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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Religion: It's not all in your head

To say the brain produces religion is like saying a piano produces music," said Daniel Batson, a psychologist at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, in response to claims that recent neuroscience makes religious experience strictly a property of the brain.

Batson, who studies the effect of religion on people, said the brain is the hardware through which people experience religion. But this doesn't mean that religious experiences are illusions--nothing but the quieting down of the parietal lobe or the firing of neurons.

Neuroscientists measure changes in brain activity associated with meditative states as they try to understand how the mind produces a sense of spirituality. Michael Persinger, professor of neuroscience at Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, experimentally produced "mystical" experiences by running an electrical current around subjects' skulls.

While these experiments reveal things about our brain wiring and psychological states, critics say they tell us nothing new about God --or even about religion, which includes commitment, suffering and struggle, far more than meditative experience.


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November issue

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