Spirituality and the Science of the Brain
I was talking to a Christian Neuroscientist friend (Claire: she writes at galloblog.com) this weekend and we were talking about spirituality and how it relates to the science of the brain.
For example, there’s this part of the brain scientists correlate to spirituality. Like that part lights up on their scans when someone is having what they feel is a “spiritual experience.” Is that all that our spiritual experiences ever are? Chemicals in our brains?
And what about what people used to call demon possession, or prophesy, or being thrown to the ground in seizures? Now we can diagnose most of those cases as schizophrenic or epileptic or whatever. So were there never any spiritual forces really at play?
And she told me about this experiment where some dude was molesting kids and they found a tumor in his head. And when they took it out he stopped molesting kids… until the tumor came back again. It was like the tumor was smashing some sort of inhibition center. So is morality really pretty much just dependent on our brain chemistry?
I think probably all the science is true. But here were some of our hypotheses about how the spiritual world could ALSO be true, and in fact reinforce the science.
What if humans are the doorways between the spiritual world and the physical world? Particularly the brain. This makes sense because scientific instruments have pretty much failed at detecting any spiritual presence, but plenty of people claim to have experienced something spiritual (whether it’s seeing ghosts or reaching nirvana or hearing from God). And in fact I recorded 200 pages of miracles in this book where I interviewed pastors in Ethiopia.
So maybe our brains have the microchip that has a type of antenna that communicates with the spiritual world (our science doesn’t yet have this technology). And our bodies are the machines controlled by our brains. So when a powerful new signal comes in, that part of our brain of course lights up. And this signal can mess with our brain’s programming, even if we don’t understand the signal or where it’s coming from. But just like a virus downloaded to a computer can make it all wig out and stuff, a prodding from the spiritual world could trigger all these chemicals in our brain to go haywire. And that would be the exact scientifically observable symptoms of schizophrenia or epilepsy, etc.
But sometimes, maybe the spiritual center is functioning correctly and the signals are a little more obvious, and that is when we are really seeing accurate visions in the spiritual realm or hearing the voice of God.
And about the guy with the molestation tumor, maybe the capabilities of our brain do take part in our morality choices. But if anything, this speaks of the Christian God over many of the religions, specifically because our God levels the playing field with Grace. He knows we all struggle at different levels and we each have been given different capabilities to cope with those struggles.
And I like what C.S. Lewis says in “Mere Christianity” about how some of us may have more of a disadvantage in morality than others but it’s okay:
“But if you are a poor creature–poisoned by a wretched up-bringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels–saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion–nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends–do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all – not least yourself.”
So maybe these theories make it possible, in fact give a fuller, cohesive picture of how science and theology can reinforce each other as truth!
(By the way, if you’re reading this today, and are in Atlanta, there is a Neurotheology talk/discussion happening tonight at 8:30 at Monday Night Brewing! I’m planning to be there!)
Raw Spoon, 7-13-17