Sunday, September 06, 2009
God, tarts and a misleading Sunday Times story
Dr Andrew Newberg: Not quite the know-all atheist the Sunday Times would have us believe
"We are born to believe in God" is the headline of a Sunday Times story today. Various quoted research studies suggest that natural evolution requires us to have faith in a deity for the betterment of social bonds. Put another way, and leaving aside any independent paranormal, religious or mystical experience, people end up believing in God because our brains are hard-wired tarts, and a healthy tart will opt for whatever promises a good time. God-belief is a sort of john/client/punter/trick that delivers a benefit after the fantasy-screw. Yum yum.
The faith of Atheism appears to be going the way of all other religions: sinking into the pit of dogmatic fantasising. Having failed to disprove the existence of gods/afterlife/paranormal whatever, the salaried secularists in their uni labs are resorting to a form of academic Lego to construct theories from their experiments which are essentially unprovable (or essentially speculative). The agenda is to ignore countless subjective experiences of the mystical and explain them away in biological terms. Professorial livelihoods boom or bust on the dismissal industry.
Yet a closer inspection of at least one of these supposed apostles of Atheism reveals a more interesting and complex picture. Take Dr Andrew Newberg. for example.
He is quoted in the Sunday Times story. He's an Assistant Professor of Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania. Author of Why God Won't Go Away and other works, he uses brain-imaging techniques to show how religious and spiritual experiences are the result of "belief networks" operating across different parts of the brain.
You would think from the article that Dr Newberg has reduced all mystical or religious experience down to mechanistic brain function - it's all in the head. That is not the case. In a Q&A on Newberg's website, he states plainly: "Whether or not God exists 'out there' is something that neuroscience cannot answer."
He goes onto explain: "For example, if we take a brain image of a person when she is looking at a picture, we will see various parts of the brain being activated, such as the visual cortex. But the brain image cannot tell us whether or not there actually is a picture 'out there' or whether the person is creating the picture in her own mind. To a certain degree, we all create our own sense of reality. Getting at what is really real is the tricky part."
It didn't suit the Sunday Times and its Atheism agenda to flesh out this subtlety.