In any case, I've never quite understood the enmity between the Church and science. Call me crazy, but when it comes to studying the way the world works, I don't want scientists chalking everything up to an all-powerful deity.
For instance, since I'm not scientifically inclined, I look at a tree and I think, "Wow! It's miraculous God grew that!" I have no idea how it works. For all I know, God is coming down from heaven while I'm not around and adding new leaves and branches with some sort of wood-welder.
A scientist cannot operate under that assumption, because that is an assumption for idiots. He has to ponder how a tree grows without supernatural forces considered. That's what I want a scientist to do, because I'm not going to. Should a scientist believe there are things outside his understanding? Absolutely. Should he be content with that? No.
Further, I'm of the opinion there's nothing science could ever stumble across to disprove the existence of God. Maybe I just haven't thought hard enough. To me, science is the study of how God has structured the world, and that's pretty cool.
(For the record, I'm sure the mistrust between the scientific community and Church is more nuanced than that.)
All that said, NPR is currently running a series on "The Science of Spirituality". I caught two bits so far.
Yesterday (Part 2) was an entry on how researchers believe the brain's temporal lobe is where spiritual experiences take place, and that spiritual leaders throughout time may have had epilepsy. I confess to be slightly disturbed by the idea an experience with God could be induced by electrical currents. Also, is epilepsy really sacred?
Today's (Part 3) focused on how the brains of particularly spiritual people work while in prayer, and how our brains can be molded to focus more on spirituality.
There are dozens of things that stood out here, but there was one in particular I wanted to mention, a section in Part 3 which the narrator referred to as "theological dynamite," though tempered that by pointing out the research was early.
[Neuroscientist Andrew] Newberg did that with Michael Baime. Baime is a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania and a Tibetan Buddhist who has meditated at least an hour a day for the past 40 years. During a peak meditative experience, Baime says, he feels oneness with the universe, and time slips away.Newberg's conclusion, in my opinion, underlines one of the quarrels the Church has with the scientific community, which is scientists aren't really being rational all of the time, and each person is going to have their own conscious or unconscious agenda. Newberg's research does not prove all faiths are the same.
"It's as if the present moment expands to fill all of eternity," he explains, "that there has never been anything but this eternal now."
When Baime meditated in Newberg's brain scanner, his brain mirrored those feelings. As expected, his frontal lobes lit up on the screen: Meditation is sheer concentration, after all. But what fascinated Newberg was that Baime's parietal lobes went dark.
"This is an area that normally takes our sensory information, tries to create for us a sense of ourselves and orient that self in the world," he explains. "When people lose their sense of self, feel a sense of oneness, a blurring of the boundary between self and other, we have found decreases in activity in that area."
Newberg found that result not only with Baime, but also with other monks he scanned. It was the same when he imaged the brains of Franciscan nuns praying and Sikhs chanting. They all felt the same oneness with the universe. When it comes to the brain, Newberg says, spiritual experience is spiritual experience.
"There is no Christian, there is no Jewish, there is no Muslim, it's just all one," Newberg says.
It does, however, indicate the spiritual experience of a Muslim, Buddhist and Christian are biologically the same. (Though I'm sure many Evangelicals would say Franciscan monks don't count as real Christians.)
I think there's a general belief among Christians (and other faiths, I'm sure), that our spirituality is real, and their's is not, that our experiences are ultimately different. What if they are, biologically, the same? Does this steer you toward universalism? Does it cause you to distrust spiritual experience? Does it not concern you in the least?