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Religion and science

Two of the deepest conflicts dividing humanity are those between religions and science and religion. The Iraq war falls into the former category, while the conflict between religion and science really goes back to antiquity. As Lucretius said "Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum". The present decline in Christianity is due to its stress on miracles which are at odds with science. In this regard, Islam has an advantage over Christianity. At the same time, scientists have largely dropped their scornful attitude toward religion. Sir Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) began the trend. A famous cosmologist, he wrote The Internal Constitution of the Stars (1926).

Related but different is scientific interest in mysticism. William James ((1842-1910), author of Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) and Carl Jung (1875-1961) were pioneers. John Gehl calls our attention to recent developments described in Rational Mysticism by former Scientific American writer John Horban, who says says he found that a surprising interest among scientists in mystical experiences: "Investigations of mysticism are proceeding along a broad range of scholarly and scientific fronts. During the 1990s ordinary consciousness, once considered beneath the notice of respectable scientists, became a legitimate and increasingly popular object of investigation. Emboldened by this trend, some scientists have begun focusing on exotic states of consciousness, including mystical ones. Researchers are sharing results at conferences such as 'Worlds of Consciousness,' held in 1999 in Basel, Switzerland, the birthplace of LSD; and in books such as The Mystical Mind, Zen and the Brain, and DMT: The Spirit Molecule.

Their approaches are eclectic. Andrew Newberg, a radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, is scanning the brains of meditating Buddhists and praying nuns to pinpoint the neural correlates of mystical experience. The Canadian psychologist Michael Persinger tries to induce religious visions in volunteers by electromagnetically stimulating their brains with a device called the God machine. The Swiss psychiatrist Franz Vollenweider has mapped the neural circuitry underlying blissful and horrific psychedelic trips with positron emission tomography. The findings of researchers like these are invigorating long-standing debates among theologians, philosophers, and other scholars about the meaning of mysticism and its relationship to mainstream science and religion.

This upsurge in scientific and scholarly interest has not brought about consensus on mystical matters. Quite the contrary. Scholars disagree about the causes of mystical experiences, the best means of inducing them, their relation to mental illness and morality, and their metaphysical significance. Some experts maintain that psychology and even physics must be completely revamped to account for mysticism's supernatural implications. Others believe that mainstream, materialistic science is quite adequate to explain mystical phenomena. Similarly, scholars disagree about whether mystical visions affirm or undermine conventional religious faith."

See for John Horgan's "Rational Mysticism: Dispatches From the Border Between Science and Spirituality."

RH: My vain hope is that the leaders of the major religions will engage in a sustained dialog, vain because it would demand that they question their own beliefs. Humanity can be divided into those who take life seriously and the idiots who live in the world of pop "culture", The intellectual elucubrations look at faith from the outside. A physician can analyze a disease, but that it not the same as suffering the pain. A scientific analysis of joy is not the same as singing "Joy to the world!"

Ronald Hilton - 4/18/03