Sharon Dirckx to Deliver the Willis Plenary

March 1, 2023

We are pleased to announce that the 2023 John T. Willis Plenary Lecturer will be Neuroscientist Sharon Dirckx.

Dirckx speaks and lectures across the UK, Europe and North America, primarily in the areas of science and theology, “mind and soul,” and the problem of evil.

Her books include  Why?: Looking at God, Evil and Personal Suffering (2013) that interweaves stories of people who have suffered, Am I Just My Brain? (2019), that examines questions of human identity from the perspectives of neuroscience, philosophy, and theology, and the just released, Broken Planet (February 2023) that looks at the question of why God would possibly allow devastating natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami, hurricanes and more.

Dirckx is a frequent contributor to podcasts around the world including Justin Brierley’s program “Unbelievable?” and The Big Conversation, where she dialogued with psychiatrist and philosopher Iain McGilchrist in 2022. Sharon has also appeared on several BBC programs including Songs of Praise, Radio 2 Good Morning Sunday, and Radio 4 Beyond Belief.

Sharon lives in Oxford with her husband and two children.

David Fleer

Director's Comments

John T. Willis, a man of practical faith and brilliant Hebrew Bible scholar, has for several years represented the very best of our tradition. A winsome professor, Willis showed unique skills in interacting with students (he remembered everyone’s name!) and engaging the best minds in his discipline. Featuring a similar inquisitive scholarly attitude and adept with interdisciplinary interests, Sharon Dirckx is an excellent choice for the 2023 Willis lecture.

To pique your interests, consider Dirckx’ reflections:

"What is it that makes you, you? Questions of core human identity are central to many of our conversations today.

Is the most important thing about us determined by our relationships or by our family background? Is it driven by our experiences? Or by our biology? Is the most important thing about us determined by our career? Or by our own ideas about ourselves?

There are lots of views on identity today. One view that we sometimes hear from scientists and philosophers is that ‘you are your brain’. In other words, the most important thing about you is driven by the brain cells in your head. The chemicals, hormones and electricity happening inside your skull determine who you are.

But surely chalking humans down to cell voltages and chemical reactions can’t be the whole story.

Why not? Because we don’t just have a brain, we also have a mind. We think thoughts. We experience emotions. We store memories. We are conscious beings.

But how do we get from brain cells to thoughts? How do we get from chemical reactions to what it’s like to be you? Is it even possible?

Well, this is the key question that lies at the centre of this conversation, known as the mind-brain problem. . . .

There is a core identity to each of us that runs far deeper than simply our bodies and brains, and can anchor us in the storms of life."

Sharon Dirckx joins Willie Jennings, N.T. Wright, Mark Lanier, and James K.A. Smith to headline the 42nd annual Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars’ Conference in Houston Texas, June 7 – 9, 2023. I hope to see you there!