Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Brain Chemestry and Presence of God

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The New Atheist Fundamentalism draws upon the work concerning God part of the brain as one of its major weapons.This argument is actually fuitless as is actaully an argument for God not a disproof.

Brain Chemestry:Reductionism

The major atheist objection is that neurological research has accounted for the mechanics of religious experience, thus we know it is not God making the experiences happen it's is nothing more than brain chemistry.

Book Browse.com

Review of Newberg's book Why God wont Go Away

But in this brilliant, groundbreaking new book, researchers Andrew Newberg and Eugene d'Aquili offer an explanation that is at once profoundly simple and scientifically precise: the religious impulse is rooted in the biology of the brain.

Newberg and d'Aquili base this revolutionary conclusion on a long-term investigation of brain function and behavior as well as studies they conducted using high-tech imaging techniques to examine the brains of meditating Buddhists and Franciscan nuns at prayer. What they discovered was that intensely focused spiritual contemplation triggers an alteration in the activity of the brain that leads us to perceive transcendent religious experiences as solid and tangibly real. In other words, the sensation that Buddhists call "oneness with the universe" and the Franciscans attribute to the palpable presence of God is not a delusion or a manifestation of wishful thinking but rather a chain of neurological events that can be objectively observed, recorded, and actually photographed.

Wait, this is a very simplistic notion of the arugment. The argument never said 'O I feel something out of the ordinary, I can't think what would cause it, it must be God." That's the pedestrian understanding. At that rate accounting for the mechanics of the sensation hardly disproves anything. One is still left with many imponderables that offer ratinal warrent for belief if one choose them as such.

(1) The timing in relation to prayer or other religious events.

One can go a lifetime with no religious experiences. One prayer, or one meaningful gesture, one trip to a church during mass, or any such event and one can be reduced to tears, swept away into the transcendent relm, and have one's entire life changed. So the proximity to religious environment as the trigger means this is more than just relaxation or a trick of the mind.

(2) This is not the Only one kind of religious experience

The born again experience hasn't been subjected to the same kind of data gathering techniques, or if it has, I can't find the data. But there are many different kinds of religious experiences and many different aspects to mystical experince this is not the only one.

(3) Something real is happening, it's not an illusion

The only question is "what is it that is happening."

Aaron Holland sept 1, 2001

Review of Newberg's Why God Wont Go Away

First, the authors claim that their evidence from SPECT scans and EEG's show that religious experience is real. Religious experience is real in the sense that there is something actually occurring in the brain that is not dismissable as something delusional or hallucinatory. While some skeptics might dismiss spiritual experience in this manner, it is not clear that this is what skeptics have in mind when they do not concede that religious experiences are real. A skeptical reader might easily grant that something is taking place in the brain but dispute whether that experience is an experience of some metaphysical entity, i.e. God, or of some kind of metaphysical reality, i.e. that all of reality is unified. Someone claiming to have an intimate experience of God can be understood as making two claims: that a certain spiritual experience is taking place, and that such an experience is an experience of a metaphysical entity (God). The authors' empirical data only establishes the existence of the former reality, and not the latter.

(4) Describing physical mechanics of the sensation doesn't discredit the experience


Second, and more important, is the authors' claim that because of their findings it is just as irrational to doubt the reality of God as it is to doubt the reality of the material world: If you were to dismiss spiritual experience as "mere" neurological activities, you would also have to distrust all of your own brain's perceptions of the material world. On the other hand, if we do trust our perceptions of the physical world, we have no rational reason to declare that spiritual experience is a fiction that is "only" in the mind (147).

Now, if we dismissed religious experiences just because we regard them as mere neurological activities in the brain then likewise we ought to dismiss experiences of the material world. That point is trivial, for no skeptic dismisses religious experience for just that reason alone. As the authors seem to be unaware, academic philosophers have debated the existence of the material world for centuries (perhaps too much since Descartes) as well as the existence of God. The authors ignore the fact that philosophers will typically adduce good reasons for not disbelieving in the existence of the material world and for trusting our experiences of it while offering numerous reasons for doubting or disbelieving in the existence of God. In other words, although religious experience and experience of the material world are both neurological activities in the brain, there exist good reasons for thinking that our experience of the material world is genuine and many reasons for doubting or disbelieving that God exists. This is why it can be rational to trust our perceptions of the material world yet still have rational reasons for thinking that spiritual experience is a fiction "only" in the mind.

Just to extend upon Holland's argument, what he's missing is the fact that reasons for disbelieving in God come in all shapes and sizes, just because you have one doesn't mean it's related to nuerological matters or any sort of study data. Its' not enough to just point out the nureological basis of religious experience and then interject any old anti-religious argument and then argue that there are better reasons for doubting God than for doubting the material world. The argument still holds even if we take out material world put in any other belief system, just describing the mechanics of a sensation doesn't reduce the entire experience to nothing. Moreover, Holland shows his naivte because philosophers have lots of reasons for doubting the mateial world too,and no scientific argument can prove the relality of the material world.

(5) Neberg believes in spite of/or because of his data

If this discovery is such a compelling defeat for belief in God, why is it that the major researcher and the guy who porved the nature of the mechanics of the experience still believes in God?

from the man's own website:

Andrew Newberg MD, biogrophy

"The answer, proposes Dr. Andrew Newberg, may be found in the very nature of our minds, in the neurological architecture of our brains. Our brains may, in fact, be naturally calibrated to spirituality. While acknowledging that neuroscience cannot unravel the puzzle that perpetually entrances the human psyche—did God create our minds or did our minds create God?—Dr. Newberg does maintain that neuroscience can elucidate the nature of mystical experiences, their importance in human evolution, and why the abiding need for a concept of God is imperative for the survival of the human species."

from Why God Wont Go Away

"What makes these beliefs more than hollow dreams is the fact that the God that stands behind them has been verified, through a direct mystical encounter, as literal, absolute truth. Any challenge to the authenticity of that truth, therefore, is an attack not only upon ideas about God, but also upon the deeper, neurobiologically endorsed assurances that make God real. If God is not real, neither is our most powerful source of hope and redemption. There can be only one absolute truth; it is a matter of existential survival. All others are threats of the most fundamental kind, and they must be exposed as impostors."

(6) God creates corporeal life, this is just the way he did it.

Newberg believes that mystical experince is opening our minds to a higher realm, and that this is just a desecition of the way God gives corporeal beings a sense of his own presence. IT's not more a disproof of God's presence than arguing that we have lungs,therefore, God didn't create us. Maybe that's just the way God makes for corporeal life to understand himt, its our God finding mechinism. Just because we undersand how it works doesn't mean it's not real. the proof of that is in the results, the data about changes lives and transformations.

Religion and Ethics News Weekly, Feb. 25, 2005.

DR. NEWBERG: "If there is a God, it certainly makes sense that the brain is set up this way, because it would be silly for us to have some fundamental disconnect with the God that created the brain. "

(7) the transformative power of the experince and the religious overtones

The content of the experience itself grounds one in religious consciousness. Many atheists will claim to have had mystical experince and that they were not thinking religiously, but just because they weren't thinking about God or a religoius tradition doesn't mean they weren't thinking reilgiously. They were aware of their unitfied being with all being and life and of the undifferentiated unity of all things, and that is spiritual transcendence, and the experince creates a sense of awe in the face of the numinous and that is the essence of religious thinking. Moreover, since the transformative affects are real and the content of the experince is explicitely religoius, and it is not triggered by other kinds of thinking, there is every reason to attribute it to God.

(8) The experience is indicative of a higher purpose
Newberg's Website (Lectures)

By the end of the eighteenth century, when Higher Criticism and the scientific method began to captivate the human mind, the intellectual elite assumed that religion soon would vanish. However, two hundred years later, the concept of God and the primal stories of religion remain with us and, in many instances, appear to be gaining in strength. We humans remain in thrall to spiritual mythologies, to those symbolic commentaries that arise from the unchanging depths of our minds.

In his neurological research, Dr. Newberg considers this question: why would the forces of natural selection, which gave the human brain its inexpressible powers of logical observation and rational analysis—all shaped toward the serious, pragmatic goal of keeping us alive—allow that very same organ to place such fundamental hope and trust in strange, unlikely myths? In answer, Dr. Newberg contends that the very neural architecture of our brains allows us no other option. We are myth-makers in our blood, compelled to explain the world in terms of gods and monsters, compelled by the mind’s deepest will to survive.
In this lecture—based upon his book of the same title—Dr. Newberg discusses his research in brain function and neuroimaging, specifically his high-tech investigation of the brains of meditating Buddhists and Franciscan nuns at prayer. Illuminating the chain of neurological events that are triggered by intensely focused spiritual contemplation, Dr. Newberg places these objectively observed phenomenon side-by-side with our ineradicable drive to make myths, proposing that the religious impulse is coded into the biology of our brains. While neuroscience cannot confirm nor dispute the existence of God, it can help us understand why God will not go away so easily.

How could evolution lead to myth making creates as part of a brain structure? that would imply that evolution somehow has conscious understanding of what myth is and somehow protects the myth making process. The myth and it's reltion to archetypes indicates a higher rality at work.


theodicy said...

Here is the punchline:

"In his neurological research, Dr. Newberg considers this question: why would the forces of natural selection, which gave the human brain its inexpressible powers of logical observation and rational analysis—all shaped toward the serious, pragmatic goal of keeping us alive—allow that very same organ to place such fundamental hope and trust in strange, unlikely myths? In answer, Dr. Newberg contends that the very neural architecture of our brains allows us no other option.

You are correct to state that the religious function of our brain is very, very strong evidence towards the existence of God, and can in no way be a disproof, or lack of evidence.

Of course this brain activity is certainly not a "proof" in a geometric sense....evidence, yes, proof, no. But here is a case where the evidence is so strong, so overwhelming, that no counter argument from the naturalist camp can possibly be formed against it.

While a naturalist can certainly come up with a wonderful little home-spun "just so story" to explain this bizzare feature of our brains, this falls well beyond the bounds of survival instinct, or survival mechanism.

Of course that is not the only problem naturalists face, a more daunting problem than that of the religious orientation in our brains is the problem of consciousness itself, which serves no logical or necessary function in terms of a species survival. A blade of grass, nor a bacteria seems to have any consciousness we can detect, but that certainly does not impare their existence...

The evolution band-aid applied so quickly by the athiest camp to functions of any kind falls write off when applied to the problem of our God conscious brains.

<>< TM

J.L. Hinman said...

thanks for the comment. I apprecaite that. But you know my argument is that evolution can't give us ideas. Innate ideas when out in the 18th century. So not only is i a question as to why our brains would let us be fooled into believin myth but how could they even respond to a idea of God? sot he God part of the brain is a good design argument.

theodicy said...

I forgot about the how everyone is just a "blank slate" and that anything resembling an innate idea is immediately tagged as being creationist nonsense.

Yet it seems that the idea of innate ideas is not going away quietly. I found this quote in an article from the Stanford/Plato database entitled "The Analytic/Synthetic Distinction"; the context is current ideas about their not really being a true distinction:

"Note that, while Chomskyans may be as methdologically empiricist as any scientists ought to be, they emphatically reject empiricist conceptions of meaning and mind themselves. Chomsky himself explicitly resuscitated Rationalist doctrines of “innate ideas,” according to which many ideas have their origins not in experience, but in our innate endowment. And there's certainly no commitment in semantic programs like those of Katz or Jackendoff to anything like the "reduction" of all concepts to the sensorimotor primitives eyed by the Positivists. (Of course, just how we come by the meaning of whatever primitive concepts their theories do endorse is a question they would seriously have to confront, cf. Fodor (1990, 1998).)"

It seems the evidence that we are innately endowed with some sort of conceptual framework from birth is growing stronger by the day, so much so that even people like Noam Chomsky and Steve Pinker are making room for the notion.

The atheists need to catch up on their reading...

<>< TM