I was looking for articles on the neurobiological correlates of religion as a reaction to the lecture Lauren posted. Not to try and discredit anything he said, but more to expand the topic beyond extrapolations based on one study, but even though I found a TON of articles on the subject, I couldn’t find anything that addressed all of my concerns, so I figured I would just rant.
First of all, I am continually annoyed by the tendency we have in Western society to assume that because we have defined something, we understand it. Specifically, just because we have a book defining the symptoms in illnesses that we’ve named, doesn’t mean that we have any better an understanding of them than they had in the middle ages. Sapolsky says in his lecture that if people heard the voice of God in a bush or wrestled with an angel, we would now know that they had mental illness, “we have names for that now”, but labeling someone as mentally ill is no more elucidating than labeling them demonic unless we can point to exactly what’s going on. While I admit that we have a better understanding the the mechanisms underlying mental illness, I think it’s preposterous to claim that we know what’s going on every time someone experiences communication with God or any other “meta-magical” entity. Whether or not he was joking, this statement is indicative of the general attitude we have that our rational society has somehow answered all of life’s questions, when that is simply not the case.
This leads me to my second beef; our refusal to acknowledge that science is not distinct from philosophy, but rather is a philosophy unto itself. Yes the scientific method is based on observations, but it is also based on assumptions, which are in turn based on the and beliefs of the people conducting research. I know I’ve complained about this in an earlier post in an earlier post, but evolution is a perfect example. Obviously there is ample evidence in support of evolution via natural selection, but assuming that every single trait or behavior must have an evolutionary advantage can lead to misconceptions. Sapolsky’s assumption is that there is no God or gods or spirits or devils or ufo’s or telepathy. While he may be perfectly correct, any research he conducts on these subjects will be defined by this assumption, limiting the scope of potential discoveries from the outset.
I sincerely hope that the scientific community will open itself up to ideas and beliefs that may not appear “rational” instead of simply dismissing entire groups of people and systems of belief that quite frankly, I think it finds threatening to it’s own established, but not proven, worldview.