Sunday, September 20, 2009

Religion and Science: Summary Of A Discussion

Washington National Cathedral

The recent triple train wreck of Serena Williams-Joe Wilson-Kanye West had me craving good manners. Watching the Very Reverend Samuel Lloyd III interviewing journalist Barbara Bradley Hagerty and the service following at Washington's National Cathedral proved quite restorative.

Hagerty's interest lies in finding circumstantial evidence of God, and she has interviewed over eighty scientists with questions about God and religious experience. This post, taken from my notes, is not meant to give a total summary but inspire you to listen to the entire fascinating interview and read her book.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty

The full interview is a delight to watch at the website of the National Cathedral linked here. They talk about Hagerty's new book, Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality and her religious experiences. The theme rolled all around the fraught relationship between God and scientists. It's to the credit of Dean Lloyd to offer this discussion of religions and science and how they help each other.

The Very Reverend Samuel T. Lloyd III

Never say "Never"

Trying to find proof that God is intelligible, and that divine intelligence stitches together the universe, there are many connections to be found between the experiences of different world faiths. Hagerty says that no religion should claim to have an ultimate claim on "truth" and that there should be respect given to other religions.

Science may or my not ever have proof of spiritual reality, but Hagerty says "it's too early to say it never will." Why people believe what they believe is what journalists and scientists are looking at.What we bring to it is important to the discussion of the way our brain connects with God. Hagerty says that we don't need to be afraid of the science, and that we can all go forward to explore the science of religion.

Thoughts have power

Believing in the usefulness of drugs after the Tylenol drug scare made Hagerty leave the Christian Science Church but she wanted to remain Christian. In 1995, she had a religious experience on a mountaintop in Tennessee that made her want to pursue the question of how God enters our lives.

She found that across world religions, the "religious experience" is shared widely. Hagerty interviewed over eighty people of different faiths: nuns, monks, chanting sikhs and so on. In the religious experience, all of them agreed there is a sense of light and of love, a feeling of one-ness with a supreme being and with the universe. There is, too, the sense of having a connection with others that continues on.

All who were transformed changed ambitions, friends and careers. For example, before being transformed, men tended to value wealth, achievements, material advantages and winning respect. After, they valued more the realms of spirituality, peace, family, honesty and good will.

Scientists are studying the brain at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and finding that at religious moments in almost all religions the brain's frontal lobes light up and parietal lobes go dark. This contributes to a timeless, spaceless sense, a sense of eternity.

Prayers affect your world

A great deal of brain research still has to be done, to be sure. The point is that there are commonalities of experience if not of doctrine. The studies with prayers are within a branch of science called psychoneuroimmunology.In NIH studies on couple bonding called "love studies", there is growing proof in experiments that couples feel connections even when separated in space and time.

While it is not clear how prayers and thoughts affect others, it is clear that the brain has receptors involved in religious acceptance. There is scientific controversy and a great deal of scientific skepticism about religion in general. But there is growing acceptance of the idea that consciousness may extend beyond the brain.

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