Review of The Encyclopedia of Religion and Science
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION, J. Wentzel Vrede van Huysteen,
Editor in Chief. Macmillan Reference USA, 2003. xxxviii + 1050 pages.
The long article by Warren S. Brown on â€œNeurosciencesâ€ looked impeccable and up to date. Some people would object to calling certain brain functions the â€œhighest.â€ This is because of a generalized objection to hierarchy. You could call this â€œthe most complex of human mental activity.â€ There is a typographical error. The word should be â€œproprioceptive.â€
The article on â€œNeurotheologyâ€ should refer to â€œJames B. Ashbrook,â€ not â€œJohn Ashbrook.â€ The author says that â€œDâ€™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 neuroscienceâ€ (Vol. 2, 617). This statement makes dâ€™Aquili and Newberg sound more reductionist than they really are/were. I knew the late Eugene dâ€™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 â€œIt will bring all the elements of religion under a coherent explanatory scheme that reflects respect for both science and mystical experience.â€ Mysticism was the central concern of the book cited, not so much ritual and worship.
This article also states that in neuroscience â€œmind and soul, free will, consciousness, responsibility, and the human beingâ€™s contact with Godâ€ are â€œeither seriously doubted or reduced to their underlying material relationshipsâ€ (Vol. 2, 617). This is too great a generalization. Consciousness, in particular, is not â€œseriously doubtedâ€ 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, â€œMany 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 beingâ€™s contact with God. There is a tendency among them to reduce religious experience to underlying material relationships.â€