Your Introduction to "Neurotheology" 


"Neurotheology"--that's what Scientific American calls "Searching for God in the Brain."

"Researchers are unearthing the roots of religious feeling in the neural commotion that accompanies the spiritual epiphanies of nuns, Buddhists and other people of faith." 

Several researchers are referenced in the story, but the most prominent is Mario Beauregard, lead author (along with Denyse O'Leary) of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case For the Existence of the Soul. Needless to say (based on the title of the book), Dr. Beauregard does not follow the all-too-typical line of other neuroscientists who presume that their research debunks religion (see here for several references). The book is most emphatically an argument against materialist science, science that assumes that there is nothing real (or at least nothing we can know) other than material reality, the sort that science can access.

You don't discover that about Beauregard in this Scientific American piece; in fact you wouldn't even guess it. There's no hint of his underlying philosophy there. It's curious how this could have been overlooked; but then, SciAm is quite unrelentingly materialist in its orientation. Otherwise, this article's reporting of Beauregard's and other scientists' research in this field seems relatively well balanced. Beauregard's work was with Carmelite nuns. The author, David Biello, closes with:

"Moreover, no matter what neural correlates scientists may find, the results cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. Although atheists might argue that finding spirituality in the brain implies that religion is nothing more than divine delusion, the nuns were thrilled by their brain scans for precisely the opposite reason: they seemed to provide confirmation of God’s interactions with them. After all, finding a cerebral source for spiritual experiences could serve equally well to identify the medium through which God reaches out to humanity. Thus, the nuns’ forays into the tubular brain scanner did not undermine their faith. On the contrary, the science gave them an even greater reason to believe."

That's not a bad summary, especially considering the source. I rather doubt the nuns found "an even greater reason to believe" through this research, but otherwise Biello is right. Neuroscience cannot prove or disprove the existence of God (even though Nature, as reported by the NY Times, seems to think it can). In his book, Beauregard shows that simplistic, materialistic interpretations of neuroscience are far out of agreement with the actual evidence; and that point doesn't even begin to address the philosophical errors in those interpretations. "Neurotheology" is interesting as far as it goes, which isn't far at all. Beyond that, it has little relevance to any quest for the truth about God. 

Posted: Fri - October 5, 2007 at 10:44 PM           |


© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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