I thought I would point out a fascinating series on NPR about current studies into the neuroscience of spirituality and religion. I think these investigations are very relevant to those of us who try to make sense of the religious experiences we have in relation to those of the rest of humanity.
Very interesting link, Jared.
I’m very interested in hearing the Evangelical interpretation.
Is the brain chemistry merely a trick of the devil, such that the physical effect is the same whether it’s caused by Christianity, Buddhism, or Mormonism? Or is the brain chemistry of an Evangelical valid, but not for the Mormon because their theology isn’t right?
One of my youth pastors had a saying: I don’t have to know everything, I just have to know more than you do, and then you have to trust me.
I’m afraid I’m just not much of a science person so I don’t have much to say on this subject. I did my Bio 100 and my Physical Science 100 in college for my GEs and then swore off hard sciences forever, so I’m completely at the mercy of people who know more about the topic than I do.
I’d love to hear what an informed, science-ie evangelical thinks of this as well, but so far I haven’t found anything.
My friend JP Holding tends be a jack-of-all-trades on apologetics, and when he doesn’t know a particular area very well he does know evangelicals who are better experts in that area, so I could ask him if we’re really dying for the evangelical response.
Or is the brain chemistry of an Evangelical valid, but not for the Mormon because their theology isn’t right?
I haven’t listened to the links yet, but I would probably say what I always say “We need more than spiritual experience to base our decisions on. Everyone is claiming spiritual experiences and they all contradict one another”. As Paul direct in I Corinthians 15, I think the historical reality of the resurrection is a great first step.
I listened to a story of a man who had a religious experience at a wet t-shirt contest. As crude as his example, I think he had some great insight into how we find religious experiences in places we WANT to find them. When I’m home and can find the link I will post it.
“I listened to a story of a man who had a religious experience at a wet t-shirt contest.”
I guess I have been looking in the wrong place for new spiritual experiences. . .
By the way, NPR has text versions of the stories as well, which take less time. Worth looking into.
Aphrodite and Dionysus say yes, you have been.
All interesting stuff. I’d agree with what Tim said, and I’d also add that science can get you only so far in determining what truth is, and I don’t think it’s all that helpful (in terms of seeking truth) to reduce spiritual experiences to brain chemistry. It may be helpful for other purposes, however.
What if we could develop a pill that would give people a spiritual experience confirming Christianity?
It seems very possible with enough research.
Maybe even a designer Mormon drug, a sort of pheromone for the first discussion. Just to open up people’s minds for spiritual experiences. Missionaries could spray it in the room during the opening prayer. It could send conversion rates through the roof.
Since we already know its true, why not use all means possible to nudge people in the right direction?
Then again, maybe we could just hold the first discussion during a Wet T-shirt Contest.
If that had been a viable proselyting strategy, I assure you, I would have had a ton more converts on my mission. 😉
I just finished listening to the series. It was very interesting. A few thoughts I had as I was listening…
1)–If spiritual experiences can be “induced” at will, does that prove anything one way or the other about the existence of God–and/or the meaning of the experience?
2)–I thought it was interesting that they mentioned Paul, Joseph Smith, and Mohammed as examples of people who might have had…uh, now I forgot the name…that one kind of epilepsy that makes people see visions. 🙂
3)–People from all religions and walks of life have profound experiences with the divine. It seems to me that if God is talking, He’s not just talking to one group exclusively.
Here’s the audio link about the wet t-shirt contest.
Explicit language and content. Listen at your own risk.
I did find this on Tekton, it’s at the subscriber-only e-block so I can’t link it to you.
Dear Dr. Sam,
I had someone throw this one at me…does Temporal Lobe Epilepsy explain Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus?
Dear A. S.,
I do believe I have heard that one before! Your friend Dr. Sam is not a medical physician, but he knows one! I’ll turn this over to my friend, Dr. W. Katz:
Mesial epilepsy can manifest in visual hallucinations and/or auditory hallucinations. Provoking factors include stress, prolonged insomnia, and menstruation. After a seizure arising from TLE, there is usually post-ictal (i.e. immediately after the seizure) confusion and sometimes language disturbances, neither of which are reported of Paul in the accounts. On the negative side, I’m not finding anything in the literature about *blindness* commonly occurring afterwards either as we DO find in the accounts. We also do not see any evidence of other typical seizure activity that commonly accompany TLE seizures (e.g. generalized or localized shaking, stiffening of a limb or limbs, certain automatisms like lipsmacking or continuous swallowing, etc.) reported in the accounts. Nor is there any evidence of a preceding “aura” reported in the accounts. And so, I think the only thing consistent with what I’m finding on TLE in the literature is that Paul had a vision (i.e. interpreted as a possible hallucination). With no other features of TLE present, and with some features of Paul’s experience NOT being consistent with TLE, I’d say it would be generous of us to even say that the theory rests on shaky ground.
Other factors have to be taken into account as well. Although there are some apparent discrepancies in Luke’s report, all 3 indicate that the men accompanying Paul did experience *something* associated with the vision Paul received. This suggests an event external to Psychological or Neurological phenomena within Paul was occurring. Moreover, without anti-epileptic drugs, it is likely that such seizure-activity (if this was what was going on) would have recurred in Paul. We have no evidence that Paul suffered from such a disorder subsequent to this (unless of course skeptics want to tout that Paul’s subsequent visions were indicative of TLE).
In short, this is not a truly viable theory for what happened to Paul based on the evidence that exists.
Dr. Sam can add, though, that under such circumstances, if Paul had recurring bouts with this epilepsy, he would have been seen as perhaps demon-possessed!
So they’re basically saying that the details presented in Acts aren’t consistent with what’s know about TLE. That isn’t to say that the details in Acts couldn’t be wrong, but that makes the TLE theory an argument from silence.
There is an interesting novel involving epilepsy and spiritual experiences called Lying Awake. Worth reading as an interesting study in spiritual experiences.
here is one review