Can Science Explain Religious Experiences?

Los Angeles Times Reporter, Geoffrey Mohan, published an article on January 7, 2015, that jumped out at me, especially considering the subject matter of The Last Prophet book series. Mohan’s article “Scientists Seek A Religious Experience In Subjects” (found at http://www.latimes.com/science/la-sci-c1-religion-brain-20150107-story.html#page=1) walks us through a recent experiment that neuroscientists Jeff Anderson and Julie Korenberg conducted on volunteers who self-identified as “religious” or who have an active faith practice. These volunteers ranged in religions from Buddhist to Mormon to Catholic to Muslim and everything else in between. The article further cites Mr. Anderson as saying, “We think about how much [religion] drives people’s behaviors, and yet we don’t know the first thing about where in the brain that’s even registered.” Anderson and Korenberg further state in the article that the chemical response seen in human subjects while they are in a state of prayer demonstrated an increased release of Oxytocin, a hormone which has been associated with intimacy, fidelity and bonding, as well as social bias. With that in mind, it would seem that having these religious experiences (e.g., prayer, involvement in a faith community, religious devotion or practice), points to possible explanations for why people such as Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Muhammed, and Jesus Christ existed to the point of complete serenity and peacefulness. Unfortunately, this is not the first time an experiment of this nature was conducted.

Other contemporary researchers in Anderson and Korenberg’s field, such as Andrew Newberg, Michael Inzlicht, and Mario Beauregard, have also conducted similar experiments with varying hypotheses, and each have walked away with more questions than answers. The conundrum they face is the mind-boggling reality that along with the existence of the esteemed “saintly” individuals, there are also those who sincerely believe their expression of religious fidelity includes the elimination or absolute removal of “unholy” people (whole populations and not just targeted individuals). How can they believe in the same God or come from the same faith, and yet conduct their expression in seemingly opposite ways? And is the physical release of Oxytocin the same? These are the questions scientists wish to answer and have been unable to with absolute certainty. In The Last Prophet book series, the main character tries to give her own explanation of how this mystery has evolved and how an individual’s responsibility lies in not only their personal experience with God, but also in our expression of love toward each other as human beings created by God.

What is your take on this ongoing riddle? Is there a scientific explanation to why one’s religious experiences can lead to inner peace and serenity, yet does not produce the same in someone else? How would you explain this? Comment on this blog at Blogs by Claire, or by following one of my social media sites:

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