Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods: A Conversation on Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience. Malcom Jeeves. InterVarsity Press, 2013. 219 pp. $20.00. ISBN 978-0-8308-3998-8.
One of the most debated subjects in contemporary Christian circles is the role and use of psychology in the church. As such, when a well-known and respected authority in the domain of neuropsychology, who also happens to be a faithful Christian, writes an introductory book on the subject, one should pay close attention. Such is the case with Malcom Jeeves latest book, Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods. In this book review I will begin by noting the purpose of the book, its intended audience, and the way the book is organized. Then I will give a brief overview of some of the topics discussed in the book. Finally I will note how successful this book was in accomplishing its goal, as well as some advantages and disadvantages of this book.
The author, Malcom Jeeves, is a highly respected authority in neuropsychology who has been working, researching and teaching in this domain for over 40 years. The primary audience of this book is anyone who is interested in the relationship between the Christian faith and neuropsychology, and who is actively pursuing knowledge of these two domains. Such an audience may include Christian students who are actively pursuing degrees in psychology, those who have recently finished degrees in psychology, or laymen who are interested in these subjects. The purpose of this book is to show demonstrate that there is no intrinsic conflict between psychology and Christianity. On the contrary, it is entirely possible to adhere to a robust Christian faith, and to practice psychology. It is important to note, in passing, that the author presupposes the truth of evolution, and sees no difficulty accommodating his Christian faith with the claims of evolution. Also, the author also adheres to what he calls dual-aspect monism, which is a theory concerning human nature that claims that “there is only one reality to be understood and explained – this is what I would call the ‘mind-brain unity,’ hence the word monism. By saying ‘dual-aspect,’ I am affirming that in order to do full justice to the nature of this reality we need to give at least two accounts of it: an account in terms of its physical makeup and an account in terms of our mental or cognitive abilities. You cannot reduce the one to the other.”
Jeeves has based the format of his book on C. S. Lewis’s well-known book, Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer, with a slight modification. This book is formatted so as to resemble email correspondence between a well-established Christian psychologist, Ben, and a Christian student, Malcom, who is in the process of pursuing a degree in psychology. The book starts off with Ben writing to Malcom with the purpose of finding out how Malcom is doing in his studies. This conversational format makes this book a fun and easy to read look at the relationship between neuropsychology and the Christian faith. At the same time, due to the fact that it is so easy to read, one must be careful to take the time to consider what is being said. It is all too easy to read right past important points without blinking an eye.
The book is divided into 19 chapters that cover subjects ranging from current progress in Neuropsychology to the mind-body relationship, from freedom of the will to the distinction between humans and other animals. Other subjects that are also covered by the author include the God-gene, the Gay-gene, emotions, love, language, divine providence and spirituality. The author seeks to show that a Christian researcher does not need to leave his Christianity at the door when he enters the classroom or when he begins his research, and the Psychologist does not need to leave his scientific theories at the door when he enters the church.
The book includes an appendix concerning the statement of the Scripture Union concerning their hermeneutical principles. I personally did not fully understand why this statement was attached as an appendix. The author has graciously provided a list of books for further reading, for each chapter, in each of the subjects that are covered in the respective chapter. The book also contains endnotes, an index of names, and a subject index, which, of course, make this book extremely useful for research purposes.
This book definitely attains the proposed purpose. It is accessible for non-psychologists, and succeeds in showing how one can maintain their Christian faith all while pursuing advanced degrees and research in the controversial domain of neuropsychology. As a philosopher and theologian I was personally shocked to see the author attempting to pull highly philosophical subjects out of the hands of the philosophers, and into the domain of psychology. I got the impression that the author was unaware of the fact that he frequently stepped out of the domain of scientific psychology, and into the domain of philosophy. Discussions concerning free-will, the mind-body relation, and morality, among others, are properly philosophical discussions that can, and should, be informed by research from the natural sciences. As soon as a scientist stops his experiments, and begins postulating on the meaning of the results of his experiments, he is doing what is properly called – philosophy. This one negative point aside, I highly enjoyed reading about recent discoveries and advances in neuropsychology, as well as the authors’ philosophical views on the meaning of these discoveries for Christianity. The book is written for beginners, and as such, the author does not go into great detail concerning the different debates that he brings up, though he does point the reader towards resources that he can use for pursuing the debates.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is pursuing a degree in psychology, wishes to pursue a degree in psychology, or who knows someone who fits into those first 2 categories. Though the reader needs to read this book with the understanding that they are getting only one possible way of the interaction of Christianity with psychology (see the authors views above), this book is valuable for the insights that the author brings to the tables, and the confidence with which he, as a faithful Christian, interacts with the different domains of psychology.
Malcom Jeeves, Mind, Brains, Souls and Gods: A Conversation on Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 117, 191. I say presupposes the truth of evolution because he accepts uncritically and without argument that evolutionary theory is a true description of the development of mankind.
Ibid., 85. Cf. Jeeves, 40, 60.