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How does the brain process the idea of God?

Rev. Dr. Alasdair Coles, a senior lecturer at the University of Cambridge, is to present a talk on the ‘Neuronal Imaging of the Religious Brain’ on Tuesday 12 October.

The lecture will take place at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, based at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge. An informal lunch will be served from 12.30am, with the talk beginning at 1pm.

Dr Coles will discuss functional brain imaging, which has shown that the brain mediates religious belief, behaviour and practice. However it has been shown that there is no part of the brain that is dedicated to religion: there is no "God Spot".

Instead, when we experience God, we use parts of the brain that are normally used to understand the people around us. So our brain "thinks of God as just another person".

Dr Coles will also examine the suggestion that when we believe something to be true, parts of the brain that mediate pleasure are involved; whereas falsehood elicits a pattern of brain activation similar to disgust.

Does this mean that God is nothing but electrical activity in the brain? Can we reduce religion to just the firing of neurons? Or is this a misunderstanding of the science?

Dr. Alasdair Coles, pictured left, is an academic neurologist who has an interest in the neurological basis for religious experience. A senior lecturer at the University of Cambridge, he also undertakes clinical work at Addenbrooke's and Peterborough Hospitals.

Dr Coles is one of the medical advisers to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and advises several pharmaceutical companies. He was scientific adviser and contributor to Here's Johnny (2008), an award-winning documentary about the effects of multiple sclerosis on graphic artist, Johnny Hicklenton.

Ordained priest in the Church of England in 2009, Dr Coles is now also working, part-time, as a curate.

The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, established in 2006, provides accurate and up-to-date information to help inform public understanding of the interaction between science and religion.

From stem-cells and cloning, to the Big Bang and the origins of the universe, the relationship between science and faith continues to stimulate public debate.

The Faraday Institute makes academic research accessible to the public through close links with a network of experts from diverse disciplines including astrophysics, geology neuroscience, genetics and philosophy of science.

The Faraday Institute Seminar takes place on Tuesday 12th October 2010, 1pm (Lunch from 12.30pm) The Garden Room, St. Edmund's College, Cambridge. All welcome.

For more information, please visit or telephone (01223) 741281

Article by the University of Cambridge Press Office.

Posted on 04/10/2010

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