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2011 > Why Neuroscience Matters to Christians Too!

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message 1: by Roger (new)

Roger Morris (roger_morris) | 34 comments I am a fan of BSP, a primary care physician and (to my intellectual disadvantage apparently) a Christian theist! I've managed to survive quite well in the rational world none-the-less.

Ginger, I realise that some of your disparaging comments against Christians is a emotional/visceral reaction to the "Culture Wars" in your country and the strong political and cultural clout that fundamentalist Christianity has in the States.

But we both realise that science rarely impinges on religion (and vice versa), and good science can co-exist quite productively with thoughtful Christian faith. Examples are common - Francis Collins, John Lennox, Alister McGrath, Keith Ward to name just a few.

So I tried not to get miffed when listening to this "preaching to the converted" when you implied a number of times that the default philosophical position for rational scientific reflection was materialism/atheism/skepticism. Methodological naturalism is a necessary aspect of the scientific method for sure, but this does not give philosophical naturalism a free ride. I sometimes have likened atheistic materialism as the "cuckoo in the nest" of scientific endeavour.

I also had to let it roll like water off a duck's back when you implied to the "home crowd" of skeptics that skepticism and materialism were clearly the default for every rational thinker and that those that dissent are poor mistaken unfortunates who may come around one day with enough patience. The concept of subconscious presuppositions in motivated belief cuts both ways for both theists and skeptics, but that is a discussion for another day.

So the ultimate purpose of my mild rant is to plead with you not to alienate fans of BSP who may not share your materialist/atheist personal opinions. I also ask you to be fair in your assessment of Christians (if it has to come up at all in BSP podcasts) and acknowledge that not all Christians are card-carrying members of the Discovery Institute.

Keep up the great work!


message 2: by Virginia (last edited Aug 19, 2011 04:47PM) (new)

Virginia MD (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
Roger wrote: "I am a fan of BSP, a primary care physician and (to my intellectual disadvantage apparently) a Christian theist! I've managed to survive quite well in the rational world none-the-less.

Ginger, I..."


Roger,

I want to apologize for taking so long to post a response to your "rant." Although I had no intention to speak disparagingly of believers, I must admit that I am a little less careful when talking to Skeptics in the Pub, since I know their agenda.

I am well aware that most Christians do not share the goals of the Discovery Institute, but I think it is important that people who care about neuroscience be aware of their current stealth attack. If you want to get a feel for what I was referring to during my talk in London, I suggest checking out the podcast they sponsor. You can find it in iTunes, though I haven't kept up with it, so I don't know if they are still producing it. Look for episodes featuring the neurosurgeon Michael Egnor.

Meanwhile, rest assured that my goal is to share neuroscience with the widest possible audience, so I appreciate feedback like yours.


message 3: by Roger (new)

Roger Morris (roger_morris) | 34 comments Thanks Ginger. I hope my post was taken as feedback rather than a rant! Keep up the good work.


message 4: by Alto (new)

Alto | 5 comments Roger wrote: "I am a fan of BSP, a primary care physician and (to my intellectual disadvantage apparently) a Christian theist! I've managed to survive quite well in the rational world none-the-less.

Ginger, I..."


The concept of subconscious presuppositions in motivated belief cuts both ways for both those who believe in Russell's Teapot and those who do not, but that is a discussion for another day.


message 5: by Roger (new)

Roger Morris (roger_morris) | 34 comments Couldn't agree with you more Alto regarding presuppositions in motivated belief. It seems that skeptics and atheists frequently assert the high rational ground on matters of metaphysics, without having the epistemic humility to admit that - they too - are as much motivated by presuppositions in their motivated beliefs. This despite their assertions that their thinking is somehow more rational than those they critique.


message 6: by Alto (new)

Alto | 5 comments Roger wrote: "Couldn't agree with you more Alto regarding presuppositions in motivated belief. It seems that skeptics and atheists frequently assert the high rational ground on matters of metaphysics, without ha..."

I was politely disagreeing with your assertion that there is some parallel to be drawn between the presumptions made by theists and atheists, or perhaps I just got trolled.


message 7: by Mitchell (new)

Mitchell | 23 comments Instead of the science-faith antipode, I address the evolutionary biology of religion. This discussion is just the place to do so. Religion is a manifestation of the brain and deserves to be studied within that context. Believing in external forces like God(s) doesn't alter the fact that the brain is predisposed to seek and embrace spirituality through ritual religious practice. Even atheists and agnostics enjoy and partake of music, dance, art, etc, the original, pre-literate ritual behaviors, which ostensibly are non-utilitarian and irrational. Some, like Dawkins, believe this is learned and culturally transmitted, which, for an ardent evolutionist like Dawkins, is quite surprising. He wants us to believe that something as universal as religion is solely cultural. The challenge is to find neural correlates of religion as Andrew Newberg and others have done and, as well, to propose a theory for why religion evolved--how religion is adaptive and improves fitness.

My theory is that religion is a compensating mechanism for higher-order consciousness. Many of Ginger's guests do research showing that consciousness is not the controller, in real time or otherwise. Consciousness actually has a downside in addition to the benefits most people attribute to it, and religion is the evolved response to the drawbacks of consciousness.


message 8: by Roger (last edited Oct 11, 2011 10:55PM) (new)

Roger Morris (roger_morris) | 34 comments Mitchell, there is no doubt that religious experience has neural correlates. But to suggest that religious experience is "nothing but" neural correlates is guilty of the genetic fallacy.

It is true that evolutionary psychology has some partially successful explanatory theories of religious practice and religious experience and even that basic, amorphous spiritual experience can be simulated to a certain extent by temporal lobe electro-stimulation. This does nothing to disprove the existence of God, nor does it prove philosophical naturalism, nor does it prove that religious experience is "merely" a neuro-cognitive phenomenon in its origin.

To make these claims is to fall into the Humean trap of presuppositions of naturalism when approaching the question and confirmation bias.

It may be that God may have developed the human brain in a manner that allows Him to communicate with the human mind through stimulation of certain neural circuitry. To use a metaphor, it may be that the neural circuits implicated in religious experience are conduits or "antennae" of sorts for a transcendent source, rather than the absolute point of origin in themselves.


message 9: by Mitchell (last edited Oct 12, 2011 09:28AM) (new)

Mitchell | 23 comments
It may be that God may have developed the human brain in a manner that allows Him to communicate with the human mind through stimulation of certain neural circuitry. To use a metaphor, it may be that the neural circuits implicated in religious experience are conduits or "antennae" of sorts for a transcendent source, rather than the absolute point of origin in themselves.

While I personally don't adhere to any religious doctrine, I have no problem with this view. It's akin to the 6 days of Genesis being a metaphorical representation of the creation of the earth and evolution of life. Similarly, God designed all life based upon a few nucleotide bases. Nevertheless, we still have the task of tracing the gradual changes of the order and arrangement of those bases over time (evolution), and that includes how and why the human brain is wired to seek the religious and spiritual. Well, why...?

Re: skepticism and materialism were clearly the default for every rational thinker and that those that dissent are poor mistaken unfortunates who may come around one day with enough patience. The concept of subconscious presuppositions in motivated belief cuts both ways for both theists and skeptics.

I completely agree with you. In discussions I've had regarding my theory that religion is a compensating mechanism for higher-order consciousness, some with 'scientific' backgrounds choose to deny the evidence that consciousness isn't the executive in charge. They ignore the work of Gazzaniga, Brenda Milner, V.S. Ramachandran, LeDoux, Damasio, Daniel Wegner, John Bargh, and many others because the evidence contradicts the beliefs of these so-called rationalists. Dawkins is certainly guilty of illogic in his denunciation of religion. For my criticism of his presumed scientific argument against religion, check out Dawkins' faith-based theory against religion.


message 10: by Diane (last edited Oct 13, 2011 11:45AM) (new)

Diane | 9 comments "The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence. Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially." - National Academy of Sciences

That word "evidence", is the critical, pivotal word, in this whole definition, IMHO.


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