Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What's in a Word?

Principles of Neurotheology overreaches...

Over the past few years I've deeply enjoyed several of the books written by Andrew Newberg, especially those penned with his late collaborator Eugene d'Aquili.  Newberg's latest, Principles of Neurotheology, which he describes as a "principia" for this nascent field which he has done much to advance, left me cold for most of its 266 pages (it felt like many more before I checked).  Newberg casts such a broad net that neurotheology might become all things to all its proponents. A cynic might wonder if the field he is mapping isn't the perfect vehicle with which to scoop up Templeton Foundation grants. A more charitable soul might surmise that Newberg either become (or admitted to himself that he is) a deeply religious person and is bending over backwards to leave his spiritual impulse some wiggle room.  Things did pick up a bit in chapters 8-10, when it felt like Newberg was returning to his roots as a scientific researcher, but throughout Principles of Neurotheology he rarely describes any aspect of the field that wouldn't be better addressed by neurology or theology/philosophy alone.  Predictably, some religious reviewers find his latest book too secular while some skeptics find it too religious.  Offending both extremes sometimes means you are hewing a middle path, but science is about truth not balance.   If you have not read on this topic, or on Newberg and d'Aquili's contributions to the field, I strongly recommend you start with The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience or Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief.