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Archive for May, 2009

A series on NPR examining the science of God brings up a lot of interesting points, focusing primarily on brain chemistry and structure. Titled Is This Your Brain On God?, the series has five parts, each with accompanying articles and multimedia. The part that I found the most interesting was The God Chemical. Evidence has been slowly amassing for decades showing that certain chemicals or mind states can induce spirituality. These types of experiences have been documented by Barbara Bradley Hagerty in her  new book Fingerprints of God.

In her interview with Diane Rehm, Barbra says that these experiences reaffirm her personal belief in god, and insists that the science is still inconclusive on whether or not god exists. The evidence could either say that god is simply a creation of certain brain chemistry or that god has set up these conditions in order to communicate with us. She seems to subscribe to the “god on a mountain” idea, that all religious experiences are different paths to the same diving being at the top. This is a lovely idea that could help bridge the divide between adherents of different religions and encourage believers of one religion to accept and value the beliefs of others. However, the similarity of spiritual experiences across religions may be evidence that these experiences are simply due to brain chemistry.

Atheists, agnostics, and non-religious people may have “religious experiences” while taking mind altering chemicals but do not believe there is a supernatural component. If these same chemicals are taken with the presupposition of the supernatural, the experience may be seen as communication with god. Is either view right or wrong? Could these shared experiences somehow help non-religious to better understand the fervor of the religious? I look forward to having this as a discussion topic in the fall semester for our student group. Any thoughts to get us started?

Crossposted at the Atheist and Agnostic Society blog.

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Well, no, of course not.  But why not?

When I was on Atheists Talk with Mike last year discussing theistic evolution, it struck me that many if not all of the questiotheistic embryology vs intelligent developmentns I faced were about belief and not about theistic evolution per se.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, in fact it was fun and stimulating (for me, at least).  But we really didn’t deal with theistic evolution as a particular kind of thought.  We discussed (briefly) the problem of evil, and PZ Myers brought out a paragraph-long question that focused (among other things) on the concept of an “interventionist” God.  Those are interesting and important questions, but they don’t seem to me to hit anything unique to theistic evolution.

So I’ve been thinking about this off and on, and when I was asked to give a talk at a symposium at the North American Paleontological Convention in Cincinnati this summer, I decided to speak on a device that I think helps to get people thinking about what (if anything) is unique about theistic evolution.  The device is “theistic embryology” and I’d love to get some feedback on the basic premise.  So here’s the title and abstract, and let’s see what people think.

Why is there no controversy surrounding theistic embryology? Dissecting critical responses to theistic evolution.

Those who simultaneously express Christian belief and affirm evolutionary theory are said to espouse a position called “theistic evolution.” The view holds the peculiar distinction of being reviled by both hard-line creationists (who call it “appeasement”) and prominent atheist commentators (who deride it as fallacious). I argue that these critics typically fail to articulate objections that are specific to the view. Most creationist critics of theistic evolution object to one or both of these characteristics of the view: 1) its reliance on naturalistic explanation, a feature common to all scientific theorizing; or 2) its embrace of “random” causal events, a feature common to myriad scientific explanations. Most atheist critics of theistic evolution object to its openness to supernatural explanation, a feature of religious belief in general. Such criticisms, valid or not, fail to address anything specific to theistic evolution. In other words, attacks on theistic evolution are usually attacks on theism or attacks on evolution, but rarely represent specific criticisms of the theistic evolution position. To better understand the controversy surrounding theistic evolution, I propose that critiques of the position be considered in light of a lesser-known position we may (with tongue in cheek) call “theistic embryology.” Theistic embryology describes the thinking of those who simultaneously express Christian belief and affirm basic theories in human developmental biology. Although the logic is indistinguishable from that of theistic evolution, the view is uncontroversial and the term “theistic embryology” is practically non-existent. I suggest that critiques of theistic evolution be subjected to the “theistic embryology test.” Most critiques that claim to identify weaknesses in theistic evolution make arguments that are equally damaging to “theistic embryology” and so fail the test. Critiques that fail this whimsical test are likely to be arguments against belief, or against naturalistic explanation, and should be considered as such.

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