Has anyone learned about neurotheology?
Sounds like a fascinating field of study. It doesn’t suppose that gods exist, but could help explain why believers are so certain that their own inner experiences reflect some objective truth.
I’m a hard atheist, but I don’t like to invalidate believers’ personal experiences. Those experiences occur in their minds, though, like experiences with hallucinogens do. (And no, I don’t claim religion is a “mental illness.”)
It seems clear to me, also, that people have group spiritual experiences, from visions to visitations by “ghosts,” which vary by culture. Something transcendent occurs, but it doesn’t have to be supernatural. It’s the way our brains evolved, with connection to the group important to our survival.
Neurotheology is a relatively new science that explores the relationship between the body and religious experiences. These “experiences” can include meditation, near-death experiences, trance states, the feeling of being one with the universe, or encounters with supernatural beings. There is no determination if these experiences are imaginary or real, and it’s unknown if the experience causes changes in the brain or if the brain creates the experience.
Research into neurotheology began … (in the 1800s) …and for a long while centered on documenting experiences induced by hallucinogenic drugs…
The refinement of neuroimaging delivered a more quantitative method of research. Those who study a person’s neurological response to religious experiences use functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to measure blood flow to various parts of the brain. Researchers then compare brains at rest or engaged in a neutral, non-religious activity with brains experiencing some kind of transcendence. Using fMRI, scientists have discovered that reciting Scripture (from whatever religion) correlates with distinct activity in certain sections of the brains; subjects who have a more intense religious experience show even more activity, as do those who practice such things as prayer or meditation on a regular basis. If an agnostic or atheist recites Scripture, the corresponding brain activity does not occur.
Andrew Newberg, M.D., Eugene d’Aquili wrote:
“The sensation that Buddhists call ‘oneness with the universe’ and the Franciscans attribute to the palpable presence of God is not a delusion or a manifestation of wishful thinking but rather a chain of neurological events that can be objectively observed, recorded, and actually photographed. The inescapable conclusion is that God is hard-wired into the human brain.”
…Researchers have also discovered that practicing meditation or prayer strengthens parts of the brain, and an exercise showed that a moderate amount of meditation improved the memory of people with dementia."