Monday, April 02, 2007
Can you prove faith?
"Do you really believe in all the tenets of the church?" I asked earnestly. "I mean all of it - heaven, hell, purgatory and the Pope being closer to God?" I pressed in my adolescent voice.

"Chris, I am a nun," replied Sister Clevie. "It comes with the territory," joked my ninth-grade religion teacher.

I laughed, but I couldn't drop it. "I think you're a great nun, but can you really believe in everything the church teaches?"

Religion has always been a big part of my life. I spent years in Catholic school, countless hours in churches - both Roman Catholic and Protestant. Now, I'm even engaged to be married to an ordained minister. All my life, I've been surrounded by the faithful, but I'd be lying if I said my faith never wavered. After all, I am a medical journalist. Much of my life is centered on the measurable: clinical studies, solid data and scientific fact. But like many of you reading this, I've longed for a better understanding of God and the reasons that people believe. Ironically, I've been searching for ways to prove faith.

That's why I was so fascinated by the emerging field of neurotheology. Dr. Andrew Newberg and his team at the University of Pennsylvania have been scanning the brains of believers: Franciscan nuns, Tibetan Buddhists and Pentecostal Christians speaking in tongues. Dr. Sanjay Gupta will report on the interesting and unique findings on "Anderson Cooper 360" in a two-part special starting Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET. The science may offer better insight into the idea of whether human beings are hardwired to believe in God.

To be sure, the idea of scientifically tracking belief in God has many critics. Scott Atran, University of Michigan anthropologist and author of "In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion," is skeptical. He says it's "fundamentally misguided" to look at brain scans for any true meaning of why people believe. Others say the search for knowledge is important, but proof is beyond the point. The Rev. Stephanie Weiner of Union Congregational Church in Montclair, New Jersey, says, "I believe in science. I believe in the medical arts, but when it comes right down to what we're doing with people, it's what do you do after the science runs out or after the medicine can't do anything else."

What do you think about proving faith scientifically? Some people say that God must have created our brains to be able to interpret the almighty. Other people say that religion is nothing more than a byproduct of evolution. Do you think our brains are hardwired for faith? Do you think there is anything to learn from studying the brains of the devout? Do you think spirituality is a direct result of adaptive evolution?
Just by definition, I think it's silly to try and "prove faith." Faith is belief we have in something that is bigger than ourselves. When you can scientifically "prove" somethings existience, it is no longer bigger than you are, and so their is no reason to have faith anymore.
While I believe there are more logical reasons to believe in God and spirituality than in most scientific and so called "logical" theories, I think it's rediculous to try and make something that is, by definition, faith, a concrete and measurable object.

Hardwired from the "beginning"--you know "In the beginning "God" created the heavens and the Earth". That would be Genesis. God created and formed us all. Look around you and don't question just "KNOW" God is everywhere! The birds of the air and the fish of the sea relish His wonderful creation yet we intelligent humans just have to question everything don't we. Life itself is the most wonderful gift ever created and given to us all to share and enjoy on this Earth. I see life as an opportunity to reach out and touch mankind and make our world a richer more enlightened place to exist. I watch many of the CNN correspondents as they travel around the world taking hope and opportunity to people. Isn't is amazing how God uses people to insure His work is done and His message is shared. Faith is an engaging attribute. You must be willing to give of yourself and reach out and touch others for it to grow and mature and at the same time you must also be willing to believe in something you've never seen or touched. It requires us to accept the whispers of our mind and soul that tell us all "God" is everywhere in everything but most of all inside of us---now that my friends is "Faith". Things unseen are often the most precious..we can't see the wind but think of what it can do-- lift a kite high into the sky or uproot a massive Oak in seconds. Love has never been seen or touched yet we can feel it everyday. The results love can produce will melt the hardest heart and take the most unlikely candidate to the other side of the world to share a meal, drive a nail or hold the hand of a dying stranger. Ahhh---what "Faith" can do if we only allow it to blossom in our soul!
Discovering why we believe what we do only enhances our connection with the Universe and each other. Advances in neurotheology will greatly benefit those who seek a scientific understanding of the world around us, while they will have little affect on those whose faith lies in other systems of thought.
Very interesting questions; although I'd be hard pressed to believe that our brains are hardwired for faith. However, now that I say that, there could be some indication, but I would still have some doubt of 100% certainty. I'll be be sure to watch for Dr. G's findings.
The fact that the stories of Jesus, his mother, Mary, and the ultimate authority, God, have passed the test of time, been written about and studied for thousands of years, caused ridiculous wars and more absurd rules...what more proof do you need?

God must be laughing and crying at human lunacy all at the same time. He simply "is"...
I think people can have better results with treatment if they have strong faith that it will work. Negativity seems to make it harder to heal.
Hi Chris-
I'm definitely looking forward to THIS special. My brother is a pastor and my father does missionary work. I personally ran off and tried to be as bad as possible in my early twenties :) Of course, now at my ripe old age of 31, I've come to a point where I believe it's healthier to believe in something, anything at all. I am a Born-Again Christian but I feel that each individual has an inborn right to select their own path regardless of whether I agree with it or not.

I do think our brains are "hardwired" to look for something greater than ourselves. However, I've read research that shows that the brains of the devout, and those that meditate, are very similar. Makes me wonder about meditating....
If God is infinite, and we are finite, who are we to say? But maybe neurotheology will someday answer the question, not "why", but "How" believers are able to believe. Some people want to believe, but cannot. Why not? Maybe this question will some day be answered.
If you read the bible and believe it's every word, man is made with a natural need for spirituality and a relationship with G
od. (Matthew 5:3) I do not believe in evolution, but rather creation. I believe that God created us with a desire for spirituality and to draw close to him. The bible is the way we draw close and fill our spiritual need.
Your question is misguided. Faith tends to be a lack of reason and rationality, which is what science thrives on. If anything, science explains our world in more nautralistic terms so the god hypothesis is unneccesary. I look around the world and see no "creation," but billions of species that evolved from other life forms. The problems with theism are numerous.
Faith is a very slippery topic. There is a reason why one is not supposed to bring up the topic of religion at get-togethers- people have very strong opinions on the subject and there is usually little chance of an open, accepting and critical discussion. I could see how the idea of faith being hard-wired into our brains would upset some people. It makes faith less of a choice and more of a consequence of being human. However, despite what may be a predispostion to search for something greater than ourselves, I believe that faith, as it is understood in Chris's post, is indeed a personal choice.
When we discuss faith, especially in American culture, the Judeo-Christian world view is inevitably the only one taken into account. This is both limiting and narrow-minded. Faith, religious or spiritual (which are two differnt things), comes in many forms, and means something different to everyone. I certainly have my own understanding of the universe and world around me that I consider a spiritual faith, although it does not conform to a specific religious doctrine, and I do not deny other people their choice of faith. I believe that the development of faith comes indeed from the human need to understand and explain the world around us, which can be traced back to the earliest civilizations. Modern organized religion, on the other hand, comes more from tradition. There is nothing necessarily wrong with tradition, as long as people make critical choices about what they believe. Judeo-Christian faith works for some people, but not for others. Therefore, a discussion of this type should debate the wider concept of spirituality as a neurological phenomenon than specific belief in "God."
Faith is nothing more than intellectual apathy.
Blindly accepting the word of a book or a shaman or even a scientist is laziness, pure and simple. Whether God exists or not and whether so called "holy books" like The Bible, The Koran, The Book or Mormon, The Torah, etc. contain the answers to life, the universe and everything, is a moot point. If the statments made cannot be backed up by observation and repeatable experiment, then they are irrelevant for any practical purposes.
The story of Genesis is no more credible than the Flying Spaghetti Monster explanation, as neither hypothesis is provable (or disprovable).
When faced with the question of "Ultimate Truth" (as opposed to proximate truth), merely stating "God did it" seems an incomplete and unsatisfying answer.
If you know something for a fact, it is not faith. If your faith might be provable, it might also be disprovable.
Some seem to want to prove their faith, so the other person's faith is proved wrong. Do you really want to take this path?
Faith is merely an excuse to lay the burden of responsibility fall on someone else's shoulders. The concept of "God" has only been around for roughly 10,000 years--a blip in the scope of life on this planet. Faith is a default coping mechanism humans have developed in order to make sense of their surroundings. Naturally, we're "hardwired" for it. People need to think for a change, and bring better health upon themselves instead of wasting their positive energy on an "intervention" of a supreme being.
I would first of all like to say that faith and science are not two opposing ideas as many would like to think. Take time for instance. Any rational person would believe in time, but where is the evidence that time in itself exists? There really isn't any besides our experience that it is there. We must have faith, so to speak, that time exists because we can't prove it; yet we experience it as real. Science as well as theology along with many other things, at their core rely on faith. Even with all the evidence in the world, you still have to take a step of faith to actually believe or subscribe to a set of beliefs. You can have faith in God just as much as you can have faith in science. So I think trying to prove faith is a pointless task.
I think that there has to be someone greater than human beings. I think tha t person is Jesus Christ. WOuldn't it be awesome to really konw a God who is powerful? Just to know HIM is a priviledge. I think deep inside, we all long for God, whether we know it or not, because He's the one that fills our emptiness. He is the one that puts the desire in us to search for the truth.
As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is an ancient text that basically sys "God made us all and loves all so much he gave his Son for us." It does not answer any scientific questions about what actually happened, in terms of the earth's creation, what our hearts do, our immune system, etc. The Bible is for my soul and guides me in how I should live my life and treat others. As a scientist, I look to science books, experiments and my peers in the scientific community for things that I can feel, touch, and see relating to how our bodies work and sometimes don't work. One does not explain the other, but one also does not exclude the other. Science is the study of God's creation.
Like many people, you seem to confound the two questions of: "Why to people believe what they believe?" and "Is what people believe true?"
Science believes that nothing comes from nothing and if this is true and I believe it is; but I AM which recognizes the fact that there must be a FORCE which stared it all. What name this FORCE is called by is of no concequence. IT IS and always will be. It has to be this simple so that everyone regardless of a persons mental capacity can recognize this. This is an Objectivr TRUTH; nearly all else is a subjective truth.
I don't know what scanning the brains of spiritual people will do, other than find the obvious. That is, it stimulates areas of the brain. Areas I bet that are involved with creativity, meditation, maybe even areas involved with dreaming or the act of lieing. Right brain stuff. Employing sciences, out side of philosophy, to explore the validity of diety is like looking to Voo-Doo to generate the laws of physics. The so called science vs religion debate has always facinated me. Is there a chemistry vs goblins debate? Is there an astronomy vs the boogie man debate? There is only a debate if someone is so bold as to argue on the side of the boogie man. The coke vs pepsi debate has more weight.
I think religion DID develope through social evolution. Direct supernatural consequence to human malevolence. AKA hell. Supernatural reward for benevolance. AKA heaven, enlightenment,. whatever flavor you like. The perpetual machine of human corruption and suffering has kindled religion since the first person was oppressed. Police, corrupt. Government, corrupt. Corporations, corrupt. The ever shrinking powerful rich dominate the ever hopeless expanding poor. But God loves you, and if you are good, it will be all better when you die. I feel better already. Then there is the suicide clause. Because a logical mind would just deduce that dieing ASAP would be better than living the earthly burden, that idea was abandoned by the fact that suicide was a one way ticket to hell. Again, it preserved the species. Imagine if suicide wasn't a sin? I say the church should remove the suicide rule. Go ahead, whack yourself and go right heaven.
Religion is not hard wired into our brains-it's a result of humans discovering a weakness in others that they can exploit, and they've been doing just that for thousands of years, holding hellfire over the heads of the 'faithful" to control their minds and wallets.
The ideal of defining faith by science is intereseting. I myself have always wondered what makes a seemingly rational person, believe in something that seems so irrational. I followed a faith journey of my own and concluded that organized religion didn't contain enough logic for me. To me, there is something fundamentally illogical about following a religion I'm still spiritual (I believe in a God) but I just can't accept the tenets of the church (any for that matter any religion, I've read the bible, the Qur'an, The Torah, parts of The Ketuvim, and even a bit of The Tipitaka). I follow a religious philosophy called Deism. It's not for everyone but I like it.
For the person above who said that "The fact that the stories of Jesus, his mother, Mary, and the ultimate authority, God, have passed the test of time...what more proof do you need?" I say that so has the story of The Prophet Muhammad, and the story of Moses, and the tenents of Buddism (which started roughly 500 years before the story of Jesus). Just because something has been around forever does not make it correct.
We must understand that God is a Spirit, a Holy one indeed. If science can identify a spirit, then it can be used to prove faith otherwise we should not fool ourselves to question the divine authority unnecessarily. An intellectual human being who studied himself metabolically, and explored the natural environment would fully understand and appreciate the wonderful creation of our God. God did not, at any time, programmed human brains to toward being faithful to him but he created a human brain to think independently. God is fully democratic and rational. Hence, he tolerates people to choose between his regime and that of his major opponent �Satan�. He made sure that his name and activities will be pronounced everywhere in the universe and passed his constitution (commandments). He further, sent his Angel Jesus to show the non-believers the way that people should go through for everlasting life and those human-spirits not believing in him will be destroyed in the end. So, simply be faithful to God and then you will feel his powers. Please, save some of your minutes reading the bible particularly the New Testament� and you will inform yourself accordingly.
I would like to point out that if you read carefully, you will note scientists are not trying to prove whether or not a higher power exists, but whether there is something in the human brain that causes us to believe in one (as opposed to cultural or other outside influence).

I don't know how to answer that. They'll have to look at the atheist brain as well. And the brains of those who have been raised atheist and grew up believing in something spiritual. And the brains of those who were raised under a religion but converted to atheism. And where, I wonder, would the agnostics lie?

But even then, we have to remember that we actually alter the physicality of our own brains as we live our lives, based on what we store, how we think, how we respond to things. It's not just mind over matter, in a sense, mind IS matter. I think it will be very difficult to prove a causality, merely because we are more often finding out that health and thought influence each other far more than science ever believed possible in the past. We are not just mechanical beings - we are whole and consummate life forms, and though there are some things we cannot change, there is much we can.

After all, we've known for years that stress can raise your blood pressure. How far a stretch is it really to say that being raised believing in something bigger can change your brain?
Chris -- There is a false presumption in setting up another faith-vs-science argument -- that one is right and therefore the other misses the mark. Faith and science are both dedicated to discerning truth... The difference comes in the approach. Science investigates the particular, peeling layer after layer from the onion, and asking at each layer, "What does this tell us about the physical world?" Faith looks at the whole onion at once, and then personalizes it -- asking, "what does all this mean to me?" What is truly exciting about this process is that, to the extent that both are pursuing the truth, both will ultimately arrive at the same point -- the heart of the onion. This has already happened with the discovery of the Big Bang -- a notion not understood by science from the time of Aristotle till the 1950's -- yet clearly and accurately explained by the Book of Genesis a thousand years before Aristotle, and now accepted by most scientists. As a chaplain at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine, I see science and faith working hand in hand every day. For people of good will, there should be no conflict between science and faith -- just an appreciation of the different approaches involved.
I find it pretty funny that atheists think they are the only intelligent people on earth. To believe in evolution requires much more blind faith than to believe in God. Darwinism and his tree of life were turned on their head by the Cambrian explosion. The fossil record simply does not support the type of evolution that Darwin described. Haeckel's embryo's were known to be unscientific and even faked back in the 1860's. Somehow these false theories keep getting handed down because some scientists and atheists need something to "believe in." Even Darwin knew there were kinks in his theory. He thought that the future fossil record would fill in those gaps, but to this day it has not.
I work in the medical field and I believe that there is something to be gained from studying the internal workings of people who are highly devout. Why? Well it seems that people who are very religious seem to have better outcomes in the inpatient settings; this fact does not limit itself to one particular belief system but rather the individual�s genuine belief in a higher power whatever that power or powers be. This to me alone constitutes some �hardwire� proof that there is a strong connection between �spirituality� and the body.
Are we "hardwired" for faith? We certainly are. God gave each and every one of us innate faith. It is due to our sinful nature that we make the choice to stray from the very foundation that He gave us, and question His very existence. Try Romans 19: "For the truth about God is known to them instinctively; God has put this knowledge in their hearts." Romans 21: "Yes, they knew about him all right, but they wouldn't admit it or worship him or even thank him for all his daily care. And after awhile, they began to think up silly ideas of what God was like and what he wanted them to do. The result was that their foolish minds became dark and confused." Dark and confused, perhaps, with theories of Evolution and Darwinism???
Religions and Faith are the concept of observing known actions and stating they have results impossible to prove in order to gain some control of the unknown. Being hardwired for faith is nothing but a coping mechanism for fear of the unknown much like trauma patients forget.

Or if you feel a god put that mechanism in you, which god are you going to blame? Zorastrians have dibs on being the oldest monotheism.
Please forgive my error of omission -- I left the chapter out of the scripture reference. Please refer to Romans 1:19 as well as 1:21.
yes we were created by God so why the big fuss.God is not fussing he knows he is real but we fuss because we under the influence of another force.Good and evil is so real thats why we have home for some and jail for others .how do you know when you do something wrong and when you do something there half right and half wrong no just one or the other see good comes from a source same s is real like medicine is real however faith in God goes where medicine cannot go. both have their purpose ok pastor redhead.
I was watching Anderson Cooper and on there Dr. Gupta said fear and faith are stored in the same parts of the brain.

2Timothy 1 7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (KJV)

1Peter 2 17 Honour all [men.] Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. (KJV)

1John 4 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (KJV)

Fear God, God is Love, there is no Fear in Love :)
This was a great article.
I think this should be in the curricula of all divinity and theological schools.
Great Topic but thats all it is because if we can produce all God produces and controls them we could find the answer, but that day won't come because just like the time of Babel he would destroy everything before we could reach his knowledge.
So if faith can be proven then its not faith!!!
Faith is a gift from God when you repent and follow his commanments. "I ask ,"Do you really think you can take that gift from God???
Think of this: The Miracle of Love is Jesus. That miracle will never happen again. There is no Love bigger than his so faith cannot be proved.
I really think the scientist are getting worried what was said in Daniels," when the science gets at it's peak then the end of the world will come".
I have proof of faith because God gave it to me and he proved it.
To finish remeber the definition of faith...... God Bless you all.
I'm a Bible College student and I believe completely that faith in Christ is the way to eternal life. People say there is no historical accuracy for the Bible. Did you know that there are very few documents referring to Julias Ceasar and what he did, yet everyone completely believes in the historical accuracy that he existed. There are thousands of manuscripts and documents of Scripture spanning thousands of years. Why do people not take this to heart? God cannot and will not be scientifically proven, but it is clear that He exists and that he wants a personal relationship with each person and the only way to accomplish this means is by total faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for our sins. Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5
I think the human imagination is like opening the "DOOR"
to the mind-there you will find God-because you have seeked Him out in your mind. Refusing to open the "door"
is a reflection of a stubborn and hardened heart. These- the heart and mind- are partners and that union brings you to a higher place. I am quite sure a changed mind
would bring about physical differences detected by scientific evidence.
We can alwyas have the ongoing discussion or argument whether there is or is not a supreme being, God. Was there creation or evolution? Let me ask you this, where did this first of ALL the universe begin? Who started the very first form of life? If you have an answer to who created the beging rather than a divine fource or God, tell me about it.
Sprituality is a social construct perpetrated by rogues!
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