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Saturday, June 24, 2006

My new book with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard: Some laughs along the way

I have recently dragged myself up the bank and shaken myself off, after the hardest slog of my life, and now I feel like talking about one or two things. I wrote this column for an excellent interdenomintional Christian paper, ChristianWeek, to which you should subscribe if you are interested in the Christian community in Canada. It was written after a leave of absence while co-writing The Spiritual Brain :

Faith@Science: The God gene? Spot? Circuit? Okay, maybe a Module?

by Denyse O'Leary

Well, it's great to be back on my old coffee stool. As kind regular readers may recall, I was away coauthoring a book on the neuroscience evidence for the spiritual nature of the human, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard. Some may wonder what that is all about, so I should perhaps say a bit about it.

If you listen to the popular science media, scientists have discovered that there is no self, no soul, no spirit and no free will. The mind itself is an illusion. Neuroscientists have also discovered that there is a God spot, God circuit, God gene, or God module in the brain. They have also discovered that, by putting on a special helmet, you can have mystical visions, and that Darwinian evolution selected cavemen who believed in religion. That is why you can't help but believe (even though, for as yet undetermined reasons, the theorist himself and his buddies apparently can help it quite easily).

Not only that, but religion can be traced to defects in the temporal lobe. Paul the Apostle, Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, and Thérèse of Lisieux were all epileptics, and that explains their careers. Every other month, a great new discovery of this type is said to revolutionize the relationship between science and religion. Mainly by showing that there is nothing much to religion.

You think it's all nonsense, do you? Or do you worry in your heart of hearts that one or another of these concoctions might be true? Well, I spent a year examining all of them in detail (or anyway, as many as we could spot flying above the radar). It was the hardest year of my life, considering the piles of stuff I had to get through—dating from 1902 through 2006—and discovered that … it is indeed all nonsense.

I came away astonished by the gullibility of the popular science media in this area. There were times I howled with laughter. The only explanation for the tendency to offer credibility to any "we've found God in the genes/brain" announcement, however poorly supported, is reflexive materialism.

In a way, it makes sense. If we start out with the axiom that materialism is true and that therefore the explanation for religious or philosophical belief must be found in Darwinian evolution, we have only two choices: Either evolution selected people who believe in religion because it confers a survival advantage or it permitted their survival even though it does not confer a survival advantage. Either way, we would be predisposed to expect that research will sooner or later—probably sooner—uncover the evidence. As a result, if we are journalists, we may stampede to cover the flimsiest nonsense as if it were an important discovery. And then on to the next nonsense.

Meanwhile, there is good evidence for the independent existence of a mind, apart from the brain. Based on evidence, it is also reasonable to believe that people who have deep religious experiences contact something beyond themselves. That, of course, is the core of the book, which will be published in spring 2007. I'll say more closer to the time.

By the way, in my last column (January 2006), I wrote about the Catholic Church taking on Darwinism. Recently, Fr. Martin Hilbert of the Toronto Oratory wrote an excellent article in Touchstone Magazine (available online at Touchstonemag) setting out the details of how and why that happened. It has come to my attention that the Vatican is now selling holy cards in many languages at souvenir stands throughout Rome, featuring a key portion from Benedict XVI's first homily, including the sentence: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is a thought of God." Hundreds of thousands of visitors take them home. Anyone who thinks that the intelligent design controversy is merely a dismissible product of American fundamentalism is whistling down the wind.

Forget the comfortable encomiums that we so often hear from Christian academics that there is "no conflict between faith and science." How weary I used to get listening to that! Of course there is no conflict between faith and science. But my research for By Design or by Chance? showed clearly that there is an irreconcilable conflict between Christianity and Darwinism. And this current book has deepened my awareness. Stay tuned.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

(Note: CW doesn't put my columns up on the Web.)
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

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