Monthly Archives: June 2013

Is Religion Beyond the Brain?

gears and headThe field of neuroscience is booming.  New discoveries emerge daily, and given the overwhelming complexity of the brain, many profound and important discoveries surely await.  This creates a furor of research, but it also encourages over-reaching generalizations.  People are quick to offer up interpretations about what all these new discoveries mean for our daily lives, for our religiosity, our relationships, our work, our health…  The brain and the mind are so intrinsic to who we are, and the research is so fascinating, that it’s hard to resist making these leaps of interpretation.  As a result, we see a slew of books and articles describing religion in terms of the brain, or vice-versa.  But, all too often, these works are philosophical speculation with a scientific façade.

Last week the New York Times columnist David Brooks critiqued the tendency to overextend these discoveries, by describing the difficulties faced in exploring the brain.  But in the end, he just returned to his philosophical camp by proclaiming, in opposition to most neuroscientists, that “The brain is not the mind.”  Okay, that’s fine to say and true to what most of us feel, but it does little to unearth the real richness of the problem: if the brain is not the mind, then how are the two interacting?  For a deep and quick overview of the mind-brain problem, see this lecture (if you’re worried about time, the relevant section is only six minutes long, starting at 9:27).

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The Divide over Prayer in Schools

Regardless of your position, the very mention of school prayer probably makes you feel a little angry.  It’s emotionally charged, and perhaps that’s why, fifty years after the Supreme Court ruled that school-sponsored prayer  was unconstitutional, the debate still rages on.  But frankly, the debate is stale. The Pew Stats, highlighted in this recent article  by Jaweed Kaleem, show that 57% of Americans still disapprove of the ruling.  Positions haven’t changed in half a century: each side knows their position and everyone toes the line.

I’m not going to join the legions of bloggers weighing in on one side or the other, because after 50 years of debate, what can anyone on either side say that would change the other’s mind?  Instead, I’m curious whether there’s anything fresh to say about the debate.  Perhaps a fresh perspective is needed, not about which side is right, but on why the whole debate has been stalled out for fifty years.

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