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

Being Human

Brain MRI 370098_1349
© Max Brown, free images.com

The more neurologists find out about the brain, the more awestruck we can become at the complexity of what goes on inside our heads. How does neuroscience fit in with spiritual experience? Is a neurologist likely to struggle with the idea of God?

Alasdair Coles has had a unique career path. An academic neurologist, conducting research into multiple sclerosis in one of Europe’s finest teaching hospitals, he has recently been ordained in the Anglican church. He is now a hospital chaplain, in addition to his clinical and teaching roles. Alasdair’s experience as a Christian in neurology has been a very positive one, and as he begins to minister in both the church and the workplace he is discovering some valuable connections between faith and science. Continue reading

Free to choose?

Traces within – © Dr Lizzie Burns 2009

Neuroscientist Bill Newsome is grappling with a question that has perplexed scholars for millennia. Do we have free will? That is certainly something to wonder about. At the Faraday Institute summer course, philosopher Peter van Inwagen refused to speak about ‘the f___ w___ phrase’, for fear of becoming embroiled in debates over definitions, and instead chose to speak about determinism. But Newsome finds himself in a profession where the question of free will is more immediate, and both his scientific and his spiritual instincts have led him in an interesting direction for answers.

‘What people have the capacity to choose, they have the ability to change.’
Madeleine Albright, 2006 Snowdon lecture

‘We become that which we love.’
Attributed to Saint Bridget, popularised by Jason Mraz

The central dogma of neuroscience is that all of our behaviour and mental life is inextricably linked to the brain. That’s all very well, but most people would believe that much of our behaviour is a choice resulting from our unique beliefs, values, and aspirations. How do the two fit together? Continue reading

People

Photo from Test of FAITH. © The Faraday Institute

I interviewed a number of scientists on a recent trip to Spain, and this is an extract from the first of those conversations. Dr Raul García has a background in medicine and neuroscience, and is a Children and Adolescents Psychiatrist in Madrid.

I started university as a civil engineering student, but I didn’t enjoy my studies. I was more interested in people than numbers and equations, and towards the end of my first year I was looking for something else to do.  At the same time, I was involved in supporting a family friend who was suffering from mental illness, and I went with him to an appointment at the hospital where he was being treated. This person was a Christian, and during the interview he said that his future was in God’s hands. The medical staff laughed sceptically at him, interpreting his optimism as delusional thinking. This incident had a huge impact on me, and I began to think about studying medicine. I realised that I wanted to help people like my friend, and that this was both a scientific and a theological ambition. So I changed track, and studied medicine. Continue reading