A Christmas Message for the True Believers
Being a practicing member of a religion is distinct from being a true believer. We can understand this from a theological point of view, but can belief be scientifically observed, or even measured?
What's the Big Idea?
"Christianity, if false, is of no importance," the lay theologian C.S. Lewis once said. And yet, if Christianity is true, Lewis continued, it is "of infinite importance." In other words, there is no middle ground. Christianity cannot be of moderate importance.
Tim Keller, Pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church, falls squarely into Lewis's camp when he talks about the significance of his religion. A lot of very smart people may be Christians. Christianity might happen to be very culturally relevant today. Indeed, there are certainly many benefits to being a Christian. And yet, according to Keller, "if you don’t believe in Christianity because it’s true, what will happen is to some degree won’t fulfill your needs."
Watch the video here:
What's the Significance?
In Keller's view, being a practicing member of a religion is distinct from being a true believer. In other words, do you celebrate Christmas? Do you celebrate the birth of Christ? Do you celebrate the birth of the son of God?
What constitutes true belief?
We can answer this one way -- from a theological point of view. But can belief be scientifically observed, or even measured? A growing number of neuroscientists have taken up with question, with the ambitious goal of measuring what happens to the human brain during spiritual experiences.
Dr. Andrew Newberg is the Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine and a pioneer in the field of neurotheology. Newberg doesn't identify with a particular religious group, but he's fascinated by the profound significance and persistence of human faith throughout history.
To measure the effects of trance states and ritual on the brain, he uses a technique called single photon emission computed tomography, in which subjects are injected with a chemical that emits gamma rays. A computer collects the information transmitted by the rays and constructs from it an image of the brain depicting blood flow to the various regions. The more blood flow to a particular region, the more brain activity. Using this method, Newberg has studied the brains of Franciscan nuns during prayer, Tibetan monks during meditation, and Pentecostals speaking in tongues.
Watch the video here:
Megan Erickson contributed to this post.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.
- Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
- These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
- The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.
- Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
- Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
- Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
A groundbreaking new study shows that octopuses seemed to exhibit uncharacteristically social behavior when given MDMA, the psychedelic drug commonly known as ecstasy.
- Octopuses, like humans, have genes that seem to code for serotonin transporters.
- Scientists gave MDMA to octopuses to see whether those genes translated into a binding site for serotonin, which regulates emotions and behavior in humans
- Octopuses, which are typically asocial creatures, seem to get friendlier while on MDMA, suggesting humans have more in common with the strange invertebrates than previously thought
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.