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Are atheists’ brains wired differently? (Scientific American)

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We wouldn’t be giving publicity to this if it wasn’t in Scientific American (January 19, 2012): “Is There a Difference between the Brain of an Atheist and the Brain of a Religious Person?” Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg reports,

Researchers have pinpointed differences between the brains of believers and nonbelievers, but the neural picture is not yet complete.

Several studies have revealed that people who practice meditation or have prayed for many years exhibit increased activity and have more brain tissue in their frontal lobes, regions associated with attention and reward, as compared with people who do not meditate or pray. A more recent study revealed that people who have had “born again” experiences have a smaller hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in emotions and memory, than atheists do. These findings, however, are difficult to interpret because they do not clarify whether having larger frontal lobes or a smaller hippocampus causes a person to become more religious or whether being pious triggers changes in these brain regions.

Given neuroplasticity – the tendency of neurons to rewire in response to perceived need – the latter would seem more likely. It would also explain claims (not refuted by evidence) – that one was changed by a religious experience: “I no longer acted out hostility and resentment to nearly the same degree, …” “etc. No, because that was no longer the main pathway.

It’s going to take a while to understand the useful information.

See also: The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).

Further notes of interest: A very strong piece of suggestive evidence, which persuasively hints at a unique relationship that man has with 'The Word' of John 1:1, is found in these following articles which point out the fact that ‘coincidental scientific discoveries’ are far more prevalent than what should be expected from a materialistic perspective,:
In the Air – Who says big ideas are rare? by Malcolm Gladwell Excerpt: This phenomenon of simultaneous discovery—what science historians call “multiples”—turns out to be extremely common. One of the first comprehensive lists of multiples was put together by William Ogburn and Dorothy Thomas, in 1922, and they found a hundred and forty-eight major scientific discoveries that fit the multiple pattern. Newton and Leibniz both discovered calculus. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace both discovered evolution. Three mathematicians “invented” decimal fractions. Oxygen was discovered by Joseph Priestley, in Wiltshire, in 1774, and by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, in Uppsala, a year earlier. Color photography was invented at the same time by Charles Cros and by Louis Ducos du Hauron, in France. Logarithms were invented by John Napier and Henry Briggs in Britain, and by Joost Bürgi in Switzerland. ,,, For Ogburn and Thomas, the sheer number of multiples could mean only one thing: scientific discoveries must, in some sense, be inevitable. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/05/12/080512fa_fact_gladwell/?currentPage=all List of multiple discoveries Excerpt: Historians and sociologists have remarked on the occurrence, in science, of "multiple independent discovery". Robert K. Merton defined such "multiples" as instances in which similar discoveries are made by scientists working independently of each other.,,, Multiple independent discovery, however, is not limited to only a few historic instances involving giants of scientific research. Merton believed that it is multiple discoveries, rather than unique ones, that represent the common pattern in science. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_multiple_discoveries
The following video is far more direct in establishing the 'spiritual' link to man's ability to learn new information, in that it shows that the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores for students showed a steady decline, for seventeen years from the top spot or near the top spot in the world, after the removal of prayer from the public classroom by the Supreme Court, not by public decree, in 1963. Whereas the SAT scores for private Christian schools, in America, have consistently remained at the top, or near the top, spot in the world:
The Real Reason American Education Has Slipped – David Barton – video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4318930
You can see that dramatic difference, of the SAT scores for private Christian schools compared to public schools, at this following site;
Aliso Viejo Christian School – SAT 10 Comparison Report http://www.alisoviejochristianschool.org/sat_10.html
Moreover, very contrary to atheistic thought, a significant 'Christian Revival" accompanied America's rise to scientific eminence in the world;
Bruce Charlton's Miscellany - October 2011 Excerpt: I had discovered that over the same period of the twentieth century that the US had risen to scientific eminence it had undergone a significant Christian revival. ,,,The point I put to (Richard) Dawkins was that the USA was simultaneously by-far the most dominant scientific nation in the world (I knew this from various scientometic studies I was doing at the time) and by-far the most religious (Christian) nation in the world. How, I asked, could this be - if Christianity was culturally inimical to science? http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2011/10/meeting-richard-dawkins-and-his-wife.html
Atheistic materialism simply dissolves into absurdity when pushed to extremes and certainly offers no guarantee to us for believing our perceptions and reasoning within science are trustworthy in the first place, as these following articles make clear:
Should You Trust the Monkey Mind? - Joe Carter Excerpt: Evolutionary naturalism assumes that our noetic equipment developed as it did because it had some survival value or reproductive advantage. Unguided evolution does not select for belief except insofar as the belief improves the chances of survival. The truth of a belief is irrelevant, as long as it produces an evolutionary advantage. This equipment could have developed at least four different kinds of belief that are compatible with evolutionary naturalism, none of which necessarily produce true and trustworthy cognitive faculties. http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2010/09/should-you-trust-the-monkey-mind What is the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism? ('inconsistent identity' of cause leads to failure of absolute truth claims for materialists) (Alvin Plantinga) - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yNg4MJgTFw Can atheists trust their own minds? - William Lane Craig On Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byN38dyZb-k
The following interview is sadly comical as a evolutionary psychologist realizes that neo-Darwinism can offer no guarantee that our faculties of reasoning will correspond to the truth, not even for the truth he is giving in the interview, (which begs the question of how was he able to come to that particular truthful realization, in the first place, if neo-Darwinian evolution were actually true?);
Evolutionary guru: Don't believe everything you think - October 2011 Interviewer: You could be deceiving yourself about that.(?) Evolutionary Psychologist: Absolutely. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21128335.300-evolutionary-guru-dont-believe-everything-you-think.html
Here a Darwinian Psychologist has a moment of honesty facing the 'hard problem' of consciousness;
Darwinian Psychologist David Barash Admits the Seeming Insolubility of Science's "Hardest Problem" Excerpt: 'But the hard problem of consciousness is so hard that I can't even imagine what kind of empirical findings would satisfactorily solve it. In fact, I don't even know what kind of discovery would get us to first base, not to mention a home run.' David Barash - Materialist/Atheist Darwinian Psychologist http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/11/post_33052491.html
Further quotes of note;
“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning...” CS Lewis – Mere Christianity "But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?" - Charles Darwin - Letter To William Graham - July 3, 1881 “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” J. B. S. Haldane ["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209.
This following video humorously reveals the bankruptcy that atheists have in trying to ground beliefs within a materialistic worldview;
John Cleese – The Scientists – humorous video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M-vnmejwXo
It is also interesting to point out that this ‘inconsistent identity’, pointed out by Plantinga, which leads to the failure of neo-Darwinists to make absolute truth claims for their beliefs, is what also leads to the failure of neo-Darwinists to be able to account for objective morality, in that neo-Darwinists cannot maintain a consistent identity towards a stable, unchanging, cause for objective morality;
The Knock-Down Argument Against Atheist Sam Harris Moral Argument – William Lane Craig – video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvDyLs_cReE Stephen Meyer - Morality Presupposes Theism (1 of 4) - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSpdh1b0X_M "Atheists may do science, but they cannot justify what they do. When they assume the world is rational, approachable, and understandable, they plagiarize Judeo-Christian presuppositions about the nature of reality and the moral need to seek the truth. As an exercise, try generating a philosophy of science from hydrogen coming out of the big bang. It cannot be done. It’s impossible even in principle, because philosophy and science presuppose concepts that are not composed of particles and forces. They refer to ideas that must be true, universal, necessary and certain." Creation-Evolution Headlines http://creationsafaris.com/crev201102.htm#20110227a
Further notes;
Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness - Richard Conn Henry - Professor of Physics - John Hopkins University Excerpt: It is more than 80 years since the discovery of quantum mechanics gave us the most fundamental insight ever into our nature: the overturning of the Copernican Revolution, and the restoration of us human beings to centrality in the Universe. And yet, have you ever before read a sentence having meaning similar to that of my preceding sentence? Likely you have not, and the reason you have not is, in my opinion, that physicists are in a state of denial… https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/intelligent-design/the-quantum-enigma-of-consciousness-and-the-identity-of-the-designer/ Quantum mind–body problem Excerpt: Parallels between quantum mechanics and mind/body dualism were first drawn by the founders of quantum mechanics including Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, and Eugene Wigner http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_mind%E2%80%93body_problem The Mental Universe - Richard Conn Henry - Professor of Physics John Hopkins University Excerpt: The only reality is mind and observations, but observations are not of things. To see the Universe as it really is, we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things.,,, Physicists shy away from the truth because the truth is so alien to everyday physics. A common way to evade the mental universe is to invoke "decoherence" - the notion that "the physical environment" is sufficient to create reality, independent of the human mind. Yet the idea that any irreversible act of amplification is necessary to collapse the wave function is known to be wrong: in "Renninger-type" experiments, the wave function is collapsed simply by your human mind seeing nothing. The universe is entirely mental,,,, The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy. http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/The.mental.universe.pdf Psalm 33:13-15 The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works. Centrality of Each Individual Observer In The Universe and Christ’s Very Credible Reconciliation Of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics https://docs.google.com/document/d/17SDgYPHPcrl1XX39EXhaQzk7M0zmANKdYIetpZ-WB5Y/edit?hl=en_US
more detailed notes in the first part of this paper here:
Let There Be Light http://lettherebelight-77.blogspot.com/2009/10/intelligent-design-anthropic-hypothesis_19.html
Thus, as audacious as this proposition is, the proposition that God created the universe, and that we are made in the image of God, and that therefore we can rationally understand and comprehend the universe to a deep level, has stunning confirmation for its validity on many levels of science. Moreover, on the other hand, the counter proposition that this universe was not created by God, and that we are not made in God's image, and that there is no particular reason why we should comprehend reality, has some very strong arguments against it. In fact these arguments have rendered the atheistic position completely absurd. The following references reveal the bankruptcy of the atheistic mindset to explaining why we should comprehend reality so deeply: ,,,This following site is a easy to use, and understand, interactive website that takes the user through what is termed 'Presuppositional apologetics'. The website clearly shows that our use of the laws of logic, mathematics, science and morality cannot be accounted for unless we believe in a God who guarantees our perceptions and reasoning are trustworthy in the first place.
Presuppositional Apologetics - easy to use interactive website http://www.proofthatgodexists.org/index.php
Further notes;
Random Chaos vs. Uniformity Of Nature - Presuppositional Apologetics - video http://www.metacafe.com/w/6853139 BRUCE GORDON: Hawking's irrational arguments - October 2010 Excerpt: For instance, we find multiverse cosmologists debating the "Boltzmann Brain" problem: In the most "reasonable" models for a multiverse, it is immeasurably more likely that our consciousness is associated with a brain that has spontaneously fluctuated into existence in the quantum vacuum than it is that we have parents and exist in an orderly universe with a 13.7 billion-year history. This is absurd. The multiverse hypothesis is therefore falsified because it renders false what we know to be true about ourselves. Clearly, embracing the multiverse idea entails a nihilistic irrationality that destroys the very possibility of science. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/oct/1/hawking-irrational-arguments/
Spam, spam, spam, spam... champignon
But a more mysterious question to the issue, is the fact that this seemingly foreign, even outrageously bold, proposition of the rational intelligibility of the universe, that could even be dared to be comprehended by mere human minds, should be so successful as a proposition of thought. For why should it be that mere human minds, human minds who happened to have the audacity to believe that their minds were, of all things, created in the image of the Being Who had created the entire universe, would be so successful as to establishing a solid foundation for modern science, unless this seemingly outlandish idea of being made in God's image were actually true? In other words, why should science be so successful unless the seemingly outrageous propositions underlying the foundation of modern science were actually true? Dr. Meyer reflects on the success of that outrageous proposition here in this video:
Epistemology - Why Should The Human Mind Even Comprehend Reality? - Stephen Meyer - video (notes in description) http://vimeo.com/32145998
Moreover, modern science has actually revealed that this outrageous proposition, (that the universe was created by a rational Mind, and that our mind is created in the image of that rational Mind, and that therefore we can comprehend the universe to a deep level), is confirmed on many levels by science. Here Eugene Wigner reflects on the effectiveness of mathematics for understanding reality:
The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences - Eugene Wigner Excerpt: The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/MathDrama/reading/Wigner.html
Granville Sewell, Professor of Mathematics at the University of El Paso, reveals that mathematics actually governs reality, not just passively describes reality, here;
Finely Tuned Big Bang, Elvis In The Multiverse, and the Schroedinger Equation - Granville Sewell - audio http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4233012
At the 4:00 minute mark of the preceding audio, Dr. Sewell comments on the ‘transcendent’ and ‘constant’ Schroedinger’s Equation;
‘In chapter 2, I talk at some length on the Schroedinger Equation which is called the fundamental equation of chemistry. It’s the equation that governs the behavior of the basic atomic particles subject to the basic forces of physics. This equation is a partial differential equation with a complex valued solution. By complex valued I don’t mean complicated, I mean involving solutions that are complex numbers, a+bi, which is extraordinary that the governing equation, basic equation, of physics, of chemistry, is a partial differential equation with complex valued solutions. There is absolutely no reason why the basic particles should obey such a equation that I can think of except that it results in elements and chemical compounds with extremely rich and useful chemical properties. In fact I don’t think anyone familiar with quantum mechanics would believe that we’re ever going to find a reason why it should obey such an equation, they just do! So we have this basic, really elegant mathematical equation, partial differential equation, which is my field of expertise, that governs the most basic particles of nature and there is absolutely no reason why, anyone knows of, why it does, it just does. British physicist Sir James Jeans said “From the intrinsic evidence of His creation, the great architect of the universe begins to appear as a pure mathematician”, so God is a mathematician to’. Granville Sewell PhD.
i.e. the Materialist is at a complete loss to explain why this should be so, whereas the Christian Theist 'naturally' presupposes such ‘transcendent’ control of our temporal, material, reality,,,
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
of note; 'the Word' is translated from the Greek word ‘Logos’. Logos happens to be the word from which we derive our modern word ‘Logic’. In this following video, Dr. Richards and Dr. Gonzalez reveal that the universe is 'suspiciously set up' for scientific discovery:
Privileged Planet - Observability/Measurability Correlation - Gonzalez and Richards - video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5424431 The very conditions that make Earth hospitable to intelligent life also make it well suited to viewing and analyzing the universe as a whole. - Jay Richards
Thus following video is in the same line of thought as the preceding video:
We Live At The Right Time In Cosmic History - Hugh Ross - video http://vimeo.com/31940671
But, as impressive, suspicious, and persuasive, as the preceding 'hints' are that the universe was created by the Mind of God and can be understood by the mind of man, since we are made in God's image, the deepest correlation, of our mind to the Mind of God, finds its most concrete proof of correlation from looking at consciousness itself through the lens of quantum mechanics. There are many famous quotes that throw a little light on just how surprised people are when the first encounter quantum mechanics. Here are a few.
Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it. Neils Bohr “The more success the quantum theory has, the sillier it looks” Albert Einstein
And indeed, the reason why quantum theory has looked so 'silly', to so many top scientists, is that consciousness is found to be integral, even central, in many of the experiments of quantum mechanics. This following quote nicely sums up exactly why consciousness would throw someone, who is used to thinking of reality in materialistic terms, for a complete loop, after looking at some of the experiments of quantum mechanics:
What drives materialists crazy is that consciousness cannot be seen, tasted, smelled, touched, heard, or studied in a laboratory. But how could it be otherwise? Consciousness is the very thing that is DOING the seeing, the tasting, the smelling, etc… We define material objects by their effect upon our senses – how they feel in our hands, how they appear to our eyes. But we know consciousness simply by BEING it! https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/neuroscience/another-atheist-checks-out-of-no-consciousnessno-free-will/comment-page-1/#comment-411601
Moreover, because of the correlation of our mind to the Mind of God, we can develop a very strong argument for God from consciousness, and even provide strong empirical proof for the argument:
The argument for God from consciousness can be framed like this: 1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a 'epi-phenomena' of material reality. 2. If consciousness is a 'epi-phenomena' of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality. 3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality. 4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.
Here is the empirical proof for the argument;
Dr. Quantum - Double Slit Experiment & Entanglement - video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4096579 Wheeler's Classic Delayed Choice Experiment: Excerpt: Now, for many billions of years the photon is in transit in region 3. Yet we can choose (many billions of years later) which experimental set up to employ – the single wide-focus, or the two narrowly focused instruments. We have chosen whether to know which side of the galaxy the photon passed by (by choosing whether to use the two-telescope set up or not, which are the instruments that would give us the information about which side of the galaxy the photon passed). We have delayed this choice until a time long after the particles "have passed by one side of the galaxy, or the other side of the galaxy, or both sides of the galaxy," so to speak. Yet, it seems paradoxically that our later choice of whether to obtain this information determines which side of the galaxy the light passed, so to speak, billions of years ago. So it seems that time has nothing to do with effects of quantum mechanics. And, indeed, the original thought experiment was not based on any analysis of how particles evolve and behave over time – it was based on the mathematics. This is what the mathematics predicted for a result, and this is exactly the result obtained in the laboratory. http://www.bottomlayer.com/bottom/basic_delayed_choice.htm "It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness." Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) from his collection of essays "Symmetries and Reflections – Scientific Essays"; Eugene Wigner laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963.
Here is the key experiment that led Wigner to his Nobel Prize winning work on quantum symmetries:
Eugene Wigner Excerpt: To express this basic experience in a more direct way: the world does not have a privileged center, there is no absolute rest, preferred direction, unique origin of calendar time, even left and right seem to be rather symmetric. The interference of electrons, photons, neutrons has indicated that the state of a particle can be described by a vector possessing a certain number of components. As the observer is replaced by another observer (working elsewhere, looking at a different direction, using another clock, perhaps being left-handed), the state of the very same particle is described by another vector, obtained from the previous vector by multiplying it with a matrix. This matrix transfers from one observer to another. http://www.reak.bme.hu/Wigner_Course/WignerBio/wb1.htm
i.e. In the experiment the 'world' (i.e. the universe) does not have a ‘privileged center’. Yet strangely, the conscious observer does exhibit a 'privileged center'. This is since the 'matrix', which determines which vector will be used to describe the particle in the experiment, is 'observer-centric' in its origination! Thus explaining Wigner’s dramatic statement, “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.” bornagain77
gpuccio, I think you may be pleased with this recent article I put together. Though it is a bit long, I still think you will like it: Why should the human mind be able to comprehend reality so deeply? Science and engineering, as foreign as it may sound to some people, was born out of a purely Judeo-Christian worldview. To be certain, other cultures, during the history of the world, have given fits and starts to science and engineering, but never did these foreign cultures bring science and engineering to a robust maturity through a sustained systematic development. It was only in the Judeo-Christian worldview, and in that worldview alone, that modern science was brought to the sustainable level of maturity that it has now reached. Several resources are available that document this seemingly mysterious, yet undeniable, fact of history. Here are a few.
Jerry Coyne on the Scientific Method and Religion - Michael Egnor - June 2011 Excerpt: The scientific method -- the empirical systematic theory-based study of nature -- has nothing to so with some religious inspirations -- Animism, Paganism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Islam, and, well, atheism. The scientific method has everything to do with Christian (and Jewish) inspiration. Judeo-Christian culture is the only culture that has given rise to organized theoretical science. Many cultures (e.g. China) have produced excellent technology and engineering, but only Christian culture has given rise to a conceptual understanding of nature. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/06/jerry_coyne_on_the_scientific_047431.html The Origin of Science Excerpt: Modern science is not only compatible with Christianity, it in fact finds its origins in Christianity. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/a/science_origin.html Christianity Is a Science-Starter, Not a Science-Stopper By Nancy Pearcey http://www.pearceyreport.com/archives/2005/09/post_4.php Founders of Modern Science Who Believe in GOD - Tihomir Dimitrov http://www.scigod.com/index.php/sgj/article/viewFile/18/18 A Short List Of The Christian Founders Of Modern Science http://www.creationsafaris.com/wgcs_toc.htm Christianity and The Birth of Science - Michael Bumbulis, Ph.D Excerpt: Furthermore, many of these founders of science lived at a time when others publicly expressed views quite contrary to Christianity - Hume, Hobbes, Darwin, etc. When Boyle argues against Hobbe's materialism or Kelvin argues against Darwin's assumptions, you don't have a case of "closet atheists." http://ldolphin.org/bumbulis/ Christianity Gave Birth To Each Scientific Discipline - Dr. Henry Fritz Schaefer - video http://vimeo.com/16523153
Several more resources are easily available on the internet, and through Amazon, for those who would like to learn more about the Judeo-Christian founding of modern science and engineering. But the main thing I want to focus on is on the particular question of exactly why should it be that the Judeo-Christian worldview is so fruitful to science and engineering, whereas, in the other cultures in the history of the world, science and engineering were stillborn? I think Dr. Koons does an excellent job of summing up exactly why the Judeo-Christian worldview is so fruitful to modern science and engineering:
Science and Theism: Concord, not Conflict* – Robert C. Koons IV. The Dependency of Science Upon Theism (Page 21) Excerpt: Without the faith in the rational intelligibility of the world and the divine vocation of human beings to master it, modern science would never have been possible, and, even today, the continued rationality of the enterprise of science depends on convictions that can be reasonably grounded only in theistic metaphysics. http://www.robkoons.net/media/69b0dd04a9d2fc6dffff80b3ffffd524.pdf
As well, Dr. Plantinga does a very good job in summing up exactly why the Judeo-Christian worldview is so fruitful to modern science and engineering here:
Philosopher Sticks Up for God Excerpt: Theism, with its vision of an orderly universe superintended by a God who created rational-minded creatures in his own image, “is vastly more hospitable to science than naturalism,” with its random process of natural selection, he (Plantinga) writes. “Indeed, it is theism, not naturalism, that deserves to be called ‘the scientific worldview.’” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/books/alvin-plantingas-new-book-on-god-and-science.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
Here are some quotes reflecting that prevalent Judeo-Christian worldview present at the founding of modern science:
To know the mighty works of God, to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful workings of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge. Nicolaus Copernicus "This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being. … This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called “Lord God” ??????????? [pantokratòr], or “Universal Ruler”… The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect." Sir Isaac Newton - Quoted from what many consider the greatest science masterpiece of all time, his book "Principia"
Even Albert Einstein, though he was certainly not thought of as a particularly religious person, reflects on how the Judeo-Christian worldview influenced his overall view of reality in this following quote;
"I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details." Albert Einstein
Yes, I think that makes you a dualist :) OK. Well, obviously I disagree, but I think we'd better leave it there! Elizabeth Liddle
Elizabeth: Obviously, by top down I mean that free will is only in the mysterious output that from consciousness goes to the brain and the world, and that cannot be explained by the inputs consciousness recieves from the brain. Out of that, there is no freedom at all. gpuccio
Elizabeth: I believe the brain is an instrument for the epxression of consciousness (like the rest of the body, I would say). I believe that consciousness is tied to the brain, at least in our human condition, and is both influence by it and influences it. The influences that come from the brain, as much as from the outer world, from our innser personality, memories, information, and so on, are influences that we experience passively at each moment: consciousness represents the brain states, and the brain states represent mostly outer stimuli and information. Consciousness is the expression of a transcendental self, a sunject that is always the same but represents forms that constantly change. The presence of that perceiving subject is the only real origin of subjective experience. Consciousness represents forms, and gives them cognitive meanings (someting that does not exist in the objective world) and a connotation of feeling (each representation is experience as good or bad). At the same time, consciousness reacts to its representation thorugh inner and outer actions. That reaction is never completely determined by the representations themselves, but depends at least in part by how consciousness reacts in that moment to an intuitive sense of moral polarization, that makes the available choices not morally equivalent. That reaction, for the part that is not determined, is "free will". The kind of intuitive choice made by consciousness moment by moment in that moral polarization that it intuits makes the choice good or bad. Good or bad choices become influences for the future, influences that will be then passively experienced by consciousness itself, as new condition and choices become available. That's how I see things. That's indeed how I experience them in myself. I don't know if that makes of me a dualist. You decide. gpuccio
I take it that your model is completely dualist: that there is a entity called "conciousness" that makes the decisions, while the brain just acts to serve up the facts? Elizabeth Liddle
Well, what do you mean by "top down" then? Elizabeth Liddle
Elizabeth: What do you mean? Free will obviously acts on what consciousness perceives and represents at any moment. It is the response to those representations, whatever they are, that is free. And it is expressed in slightly different actions, both outer and inner. But the novelty of the free input is exclusively "top down": it is that something that is not fully determined by the existing situation, by the "bottom up" input. The bottom up effect is determinism: what influences us. The "top down" effect is free will: how we influence the future. You insist on the concept of "informed decision". I have true difficulties in understanding what you mean. We are never really informed and never really non informed. At any moment, we have some representation of relity, and that representation can hardly be deemed accurate. And yet it has aòways some value, however limited or distorted. You seem to imply that if we are well informed, our choice will be free. That is really a strange concept for me. Our choice if free whatever information we have available. One can be arrogant and egoistical having only scarce information on which to base his behaviour, and another can be humble even if he understands much. And the opposite is possible, too. Our reaction can be good or bad whatever our information. Choice is a moral issue, a fact of feeling. It is not having the right cognition. It is choosing whatever cognition is felt as better, and not simply what is felt as more desirable for our ego. Choice is about siding with our spiritual self, or instead with our limited personality. Your insistance about informed decision seems to relate free will to the result of our action. That is not true. We often make good choices that have apparently scarce outer results. The spiritual value of events is usually very dofferent form what can be judged by outer observation. Many people do apparently wonderful actions for really mean motives. What is in the heart really counts, and gives inner freedom. Not what appears. To be free in itself is of no use. To use one's freedom well is of great value. And to use one's freedom badly, or not to use it at all (that is the worst option) is a shame. To be free means that we can change our own future, for good or for bad. That we can change what we are, not because influences at t1 determine influences at t2 (ehat a bleak perspective!), but because at ani moment we can choose, and intervene, and change our destiny. Both medication and meditation can help us, in the right context. But it's up to us to choose what tools we are going to use, in our unique, specific condition. gpuccio
He, yes, I did mean meditation! That was an unfortunate typo! And if Free Will were "exclusively top down" it wouldn't be much use. Unless you can make informed decisions, what use is it to be free? What would it even mean? Elizabeth Liddle
But that wasn't what Denyse said. And yes, I'm sure it does. Doesn't mean that what fires together will fill the perceived need, though. Elizabeth Liddle
Back to the brain thing. They don't give up. How about race and sex? isn't this the line of reasoning that influenced Europe back in the day? The bible says we are made in the image of God and think like God. Our brain is not relevant to our thinking save in memory. We are not controlled by the natural world. In vain to look in the brain . Look to the soul. Robert Byers
Elizabeth: For a start, who is doing the “perceiving” here? Maybe a conscious perceiving I? If only we could rewire our brains when we “perceive the need” for a rewired brain! Maybe we can. Now, I’m actually enthusiastic about the possibility that we can use techniques like medication, Did you mean meditation? :) So I’m more than happy with a “top-down” point of view! But it still doesn’t make Denyse’s usage right, and I think it is misleadingly wrong – misleads her into opting for one causal direction over another: Well, it'sn our favourite causal direction! Given, for real, neuroplasticity, neither is more likely than the other, because neuroplasticity is not “a response to perceived need”. It is a response to usage, and what you have at Time t will affect what you use, which in turn will affect what you have at Time t+1. That's true for determinists (ah!, and compatibilists, obviously). But for us who believe in libertarian free will, you are forgetting something very important. In other words, it’s a feedback loop, and to try to pin down a single direction of causality is, well, to misunderstand what is going on here. Free will is exclusively top down. In my view. Maybe too much wiring together in a certain direction? :) I entirely agree with Denyse that getting your brain to do certain things will make it more likely that your brain will do those things in future. It's called the law of habit... But I do not agree that this makes it any more or less likely that the differences apparently observed in this experiment are the results of religious practice than the cause of it. I am quite sure they are the result, but I hope we can make some prospective study, sooner or later, and the problem will be solved. After all, one is not usually born meditating... gpuccio
Elizabeth: Maybe a perceived need makes neurons fire together... gpuccio
Well, it's certainly a feedback loop. The goal of a lot of therapy is to break negative cycles, and establish positive ones. And of course it's one reason why pharmacological treatment can be a useful adjunct to psychotherapy or behavioural treatments. Elizabeth Liddle
Given, for real, neuroplasticity, neither is more likely than the other, because neuroplasticity is not “a response to perceived need”. It is a response to usage...
Wouldn't it be more precise to say it's a response to feedback? Petrushka
But it's importantly wrong. Rewiring does not occur in "response to perceived need". For a start, who is doing the "perceiving" here? If only we could rewire our brains when we "perceive the need" for a rewired brain! Sometimes brains rewire in response to plain old need (when a circuit is lesioned, other circuits get more traffic, and gain in strength), but the opposite can happen too, and brains can rewire in a way that does not respond to the organism's need, indeed may be detrimental to the person's welfare. Now, I'm actually enthusiastic about the possibility that we can use techniques like medication, and cognitive training and neurofeedback, also arts therapy, to "rewire" the brain in positive ways - ways that promote good mental health. So I'm more than happy with a "top-down" point of view! But it still doesn't make Denyse's usage right, and I think it is misleadingly wrong - misleads her into opting for one causal direction over another:
These findings, however, are difficult to interpret because they do not clarify whether having larger frontal lobes or a smaller hippocampus causes a person to become more religious or whether being pious triggers changes in these brain regions.
Given neuroplasticity – the tendency of neurons to rewire in response to perceived need – the latter would seem more likely. It would also explain claims (not refuted by evidence) – that one was changed by a religious experience: “I no longer acted out hostility and resentment to nearly the same degree, …” “etc. No, because that was no longer the main pathway.
Given, for real, neuroplasticity, neither is more likely than the other, because neuroplasticity is not "a response to perceived need". It is a response to usage, and what you have at Time t will affect what you use, which in turn will affect what you have at Time t+1. In other words, it's a feedback loop, and to try to pin down a single direction of causality is, well, to misunderstand what is going on here. In my view. I entirely agree with Denyse that getting your brain to do certain things will make it more likely that your brain will do those things in future. But I do not agree that this makes it any more or less likely that the differences apparently observed in this experiment are the results of religious practice than the cause of it. Elizabeth Liddle
Dr. Liddle, I believe that Denyse's definition is fine at a more meaningful level to most people other than the neuroscientist. Your operational definition is fine for someone studying neurons, but would not be too helpful per se in other contexts (e.g., explaining to a person what is necessary from a psychological standpoint to induce neuroplasticity). It's a top-down vs a bottom-up point of view. Jack Cole
Me too. Elizabeth Liddle
Given neuroplasticity – the tendency of neurons to rewire in response to perceived need
Neuroplasticity is not "the tendency of neurons to rewire in response to perceived need". It is the tendency for neurons that fire synchronously to be more likely to fire synchronously in future. This is "Hebb's rule" often expressed as "what fires together, wires together". It is also called "long term potentiation" or LTP and is the neural basis of learning and memory. "Long term inhibition" also occurs, by comparable mechanism, resulting in the extinction of learned associations. Elizabeth Liddle
Of related note:
How God Changes Your Brain - Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist - Andrew Newberg, M.D. Excerpt: God is great-for your mental, physical, and spiritual health. That's the finding of this startling, authoritative, and controversial book by the bestselling authors of Born to Believe.,,, ,,,What's more, actual faith isn't always necessary: atheists who meditate on positive imagery can obtain similar neurological benefits. Written in an accessible style-with illustrations highlighting how spiritual experiences affect the mind-How God Changes Your Brain offers the following breakthrough discoveries: Not only do prayer and spiritual practice reduce stress and anxiety, but just twelve minutes of meditation per day may slow down the aging process. Contemplating a loving God rather than a punitive God reduces anxiety, depression, and stress and increases feelings of security, compassion, and love. Fundamentalism, in and of itself, is benign and can be personally beneficial, but the anger and prejudice generated by extreme beliefs can permanently damage your brain. Intense prayer and meditation permanently change numerous structures and functions in the brain-altering your values and the way you perceive reality. How God Changes Your Brain is both a revelatory work of modern science and a practical guide for readers to enhance their physical and emotional health and to avoid mental decline. ,,, http://andrewnewberg.com/change.asp
Further notes:
Wiki claims there is now extensive research suggesting that religious people are happier and less stressed. ^ Rudin, Mike (2006-04-30). “The science of happiness”. BBC. ^ Paul, Pamela (2005-01-09). “The New Science of Happiness”. Time. ^ Koenig. Harold G., Larson, David B., and Mcculloug, Michael E. –Handbook of Religion and Health(see article), p.111, Oxford University Press (2001) Currently, approximately 8% of the U.S. population claim no religious affiliation (Kosmin & Lachman, 1993). People with no affiliation appear to be at greater risk for depressive symptoms than those affiliated with a religion. In a sample of 850 medically ill men, Koenig, Cohen, Blazer, Pieper, et al. (1992) examined whether religious affiliation predicted depression after demographics, medical status, and a measure of religious coping were controlled. They found that, when relevant covariates were controlled, men who indicated that they had “no religious affiliation” had higher scores on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (an observer-administered rating scale) than did men who identified themselves as moderate Protestants, Catholics, or nontraditional Christians. ^ The 2008 Legatum Prosperity Index, Summary p.40. Research suggests that religious people’s happiness is less vulnerable to fluctuations in economic and political uncertainty, personal unemployment and income changes. The Prosperity Index identifies similar effects at the country level, with a number of highly religious countries reporting higher levels of happiness than might be expected based on the standard of living alone: this effect is most pronounced in Mexico, El Salvador, the Dominican republic, Indonesia, Venezuela and Nigeria. Finally, a recent systematic review of 850 research papers on the topic concluded that “the majority of well-conducted studies found that higher levels of religious involvement are positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being (life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, and higher morale) and with less depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior, drug/alcohol use/abuse.”[15] ^ Moreira-Almeida, Alexander; Francisco Lotufo Neto, and Harold G. Koenig (September 2006). “Religiousness and mental health: a review”. Rev. Bras. Psiquiatr. [serial on the Internet] 28 (3): 242–250. doi:10.1590/S1516-44462006005000006. PMID 16924349. Health ^ Ellison, C. G., & Levin, J. S. (1998). “The religion-health connection: Evidence, theory, and future directions”. Health education & behavior : the official publication of the Society for Public Health Education (Health Education and Behavior.) 25 (6): 700–720.. doi:10.1177/109019819802500603. PMID 9813743. Retrieved 25 April 2010. ^ Shahabi, L., Powell, L. H., Musick, M. A., Pargament, K. I., Thoresen, C. E., Williams, D., et al. (2002). “Correlates of self-perceptions of spirituality in American adults”. Health education & behavior : the official publication of the Society for Public Health Education (Annals of Behaviors Medicine.) 24 (6): 59–68.. doi:10.1177/109019819802500603. PMID 9813743. Retrieved 25 April 2010. ^ Koenig, L. B., & Vaillant, G. E. (2009). A prospective study of church attendance and health over the lifespan. 28. Health Psychology.. pp. 117–124.. Retrieved 25 April 2010. ^ Chatters, L. M. (2000). Religion and health: Public health research and practices. 21. Annual Review of Public Health.. pp. 335–367.. Retrieved 25 April 2010. ^ Seeman, T., Dubin, L. F., & Seeman, M. (2003). Religiosity/spirituality and health: A critical review of the evidence for biological pathways. 58. American Psychologist.. pp. 53–63.. Retrieved 25 April 2010.
So atheists are not allowed to meditate? Color me flabbergasted... Joe

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