Review of The Encyclopedia of Religion and Science

Review of The Encyclopedia of Religion and Science

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Editor in Chief.   Macmillan Reference USA, 2003.   xxxviii  +  1050 pages.

The long article by Warren S. Brown on “Neurosciences” looked impeccable and up to date.  Some people would object to calling certain brain functions the “highest.” This is because of a generalized objection to hierarchy.  You could call this “the most complex of human mental activity.”  There is a typographical error.  The word should be “proprioceptive.” 

The article on “Neurotheology” should refer to “James B. Ashbrook,” not “John Ashbrook.”  The author says that “D’Aquili and Newberg regard their research not only as neuroscience but also as a contribution to theology because they feel that it will bring all the elements of religion under one rational explanatory scheme, namely that of neuroscience” (Vol. 2, 617).  This statement makes d’Aquili and Newberg sound more reductionist than they really are/were.  I knew the late Eugene d’Aquili.  He was a faithful (if somewhat free-thinking) Catholic. I believe he was a mystic, although he never said so in so many words.  He was also a board-certified psychiatrist, and I suspect his original motivation was to make sense of things for himself.  It would probably be more accurate to say something like “It will bring all the elements of religion under a coherent explanatory scheme that reflects respect for both science and mystical experience.”  Mysticism was the central concern of the book cited, not so much ritual and worship.

This article also states that in neuroscience “mind and soul, free will, consciousness, responsibility, and the human being’s contact with God” are “either seriously doubted or reduced to their underlying material relationships” (Vol. 2, 617).   This is too great a generalization.  Consciousness, in particular, is not “seriously doubted” by all that many neuroscientists, although they cannot explain it to their own satisfaction.  This may be true for Daniel Dennett or Steven Pinker, but some of their colleagues are less extreme, more open to possibility.  You might say, “Many neuroscientists deny that there is an element of free will and responsibility in human experience, and seriously doubt the existence of soul or the human being’s contact with God.   There is a tendency among them to reduce religious experience to underlying material relationships.”