April 18, 2004


After the Double Helix: Unraveling the Mysteries of the State of Being (MARGARET WERTHEIM, 4/13/04, NY Times)

Sitting at lunch on the patio of his home here one muggy day last June, Francis Crick was expounding on the mind-body problem and the thorny subject of the human "self."

Where is the line between mind and matter? he asked. Aside from the neurons in our brains, the human body contains tens of millions of neurons in the enteric nervous system, which extends into the stomach and intestines. "When you digest your lunch is that you?" Dr. Crick asked.

Body and mind are the twin problems around which Dr. Crick's life has spiraled, much like the double helix structure of DNA that he and Dr. James D. Watson are famous for discovering half a century ago. Though his research on "the molecule of life" is what he is best known for, in his 28 years at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, his work has focused on the mind, and in particular the question of consciousness.

Until recently, that subject was viewed with deep suspicion in scientific circles, but Dr. Crick has led a campaign to make it acceptable. These days it is even fashionable. While some philosophers claim that consciousness is a phenomenon outside the purview of material science, Dr. Crick dismisses such arguments with the imperious confidence that is part of his legend. "The mechanism is the important part; the rest is just playing with words," he said in a recent interview.

It takes a really spectacular jackass to think that his luncheon grilled cheese is part of his soul just because it's material.

-Deficient Anthropology at the Root of Cultural Crisis in the West (Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy Today)

It's my belief that the West in general has a deficient anthropology, mostly because of its inability to fit the seeming paradox of the meshing of God's sovereignty with man's free will. Various answers to this quandary have been posed -- bondage of the will, Calvinistic predestination, Purgatory and indulgences, name-it-claim-it theology, sacramental symbolism (i.e. no "real presence"), iconoclasm, and so on. What ultimately is at work here is an unwillingness to come to terms with the Incarnation, namely, that God became a man. The implications of that event are both staggering and thoroughgoing -- on the one hand, they mean that the Uncreated has become a creature while yet remaining Uncreated, while on the other, they mean that the creature may become Uncreated. (What else did St. Athanasius mean, anyhow? God became man that man might become god.)

You may be finding it hard to connect the dots here (as I did), but consider the scandal of the Incarnation: God became a human male, born of a woman in a real human society. He lived, preached, healed, died and resurrected. That is, after dying on a cross, he got up out of His tomb and walked around again. His heart stopped beating, then later started up again. He gave us the Holy Mysteries to join us intimately with Him, that we might become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). The Mysteries are given to redeem us in our fallenness and bring us to perfection, that we might become by grace what He is by nature.

Without coming to terms with what it means to be psycho-somatic beings (that is, composed of both soul and body), we will continue to have an unbalanced understanding of ourselves and of our God. Either we will attempt to devalue the body in favor of the soul, creating a highly mental and/or emotional religion (whether that religion be one of faith or atheism) or we will devalue the soul in favor of the body, focussing endlessly on sexuality, personal appearance, and even a morbid obsession with seeking out physical suffering as a "spiritual" good. Standing at the balance between these two extremes, however, is orthodox Christian asceticism, the careful, sober bringing of the body into the service of the soul so that both may glorify God in unity and enter into deeper, more intimate communion with Him.

In calling us to asceticism, God proposes a marriage between us and Himself. If any of you have been married or considered marriage, you know that the question of who the beloved really is will always be essential in your union. Because it is God Who gives us our being and speaks into being what His design for Creation is (both its material and immaterial aspects), and because He is the one Who created marriage, then that means that this union must be according to His design or else it is nothing. All the Mysteries are His to give, not ours to control or make "relevant" to modern culture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 18, 2004 6:43 PM

Having seen Watson lecture, I would say they are a matched pair of spectacular jackasses.

Posted by: jd watson at April 18, 2004 6:53 PM

A more harmless jackass. though, than the kind that hears voices telling him to kill his son and goes ahead on that basis.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 18, 2004 7:05 PM

Abraham founded the three great monotheisms. What'd Crick ever do?

Posted by: oj at April 18, 2004 8:14 PM

So Harry, are you saying that Crick's grilled cheese made him a harmless jackass, while something Abraham ate led him to believe he heard God tell him to sacrifice his son, making him a dangerous jackass?

Otherwise I fail to see any connection between Crick, mind and stomach on one hand and Abraham on the other.

Posted by: jd watson at April 18, 2004 10:06 PM


Just be glad he didn't drag in the horriible things done to the Albigensians...

Posted by: oj at April 18, 2004 10:16 PM

"The view of ourselves as `persons' is just as erroneous as the view that the Sun goes around the Earth," he said. He predicted that "this sort of language will disappear in a few hundred years. In the fullness of time," he continued, "educated people will believe there is no soul independent of the body, and hence no life after death."

Silly me. I thought real scientists drew conclusions based upon evidence rather than searched for evidence to prove conclusions.

Posted by: Peter B at April 18, 2004 10:35 PM

Gee, and from the post I thought the guy was simply asking a question.

Whether anyone likes it or not, we may in fact be completely material beings, including our minds.

Or not.

But it doesn't make one a spectacular jackass to ask the question.

And of the three great monotheisms Abraham founded (which three?), it seems at least one of them is wrong.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 19, 2004 7:23 AM


You believe this guy is only asking a question? Do you believe in the Good Tooth Fairy too?

Posted by: Peter B at April 19, 2004 8:03 AM


How else is Jeff to justify his amorality except be declaring that we're all just material? Grant the argument and no action is ever wrong.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 8:09 AM


But Jeff seems to be very moral himself. He just fights fearlessly for the amorality of others and their constitutional right to do things that appall him. I'd sure like to have a peek at his neurons.

Posted by: Peter B at April 19, 2004 8:40 AM


He and Harry say they are incapable of acting immorally, because if they knew an action was wrong they'd not do it. Using that standard everyone is "very moral." The world is just an ugly place.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 8:56 AM

OJ, how is it different to justify your amorality by declaring that we are all forgiven? No need for us to atone for our sins, God did it for us.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 19, 2004 4:02 PM

You may be forgiven--that's up to God--but you're not justified.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 4:11 PM

I just said he was a harmless buffer.

If you had ever read any of his books, and if you were capable of respect for opinions outside your narrow little cells -- which I am increasingly coming to doubt -- you'd be aware that yes, in fact, he is diffident about his speculations.

Unlike people who post here.

In fact, the only thing in the Abraham story I believe ever existed was the sheep. Nevertheless, Abraham, real or imaginary, was bad news for the Canaanites. Very bad.

While Crick never hurt anyone.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 19, 2004 10:23 PM

Other than being a eugenecist, but then that's to be expected.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 11:04 PM