- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

If religion has been perceived as a cause of violence and intolerance in the past, there is no reason that it should be replaced by a "new science" that leans increasingly toward speculation, yet retains the pretext of objectivity. The notion of replacing God with a system of test-tube proven neurotransmitters, as some cutting edge researchers would have, is both embryonic and irresponsible.

In a recent story in The Washington Post, several atheistic researchers are quoted advancing the idea that recent findings linking the sensation of spirituality to activity in the front and parietal lobes of the brain proves that God and religion are no more than human constructions. While not all scientists in this emerging field of brain research feel that they are working toward proof, one way or the other, of the existence of God, the latest research fits into the long-running pattern of science trying to displace religion.

The research, much of which has been conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, claims to have simulated religious experiences by manipulating the brain. If you count yourself as religious, this might appear unsettling at first glance. To claim definitive proof for the lack of God from such a study is really just the sign of overzealous scientists exceeding their bounds. To make such an outlandish claim, as researchers Matthew Alper and Michael Persinger have, exhibits not only a thirst for headlines but also a profound irresponsibility.

Glory-hungry researchers who step out on the ledge of sensationalism are doing the public a woeful disservice. All that their research shows is that a spiritual experience can be simulated. It can make no legitimate claim about the outside world. That there is decreased activity in the parietal lobe when spiritual activity occurs and that such a sensation can be manufactured give no clue as to the real nature of God.

Because a sensation can be orchestrated by circumstance does not make it any less valid. Nor does it make the simulation the genuine article. The physical sensation of drunkenness can be arrived at in many different ways. Upon stepping off a roller-coaster you might feel dizzy and faintly nauseated, but a routine sobriety test will reveal that the sensation was contrived.

Consider also the war veteran who wakes up with phantom pain where his leg used to be. Undoubtedly, there are physical reasons for such a sensation. Nevertheless, there cannot be pain where a body part doesn't exist. The point? Just this: A physical sensation can exist without scientific explanation. Just like a religious experience, drunkenness and pain, to name only two, can be simulated without really existing. But in their pure forms, those reached by nature's intended paths, these elements of the natural world retain their own sets of rules, not all of which can be manipulated, or explained, by science.

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