Monday, September 22, 2008

Book Review

"Why God Won't Go Away" (Andrew Newberg, Eugene D'Aquili, Vince Rause) - This book is an introduction to the functional divisions within the brain. When the authors stick to that domain, it is really very good. The problem comes when they drift into theology, and theorizing how religious beliefs began.

I'll take a few points in order as they appear:
Page 96 (also 115):
"The power of ritual lies in its ability to provide believers with experiential evidence that seems to 'prove' that the guarantees made in myth and scripture are true."
This is part of a discussion on the changes in the brain made by repetitive and rhythmic activities.

Actually, this is a good argument against these sorts of activities... They shut off the thinking portion of the brain.

Solid theology cannot rely on feelings, it must be based in logic and consideration of truth received from God (the Bible). How often do these activities produce clear thinking on doctrine? Never that I know of. How often do these activities produce heresies of all sorts? Almost all the time (the rest are harmless).

Why rationalism failed to destroy religion - page 129:
"We believe, in fact, that the remarkable tenacity of religion is rooted in something deeper, simpler, and healthier than weak-minded denial or sheer psychological dependence."
I appreciate the attempt, but this feels like a back-handed compliment. "You're not holding to a useless, hopeless delusion because you're weak-minded; you just can't help being weak-minded". Thanks, but no thanks.

They also talk about the health benefits of religious activity. But again, the issue is truth (assuming you haven't rejected the notion of truth). No lie is worth believing, regardless of the benefits. It's really an application of "two wrongs don't make a right" (which is not in the Bible...).

Sadly, they close with a move from bad theology to outright heresy: page 159:
"God is by his nature unknowable. He is not an objective fact, or an actual being"
If we start from the assumption that we can know God (or anything, really) from a foundation of ourselves as judge of truth, we will come to the conclusion of (effective) atheism.

This is actually a good result. We can be confident there is no truth to be found in mysticism, mindless meditation, or repetitive/hypnotic rituals.

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