Tag Archives: Brain

New books of interest to Christian apologists

These might strike your fancy:

  • God Is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and Responsible,
    by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister (InterVarsity Press, 2009)
  • God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades,
    by Rodney Stark (HarperOne, 2009)
  • Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress,
    by Richard Weikart (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)
  • Life After Death: The Evidence,
    by Dinesh D’Souza (Regnery Press, 2009)
  • Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem,
    by Jay W. Richards (HarperOne, 2009)
  • The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism,
    by J.P. Moreland (SCM Press, 2009)
  • Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design,
    by Stephen C. Meyer (HarperOne, 2009)

Rodney Stark is an agnostic, but he does a good job of telling the truth about the history of Christianity. If you want to see a good book added to this list, leave it in the comments and I’ll take a look.

Oh, by the way, check out this quiz that The Way the Ball Bounces found from Apologetics.net.

How corroborative near-death experiences falsify atheism

Over at Apologetics 315, Brian Auten has linked to this podcast from Dr. Gary Habermas. The lecture was delivered to the students and faculty at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 2003.

Habermas goes through several examples of corroborative near-death experiences written up in peer-reviewed medical journals. This is scary! And if it’s true that we have non-physical minds that can exist outside the body, then materialism is false, and atheism is disproved again.

The MP3 podcast is here. (72 minutes)

There are two cases that you should really know about, and you can read about them in this London Times article.

Excerpt:

There are thousands of reports of OBEs but the two most famous cases are Pam Reynolds and Maria’s Tennis Shoe. Reynolds, an American singer, watched and later reported on with remarkable accuracy the top of her own skull being removed by surgeons before she moved into a bright glowing realm. But it was Reynolds’s account of the surgical implements used and the words spoken in the theatre that make the case so intriguing.

Maria, meanwhile, underwent cardiac arrest in 1977. She floated out of her body, drifted round the hospital and noticed a tennis shoe on a window sill. It was later found to be exactly where she said it was. The shoe was said to be invisible from the ground and not in any location where Maria could have seen it. Such stories suggest that OBEs should be scientifically verifiable.

Sleep tight, atheists! I’m sure there’s nothing to these stories… nothing at all!

Mu hu ha ha haaaaa!

Note: I would not use this argument in a debate. But I do find it interesting and I am open-minded. I haven’t decided whether these are real or not, although I am a substance dualist and believe in a real non-material soul that survives the body. If anyone has a solid NDE story, send it to me.

Understanding the effect of sex on your brain chemistry

This article was sent to me by my friend Andrew. It’s by Marcia Segelstein.

Marcia is trying to make the same point about sex that Miriam Grossmann made in her book “Unprotected”. The point is that although bureaucrats and educrats love to tell people about the riskiness of behaviors like smoking and obesity, they don’t tell people the truth about the dangers of casual sex, because they don’t want to antagonize special interest groups like feminists and gay activists.

In the article, Marcia talks about the mental effects of casual sex. She talks about dopamine first, but the one I want to tell you about is called oxytocin. It is very important that you parents of young ladies understand this and present this evidence to your daughters. (The male version of this phenomenon is also explained in the article, it’s called vasopressin).

Excerpt:

Oxytocin is another important brain chemical we are now learning more about.  Oxytocin helps females, in particular, bond with other people.  When a new mother breastfeeds her infant, for example, oxytocin floods her brain.  The effect is powerful.  She feels a strong desire to be with her baby, and is willing to suffer the sleepless nights and inconveniences that come with having a baby.

Oxytocin also helps females bond with men.  When a woman and man touch each other in a loving way, oxytocin is released in her brain.  It makes her want more of that loving touch, and she begins to feel a bond with her partner.  Sexual intercourse leads to the release of even more oxytocin, a desire to repeat the contact, and even stronger bonding.  But, like dopamine, oxytocin is values-neutral.  It’s a chemical reaction, or, as the authors write: “[I]t is an involuntary process that cannot distinguish between a one-night stand and a lifelong soul mate.  Oxytocin can cause a woman to bond to a man even during what was expected to be a short-term sexual relationship.”  So when that short-term relationship ends, the emotional fallout can be devastating, thanks to oxytocin.

Another significant finding about oxytocin is that it produces feelings of trust.  That can be good or bad, depending on the situation.  “While the hormonal effect of oxytocin is ideal for marriage, it can cause problems for the unmarried woman or girl who is approached by a man desiring sex….[T]he warning is that a woman’s brain can cause her to be blindsided by a bad relationship that she thought was good because of the physical contact and the oxytocin response it generates.”

This is why Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse says that the only smart sex is married sex. Otherwise you are just coarsening your own self. Neil Simpson calls this the duct tape theory of sex. He explains why sex is like duct tape here. Don’t order your children around – give them the data so they understand the why of chastity.

The relationship between science, faith and academic freedom

I blogged recently about atheist philosophers Thomas Nagel and Bradley Monton, informed atheists, who both support the idea that intelligent design could potentially be researched using ordinary scientific methods. I thought it was interesting especially in the case of Nagel, who has this famous quote about his reasons for adopting atheism:

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.
(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)

The thing is, Thomas Nagel has written a paper supporting ID as science, and now I’ve learned that he is rejecting Darwinism as a full explanation of human origins. (H/T Denyse O’Leary’s related post at the Post-Darwinist). Nagel contrasts the idea that natural selection is responsible for our mental capacity, or whether some other explanation is needed.

Nagel writes:

I see no reason to believe that the truth lies in the first alternative. The only reason so many people believe it is that advanced intellectual capacities clearly exist, and this is the only available candidate for a Darwinian explanation of their existence. So it all rests on the assumption that every noteworthy characteristic of human beings, or of any other organism, must have a Darwinian explanation. But what is the reason to believe this? Even if natural selection explains all adaptive evolution, there may be developments in the history of species that are not specifically adaptive and can’t be explained in terms of natural selection. Why not take the development of the human intellect as a probable counterexample to the law that natural selection explains everything, instead of forcing it under the law with improbable speculations unsupported by evidence? We have here one of those powerful reductionist dogmas which seem to be part of the intellectual atmosphere we breath.

It’s interesting that Nagel is breaking from the pack, because my post about A. N. Wilson’s return to faith highlighted the peer-pressure that atheists feel with regards to the need to project intelligence to their peers. It’s almost as they feel the need prove themselves as better than other people, perhaps to make up for some past rejection that gave them a deep sense of being unworthy.

Wilson said:

If I bumped into Richard Dawkins (an old colleague from Oxford days) or had dinner in Washington with Christopher Hitchens (as I did either on that trip to interview Billy Graham or another), I did not have to feel out on a limb. Hitchens was excited to greet a new convert to his non-creed and put me through a catechism before uncorking some stupendous claret. “So – absolutely no God?” “Nope,” I was able to say with Moonie-zeal. “No future life, nothing ‘out there’?” “No,” I obediently replied. At last! I could join in the creed shared by so many (most?) of my intelligent contemporaries in the western world – that men and women are purely material beings (whatever that is supposed to mean), that “this is all there is” (ditto), that God, Jesus and religion are a load of baloney: and worse than that, the cause of much (no, come on, let yourself go), most (why stint yourself – go for it, man), all the trouble in the world, from Jerusalem to Belfast, from Washington to Islamabad.

Anyway, Denyse O’Leary also talks about some research done by Jeffrey Schwartz on her blog the Mindful Hack. I saw Schwartz present this research before in a live debate with Michael Shermer, another atheist I like somewhat. (I own, and have watched dozens of debates and hundreds of academic lectures – and I sponsor them, too! I love civil, fact-based disagreements!)

Denyse cites from a forthcoming paper of hers, as follows:

UCLA psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, a practitioner of Buddhist mindfulness, saw OCD as a good candidate for a non- pharmaceutical—essentially non-materialist—approach to treatment….

Schwartz used neuroscience techniques to identify the cause of the disorder. Specifically, the cause is most likely a defect in the neural circuitry connecting the orbitofrontal cortex, cingulate gyrus, and basal ganglia, from which panic and compulsion are generated. When this “worry circuit” is working properly, we worry about genuine risks and feel the urge to reduce them. But, Schwartz found, when that modulation is faulty, as it is when OCD acts up, the error detector can be overactivated. It becomes locked into a pattern of repetitive firing. The firing triggers an overpowering feeling that something is wrong, accompanied by compulsive attempts to somehow make it right.

He then developed a four-step program (Relabel, Reattribute, Reassign, and Revalue) to help patients identify and reassign OCD thoughts, until they felt that they were diminishing in severity. Schwartz was not simply getting patients to change their opinions, but to change their brains. Subsequent brain imaging showed that the change in focus of attention substituted a useful neural circuit for a useless one. For example, it substituted “go work in the garden” for “wash hands seven more times.” By the time the neuronal traffic from the many different activities associated with gardening began to exceed the traffic from washing the hands, the patient could control the disorder without drugs. The mind was changing the brain.

Schwartz called this “mental effort” in the debate, and he used the treatment successfully on people like Leonardo DiCaprio.

The issue of mind as a non-material cause is an area of specialty for Denyse. She recently wrote a book on it for Harper-Collins called “The Spiritual Brain”. I bought 7 copies of that book and gave them to 6 of my friends for their Christmas presents. (One was for me!) Check it out. I hate (but use) philosophical arguments for substance dualism. Her book provides lots of hard scientific evidence that I prefer to use instead.

Atheism, science and free speech

As Denyse O’Leary notes in her post on Colliding Universes, Christian researchers in the sciences have to jump through hoops to keep their jobs and get tenure, in an establishment dominated by activist atheists. She links to this story in Science, regarding a Christian professor who is brilliant, but who has to watch his step in secular-leftist-dominated academia.

Szilágyi sees his religious faith and his research efforts as two complementary aspects of his life. Within the scientific environment, “I have some options where I can express my faith,” Szilágyi says. He directly referred to God both in the acknowledgements of his master’s and doctoral dissertations and while receiving his awards. He runs a Bible-study group for young adults, and together with a friend he founded a Christian scientific group.

But although Szilágyi’s views often lie far outside the scientific mainstream, he expresses those views only off-campus and in his personal time. For him, “the debate over evolution, design, creation, supernatural intelligence, etc., is not a scientific question in the first place but the collision of worldviews, the confrontation of materialism and idealism,” he says. He takes the Bible literally, but when he lectures on the subject–outside of work–he presents what he calls “the options” and indicates which one “to me … seems to be more probable.” But he insists that it is up to “everybody to make his or her own decision.”

“As a Christian who works in the field of science, I find it quite important to deal with the relation of Christianity and science,” Szilágyi says. But “I know that it is a minefield in today’s scientific life and can be quite dangerous for one’s scientific career. … Therefore, I do these activities absolutely separately from my university work. … I am very cautious and careful that whenever I am talking [about these issues] I do not represent my university.

“My belief is very important for my career because this is the first thing that gives me my motivations so that I could work hard and I could achieve the best I can,” Szilágyi says.

Denyse, who sees the battlefield better than anyone I know, comments:

It is sad when talented people must grovel and cringe just to keep their jobs. The thing is, in the end, that never works.

“Theistic evolution” is just a way of adjusting to a world run by atheists.

Practical questions like “Does the world show evidence of design” are scientific if the answer appears to be no, but unscientific if it appears to be yes.

Denyse also wrote about this comment on the Post-Darwinist, which emerged during the recent Texas School Board hearings.

“If our students do not feel the freedom to simply raise their hand and ask a question in science class, then we are no longer living in the United States of America.”

Common sense, combined with the pressure of at least 14,000 constituent communications in favor of allowing students to discuss all sides of science theories, finally prevailed.

You may also remember the case of Guillermo Gonzalez, who, despite outperforming virtually everyone in his department, was denied tenure thanks to a crusade by an activist atheist professor of religious studies, Hector Avalos. Persecution of outspoken Christians by secularists goes on all the time in academia. If you come out as a Christian, the secularists will be offended, and then you have to suffer the consequences.

And don’t forget, as public Christianity declines in the face of persecution by secularists, so has the right to free speech. The Democrats have recently tabled bills to enact hate crime laws and to imprison bloggers who are critical of the government.