

An article posted today at LiveScience explores the problems facing scientists who attempt to explain human consciousness in terms of human disciplines like physics or biology.

According to the story, “Roger Penrose, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University, believes that if a ‘theory of everything’ is ever developed in physics to explain all the known phenomena in the universe, it should at least partially account for consciousness.”

Consciousness studies is become a hot topic, along with areas like string theory: “No longer the sole purview of philosophers and mystics, consciousness is now attracting the attention of scientists from across a variety of different fields, each, it seems, with their own theories about what consciousness is and how it arises from the brain.”

The narrow modern definition of science as referring only to the study those things occuring in the natural world limits the field of inquiry to an extent that makes spiritual or non-physical things necessarily inexplicable.

The premodern conception of theology as the queen of the sciences, with various ancillary philosophical sciences, is reversed in this modern view. This makes it impossible for a discipline like modern physics, bereft grounding in any explicit or corresponding metaphysical system, to explain “spiritual” realities. The Christian view of death, for example, holds that in spite of the close connection of body and soul in the human person, “consciousness” is not ultimately dependent on the physical body.

As modern scientists struggle to fit everything within a naturalistic worldview, we’re sure to see some very odd theories. I explore one of this in an article for the Crux Project, “The Materialist Magician: Materialism, magic, and the Global Consciousness Project.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.