Thursday, 2 November 2006

A Gloss on the Epistemology of the Spirit

For the 2nd installment of the World Science Review, I had a hard decision. There was the use of antimatter in medicine, the benefits of red wine, and elephant self-recognition in the mirror. Even more intriguing were the possibility of evidence indicating our relation to Neanderthals, the likelihood of the oceans completely dying by 2048, and cultural tendencies to see the world as related to self verses other objects. Difficult choice. But I finally decided on studies of brain chemistry in glossolalia- speaking in tongues.

The article says that those speaking in tongues have less control over language centers of the brain, and they have less activity in the area of the brain that usually shows self-control. The authors of the study state that naturally, it must mean some other undiscovered part of the brain is in control, and that they look forward to "demystifying" glossolalia. They affirm that their results are what you would expect from the claim made by those speaking in tongues to be "out of control".

I must admit a certain knee-jerk dislike of this research. Or at least the conclusions drawn from it. And that forced me to try to figure out why.

It's not the mention of demystifying. I just think that's completely wrong. The researcher speaks of it as if that would be a good thing. A life without myth is a life not worth living. And just because something is fully understood, if it ever could be, doesn't mean it has lost its sense of wonder, its power of myth, or its taste of the numinous. That can still be there, if we are willing to search for it.

I think it relates more to the natural assumption that there must be some other part of the brain that is in control, if the frontal lobe is not. And that bothers me. I want to believe that God is control when I'm speaking in tongues, not a subsidiary lobe. I don't want science to discover something else.

But of course, this is exactly the same issue that we dwell with in the evolution/creation debates. For Literal Creationists would propose a God of the Gaps, a God who works in between the areas of knowing. Wherever we don't know, there is God. And we constantly restrict God to a narrower and narrower Modernist sphere, as we learn more and more. But the Intelligent Design projection of God into irreducible complexity ultimately means that we stop all research once we declare something to be irreducibly complex- God did it, who can understand it? But I don't think that God desires us to stop our investigation into His creation at any point. To do so is to cease to investigate Him.

And that's what I'm doing in being bothered by this research. I want them to not find where this cranial blood is flowing, ever. I want it to remain a mystery, indicating the presence of God. But I must deal with the real possibility that the locus of control is one day found.

To take a different tack: science studies the repeated, physical phenomena. It must remain in epistemologically materialistic. Therefore it cannot study the miraculous. The singular event, the insertion of spirit into matter, such as the Virgin Birth, is beyond the abilities of science to investigate, to prove, or disprove.

Are tongues miraculous? Is our definition of miracle sufficient, claiming it to be a singular event? Let's take a different sort of miracle, that of healing. Happens all the time, to varying degrees- supernatural healing. Does this then make it no longer miraculous? No! Indeed, it is perhaps the epitome of the miracle. So then by what right do we now claim a miracle to be a singular event?

Because a basic part of science is uniformitarianism, such that events repeat themselves, throughout all of life, all of science. And they repeat themselves to a very large degree. Truly, the odds are just too great against an animal like the dodo re-evolving without the assistance of future genetic recombination. But natural selection proceeds in the same manner in many different organisms. DNA is the same, transcribing into RNA- and has been the same for 4 billion years.

But supernatural healing is not. This sort of healing involves a direct interaction between God, or a spirit, and the healer, and the healed. It involves each of them as body-persons, interacting with the supernatural realm. Those who would reduce supernatural healing to a systematic procedure reduce it to mere science, and rob it of it's glory. And in the process, they allow science to be able to study it. And be sure, science will find it to be less than it is claimed. For if science can study it, then it must not have been supernatural to begin with.

So now I return to tongues. A repeated event, repeated many times, in many individuals. But more than that, a supernatural event. A unique interaction between the living God, or a spirit, every time. Even more so than healing, for it is an opportunity to directly commune with the living God, as He comes to speak in you what you can not speak yourself. This is unique supernatural interaction, and therefore can not be studied by science.

How is this any different from the hypothesis of a literal creation? Why should one be a supernatural event, and the other not? Leaving aside the overwhelming evidence in favor of evolution, I'd claim they are both fully supernatural events, and therefore both can not be studied. And they are physical events, and can therefore be fully studied. It's the imposition of the supernatural that science can not study. And in the case of origins, in what way God was or was not present within the formation of the planet and it's life is simply beyond the ken of science. But to claim that the planet was created in a Q-like moment by snapping the fingers is wholly different from the claim that science can not see the spirit in tongues. It would be more the claim that, when someone is speaking in tongues, it happens in another dimension that can not be observed, and that we are imagining the person praying in tongues before us. For the evidence is there- both for an evolution and for people speaking in a strange language. And God can be fully present in both, but in a way never discernible by science.

Yes, science can determine where the blood is flowing, and that the frontal lobe is not being used, and the person does not appear to have conscious control of what they are doing. (We leave out of course those cases where the person is faking tongues, or thinks they are speaking in tongues but has honestly fooled themselves. Both definitely do occur, and I suspect far too often. It would be interesting to compare the brain scans of such individuals with those honestly speaking in tongues, if a rubric could be effectively constructed.) And honestly, science may one day discover that another lobe has all the activity. But what matters is the interpretation. Some may come and say then, "See- it was all a self-deception!" And they would be justified in their interpretation. Others may say, "See, this is how God chooses to interact with us. When He speaks to us, He does so using a different part of the brain, so that we are no longer in control." And this also would be a valid interpretation.

As for me and my house, we're going to go pray in the Spirit.


@bdul muHib said...

Quaintance said: I am impressed that you take the time to not only really reason out your thoughts on things, but then commit them to paper.

Given your recent science posts as a sample, and given a conversation with a rediscovered gradschool friend tonight, I would advise you to select a department open to your type of interpretations of science/evolution, as well as to do your darnedest to make sure you ahve local exterior emotional support if you do pursue the grad school path.

@bdul muHib said...

Well, I'm able to separate my personal theological leanings from the biology- I don't have a need to discuss my beliefs in certain circles. As I indicate in this essay, I think the God in evolution is one that is in the background, not observable by science, yet fully present nonetheless. I hope to have that support you state, but I mention all this because it is just going to be so hard to find a program that fits my interests as it is- I'm not sure that I can add on more to it (that it would be okay with an admittedly minority position on theistic evolution completely guided by chance and natural selection and also by God).

@bdul muHib said...

Drh said: I hadn't read the above comments before deciding what I wanted to say here...

I, too, really appreciate not only the thought you put into these issues, but also that you make your thought process available to those who would engage it.

It's refreshing to read good writing on engaging topics and to be challenged to consider why we believe what we believe.


This is the discussion of the World Science updates as they become available.
Your thoughts are most welcome here.