Sunday, November 17, 2013

Quantifying Religious Experience

The lunch time video series has shifted to a new video lecture series:  "The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience", by Andrew Newberg.  His first lecture starts out with a radical observation:  The earliest evidence of man seems to indicate that religion predates cities.  This is based on neanderthal burial practices, as well as a presumption that early cave paintings also may well have had some religious meaning.  If this is true, the current scientific evolutionary fog explanation of religion needs to be wafted away, so that a new scientific evolutionary fog with a different odor can take its place.   Of course the Bible tells us quite clearly that religion predates civilization, but we won't talk about that.

An admission that drives seems to drive this series of lectures is that humans are wired for religion.  In spite of the power and money that have accrued to atheism during the last century (actually two centuries), there has hardly been a dent made in the prevalence of religion.  This goes directly with the previous observation to indicate that the wiring for religion is something that is in the biological makeup of humans and can't simply be brushed aside.  Again, there is nothing surprising to me in this as a Christian, since this is a basic Christian viewpoint.

The lecture then goes on to discuss brain scans of Franciscan Nuns who were doing "Centered Prayer".  The scans of the inactive brain were different from the active one (duh!), although we only got to see one example.  What this is relevant to isn't explained yet, but we still have more lectures to go.  I would characterize this kind of study as a bit like trying to find out what a computer is doing by monitoring the heat output of different subsystems.  Then there is the question of what "Centered Prayer" has to do with religion.  From my Christian perspective, we have this:

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." - James 1:27

Maybe there is a connection between "Centered Prayer" and keeping oneself "unstained from the world".  It is fun to see what it is that intellectuals imagine that religion is.

There is part of this lecture that has already been giving me some awkward vibes (can we measure these?):  It is the rhetoric of "science" and "scientist" that reflects a 4th century BC Epicurean concept of science.  These studies are no doubt going to turn up some interesting things to ponder.  And yes, we do have new tools to play with to study the brain, however, these modern devices are currently extremely crude compared to the degree of precision that an ancient astrologer could observe the motions of the heavens.  Perhaps some caution is in order along with a bit less waving of the "science" flag?  Let's just calmly look at the data and see what we have.


Delirious said...

I often wonder about the Chinese citizens. They have been taught to tow the athiest line, and so most don't seem to want religion. But even if they don't follow a religion, I notice that many of them are superstitious. And there is a tide of underground churches sweeping the nation. I worry more about the children and teenagers in our country who are being brainwashed by the left to believe that religion is a crutch, and that science is the only thing you can believe in.

Max Coutinho said...

Hi Looney,

Delirious raises an interesting point: although most Chinese seem to not want religion they have certain beliefs (a Chinese Master of Martial Arts, I think it was Bruce Lee's teacher, said that people call Superstition to things whose meaning they do not know or understand).
People have the need to believe in something, to have faith in something - have you noticed the so-called atheists and agnostics saying they have faith in humanity? Deep down, they have faith in God but do not want the hassle of dealing with if one thing were intimately related to the other.

Great article.

Max Coutinho said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Looney said...

@Delirious, the video series is taking the line that the atheist/marxist movement failed to make much of a dent towards atheism. But what isn't part of this series is the two century war on Christianity, that is generally leading people to new-age mysticism. As one commentator put it, Buddhism offers mysticism but with zero demand for character reform and moral improvement. This is the kind of spirituality that becomes increasingly popular.

Looney said...

@Max, you are reminding me about an atheist with whom I sparred over the net for a long time. He had some trouble with his relationship with his beloved, and then asked me to pray for him, which I did. Don't know quite where he is at now, but I am of the opinion that atheism is a biological impossibility.

Max Coutinho said...


I don't know whether it is a biological impossibility or a spiritual one, but it is definitely an impossibility.
Examples like the one you gave make me tell "atheists" that I do not believe in them.

Have a blessed weekend.