The Frontal Cortex

Where is William James?

It’s easy to forget that science and religion weren’t always at war in America. Once upon a time (the late 19th century), they managed to co-exist in a romantic synergy. Enlightened theologians tried to integrate Darwin into the Bible, and scientists freely admitted that not every question had a scientific answer. It was an age of agnostics.

Books like this (and this, which is a true masterpiece) remind us of what we have lost. Instead of intellectuals like William James, who tried to reconcile experimental psychology with the mystery of conscious experience, or Ralph Waldo Emerson (a lapsed Unitarian preacher who believed in god with a lowercase “g”), we get mediocre best-sellers like Jeff Warren, and Francis Collins. Scientists then respond with blustery and intemperate condemnations of religion in general, as if all religiosity (except for Tibetan Buddhism, of course) was nothing but an expression of stupidity and blinkered ignorance. No one benefits from these shouting matches. Atheistic scientists look haughty and condescending (they also underestimate the tangled history of religion and science), and true believers look ignorant and delusional. (Personally, I’d rather be condescending than dumb, but it’s better to be neither.)

What’s the solution? I’m afraid American religion and science are doomed to despise each other for the foreseeable future. There are just too many true believers out there. But here’s my radical (and perhaps silly) idea: modern artists can help heal the rift between faith and fact. When I look back at the late 19th century, I see a time when artists served as the mediators between science and spirituality. (As Walt Whitman declared, “I will make the poems of materials, for I think they are to be the most spiritual poems.” ) Artists paid tribute to science while always acknowledging its limitations. They loved the steam engine and cell theory, but weren’t ready to relinquish their romantic mysteries. As Emily Dickinson put it:

“But nature is a stranger yet;
And those that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.”

What made this art important was the way it celebrated what it didn’t know. It allowed people to retain a sense of the sublime without lapsing into prayer. As philosophers like Richard Rorty have emphasized, art excels at illuminating the contingencies that ripple through our lives. What Rorty says about Proust is true of great artists in general: “Proust isn’t trying to surmount time and chance, but to use them…novels are a safer medium than theory for showing us that we are time bound, embedded in a web of contingencies.”

It’s important to always remember that our knowledge is just as time-bound as we are. When Whitman was writing poems, he was following the developments of phrenology, which remained a respectable science. (Phrenology is now considered about as scientific as astrology.) And while Whitman found phrenology interesting, he never forgot that its descriptions were incomplete, temporary and probably wrong. In his notebook, Whitman reminded himself that all truth – even scientific truth – is a work in progress: “Remember in scientific and similar allusions that the theories of Geology, History, Language, &c., &c., are continually changing. Be careful to put in only what must be appropriate centuries hence.”

It is this pragmatic attitude that we need to restore. There is no righteousness or hubris in the writings of James or Emerson or Whitman or Melville or Dickinson. Instead, there is only humility in the face of mystery, a persistent faith in the inadequacy of our knowledge. (James, as usual, said it best: “Nothing real is absolutely simple.”) America used to create thinkers like this by the dozen. What happened?

Comments

  1. #1 somnilista, FCD
    August 21, 2006

    I’d like to respectfully suggest that you not post on controversial topics such as this if you are going to engage in censorship of views they elicit.

  2. #2 Jonah
    August 21, 2006

    Censorship? I’m confused. If you’ve had problems commenting, let me know, and I’ll try to fix the problem. But I assure that I don’t screen comments. I’ve had problems with massive spamming, so I had to change the settings a few weeks ago, but that’s it.

  3. #3 Jonah
    August 21, 2006

    This is just a test of my comment section…

  4. #4 Thomas Leahey
    August 21, 2006

    What happened? They (the pragmatic middling people) probably don’t blog.

  5. #5 DragonScholar
    August 21, 2006

    Certainly a different take on “bridging the gap” – I never thought of the cultural role of artist. That’s one to chew over – though in our culture, I don’t think art is taken very seriously as some great Bringing-Together-Thing.

    What I find often missed in these discussions is the corrosive effects that the religious right has had on discource over science and religion. I *do* think scientists and pro-science types like myself have moments where we’re a bit nasty, but after a few decades of being told Darwin caused Hitler, that we’re evil immoral atheists, and soforth, we’re a tad edgy at times. The religious right, however started edgy and I don’t buy that they’re going to change.

    Scientific truth is indeed a work in progress. But its hard to communicate with those whose religious truth is not.

  6. #6 somnilista, FCD
    August 21, 2006

    … we get mediocre best-sellers like Jeff Warren, and Francis Collins. Scientists then respond with blustery and intemperate condemnations of religion in general, as if all religiosity (except for Tibetan Buddhism, of course) was nothing but an expression of stupidity and blinkered ignorance. No one benefits from these shouting matches. Atheistic scientists look haughty and condescending (they also underestimate the tangled history of religion and science), and true believers look ignorant and delusional. (Personally, I’d rather be condescending than dumb, but it’s better to be neither.)

    Some concepts are worthy of condescension. Astrology, flat Earth, free energy, medical quackery, transdimensional bigfoot extraterrestrials, psychic remote viewers, etc. I feel that you are far too generous to call Collins’ book “mediocre”. It is bad. If submitted as a term paper, I expect it would flunk him out of any first year philosophy class. He is self-contradictory and hypocritical when he says both a) science cannot address issues of the supernatural and b) he has scientific evidene of God’s existence. As you know, this has been discussed at length elsewhere so I wont rehash it here.

    So why does religion get a free pass? Or would you suggest that we give the soft touch to all sorts of bunk?

  7. #7 Jonah
    August 21, 2006

    DragonScholar makes some excellent points. Artists are fringe figures today. This is for too many reasons to count, although I think part of the blame lays with modern artists. Simply put, they made their work too difficult and allusive. Instead of constructing a “science of experience” – what Emerson wanted artists to do – the avant-garde drifted into the murky obscurities of post-modernism. That’s a shame, because po-mo isn’t a big crowd pleaser.

    But I think a revitalized artistic culture might serve as a buffer between the “Darwin made Hitler” fringe and the “Religion Makes Us Evil and Stupid” crowd. As I tried to say in the post, art is able to affirm mystery without offering up an easy answer. Of course, we’ll always have lunatics and young earth creationists, but I hope that, by involving artists in these sorts of debates, we might also get a more interesting and less shrill discussion of the mysteries that remain.

  8. #8 Fred
    August 21, 2006

    A problem that you do not mention is the fact that many devout believers insist on making empirically testable assertions. Things such as, the earth is only 10,000 years old, evolution didn’t happen, and a few centuries ago, the earth is at the center of the universe. Believers seem to have a pretty muddled epistemology and don’t understand which of their assertions are subject to naturalistic analysis and which aren’t. Nor do they understand the need for clarifying the differences. Furthermore, creationists, in particular, often refuse to recognize the difference between philosophical and methodological naturalism and insist that evolution or naturalism are religions. After a while, all of this can provoke a pretty irritated response from some scientists and I donít blame them.

    I come out of a conservative protestant background and saw, first hand, how most Christians view the world through a moral lens. Jerry Falwell is being quite accurately biblical (at least in an Old Testament sense) in declaring natural disasters to be the judgment of God. He also represents a widespread Christian perspective of viewing the world through a moral lens first and a logical or rational lens a remote second.

    William James represents an era when distinctions between naturalism and rationalism on one hand and faith on the other were not as clear as they are today; at least, it was commonly acceptable to not see the two as mutually exclusive back then. I canít see how it is realistic to want to return to some version of the thinking of that era.

    I teach at a west coast regional state university with a relatively religiously conservative student body. It has been my experience that a truce is the best policy. I make my unbelief clear and stake out empirically testable propositions as the realm of science. I also make clear that education is not indoctrination and students are free to hold their own opinions. They have to learn the science to pass the course but agreeing with the professorís opinions is not the basis for a grade. Then I present the data and interpretations that support modern biology, including evolution. The light bulb seems to turn on for some students, in part, because of the relatively non-threatening environment.

    If you were to argue that the rhetoric could be toned down and that we could profitably have a more civil and courteous discussion, I can agree. However, the world views of the religious conservative and the naturalistic scientist are divergent at a very fundamental level.

    I recall my dismay some years ago on reading Kenneth Millerís Finding Darwinís God. The first part of the book reviews the evidence for evolution. It is clear and logical. However, the second part of the book has, what to me was, a hopelessly muddled integration of his faith and science. I struggled to finish the book in the hope of finding a clear synthesis. I never found it.

    I think that there is a good reason why the conservatively religious attack or attempt to control science. It is because science represents the most successful part of the modern secular culture which is extremely threatening to Christians and Muslims. Scientists consider mystery to be a challenge to be surmounted. Christians and Muslims recognize the unexplainable to be part of the essence of their faith. Your attempt to find a bridge in art is interesting. But Iím not optimistic that artists will be convincing to anybody.

  9. #9 Jonah
    August 21, 2006

    And thank you somnilista for your comments. Of course, it’s important to call bullshit bullshit, and you trotted out a nice list of contemporary idiocies that still hang around. But it’s also important to remember that most religious people don’t believe that the earth is flat, or only 6,000 years ol And I’m also reluctant to use the mantle of science to mock the beliefs of others. For one thing, I’m not sure much is gained by it. Nobody stopped believing in the zodiac after learning about string theory. Furthermore, the history of science is littered with theories and experimental data that now seem ridiculous. The simple moral is that ALL of our theories have flaws. This doesn’t mean Darwin is in anyway equivalent to a belief in E.T., but it does mean that we should be less self-righteous when ridiculing the beliefs of others. Personally, I’m a proponent of pragmatism, since it lets us construct a theory of truth around utility. Darwin and cosmology are true, since they help us solve real, concrete problems. Astrology and the resurrection aren’t true, since they solve nothing.

  10. #10 Jonah
    August 21, 2006

    And thank you Fred for that wonderful post. You’ve really got me thinking: do I want to return to an era where rationalism and faith are less antagonistic? I think you are right to point out that the 19th century of James and Whitman certainly saw these two systems as being somehow reconciliable. Of course, such a belief depended in part of the ignorance of science. As reductionism progressed, religious faith became less necessary, and even more absurd.

    At the same time, I’m not sure that our current schizm is simply a reflection of scientific progress and religious alienation. I also think it reflects the failure of the middle. Both sides have gotten more radicalized because there are too few cultural voices who can both appreciate the wonders of science and celebrate its limitations. The fact is, neither science nor religion are really threatened by each other. Both will always exist as long as we exist.

  11. #11 somnilista, FCD
    August 21, 2006

    Furthermore, the history of science is littered with theories and experimental data that now seem ridiculous.

    Yes, as new evidence was accumulated. Which underscores the difference between the evidence-based viewpoint and the faith-based viewpoint. May religious people still cling to religious beliefs that seem ridiculous.

    I must agree with Fred that “the world views of the religious conservative and the naturalistic scientist are divergent at a very fundamental level.” As for those in the middle, I would compare them to a container of water and oil. You can add varing ratios (e.g. 95% water to 5% oil) but the never really mix. You can be 95% rational and 5% faith-based, but I do not see this as synergy or compatibility in any way. I think believing things that cannot be rationally supported is a bad thing, and I will fight that portion, whatever its percentage.

    In this country (the USA) today, government policy is founded on faith-based thinking to an extent that is truly frightening. Thus it is hard to claim that allowing people to have their private beliefs is harmless; those beliefs are being forced upon me as bad government policy.

    Also, as we see in the Collins discussion on Panda’s Thumb right now, when someone does criticise faith-based thinking, it is circle the wagons time. It is a sacred cow that cannot be discussed in public, and that in itself is a bad thing.

  12. #12 somnilista, FCD
    August 21, 2006

    Looks like I missed a close quote. The first sentence was from Jonah, followed by my response.

  13. #13 DavidD
    August 21, 2006

    I agree about the need for pragmatism, but I don’t see artists providing that. My mind goes to 12-step groups, maybe other things in the direction of what can God actually do for people.

    I started The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James more than once. It’s first chapter is “Religion and neurology,” after all. I’d really like it if he could explain the reality of that to me. But this is indeed over a hundred years old and neurology then was speculation much more than data, at least on this topic. In addition I know lots of stories of spiritual experiences in modern people as well as in myself. I know how atheists trivialize them and fundamentalists push them away no matter how carefully these are described. As I leaf through James, I don’t find anything to solve that.

    I have hope that both the genetics and neuroscience revolutions might change this. Evolutionary psychology like Pascal Boyer’s book Religion Explained describe a God-shaped void in our brain with our needs for power, knowledge, love and goodness, something filled by a traditional God by some, by something more rational for others. There’s little objective to say which way is best. But at some point we will know the genes responsible for this, if this is indeed genetic. Maybe someone will do a better job of objectively studying what it means to be religious then.

    For now we have charlatans like Michael Persinger, whose claims of producing spiritual experiences with magnetic stimulation cannot be reproduced, and those like Andrew Newberg who keep putting their neuroimaging in books instead of peer-reviewed journals. It makes me feel like I’m living at the time of Piltdown Man, waiting for something real to come along like molecular genetics. At that, Newberg’s neuroimaging may show nothing of significance regarding prayer and meditation. Does that mean it’s trivial or too profound for the brain?

    I think for some time, the situation will remain the same. Atheists and Bible believers will argue passionately about intellectual issues that prove nothing. There is not any proof for God that works, nor against God. That leaves any individual to pursue any higher power as he or she wills, through art, through prayer, through compassion, through more objective truth like science. I’m satisfied that even evolutionary psychologists understand our need for that. When the how and why of that gets answered is anyone’s guess, but I’m sure science has to do that, no matter how much non-science can explore the experience of it.

    I agree with Fred about Finding Darwin’s God. If anyone can’t understand evolution from that book, I have nothing to add to help. But Miller’s theology is like listening to some ID guy saying molecular genetics doesn’t matter because God just made all this DNA just the way it is. All across the spectrum of religious belief people don’t sound like they know anything about God. That can either be an invitation for you to know him yourself or a reason not to bother. People get to choose which way to go.

  14. #14 somnilista, FCD
    August 22, 2006

    There is not any proof for God that works, nor against God. That leaves any individual to pursue any higher power as he or she wills, through art, through prayer, through compassion, through more objective truth like science.

    This is exactly to what I was referring. Substitute any other phrase for “God” in that quote and see if it makes sense: leprechauns, blue fairies, orbiting teapots, invisible pink unicorns. Only God gets a free pass.

    All across the spectrum of religious belief people don’t sound like they know anything about God. That can either be an invitation for you to know him yourself or a reason not to bother.

    The lack of convergence of conceptions of God is evidence that other “ways of knowing” don’t deserve to be called such. Given that everyone who looks into the God topic seems to come up with a different idea, why whould there be any reason to suppose that a) there is any underlying truth and b) that your own efforts would be any more reliable?

    ..
    Let me suggest that you work the other end of the disagreement. Many religionists have irrational fear of atheists and atheism. Surveys show that atheists are the least trusted group of people in the USA. Preachers around the world constantly rail against atheism and portray atheists, ironically, as agents of the devil. The myths that atheists cannot be moral and that atheists cannot have purpose in their lives are widespread. Why don’t you work to correct this mischaracterization amongst the religious, rather than blame atheists for the irrational fears of the religious?

  15. #15 DavidD
    August 22, 2006

    The thing is that no one expects leprechauns, blue fairies, orbiting teapots or invisible pink unicorns to provide them with power, knowledge, love, or goodness. That is one way God is different from those things. Whether or not atheists are right about there being no God, cultures around the world have served this need in some way involving hidden beings and inside information. Pascal Boyer is an academic anthropologist and describes this phenomenon. He writes as an atheist that it’s wrong for people to think religion is just wishful thinking or something equally trivial as the fantasies you mention.

    Many academics, incuding Boyer, write of evidence that we have an innate morality, selected for by evolution. It makes sense to me. That conservative Christians, including Francis Collins, deny this is both poor scholarship and a failure to be honest about what they could observe for themselves in people. I’ve said this to a lot of them. I don’t think I’ve made a dent. People are very protective of their beliefs, theists and atheists alike.

    I blame everyone for their irrational fears, not just atheists, but also crazy creationists like D. James Kennedy who blames the Nazis on belief in evolution. There’s plenty of such craziness anywhere you look. I wish there were neuroimaging-guided therapies for such things. Maybe that makes me too much like a Nazi myself. But I know that in the end it’s always a matter of individual choice. Totalitarians who tried to do it otherwise all failed, whether inside churches or through governments. That’s reassuring to me.

  16. #16 DavidD
    August 22, 2006

    I wanted to address that middle paragraph above, too. Despite those like CS Lewis who claim that reason drove him to God, I don’t think that ever happens. Need drives people to God, whatever rationales they have for that afterward. I’ve seen more people serious about God in 12 step groups than I have in churches. That includes a few atheists who saw their higher power as a material object or some higher part of themselves. I knew a man in Al-Anon about 10 years ago who did a perfectly good 12-step program as an atheist, praying to a better part of himself. I’m sure it makes a difference in the long run to have something correct about who and what God is, but in the short run, what matters is willingness. I wish anyone academic would study this, but they can barely look at AA and recidivism in alcoholism, much less something harder like spiritual benefits of 12 steps.

    Individuals either feel a need to pursue God and see enough evidence to encourage them to do that or they don’t. There are plenty of hypocrites who have pursued religion, but never God. All their thundering about theology and philosophy doesn’t amount to anything, nor does the thundering of those who argue with them.

  17. #17 somnilista, FCD
    August 23, 2006

    The thing is that no one expects leprechauns, blue fairies, orbiting teapots or invisible pink unicorns to provide them with power, knowledge, love, or goodness.

    No one has been able to provide evidence that God actually provides any of those things. Extravagant expectations are not evidence of truth. In fact, the more extravagant the claims, the higher the burden of proof should be.

    Whether or not atheists are right about there being no God, cultures around the world have served this need in some way involving hidden beings and inside information. Pascal Boyer is an academic anthropologist and describes this phenomenon. He writes as an atheist that it’s wrong for people to think religion is just wishful thinking or something equally trivial as the fantasies you mention.

    This is where you lose me. Truth is paramount to me. You seem to be saying that for some people it doesn’t matter whether or not religion is true, so long as it fulfills some need. I cannot accept this viewpoint. I do not mean to trivialize people’s emotional needs, but merely state as a fact that their needs do not constitute evidence of any truth underlying their religious beliefs.

    This reminds me of the discussion of Gulf war syndrome. The medical experts failed to find any organic cause of GWS; toxins, germs, etc. They said it was probably psychological. Sufferers of GWS felt betrayed by this claim that it was “just” psychological, that it was ‘all in their heads’. But this is not what the medical experts meant. They meant to say that it is real, but it is psychological, or psychosomatic.

    At any rate, it would seem that these deep spiritual needs some people have can be filled by mushrooms.

  18. #18 tim byron
    August 23, 2006

    I suspect that you’re doing that classic nostalgic thing with this post, the same thing that the baby boomers do with music from the 1960s. They just remember the good stuff, and forget the truly horrible schlock that nobody remembers today. and yes, while there were the William Jameses of the world back then, there were surely also dogmatic theologians who used the basest rhetoric to attack Darwinism, as well.

    And…you know, someone mentioned Panda’s Thumb before – Stephen Jay Gould was happy to draw a line in the sand between science and religion and say that they were separate domains which didn’t overlap. I realise that he’s in the same debating club in the sky as James now, but I’m sure he’d have a few disciples in the world of science writing, who’d share his tolerance of religion?

  19. #19 DavidD
    August 23, 2006

    You’re missing a point. The experience of mushrooms is not what people get from God. You should read what your fellow atheist Pascal Boyer wrote. It is certainly true that God fulfills needs. 12-step programs show that. Lots of things show that. What’s not clear is who and what God is. As a liberal Christian, I am content knowing that God could be a better part of me, a construct within my mind that will die with me, except for His persistence as a meme, a unit of cultural evolution. That is the least that God can be, nothing as arbitrary an invisible pink unicorns or some aberration like whatever is behind GWS, if it is psychosomatic. Something like God is universal among human cultures. Where the idea of God is rejected, similar things take His place, like “sacred” doctrines, rituals, institutions and leaders of Communism. One can imagine a completely rational world, where people need nothing like that. As a good scientist I lived as rationally as I could into my thirties. Then I had to admit my incompetency and powerlessness over a number of challenges in my life, ones that drove me to prayer and to Al-Anon. That is not a self-help group. It’s a spiritual program with tremendous freedom about what one can see as a higher power, so that even an open-minded atheist can benefit from it.

    I have had many conversions about that with atheists from 12 steps who have seen such spiritual benefits in themselves. The question of whether this is natural, something like self-hypnosis, or supernatural gets played up a lot between atheists and theists, but the one thing one can say is that there are benefits, not to everyone who tries it, but a lot of them. These benefits are not trivial. If I could identify a natural process that has been the source of so much direction, strength and comfort that I’ve gotten from prayer, I’d sell it to people and be rich. I can’t. Maybe someone else will someday. Maybe it is supernatural. Maybe God is a meme. Maybe God is a supernatural being, or a resource that isn’t as much a person as tradition says He is. That’s the part where there is no convincing data. That God has a profound effect on most of us, whoever and whatever God is, can be documented, as Pascal Boyer does, as a lot of people do.

    This argument between traditionalists who say their beliefs are proven and atheists who say those beliefs are not proven goes easily to atheists if there is an honest judge, even God, I think. But atheists go too far when they go from being right about everything that’s wrong with the Bible and religion to say it’s all fantasy. It’s not all fantasy. Boyer’s book is difficult when he’s being his most academic, but there are lots of ways to look at evidence that God is not a fantasy, even if it turns out evolutionary psychology is right about Him. Evolutionary psychologists who work on religion document a God-shaped void in us. They don’t call it that. They call it needs for power, knowledge, love, and goodness or something more complex than that. No reason will ever show there isn’t anything supernatural about that. It’s like looking for opioid peptides after the opiate receptor was discovered. If they hadn’t been discovered, it would have remained an open question whether they exist or not. So it is with God, except that those of us with a personal experience of God have evidence that others don’t have.

    Atheists can feel secure in their victory over traditional religion, if they ever get over showing such contempt that this victory doesn’t make religion go away. But to say that all religion is trivial and replaceable by secular beliefs is going too far. Even if religion is completely natural, it’s profound and powerful. And if there is a supernatural side to reality, we may all be profoundly ignorant to the truth of it. The only way around that is denial, whether by atheist, liberal, or conservative.

  20. #20 somnilista, FCD
    August 24, 2006

    It is certainly true that God fulfills needs. 12-step programs show that. Lots of things show that. What’s not clear is who and what God is. As a liberal Christian, I am content knowing that God could be a better part of me, a construct within my mind that will die with me, except for His persistence as a meme, a unit of cultural evolution. That is the least that God can be, nothing as arbitrary an invisible pink unicorns or some aberration like whatever is behind GWS, if it is psychosomatic.

    First of all, if you haven’t defined your term, it is very hard to discuss it. God as a supernatural entity, and God as some natural psychological property are two very different things. It is very difficult to have a rational discussion when one side uses terms it will not define.

    To repeat: for me, truth matters.

    I have had many conversions about that with atheists from 12 steps who have seen such spiritual benefits in themselves.

    Heh, heh. I’ll assume you meant conversations.

    No reason will ever show there isn’t anything supernatural about that.

    I don’t care for your allocation of the burden of proof.

    But to say that all religion is trivial and replaceable by secular beliefs is going too far. Even if religion is completely natural, it’s profound and powerful.

    It is you who have supplied the word “trivial.” You seem to be agreeing with me that providing a natural explanation for something does not necessarily “trivialize” it. Why then is it that your agreement sounds like disagreement?

    And if there is a supernatural side to reality, we may all be profoundly ignorant to the truth of it. The only way around that is denial, whether by atheist, liberal, or conservative.

    “The presumption of disbelief” is not denial. It is a proper assignment of the burden of proof, one you have no disagreement with for any concept but God. It appears you are trying to substitute pretty rhetoric for rational argumentation.

  21. #21 km
    August 28, 2006

    Why no William James’s? There are several possible reasons why psychologists turned away from the study of religion during the middle part of the twentieth century – scholarly diatance, self selection (religious people pursue theology), as a backlash against churches that dismissed psychology, but probably most importantly – psychology was trying to distinguish itself from philosophy and establish itself as an emirical science. William James was as much a philosopher as a scientist, and the philosopher-psychologists were chased away fifty years ago. But now, the study of religion and spirituality are on the rise in psychology. It turns out that there are a lot of mental health benefits to spiritual- or religious-mindedness, and people who see themselves as both religious and spiritual seem to reap the greatest mental health benefits of all.
    Additionally, spirituality tends to promote tolerance. I think that “religious” conflicts are often the misnaming of economic conflicts or other power struggles based on social oppression, which have little to do with the nonmaterial realm.
    By the way – clinical psychology is a great place to find psychologists and believers in collaboration. In response to a prior post – I see no reason to trash the twelve steps of AA. When you watch the belief in a higher power allow someone to kick a profoundly biological habit, you realize that spirituality has great practical benefit – especially when there is an existential crisis involved. And unlike science clubs, spiritual faith does not require intellect as a prerequisite. For some, this might fuel scientific condescention, for others, it among the many miraculous aspects of faith.

  22. #22 somnilista, FCD
    August 30, 2006

    Could you please elaborate on your distinction between religion and spirituality?

  23. #23 somnilista, FCD
    September 4, 2006

    Where is William James?

    To get right to the point, William James is dead.

  24. #24 km
    September 4, 2006

    elaboration on the distinction between religion and spirituality: Within psych literature there is little consensus on the definitions of either religion or spirituality, but there is a trend to separate the two with different meanings. Sometimes religion is seen as the collective pursuit of the sacred, while spirituality denotes an individual pursuit. Or they are contrasted by substantive versus functional definitions. Religion is seen as a substantive construct becasue it focuses on questions about the nature of god and how one should behave to live in accordance with god’s will. Religion also has a social support aspect which seems to be only tentatively related to the pursuit of the sacred. Spirituality is a functional construct because it focuses on the subjective experience of the divine and how this experience affects the quality of existence. Both are seen as pursuit of the sacred and both infuse daily life with universal significance. Spirituality and religion are not mutually exclusive and both relate to self-transcendence, which captures spiritual and nonspiritual experiences of absorption, interconnectedness, universality, and alterations in time.
    For more on this, see the work of Robert Cloninger and Ralph Piedmont, and Dean Hamer’s book “The God Gene”.

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