Friday, June 22, 2007

The Spiritual Brain: Here’s the cover!

This is what the cover for The Spiritual Brain looks like. Mario liked it and so did I. Here’s what I said when someone asked me recently what the book is about:
The Spiritual Brain examines the claim that the mind is simply the functions of the brain and rejects it, not because it is uncomfortable, but because it conflicts with key evidence. In fact, materialism is approaching a crisis. Unable to account for such fundamental features of the human being as consciousness and free will, it is reduced to asserting that they are illusions. As one small example, the 1990s generation of antidepressants that was famously hyped as proving that there is no such thing as the soul turned out to perform only somewhat better than the familiar placebo effect. Similarly, claims that spirituality can be reduced to a God gene or lobe in the brain are paltry, and sometimes ridiculous. Having demolished the nonsense, the book introduces the quietly growing discipline of non-materialist neuroscience, which treats the mind as real and demonstrates the ways in which it changes the brain. A non-materialist approach to neuroscience is not merely another new theory: It offers hope for treating difficult disorders such as phobias and obsessive compulsions. Treating the mind as real, we also examine claims for such puzzling and controversial experiences as the psi effect and near death experience. We also let the public in on a little secret you won’t hear from the current spate of anti-God books on the market: Overwhelmingly, the evidence shows that spirituality is good for you. More significantly, Beauregard and Paquette's Carmelite nun studies demonstrate that it is reasonable to believe that mystical contemplatives do indeed contact a power outside themselves.
Hey, there’s lots for some people to like and others to be mad about.

Labels: , ,

Canadians tiring of atheist tirades?

Barbara Kay charges in Canada’s National Post that atheists are free riders on societies built by the spiritually minded:
... one needn't believe in God to be a humanitarian or a lover of culture. Of course not, in exactly the same way that the great-grandchild of a multi-millionaire who has set up a wonderful trust fund has no need to worry about paying his rent. It was the original capital that provided the revenues. Atheists committed to morality and social justice are simply people who chose not to grow the equity, but to live off the returns of the beliefs of their forebears. If morality and the notion of universal justice had not come down from "on high" to begin with—or rather if people did not believe it had come down from on high—we would not have the Mozart "you don't need God to revel in." The greatest aesthetic achievements of western civilization—music, art, architecture, writing—not to mention our entire legal system, sprang from feelings of awe at the miracle of life, a belief that man was made in the image of God, and the yearning to glorify God's name in earthly homage through upwardly striving efforts to meet the standards imposed by religious texts.

She argues that atheists are the ant in the fable of the ant and the grasshopper.

Also from Canada: TV host Lorna Dueck is insulted by the recent crop of pop atheist authors:
Their zeal reminded me of the last book I read before I picked up Mr. Hitchens's God is not Great; it was Hard Times by Charles Dickens. Dickens opens his 1854 novel with a schoolhouse mantra: "Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts." Hard Times then unfolds a plot of what happens when, as philosopher Hume concluded, "you cannot derive an ought from an is." Informed only by science, Dickens's characters struggle over how they ought to act in the world, how they ought to respond to love, yearning, and imagination, but alas, they are only equipped with facts. When it comes to how to act in the world, I do believe I have benefited from the great metaphysical story of Christianity.

When Lorna speaks, listen up!

As far as I can tell, popular atheism is the only subject in the world where you absolutely do not need to know what you are talking about in the least, in order to have a widely circulated opinion.

Labels: , , ,

Book I am currently reading: Frank Tipler's Physics of Christianity

In a relatively sympathetic review (for a reviewer I would expect to be unsympathetic), Bryan Appleyard says of Tulane professor Tipler, author of Physics of Christianity:

'I have a salary at Tulane," says Frank Tipler, "some 40 percent lower than the average for a full professor at Tulane as a consequence of my belief."

Physicists today, he says, are not supposed to believe in God. But he does, though I suspect that in itself would not reduce his salary. What may well do, however, is his belief that the Cosmological Singularity is God. In other words, he believes that contemporary physics has found God and that physics explains Christianity. In fact, it is probably true to say that Tipler does not believe at all. There is no need, for he feels he has proved Christianity through physics.

finishing with
I doubt this book will make many converts. Believers will continue to believe, perhaps with a little more confidence, and skeptics will continue to doubt, perhaps with a little less. But Tipler should not be ignored by anybody. His great virtue is that he dramatizes the possibility that there is a deep and so far unknown connection between our faiths, our intuitions and our knowledge. He is due, at the very least, for a salary review.

I haven't got far enough into Tipler's book to comment, except to say this:
1. Tipler is a devout Christian who accepts the concept of the multiverse (that is, the concept that there are many universes, not just ours). That is one interpretation of quantum theory, and an unpopular one among Christians. It is more popular among atheists because they hope it will dispose of the fact that our universe is elaborately fine tuned for life. ("Oh yeah, but what about all the millions of universes that flopped?")

2. Don't bother to write to tell me that some of Tipler's ideas are strange. Yes, I see that. I agree with Appleyard, however, that he should not be dismissed. By the way, Tipler is also the author of The Physics of Immortality, critically reviewed here, here, and here. When both the Internet atheists and the Christian ministries to scientists agree on not being able to say enough bad about Tipler, I can reasonably suspect he has a few things to say that are worth hearing.

3. I would be happy to hear about other Christians/theists who are obviously sincere in their views and think that the multiverse is a reasonable idea. I will need to write something about that soon.

Tipler’s Physics of Christianity is also reviewed here, here, and here. Usual stuff. Read the first chapter here.

My other blog is the Post-Darwinist, detailing events of interest in the intelligent design controversy.

Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary ( is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), anoverview of the intelligent design controversy, and of Faith@Science. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).

Labels: , , , ,