Center of Science, Policy and Society Programs: AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion
AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion
News & Events: WorkshopThe Neurosciences and Religion
10 February 1998
Mt. Airy, Philadelphia
- A Neuropsychological Analysis of Religion: Discovering Why God Won't Go Away
Andrew M. Newberg, M.D.
- Neuroscience and the Bible: Whatever Happened to the Soul?
Nancey Murphy, Ph.D., Th.D.
By the end of the eighteenth century, the intellectual elite generally
believed that religion would soon vanish because of the advent of the
scientific method and the application of "higher criticism"
to religious texts. However, two hundred years later, religions have not
gone away, and in many instances, appear to be gaining in strength. Andrew
Newberg will consider the neuropsychological basis of religious and mystical
experiences and offer a proposal as to the foundations of religion. According
to Newberg, religion appears to serve two major functions -- it is a system
of self-maintenance and a system of self-transcendence. Since both of
these functions bear directly on human survival and adaptability, the
neuropsychological mechanisms that underlie religious experience appear
to have become thoroughly ingrained in human development. Newberg will
review these two functions of religion from a neuropsychological perspective
to provide a base for understanding religion and why human beings continue
to experience God. Finally, Newberg will consider the conclusions that
a neuropsychological analysis of religious experience lead to regarding
reality and epistemology.
Andrew B. Newberg is a Fellow of the Division of Nuclear Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. His research has focused on neurophysiology and human ritual, religion, and neuroimaging techniques to study the effects of meditation on the central nervous system. He is the Associate Director of Neurobiological Studies for the Conference on Scientific Progress in Spiritual Research and the Director and Co-Founder of the Institute for the Scientific Study of Meditation. He has published widely in journals such as American Psychologist, Zygon, Anthropology of Consciousness, and Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. He received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1993.
Nancey Murphy will consider two perspectives of human nature: the dualist
and physicalist. Through the centuries, many religious thinkers and believers
have held some form of body-soul dualism. Yet current advances in the
neurosciences are making the concept of an independent mind or soul less
and less credible. Although it may appear that science and religion are
heading for conflict, Murphy argues that a non-dualist account of humans
is entirely compatible with Jewish and Christian biblical traditions,
so long as reductionistic accounts of human life (including morality and
religious experience) are avoided.
Nancey Murphy is Associate Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary. She holds a Th.D. in Theology from Graduate Theological Union and a Ph.D. in Philosophy (The Philosophy of Science) from the University of California Berkeley. Her recent books include Virtues and Practices in The Christian Tradition: Christian Ethics After MacIntyre (with B. Kallenberg and M. Nation, 1997), Reconciling Theology and Science: A Radical Reformation Perspective (1997), Anglo American Postmodernity: Philosophical Perspectives on Science, Religion, and Ethics (1997), and On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics (1996). She has been a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science since 1988. She is a three-time National Science Foundation Fellow.