Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Spiritual Brain: Neuroscience & Spirituality

Beauregard, Mario and O’Leary, Denyse (2007), The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul, New York: HarperCollins Publishers

The neuroscientist is Mario Beauregard at the University of Montreal. Denyse O’Leary is a freelance journalist in Toronto. In this interesting book, Beauregard documented his experiments with a group of Carmelite nuns exploring the thesis that spiritual experiences are more than imagination or delusions by the brain.

Beauregard calls himself a non-materialist neuroscientist, distinguishing himself from the materialist neuroscientist. The materialist neuroscientist does not believe there is anything outside the material plane and all phenomenon can be explained by the workings of the brain. Beauregard explores psi effects (paranormal experiences such as extrasensory perception and psychokinesis), near death experiences NDE (medical resuscitation has improved so there is a large number of people with NDEs) and placebo effects (you are very sick but you start to get better in the doctor’s waiting room-your brain is making you better).

This book is a welcome reading in face of a sudden raise in number of materialist scientific writings which are ‘anti God’ and propose a “God gene’ or ‘God switch’. Examples are Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Daniel Dennet), The God Delusion (Richard Hawkins), God: The Failed Hypothesis-How Science shows that God does not Exist (Victor Stenger), and God is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens).

“…our book shows that when spiritual experience transform lives, the most reasonable explanation and the one that accounts for all the evidence, is that people who have such experience have actually contacted a reality outside themselves, a reality that has brought them closer to the real nature of the universe”(xvi)

More thots on Neuroscience and Christian Belief here

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Blogger Sora said...


sounds interesting

5:47 AM  
Blogger pearlie said...

I was talking about this same topic with a friend just a couple of days ago and he was telling me about some people putting up a scientific and empirical test on prayer. If I have not mistaken it was Dr Gary Habermas though I can't yet find any mention about it other than this.

5:55 AM  
Blogger Given55 said...

I was an atheist for most of my life. I saw into the spirit realm, but, discounted it as my mind playing some kind of game. Now, that I am a Christian those spiritual gifts have grown & I understand where they come from, why I have them, & their importance. It is great that someone is looking at these things on a scientific level. But, to me it is simply God.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi Sora,

You will be interested to know that Beauguard uses imaging to prove some of his theories.

12:36 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi pearlie,

There have actually been a number of scientific papers published in respectable scientific journal on research on prayer or more specifically praying for the sick. However, the methodology of most of these research is questionable and the conclusions equivocal.

12:42 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi given55,

welcome. People tends to interpret things from their worldviews. Some studies on Near Death Experiences (NDE) have shown that.

I am glad that you are now a Christian and the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes to the real Reality.

12:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am still very much excited with the discovery of pyschology, social pyschology, behavioural and neuroscience.

If nature is mechanistic, it is only the matter of time before we discover the god-mechanism in our human wirings. And if such mechanism is mehanistic, then time will also teach us how it works.

But to me, that doesn't answer the telos question. And god for now fills the gap.


12:38 PM  
Blogger Leon Jackson said...

Hi, thanks for the interesting lead. I try to champion another alternative, which is that one can be a materialist and not disprove God. There are two extremes - god of the gaps on one side and reductionists conclusions on the militant materialism-disproves-god movement. I like what V.S. Ramachandran said about Dr. Michael A. Persinger's brain imaging of religious experiences[1]- that what we are looking at could be the machinery we used to know God. We don't have to introduce another spiritual layer to include God, He could work completely through matter. Also, about NDE's, Persinger is one of a few people i have heard document NDE's and Paranormal experiences as dependent on cultural constructs - Freudians see relatives, Christians see Jesus or angels, Buddhist see some monk, Westerners see aliens, etc, etc.

[1] http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.11/persinger.html

3:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

pgerhi leon kj,

Thanks your your comments. I do realise that there is an alternative view and it is that God works through the materialist worldview. I also realise that there is much for that argument. However, its limitation is to limit God to a materialistic universe. I believe any worldview that includes God must ontologically includes the natural and super or supra-natural aspects of the present reality.

Persinger is not the only one who commented that NDEs are often expressed in cultural and religious context. This is perfectly natural as we will always describe the undescritable with terms and references we are familiar with.

Thank you for the links.

12:48 AM  

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