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Religion in the Brain-Scanner

Jonathan Morgan

MRI,brainLast week I wrote about the dangers of reducing experience down to the chemical reactions and physics of our bodies.  For a great look at the depths of this problem, check out my colleague David Rohr’s essay at Patheos.com.  But all this may leave you wondering whether this is really a danger.  Am I just arguing against a straw man or fighting windmills?  Don’t get me wrong, I think Don Quixote’s great, but here’s why I don’t think this is an imaginary debate.

Check out this paper from a group of neuroscientists and scholars in Maryland- “Cognitive and neural foundations of religious belief.”  I get super excited when I see titles like this.  Understanding the brain mechanisms beneath belief would help us understand how religion might have emerged in early human communities.  I’d likely regret it, but I wish I could time travel just to see those early communities begin to use language and form early rituals.  That’d be amazing!  Good academic papers are kind of like imaginary time machines that give us a glimpse into our past.  At least the good ones do.

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