Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Neurotheology

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurotheology

Our good friend Kieren suggested we look at this subject.

I took a look at this link, and I guess the premise is that those experiences of "people of faith", are really explainable by science, and the result of magnetic fields or enviremental or pyschological contexts.

It would seem to me that the result of any such tests, only proves that in some situations some people may have "spiritual" type feelings. This however would not explain my own personal experiences.

I have spent many hours debating the subject of faith with athiests and agnostics. I have also come to the understanding that the basic issue stems from our presuppositions. When we start with an understanding that there is a God we interpret our data, our logic, our facts, and our experiences through the God grid. When someone comes from a place that says there is no God, they deal with life through this grid. The fact that people often switch sides, does not explain away the results of our presuppositional thought. And often our presuppositions are based on things that are not scientifically proven. This is true of the athiest as well as the theist. The athiests cannot prove the non existence of God empirically, nor can the theist prove the existence of God empirically. So we wind up argueing from our own place of faith.

I will say, that the things I have experienced would not be effected by these tests, nor would they be scientifically verifiable. I understand that I cannot expect anyone to take my word for it, but I also believe in the truth of my experiences. Though I have experienced "supernatural" occurences, the greatest truth I can hold on to, is this...

I have changed through the influence of Jesus on my life, I have become a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better human. The fact that others become better without Jesus, does not mean I could have, nor would have without Him. My life has been changed for the better because of Christ. I am more fulfilled, joyful, and selfless. I hope I continue to let Christ change me into His image.

the rev

32 comments:

Kieren said...

Do you think there is an arthritic team of Santa Clause's playing rugby on pluto?

Probably not.

I'm not asserting there is such a team. Is it reasonable that I have to prove that such an entity does not exist? Of course not, only someone who made such an assertion would be expected to supply evidence.

Same goes for arguments for God's existence. It is those who assert he exists that must supply evidence.

Atheists, my kind anyway, do not assert God does not exist. They merely do not assert he does. There is a difference.

So when "people of faith" have a special transcendental experience, and when their are clues as to what may be causing those experiences, why leap to the extraordinary conclusion that supernatural forces are at play? I don't think we have fully investigated natural causes. And this is where the field of neurotheology starts.

The Rev said...

Well the problem with neurotheology is it does not operate in the past. Therefore there is no scientifically verifiable way to test my experiences is there? So I am forced to deal with them.

And I do, in the way that seems right to me.

Kieren said...

Maybe when small and unobtrusive measuring devices are available, that you can wear continĘ°ously, will science be able to measure your experiences.

From what I have read about neurotheology, monks and others need to attend specially equipped labs and go into a meditative state while fully wired up. Now this might put some people off. So I understand your problem.

The Rev said...

Sorry I had to switch computers.

Now, I have logical reasons for believing in God, and my faith. And I am sure, (since you are such a clever agnostic) that you already know them all. If you would like, I can go over them with you. But they all start with the presupposition that ours is not a closed system.

Now you cannot show me any scientific proof that non living matter can become living matter. And then you cannot show me any proof that if this amazing event did occur that it would be sustainable. Then if it was sustainable you would have to show me that it also had the ability to reproduce. And then this accident would have to posses the ability to evolve into more complex life forms. Before you tell me about the "fact" of evolution, I believe in evolution, but you are assuming an aweful lot there that cannot be scientifically verified. Now, ofcourse you can say, "we have some experiments that are showing progress, and we'll know why and how someday" Which is faith. It is not blind faith, but faith that someday we will understand. And I possess this faith as well.

Now the thing you don't allude to is why you feel the need to "enlighten" us poor dumb theists. I mean if you believed in these rugby playing santas on another planet, I would giggle a bit, but I would feel no need to "enlighten" you.

So when crazy theists like myself, have experiences, and I am not just talking about transcendental, we can decipher the data within our own context. I doubt someday science will discover some force that made a broken leg mend instantly, or the knowledge of a tragedy in another city being made known to someone, or the amazing change in my life when I was born again. But hey, don't give up, you gotta have faith!!!

the rev

Kieren said...

You mention two ways of perceiving experiences - assume God exists, or assume there is no God. And you suggest that these "world views" influence how we interpret our experiences.

I would agree with that. For those agressive atheists, who insist that there is no God, would certainly have different views on spiritual experiences - they might point you towards neurotheology as an avenue of investigation, for example.

But what about a "third way" - where one does not start with either assumption, i.e. one starts with "I'm not sure if God exists, but I'm open to good evidence". As it so happens, most of science has never had to go beyond this "methodological materialism" assumption. Most scientific theory and experiment has not had to refer to the supernatural.

Neurotheology belongs in the same camp, doesn't it?

And of course, people are going to think their own transcendental inner experiences are significant - but that's just a normal human reaction, but it doesn't add to the evidence of a supernatural cause.

Kieren said...

Now it does sound reasonable, that there are supernatural causes for life and evolution.

You could place a persons' belief in God along a continuum from strong belief in a personal God who one can experience and directly interacts with the world, to the other weak idea of a supernatural entity that created the universe and conditions for life to evolve, but is unknowable, inactive and absent.

Your deistic reasoning could place you anywhere along that continuum.

But I'm sure, Rev, you are more towards the strong end, and I suspect it is your transcendtal experiences that play a major role in moving you to this end, plus faith.

I don't think logic and reason get's you this far.

Faith is also probably a continuum of belief from a reasonable expectation that a proposition is true to the other extreme of blind faith.

Where about's does your faith in God fit, Rev?

The Rev said...

You can try to assume that you don't know whether there is a God or not, but you will lean one way or the other. This is human nature as well.

When you think of the nature of our world, you must take a side. If you are truly nuetral, then you also must admit that the probability of there being a creator is just as valid as the opposite. But people will tend one way or another and go about proving that they are right.

Once you decide what the truth is, all the facts prove it.

Now suppose there is a God, and he is revealed through scripture, and that Jesus is the Son, and provided a way for real life, abundant life, both now and forever. If I experienced this truth, and believed it with all my heart it might effect my life, and the way I perceive things. It also might make me a happier, more fulfilled person. A better husband, and so on. And with all of that going on, it would make sense that I would share that experience with others.

Funnily enough however, I did not go looking for an athiest blog to convince you. Nor did I go on an athiest forum to convert the heathens. You came to me.

And what do you bring? Smart assed comments, derisive remarks, and an elitist tone. You are advocating nothing, but merely attempting to tear down something meaningful to someone else. All based on something you cannot prove, you just suspect. Sounds pretty religious to me.

Hows that working for you?

the rev

The Rev said...

To me it is reasonable to think that the men who wrote the gospels, really saw what they said they did. I see no reason to believe that a conspiracy of this order is reasonable, or logical. These eye witnesses to the resurection, all died horrible deaths because they refused to recant their testimony. Now this does not make logical sense to me.

If I were telling a lie, and admitting the lie got me out of the death penalty, you better believe I would admit it.

Now, we can go down the road of textual criticism if you wish, but again, our presuppositions will get in the way won't they? Ofcourse they will.

My faith is not based on logic, it is based on my experience with the living God, but it is backed by logic from this point forward.

the rev

Kieren said...

It's refreshing to see a bit of agression in a pastor. Get fired up, Rev!

Now your mission in life, should you choose to accept it, is to convert the heathens like me (For those in the "emerging church" change this sentence to use the word "missional", please). You don't just preach to the converted, do you? And who said envangelizing to the unfaithful was supposed to be easy?

Kieren said...

Getting back to neurotheology, your experiences with God may just be a manifestation of a mental illness. Your little outbursts did seem a little odd.

The Rev said...

Well maybe you can point me to the chapter in the psychology books that would tell me what mental disease causes instantaneous healing of a broken leg. Or the chapter that explains what medicine my wife should take for knowing when bad things happen to friends far away from her. Or maybe the one that gives a good treatment option for seeing the same vision as someone else during a worship service.

I am a passionate man, and a former professional fighter, getting fired up has never been a problem for me.

As to my desire for others to see the truth of Jesus, yes, I have it. But like I pointed out, I have very good reasons to do so, you however have not articulated any reasons for your evangelical crusade.

the rev

Kieren said...

Look, Rev, you should know that anecdotal evidence about a broken leg does not convince elitist atheists like me.

And of course your wife may be getting messages from Satan - you do believe in him don't you?

You can't be sure which end of the stick is hitting you.

The Rev said...

Ofcourse you don't believe it, neither did the two emergency workers, who placed him on a stretcher, having diagnosed an obvious broken leg. My friend was not able to walk, but then was able to. The obvious broken leg was ofcourse just misdiagnosed. Funny how white the EMT guys got. But whether you believe me or not, it isn't any psychosis I have ever heard of.

If my wife heard from Satan, then she still heard from a supernatural force that you choose to deny.

My point is I don't expect you to believe me. But if you could just imagine these things happening to you, you would understand why I cannot accept an agnostic point of view. I know what happened, I was there. It wasn't in an auditorium. There was not offering passed. I do not tour as a healer. Just something that happened. But to deny it would be personally illogical.

the rev

The Rev said...

Oh, and arguing on the internet is not what I consider evangelism.

the rev

Kieren said...

As to my motivations...

How do you know I'm not some ugly, despartely lonely, fat old man (with halitosis) who can't make friends in the real world and resorts to talking to reverends on the internet?

There's nothing wrong with that, is there?

Kieren said...

People get sucked into buying dangerous health-loss products because of enthusiastic and sincere deliveries of testimonies at opportunity meetings.

Rev, you know the limitations of anecdotal evidence - why persist in using it?

Have a look at the wikipedia entry on the subject; google it.

Kieren said...

Sorry, I meant weight-loss products.

Lionfish said...

Kieren,

You are asserting that because the MIND is active during religious experiences, then the total religious/spiritual experience is purely just a matter (excuse the pun!) of electro-chemical/biological impulses at work within the Brain – and consequently there is no spiritual realm at all…it all a physical reality.

You tell REV that “Maybe when small and unobtrusive measuring devices are available, that you can wear continĘ°ously, will science be able to measure your experiences”.

Have you ever considered that maybe there is interplay between the physical and the spiritual? That during times of spirituality the MIND may well be active.

The fact is you cannot receive invisible radiowaves that exist that are all around you without a radio-reciever which converts the invisible airwaves into a format that is understandable to we humans. Perhaps the mind also has capabilities (or alteast a role to play) to act as a intermediary and converter between aspects of the spiritual realm and the physical.

Maybe oneday when your “small and unobtrusive measuring devices are available’ they will also be able to detect spiritual activity in the environment around us.

I will quote Yancey…”

“To me the great divide between separating belief and unbelief reduces down to one simple question: Is the visble world around us all that is? Those unsure of the answer to that question – whether they approach it from the regions of belief or unbelief – live in the Borderlands. They wonder whether faith in an unseen world is wishful thinking. Does faith delude us into seeing a world that does not exist, or does it reveal the existence of a world where we cannot see without it?”

Neurotheology, or trying to measure and quantify the Spiritual, I am sure, will never give a concrete answer to your question.

When a man is praying out loud to that eternal, omnipotent, omniscient God, whatever name he has for him – is this man purely flesh and bone…or is this man flesh, bone as well as spirit.

Kieren, You need to look at and reflect upon the border lines that are all around us in nature that separate the visible from the invisible, the physical from the spiritual…and you may well just capture a glimpse (or as Yancey would call it ‘a rumour’) of another world.

The rest comes down to Faith. And this is why we cannot be saved without it. :-)

The Rev said...

Well, I am happy to give your lonely ugliness some company :)

Anecdotal evidence to you, is my life experience to me. However, I don't use it as proof, I don't expect you to believe it, it just forms part of my own personal faith.

Anyways, I have to go to bed now. I will talk to you tomorrow. Try to get some gum, or breath mints.

the rev

Kieren said...

Now that was an excellent piece of prose, Lionfish. Just as good as some of your thoughts on signposts.org.au

It did have a touch of the elitist about it - I hope the Rev didn't mind.

The Rev said...

well you took long enough to get here. When you gonna give me a call?

Goodnight my ugly friends

the rev

Kieren said...

Goodnight Rev. Goodnight Lionfish.

Lionfish said...

Kieren – you state “People get sucked into buying dangerous health-loss products because of enthusiastic and sincere deliveries of testimonies at (weight loss) opportunity meetings”…


I personally could not agree with you more. Some religions, churches and cults have turned faith into a commodity which can be bought. Faith is not a commodity for sale – or to be capitalised from….and I can see why so many non-believers have been turned off or angered by a something that you allude to which is a sub-faith.

Faith cannot be bought or sold. You have to do the hard yards, ‘look for it with your heart, your mind and you soul’, look for it in the right places – and then maybe while you are earnestly looking, that Faith will find you.

As someone who struggles with matters of faith - I sincerely pray that it will. No agenda. Nothing for sale.

Kieren said...

Like where you're coming from, Lionfish. But I really must retire now. Continue later.

The Rev said...

ofcourse I don't mind Christian elitism, I think it is wonderful. I am hypocritical like that. Goodnight guys, for real this time.

the rev

Jamin said...

I don't believe there is any such thing as wikipaedia! I refuse to believe this anecdotal evidence that you have somehow 'been there'. How do you know it wasn't just a manifestation of a mental illness that you have?


Ben (alias Jamin)

(also a pastor)

Ben said...

All said with a grin of course! :)

Anonymous said...

There are brilliant minds on both sides of the question, each with their unanswerable questions...I like what miller says..'God is not a maths problem you have to try and solve, He is a song...'Sometimes the song,the numinous rings clearer than at other times but like Jazz hard to explain, undeniable once encountered... Phil

The Rev said...

Lionfish,

I do not use my testimony as a marketing campaign I hope you realize this. I felt this particular discussion, was on the topic and therefore the information was relevant.

the rev

Lionfish said...

Rev,

I am sorry that you read into my comment in a way that was not intended.

My view is that you have saving faith - and that is the reason why you want to shout it from the roof-tops. As I do at times.

My comment was written in that I emapathise with Kieran as in many faith/religion/spirituality is a marketable product whether it be a Bible land theme park, a Rodney Howard-Browne meeting, a TD Jakes web-site selling faith-filled Ocean Line cruises or a New Age conference where crystals and pyramids etc.

Saving Faith is not something that can be bought, sold or systematically 'worked' for.

Ben said...

There seems to be the presupposition here that marketing is bad. I think that marketing is one of those things that is not bad in itself but can be used for good or eeeevil! If we're talking about winning souls then marketing Christ in the sense of sharing your testimony cannot be seen as bad. If we're marketing Christ to get rich - sure - that sux!

But surely there is nothing wrong with marketing your cd or something?

Lionfish said...

Ben,

No problems with Marketing per se. or using marketing techniques to market the Gospel...But turning Christianity into a slickly defined marketable commodity - "Yuck!".

Especially when the value proposition promoted is a life of upper-middle class material affluence or success straight out of the pages of a Tommy Hilfiger advertisement or an Amway brochure.