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An Innovative Model to Integrate Theology and Science
on July 31, 2000
The reader is initially introduced to archetypal and mythical concepts of good and evil, the fall and resurrection, and the theosophical concept of God. The authors describe the development of religion and the role of ritual. They try to develop the argument for a universal "metatheology" which crosses the boundary between religion and science. The book takes a cognitive approach, using process theory to describe domains of experience. Neurobiological and anatomical correlates are emphasized by quoting recent evidence from functional imaging (such as photon emission tomographic scans). The authors designate this approach as "neurotheology" which "refers to the study of theology from a neuropsychological perspective".
The reader is introduced to basic neuroanatomy and the functions of the brain. The authors then describe their own categorization of domains of experience, termed "cognitive operators". These include locations in the brain which deliver the experience of wholeness, in contrast to other sites which deliver the experience of the parts. They introduce the concept of "spiritual intelligence" , which is the integrating and transcending function of the cognitive operators. This process creates transformation or a reframing of the gestalt or world view. Myth is discussed as a transcendent cognitive process which can explain reality and catalyze transformative integration of multivalent experiences. In a nut shell, the neurobiological basis of spiritual experience may provide the physical explanation for personal evolution and adaptation to life crises and change. Ritual may entrain the cognitive operators to process new information and allow integration to occur. The authors discuss the salient experiences of "absolute unitary being" and the "near death experience" to illustrate the neurobiology of transformative experience.
The authors conclude with a summary of their philosophy of a "metatheology and megatheology". Their emphasis is on the brain as a neurophysiological processing system of spiritual experience. This neurological function can be accessed through the rituals of religious practice, such as liturgy. They conclude that their scientific viewpoint should transcend the boundaries of religious organization "without violating their essential doctrines".
The book attempts to integrate spiritual experience and religious philosophy with neurobiological process theory. It is not comprehensive in its discussion of current theories of consciousness, neuroscience or process theory, but does provide a useful introduction of these concepts. It is a complex book which may be a challenge to both theologians and medical scientists. Despite the emphasis on neurobiology, it is not atheistic in its approach, but provides some evidence that the experience of Spirit has a neurobiological correlate. Since our current Western culture emphasizes the objective evidence of science, this book may encourage some agnostics to re-evaluate a spiritual approach to life's vicissitudes.