Ancient societies considered epilepsy “the sacred disease” because they thought of epileptic seizures as religious experiences. In modern times some have argued that epileptic seizures stimulate a region of the brain’s temporal lobe that may explain the “religiosity” of some individuals. Neurotheology or spiritual neuroscience is a modern field of science that tries to understand religion by studying how the brain works.
In 2005 Dean Hamer published a book titled The God Gene, in which he claimed to have found a gene in Human DNA that would predict whether a person would believe in God. Experts criticized Hamer for his misuse of statistics and lack of understanding of genetics. James Clark wrote a book in 2019 titled God and the Brain (Eerdmans Publishing), in which he maintained that the brain has an area tied to religious experience. He called this the “agency detecting device” and asserted that the Creator put it there to cause us to look beyond the mechanics of science and seek the Agent behind creation. Dr. Malcolm Jeeves heads the Psychology and Neuroscience Department of the University of St. Andrews. He encourages a healthy discussion between religion and science while suggesting that there are realms beyond the reach of science.
Neurotheology or spiritual neuroscience is a very “soft science.” That means no scientist has conducted an experiment that answers the question of why some people are more religious than others. It would seem that attempting to find a cause for religiosity is futile because of the nature of our creation in the image of God. One theme throughout the Bible is that people must voluntarily choose whether to embrace faith in God. That belief can be affected by experience and evidence, but it is still up to each person to accept or reject God.
Atheists would like to find a physical cause for faith. If they could, they would deny the human spiritual nature and write it off as a mutation in our distant ancestors that we should eliminate. Agnostic Stephen Jay Gould maintained that science and religion were “non-overlapping magisteria,” meaning they each represent entirely different areas of inquiry. Perhaps that should apply to neurotheology or spiritual neuroscience.
In the August issue of the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, Toby Engelking wrote, “No matter how much we describe the way that minds work, we cannot say much about the way that they ought to work or why they are working at all. These are realms of philosophy and theology, realms which science is not equipped to venture into.”
— John N. Clayton © 2022