Writer, Church leader, Eccentric Nut, Marketer

I'm Church Leader, Writer, Speaker, Marketer, Kindness Project Founder, Broadcaster and Superhero. But most important I'm a Husband, Father and a worshiper of Jesus.

15 March 2010

The neuroscience of interacting with the divine

I love that we're looking (and seeing) further into how genuine and beneficial the human interaction with divinity is. Back in 2006, The University of Pennsylvania released a very interesting study about how our brain function when speaking in tongues... a highly criticized method of interaction and sometimes seeming spiritual oddity.

Brain images revealed that there was a decrease in activity in the subjects’ frontal lobes while they spoke in tongues. “That is a part of the brain that normally makes us feel as if we’re in charge of our actions,” Newberg said. “The fact that activity is decreased makes a lot of sense. [Those who speak in tongues] feel like they’re not in charge,” said Newberg, who is also the director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at Penn.

One of the challenges of examining a spiritual practice is the difficulty in validating such a subjective experience. “How do you know they’re really speaking in tongues rather than faking it?” Newberg asked. “But the fact that we found similar changes in the brain in all our subjects suggests that something is really happening.”

There was an excellent article in yesterday's National Post called: "God's Brain: The neuroscience of devotion". This scientific study by Dr. Lionel Tiger is about how our brain functions in an embraced system of religious belief... another highly criticized concept in our post-modern world. Here are some highlights:

As a scientist, he was fascinated by the persistence of religious systems throughout human history. He estimates that religious systems have lasted 70,000 years and are practiced by 80% of the world’s adults. We’re really interested in what is going on in humans that stimulates, permits and codifies the endurance of religion. It’s a major scientific mystery.

Prof. Tiger feels if there is a god, then the brain would be the instrument a god would have to use. “It can’t be the elbow or the pancreas,” he said. “The brain defines who we are.”

The continual answer is... "This does work for people. It does help them and turn them into better people. But it's a mystery. There just CAN'T be a God. I mean come on".

Here's the thing. Life... is heavy. In fact it's TOO heavy. Jesus said,

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

It works. He's there. He created us to interact with the divine. It does a body, mind, soul, spirit good.


Jeff said...

Okay, now you're getting into my territory, Dave. I'm in school for psychology, and so I come across these types of studies all the time.

One of my pet peeves is religious people that try to use some sort of scientific evidence of religion to "prove" the truth of religious beliefs. Like you say to conclude, "It works. He's there. He created us to interact with the divine. It does a body, mind, soul, spirit good." And while you're free to believe that, the scientific evidence does nothing to back it up.

It's not at all inconsistent to say that religion can be beneficial for humans or help them out, and yet say that God does not exist. We could do studies about how reading fiction could help release stress or watching fantasy movies could inspire creativity - but that does not mean that these fictional worlds actually exist. I'm not trying to equate religion with fiction, I'm just trying to draw out an analogy.

I'll give another example. Religion is often tied up with culture. And a culture, even a bad one, can provide some really positive effects for people. It provides a social atmosphere, gives people customs and norms, provides shared meaning between members, etc. That doesn't imply, though, that any individual culture has been handed down by God. It says nothing about whether the culture provides truth about reality, or is even morally good - it just says that culture provides positive benefits to the individual.

So forgive my frustration when people use scientific studies to try and prove something that clearly goes beyond the science. The problem is that "God exists" can't be proven by science, and yet many believers will use any science that is favourable to them to prove that he does exist, and ignore any science that is unfavourable. I'd be more appreciative if they would instead acknowledge that God lies outside of scientific observation, and thus no scientific study will ever disprove or prove his existence, or in any way lend weight to the claim. That, to me, seems much more honest.

Of course, I'm not trying to imply that you in particular were being dishonest. Like I said, it's just a pet peeve of mine.


Dave Carrol said...

Ha... Thanks for commenting... I had a feeling I'd hear from you.. ha. I had read your journey with "Creation Science" that your parents had you read before the deconversion.

I actually agree with you somewhat about the persistence of the Christian science movement in their assertions of absolute proof that "God exists". I do think there are some good things that are being said... but..

Coming from a thinking/strategic evangelical perspective... while interesting, I find it to quite unconvincing to most. Very few ACTUALLY base what they really think about God based on scientific evidence (on either side of the argument). I agree with you that I don't either side can "prove" the exsistance of God.

I think Christians just get giddy when they feel like someone has their back in the academic community because of their increased aggressiveness and attack (which you must admit is growing).

I do take some issue with the Dawkins of the world and the arrogance that is coming from the "80% of the people in the world are morons" for "believing" camp. It's "methinks he doth protest too much" esc. Their evidence really just leading to the conclusion of "we don't really know" but it's done with a considerably more condescending attitute that people who DO believe are idiots.

it's easy to see how that would get tiring.

What I like about both of these studies is that it's not out to prove "God exists" though. It's studying the measured human reactions when they are participating in God-scenarios. Scenarios that involve FAITH. It's not a Christian secret as you know that faith is a tangible part of the equation... and it's something that is often unquantifiable... and I think that can be frustrating to the scientific mind.

So seeing how the human brain functions when speaking in tongues is very interesting to me. But it doesn't make the connection I have with God when praying in tongues and more or less powerful.

It's very true that religion because there are benefits does not presuppose God is real. Absolutely true. But what I love seeing is the positive effect towards freedom, peace, lightness that DOES come when men follow what this system of belief is played out.

The proof to me... was giving my first whisper of "yes" to God coinciding with the sky being brighter and the overwhelming urge to apologize to my Mom for hurting her.

The proof to me is seeing Eric Mackeigan's leg grow while we prayed one day.

The proof to me is that when I ask God to show me something prophetically about someone on the street so that I can encourage them... he does it with stunning accuracy.

I love that you think Jeff. I very much enjoy discussing these things and I'll readily admit that there is great mystery in the God factor. In fact is something that both sides MUST and DO admit.

One scripture to me that is both cool (and makes studies like this cool) is that "Christ in me is the hope of Glory". I think that there is much evidence to be found in man.

Jeff said...

Well I'm glad we can agree. I definitely think you're right that "very few ACTUALLY base what they really think about God based on scientific evidence". But I think a lot of people try to justify what they believe using the scientific evidence to make their beliefs more...believable. It's irritating that someone will use a study to show that their beliefs are right, but if the study had shown the opposite, they'd say "oh well that doesn't prove anything."

So I don't have a problem with faith. People are free to have all the faith they want - just so long as they realize that it's faith and not some rational process of sifting through databases.

Anyway, I also agree that people like Dawkins can come across as condescending. And I don't like that approach. But I think that the majority of his condescension is reserved for people who do just what I mentioned - try to use science to back up stuff that is not scientific.

But anyway, I could say more about your use of anecdotal evidence to prop up your beliefs. But when you really get down to it, I doubt that you base your beliefs on those experiences either. I just don't really know what they are based on, that's all.

Jonathan Blundell said...

Thanks for linking back to my blog. However, I'd prefer it if you upload the graphic to your site so it doesn't drain my bandwidth limitations.
The image is from NPR if you'd like to credit them.

Dave Carrol said...

Done Jonathan.

Thanks man

Jonathan Blundell said...

Thanks for the quick response!

Mucho appreciated!

Feel free to delete these comments if you'd like.

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