God on the Brain: Part Three

 

I feel detached from my body. I am floating up . . . there is a kind of vibration moving through my sternum . . . there are odd lights or faces along my left side. My body is becoming very hot . . . tingling sensations in my chest and stomach . . . now both arms. There is something feeling my ovaries. I can feel my left foot jerk. I feel there is someone in the room behind me.[1]

This was the report of one test subject in the lab of neuroscientist Michael Persinger, who has made the claim that ‘genuine religious experiences’ can be artificially induced with a device called the ‘Koren Helmet,’ more popularly known as the ‘God Helmet.’[2] The epithet was bestowed by journalists after discovering that some claimed to have had visions of God under the Helmet’s influence and the name stuck.[3] Persinger’s God Helmet—the earliest models looking something like a motorcycle helmet with wires without and electrodes within—is said to induce a ‘visitor experience,’ variously interpreted as closeness with God or in the presence of angels, saints, ancestors, aliens, ghosts, and other supernatural agents. (One subject claimed the testing chamber should be exorcised because the Devil was in there, while others have claimed the presence of demons.)[4] Persinger repeatedly identifies this induced state as the ‘God experience.’[5]

Shiva Neural Stimulation System, a commercialized version of the God Helmet [credit: http://www.shaktitechnology.com, reproduced with the temporary permission of Todd Murphy, which does not suggest in any way that he endorses my views]

Shiva Neural Stimulation System, a commercialized version of the God Helmet [credit: http://www.shaktitechnology.com, reproduced with the temporary permission of Todd Murphy, which does not suggest in any way that he endorses my views]

The Original Koren Helmet, created by Persinger and Stanley Koren [credit: http://www.shaktitechnology.com, reproduced with the temporary permission of Todd Murphy, which does not suggest in any way that he endorses my views]

The Original Koren Helmet, created by Persinger and Stanley Koren [credit: http://www.shaktitechnology.com, reproduced with the temporary permission of Todd Murphy]

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Conflict with the Conflict Thesis: Complicating the Religion-Science Dichotomy

“I think there is quite a conflict [between religion and science] … If you think that religion is a path to any kind of factual truth … then you’re just wrong.” —Daniel Dennett [1]

“Despite a developing consensus among scholars that science and Christianity have not been at war, the notion of conflict has refused to die.” —Ronald L. Numbers [2]

God_the_Geometer

God the Geometer [credit: Wikimedia Commons]

In the last two blog posts, I discussed the history of the idea of inherent conflict between religion and science — i.e. the “conflict thesis” — with specific emphasis on how religion-science conflict historically resided primarily in the realm of thought and not action. In other words, there was much more discussion of inherent tension between religion and science than the physical presence of conflict. A critical reader might respond that it doesn’t matter that ‘conflict’ has a conceptual history, how we use the term today applies to the real world. While conflict is certainly part of the story, it is by no means the big picture. To demonstrate, lets talk about some of those alternative models to conflict of which I mentioned in the previous posts, all of which constitute distinct approaches to method and theory in the field of religion and science.

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