Tuesday, November 14, 2006

God Delusion #15: Religious experience and the Human Brain

Dawkins argues against an argument for God on the basis of personal religious experience. He writes, "This argument from personal experience is the one that is most convincing to those who claim to have had one. But it is the least convincing to anyone else, and anyone knowledgeable about psychology." (88)

And he concludes this section by writing, "If you've had such an experience, you may well find yourself believing firmly that it was real. But don't expect the rest of us to take your word for it, especially if we have the slightest familiarity with the brain and its powerful workings." (92)

Now this section is of particular interest to me for at least two reasons: 1)I have personally had powerful "religious experiences"; and 2) James Ashbrook was on my doctoral dissertation committee. Ashbrook, a psychologist, was especially interested in neuropsychology and has written, among other things, The Human Mind and the Mind of God: Where Religion and Neuroscience Meet.

In my doctoral dissertation on metaphor theory I incorporated neurolinguistic studies on cognition and figurative language. I have been and remain quite interested in neurolinguistics and neuropsychology. While I am not a scholar in those fields, becoming familiar with the human brain does nothing to make me skeptical of my own religious experiences. Why not?

In the recent Time magazine discussion between Dawkins and Francis Collins, Collins says this: "I find that studying the natural world is an opportunity to observe the majesty, the elegance, the intricacy of God's creation." I have many personal friends who are university scientists who feel exactly as Collins does. I feel that way too. I have for a very long time felt that way. For me scientific discoveries enter me more deeply into "the majesty, the elegance, the intricacy of God's creation." Study of the human mind provides no exception to this. (And note: here is where I find the atheists' Owen Flanagan, Stephen Pinker, and Daniel Dennett incoherent as they reduce human behavior to both deterministic and indeterministic constraints and then try to explain "free will."]

Would there be any thoughts/ideas/theories/religious experiences for Dawkins that are not finally reducible to the workings of the brain? I don't think so. But to imply that such thoughts/ideas/theories/religious experiences are simply the workings of the brain undercuts Dawkins's own thoughts/ideas/theories. Which is absurd.