Neurology of Science and Religion

Theology is the application of reason to considerations of God and divinity.  However, it has recently been supported by a scientific study that spiritual thinking and analytical thinking occur in different parts of the brain which are in competition with each other.  The study findings showed that moral concern and empathy are associated with religiousness, while analytical thinking is associated with a naturalistic/materialistic worldview.  They even found an association between lack of religious belief and reduced moral concern, which is related to subclinical psychopathy.  Nevertheless, though different parts of the brain perform analytical thought and empathy/religious thought, they are not really in conflict.  They may work separately, but the ideas generated can be coordinated and applied behaviorally.  Theology is the perfect example of this:  the application of reason to considerations of divinity, including ethics.  (This makes me feel secretly happy, because it seems maybe theologians have a special gift others don’t.)

How this works in everyday life is expressed clearly by the lead author of the study mentioned above.  “Religion has no place telling us about the physical structure of the world; that’s the business of science,” Tony Jack of Case Western Reserve University said in a statement. “Science should inform our ethical reasoning, but it cannot determine what is ethical or tell us how we should construct meaning and purpose in our lives.”  The latter is the province of religion or theological thought.  The ability to coordinate the two is something we all should be able to do, and a skill theologians can teach to others.

Although most people consider science and religion to be in conflict, most scientists and spiritual people do not, likely because they spend more time in theological reflection and have more skill in reconciling the two.

The study also presented another important finding relating to compassion.

“The present findings put religious and spiritual beliefs in a new light by suggesting that they are not so much linked to the perception of agency as they are broadly to moral concern, and in particular empathic concern. In line with this view, a number of theologians and religious scholars have claimed that compassion is a central theme that unites many religions.  While further work is needed to establish causal links, it is plausible both that religious thinking increases moral concern, and that individuals who possess greater levels of moral concern are more inclined to identify with religious and spiritual worldviews.”

Is it any wonder that compassion and spirituality are linked?  For many who follow the spiritual path, Oneness is revealed, and compassion is understood.  Compassion is the only reasonable attitude we can take when it is clear that we are all One.


Copyright © 2016 Teresa Chupp.  All rights reserved.


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