The Turin shroud is a famous piece of cloth which is claimed to have been Jesus’ burial cloth, and contains an image of him. Sceptics say it is a medieval fake.
Is there any way to decide who is right?
It is clear that, whether we are believer or unbeliever, our choices about our belief in God are not always as rational as we might like to think.
So, finally, what can we conclude about our belief or disbelief in God, and what can we learn about making better decisions?
I reckon most of us like to think we make good decisions about what we believe – that is, ones that are based on good evidence and good reasoning, and which lead to true beliefs. Trouble is, there are people with quite different beliefs about God, morality and politics to what you or I believe, and they think their beliefs are right.
I’ve been doing some reading about the psychology and neuroscience of choice, and while I have only dipped my toe in the ocean of information on this topic, it is clear that most of us don’t make decisions nearly as logically as we might fondly think.
faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain
Neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman
I am researching my next post on Choosing our religion, which is taking a bit of work, and I came across this quote by two neuroscientists.
Here is the quote in context (from Why Your Brain Needs God):
“A theologian will tell you that faith is essential to religious belief, but our brain-scan research, which we document in our new book, “How God Changes Your Brain,” led us to the conclusion that faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain. Indeed, we believe that faith is more essential than exercise, especially in light of the cumulative research showing how doubt and pessimism can shorten your life by years.
By faith, we mean the ability to consciously and repetitively hold an optimistic vision of a positive future — about yourself, and about the world. When you do this — through meditation, prayer, or intensely focusing on a positive goal — you strengthen a unique circuit in your brain that improves memory and cognition, reduces anxiety and depression, and enhances social awareness and empathy toward others. And it doesn’t matter whether the meditations are religious or secular.
However, when meditation is religious and strengthens your spiritual beliefs, then there is a synergistic effect that can be even better. Our research into how people describe their own spiritual experiences speaks directly to this fact. On one hand, it seems that people use a tremendous diversity of descriptions in recounting deeply meaningful, spiritual experiences. For some it is love, for some awe, for some it is the experience of direct contact with the divine (however they define that). However, in spite of these many different descriptions, each person describes a transformative element that changes their mind, their health, and their life. In fact, our research shows that the more you engage all parts of your being, your thoughts, emotions, perceptions, social interactions and spiritual pursuits, the more it enhances your brain’s function. But most importantly, this requires a focus on the positive — on love, forgiveness, optimism, and inclusiveness.”
This quote doesn’t suggest that neuroscience proves God exists. But it does show that belief in God, and the attitudes and actions which should result, can make us healthier, happier and better people. Which of course is consistent with God really being there.
People argue over religious belief and disbelief. Christians generally say everyone should believe in Jesus, and will be judged by God according to whether they believe or not. Non-believers criticise, and sometimes mock, believers for their belief.
But can we choose what we believe?
I discussed last post the question of whether we have free will, but I’m assuming here we can make choices. But can we change our beliefs if we want to?
The question is important, because if we can’t change our beliefs, how can God condemn us for unbelief?
Can we choose our beliefs? Can we choose anything, or are we prisoners of the electro-chemistry in our brains? How do we choose?
Pondering these questions can change the way we think, and how we understand ourselves and others.
I am beginning a series of posts on these questions. This post looks at free will and choice. (It hasn’t been an easy post to think through and write succinctly.)