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?
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