Science and the ‘underdeveloped religious function’

At Huffington Post, Catherine Hochman probes the question, “Has science replaced religion?

Hochman cites Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) as well as current figures Richard Dawkins (he of the polarization) and Matthew Alper. Of this last name,

In his book The God Part of the Brain (1996), [Alper] shows how genes influence our religious experiences. He also gives accounts of many scientific studies which suggest that activities such as meditation, yoga, or prayer evoke sensations, which, although perceived as evidence of the divine or sacred, are actually the ways in which our brain interprets neurochemical processes.

Based on a series of studies of twins, Alper shows the influence that genes have on religious behavior. For example, in one study at the Virginia Commonwealth University involving 30,000 sets of twins, researchers concluded, “Although the transmission of religiousness has been assumed to be purely cultural, genetic behavior studies have demonstrated that genetic factors play a role in the individual differences in some religious traits.”

Alper suggests that there is a bell curve where the majority of people are spiritual/religious. On one of the tapering edges of the curve, there are people who are extremely religious, many of whom are martyrs, spiritual leaders, or prophets. The other extreme has people who are “spiritually/religiously deficient, those born with an unusually underdeveloped spiritual/religious function.”

She concludes:

Will, or can, science ever explain religion?

Here’s the kicker, found in italics at the bottom of the piece:

When Catherine wrote this she was 14 years old.

My suspicion – and it’s only mine – is that she hasn’t yet found the answer to that final question of hers.

Category : The Lead
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4 Comments
  1. Alper’s reductionist account –

    “…of many scientific studies which suggest that activities such as meditation, yoga, or prayer evoke sensations, which, although perceived as evidence of the divine or sacred, are actually the ways in which our brain interprets neurochemical processes,” could equally well demonstrate that there is no such event as light. That it’s “Actually the ways in which our brain interprets neurochemical processes.” If we want to insist that our experience proves the existence of light, we’re in a bit of a bind, but that bind extends to everything else we experience, even (whether it’s comforting illusion or transcendent reality) experience of God and the Holy. Either side claims or gives away too much using brain phenomena as proof.

  2. NPR regular (and Episcopalian) Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s book “Fingerprints of God, The Search for the Science of Spirituality” offers her two year experience of conversations and study with a wide breadth of neuroscientists, some atheists, some agnostic, some believers. Across the range, some were clear that they were researcher human phenomena which might (or might not) connect with something beyond us, and some fell into the reductionist trap of thinking they were “proving” or “disproving” the existence of God. It’s a good read and the breadth of experiments of kinds of data they’re finding offers great material for reflection and wondering.

  3. tgflux

    although perceived as evidence of the divine or sacred, are actually the ways in which our brain interprets neurochemical processes

    Praise God for our brain’s neurochemical processes!

    ;-)

    JC Fisher

    …and also for highly intelligent teenagers like Catherine.

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