2019 abstracts

Are You a Robot —  Brain, Mind and Soul:  The Questions

Bob Reinovsky
Los Alamos Faith and Science Forum
6 PM Wednesday 5 June 2019

Over the past five summers the Los Alamos Faith and Science Forum has explored  issues at the intersection of science and religion including: our origins, evolution, and what separates us, physically and mentally,  from other animals.  In 2019, we will stretch even further by beginning to explore the hard-to-get-your-mind-around concept of human “consciousness”.  Characterizing human consciousness in the dimensions of “brain (neuroscience), mind and soul” and contrasting the conscious human with the remarkable capabilities of “robots”, this introductory lecture will discuss, briefly, what we mean by a “robot”.  We’ll say just a bit about how “robots” have entered our perception through popular culture (but this is about all we will say about robot technology this summer).  We will ask about the overlaps between the dimensions of brain, mind and soul – asking if they really are independent – or how they may overlap.  We will introduce the concept of emergence where “the whole is other than the sum of the parts” and we will preview the eight talks following on successive weeks in June and July.  We will end by attempting to formulate a few overarching questions about the larger topic of consciousness.

Consciousness is a really BIG topic, which we will explore but certainly not exhaust this summer.  Come with us in this adventure of explorations.

Consciousness: Material or Immaterial?

Chick Keller
Los Alamos Faith and Science Forum
6 PM Wednesday 12 June 2019

Determining what consciousness is and how it works is an ongoing study.  Many “philosophic” considerations have been brought forth but few are satisfactory.

There are roughly two schools of thought:

1.  Consciousness and free will need some non-material component because a mass of brain cells cannot hope to produce this complicated function any more than a computer can.

2.  The billions of cells in the brain have been fashioned by evolution to almost continuously improve the animal’s ability to deal with its environment.  These capabilities peak in the human brain where billions of specialized cells accept sensations from outside or even within and from these compose what we call “thoughts”.  Recent studies support this conclusion.

This talk will look at scriptural, philosophical and scientific concepts and show how the brain and perhaps its “soul” produce consciousness.

Finally we will look at whether a “mechanistic, material” brain could produce Free Will.

Neuroplasticity: How the Mind Changes the Brain

Nels Hoffman
Los Alamos Faith and Science Forum
6 PM Wednesday 19 June 2019

Fifty years ago, the idea that the adult brain can change was considered heresy. Today, an enormous body of research demonstrates the reality of neuroplasticity – the capacity of our brains to change continuously throughout our lives, in response to our actions, experiences, and even our thoughts. The notion that our thoughts can directly alter physical reality seems mystical or supernatural. Yet the direct effect of thoughts in altering neural structure, at least, has been empirically verified. We will look at how neuroplasticity is portrayed in popular culture, examine the anatomy of the brain and how neurons and synapses work, review some of the evidence for a changing brain, tell stories of individuals who achieved massive “rewiring” of their brains, and link this scientific knowledge to religious belief and practice.  


  • Moheb Costandi, Neuroplasticity (MIT Press, 2016)
  • Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (Penguin Books, 2007)
  • Malcolm Jeeves and Warren S. Brown, Neuroscience, Psychology, and Religion: Illusions, Delusions, and Realities about Human Nature (Templeton Press, 2009)

Web pages:

Neuroscience and Emotions

Bob Fuselier
Los Alamos Faith and Science Forum
6 PM Wednesday 26 June 2019

In his landmark publication Affective Neuroscience: The Foundation of
Human and Animal Emotions
, Jaak Panksepp provides overwhelming evidence that our major emotional systems are discrete and fixed neural circuits that are conserved extremely well across mammalian and avian species. Using the information Panksepp has provided, I will describe how these neural systems dictate much of our behavior and do so typically without our awareness. Using Gospels passages, I’ll present how Jesus often addressed these same emotional systems and how our blindness to their influence affects our lives.

Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?

Warren S. Brown, Ph.D.
Travis Research Institute, Fuller Graduate School of Psychology
7 PM Wednesday 10 July 2019

Eliminative materialism within modern neuroscience suggests that all mental life can be reduced to the activity of neurons. Thus, how can it not be the case that behavioral and moral “decisions” are epiphenomenal by-products of determinative neural processes? This lecture explores philosophical options in understanding human nature, and argues for the possibility that genuine high-level mental causation (self-determination) emerges in the functioning of complex neural systems.

Contextualizing Neuroscience: The Boundaries of Human Intelligence

Warren S. Brown, Ph.D.
Travis Research Institute, Fuller Graduate School of Psychology
7 PM Thursday 11 July 2019

Can the science of brain function complete the description of human intelligence? This lecture will argue that body and extra-body context are not only implicated, but are inherent participants in the functional networks of intelligence. Mind is a contextually extended process, and humans are distinctive as ready-and-willing cyborgs.


The Emperor Has No Brain: The reality of AI and the illusion of intelligence

Garrett Kenyon
Los Alamos National Laboratory
6 PM Wednesday 17 July

It’s nearly impossible to read an article about the future of tech without coming across some reference to deep learning, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) (or more specifically, general AI), neural networks, or some other closely related technology. The term “deep learning” and its various synonyms have become a shorthand for the coming age of machine intelligence, the looming “singularity” in which computers rival ­­ and eventually supersede ­­ humans. We have been warned of the incipient threat from “out of control” AI by luminaries such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk. Large tech companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and the hordes of startups seeking to emulate their success all hawk AI to their shareholders and customers alike. AI has recently been hailed as the “third offset” by the US military (the first two being nuclear weapons and ICBMs). Anything so generally hailed as being very important must be very important, right?

Aside from Hollywood’s reflexively dystopian vision, many authors have thought seriously about the coming clash between humans and machines. Still, writers often adopt the role of techno prophets, heralding the coming technological apocalypse. What happens when computers take away all of our jobs? How do we prepare for the age of infinite leisure when human labor is no longer needed? Such authors take it for granted that the singularity is nigh and that the triumph of machine intelligence is not a matter of “if”, but of “how soon?”. Hardly audible above the din are the more skeptical voices which question whether there is really anything to worry about after all. Indeed, there are some writers who question whether there exists credible evidence that machines have yet to take even rudimentary steps toward anything resembling intelligence.

The idea that machines are still about as unintelligent as they always have been flies in the face of a barrage of recent reporting. Great fleets of self driving cars will soon fill our streets and highways. Machines will soon be diagnosing our diseases, protecting our homes and businesses, producing art and music of sublime quality, surveilling our borders and fighting our wars. Computer vision is being mastered by Facebook, Google, etc. And now machines can teach themselves to play cognitively difficult games such as Chess and Go at grand­master levels and beyond. But have we actually demonstrated, or are we on the verge of demonstrating, true machine intelligence?

I will review the current status of AI and what imminent threat, if any, it poses to humans.


Evil: Is Anyone Responsible?

Gerry Wood
Los Alamos Faith and Science Forum
6 PM Wednesday 24 July

Evil – “I know it when I see it and I shudder when I think of it.” But, can we agree on how to define evil, its extent, and cause? Over the ages philosophers and theologians have tried to characterize evil. Ideas range from “it doesn’t exist” to “some evils are intrinsic and damning.” Examples of evil work best in defining it.

Likewise, proposals for the responsibility for evils range from no one (natural determinism) to evil spirits (Satan, demons, gods) to free-willed humans to the all-good God. Such assignments have significant consequences, including: a) how to prevent evil, b) how to deal with evil, c) whether to punish for evil, d) hope for deliverance from evil, and e) understanding and appreciating God.

Science is based on the assumption of natural determinism (reliable workings of laws of physics, chemistry, and biology) only. As we have seen in previous lectures on consciousness and the brain, some scientists are trying to explain away free will. Atheists deny the supernatural and its influences on behavior. Yet, religious scriptures, human history, and our personal experiences reveal evil, free will, and the supernatural as realities in addition to natural determinism.


Miracles — Divine Free Will: What, How, Why

Dan Winske
Los Alamos Faith and Science Forum
6 PM Wednesday 31 July

Religious scriptures, human history, and our personal experiences also  reveal that the human response to miracles is wonder, awe and fear, contrary to the expectations of natural determinism. A robot’s programmed response to the same phenomena would be something like “Data does not compute”. No surprise here – unlike robots, humans are made in the image and likeness of God and thus are inherently open to God’s actions, however subtle or direct they may be.

In this last session of the summer series we discuss the nature of miracles. They clearly demonstrate the conflict between science, as expressed through the natural laws of the universe, and religion, as manifested through God’s direct interaction in the world. We will define more accurately what miracles are, give a few examples from both the New and Old Testaments of the Bible as well as modern times and discuss them from both scientific and theological perspectives. We also briefly touch on the more difficult (from a human perspective) issues: how and why do miracles occur.

Finally, we tie the question of miracles back to where we started two months ago: to mind-brain-soul. This then leads to an open discussion of what we have learned during this summer and suggestions on what topics we might begin to consider this winter in developing next summer’s series.


  • Albright, Carol R., John R. Albright, and Mladen Turk. Interactive World, Interactive God. (Eugene OR: Cascade, 2017)
  • Barbour, Ian G. When Science Meets Religion. (New York: HarperCollins, 2000)
  • Barron, Robert. And Now I See. (New York: Crossroad, 1998)
  • Brown, Warren S., and Brad D. Strawn. The Physical Nature of Christian Life. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012)
  • Dennin, Michael. Divine Science–Finding Reason at the Heart of Faith. (Cincinnati OH: Franciscan Media, 2015)
  • Jeeves, Malcolm, and Warren S. Brown. Neuroscience, Psychology and Religion. (West Conshohocken PA: Templeton, 2009)
  • Koch, Christoph. Consciousness–Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist. (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2017)
  • Lewis, C. S. Miracles. (New York: MacMillan, 1947)
  • McLeish, Tom. Faith and Wisdom in Science. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • Metaxas, Eric. Miracles–What They Are, Why They Happen and How They Can Change Your Life. (New York: Penguin Press, 2014)
  • Moritz, Joshua M. Science and Religion–Beyond Warfare and Toward Understanding. (Winona MN: Anselm Academic, 2016)
  • Murphy, Nancey. Bodies and Souls, or Spiritual Bodies. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006)
  • Plantinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies–Science, Religion and Naturalism. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • Sacks, Jonathan. The Great Partnership—Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning. (New York: Schocken Books, 2011)
  • The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989)