Choosing our religion (3): how people make choices

June 13th, 2015


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.

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Why your brain needs God

June 7th, 2015


faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain

Neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman

I couldn’t resist ….

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.”

What is says …. and doesn’t say

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.

Picture: MorgueFile.

Atheist slogans: one fewer god than you?

April 8th, 2015

Egyptian gods

I came across it yesterday, not for the first time, but maybe the 21st. Quoted as if it was significant and telling. You have almost certainly seen it too.

I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

The quote is attributed to Stephen Roberts1. It is cute and sounds clever, but does it actually say anything?

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Long long journey through the darkness

December 17th, 2014

Holly Ordway and Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

I like to collect stories, especially stories of people finding God. (He wasn’t lost of course, just lost to them! 🙂 )

I enjoy reading (or hearing in conversation) people’s stories simply to get to know them better, but also because I like to learn from others’ experiences.

These two stories both concern Professors of English, both atheists in their thirties, who walked paths that led them to God over a period of time. The start and end points had some similarities, but the paths between were quite different …. and illuminating.

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How do people ‘find God’?

September 14th, 2014

People wondering

The christian religion has lost numbers in most western countries over the past half century, but there are still people becoming christians too. But what leads them to believe in Jesus?

Do they just believe what they were brought up to believe? Do they sift the evidence? Or do they experience God in some way?

Sceptics sometimes say that christians believe without evidence, or even against the evidence. Does this claim measure up?

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