Watts, Fraser. Cognitive Neuroscience and Religious Consciousness.
In Cognitive Neuroscience
and Religious Consciousness, Fraser Watts notes that when divine action is
considered in relation to the physical sciences the rationality of Christian
faith may be at stake, but when Gods action is considered in relation to the
cognitive neurosciences the credibility of daily religious life and practice
may be at stake as well: How do humans relate to God as persons who are not
mere minds, souls, spirits? Two major issues raised are the validity of
revelation and the nature and possibility of religious experience.
There are both scientific and theological reasons for attending to the
brain when attempting to understand religious experience. However, Watts resists
the question of whether religious experience is caused by the brain or by God.
Theological and neurological explanations are complementary; one is free to
privilege the level of explanation that is most relevant in a particular
context.Watts considers two developments in attempts to understand the
involvement of neural processes in religious experience. The first is based on
claims that temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) patients have more religious
preoccupations than others; this has given rise to the further claim that
religious experience should be linked with the neural basis of TLE. However,
Watts disputes both the data and this interpretation. A second attempt to link
religious experience and the cognitive neurosciences is that of Eugene dAquili
and colleagues. Watts finds this research of more interest in that it involves
a somewhat more sophisticated theory of religious experience and ties it to a
theory of more general cognitive functioning - dAquilis theory of cognitive
operators.Wattss own thesis is that a truly adequate cognitive theory of
religious experience would benefit from attention to analogies between
religious and emotional experience. The most valuable cognitive theories of
emotion are multi-level, for example, distinguishing the sensory-motor aspects
from the interpretation of the experience, and further distinguishing between
intuitive perceptions of meaning and the ability to describe the experience
propositionally. Watts speculates that this latter distinction, in particular,
will shed light on the phenomena of religious life.An attempt to understand the
role of God in religious experience will be hampered, according to Watts, by
too narrow a focus on divine action. Any analogy with human action needs to
be balanced with other metaphors that keep before our mind the fact that Gods
action is constant rather than episodic, interactive rather than controlling.
He suggests the concept of resonance or tuning as an image for
understanding the divine-human interaction. Conscience might then be understood
in terms of resonance with the will of God.
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