Explaining, Not Explaining Away: Why the cognitive science of religion is good news for people of faith

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Pexels – Public Domain

Human beings tend to look after their families and friends, and at times we even show concern for complete strangers. Some of this care and compassion can be explained in terms of hormones. For example, Continue reading

Beauty in the Brain: Sleep, disease, and family life

anna-twitter-pictureAnna Goodman is a neuroscientist, amateur artist, mother, and pastor’s wife. In today’s podcast (transcript below), I wanted to find out how all of those elements connected together in her life. Is there beauty in the brain? What can we find out from studying neurological disease? What ways has Anna found to fit family life and career together, and how do both of those aspects of life complement her faith and role in the church? The result is a fascinating mixture involving Continue reading

Freewill and the Brain: Choices, Constraints, and Community

2d-neural-map-image-cropped
Cropped from Two-dimensional brain. Copyright: Radu Jianu/Brown University

Have you ever had that slightly disturbing experience of arriving at work and realising that you have very little recollection of how you got there? The human brain contains around 100 billion nerve cells[1], each of which makes multiple connections. This biological hardware is used to integrate signals from our own bodies and surroundings, as well as our memories and predictions for the future. Most brain activity actually happens without our being aware of it – our consciousness only needs to get involved when the outcome is not determined. In other words, the more routine our actions become the less we need to think about it. Continue reading

The Problem of Pain: Brain imaging and religion

Neuron_in_tissue_culture (1)
Cortical neuron By GerryShaw (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
From sea slugs to humans, pain is one of the living world’s oldest and most shared experiences. Pain keeps us alive, and helps us avoid further hurt. To understand another person’s pain we have to make a guess based on what we can see, and our own experiences of being hurt. Is this child making a fuss or Continue reading

Interview: Purpose and Pleasure – Exploring Addiction Science

FreeImages.com/Dean Smith
FreeImages.com/Dean Smith

What is the interface between ideas of purpose of science, and in faith – or life in general? This was one of the main topics of conversation during my interview with Alan Gijsbers. I wanted to find out whether medical professionals have a similar sense of wonder or spirituality to some laboratory scientists. Although the challenges are very different in medicine, I found that Alan shared the same combination of curiosity, questioning, and connection with deeper issues that is so important for many other researchers. Continue reading

Peering into the Brain

© Cecilia Picco, www.freeimages.com
© Cecilia Picco, http://www.freeimages.com

If Christians are called to “love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5), then what happens when neurological disease strikes? Dr Clare Redfern is running a project with neurologist Revd Dr Alasdair Coles, based at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the Faraday Institute. They are investigating whether degenerative diseases within the brain, in particular Parkinson’s Disease, affect people’s religious faith and spirituality. In this month’s guest post, Clare describes some of her work.

Parkinson’s Disease is well known as a disorder that produces physical features such as tremor, slowed movements and speech. The degeneration of neuronal networks in the brain also frequently produces emotional and cognitive effects. We are looking at how people with Parkinson’s Disease think and feel about faith and religious belief. If they are believers, might they lose interest in prayer or worship? Does God seem more distant, or possibly closer?

In reviewing the work of others in this field, I have been Continue reading

Brain Activity and Awareness of God

env1ro, http://www.sxc.hu/
© env1ro, http://www.sxc.hu/

This month’s guest writer is Tim Middleton, a DPhil student in the Earth Sciences department at Oxford University. Here he writes about the interface between neuroscience, medicine and and spirituality.

“There was a moment or two almost before the fit itself… when suddenly amid the sadness, spiritual darkness, and depression, his brain seemed to catch fire at brief moments, all his doubts and worries seemed composed in a twinkling, culminating in a great calm, full of sense and harmonious joy and hope… a blinding inner light flooded his soul…” 

This description of the experience of an epileptic fit is from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot. Dostoyevsky himself experienced such seizures and they clearly had a significant influence on his life. For him, it didn’t matter whether it was epilepsy or not, there was a moment of joy that he experienced before a seizure during which he was convinced that God was speaking to him—and he was Continue reading