An ambitious attempt to provide what the author calls “a unified theory of spirituality, conscience and belief.”
For Antal, spirituality and science aren’t two antagonistic forces; they’re sides of the same cosmic coin. Using research and theories from a cornucopia of fields—including neuroscience, biology, philosophy, psychology—he draws conclusions that are at once insightful and provocative. For instance, he says, the gazing behavior of human infants—by which they acquire their first bits of information about the world—links to the fundamental motivations for communal religious gatherings, a correlation that suggests deeply embedded biological reasons for our spiritual lives. One of the main claims here is that a justification for spirituality can be derived from these biological, physical, and neurological facts; what’s more, he says, we can give a sufficiently complete account of at least some of the phenomena referred to as spiritual experiences by referring to such facts. For those who may find this claim suspicious, Antal provides various examples of how neuroscience can shed light on the origin and practice of spirituality. All this is buttressed by an intense account—situated in the middle of the book and prefaced by warnings about its technicality—of the neurobiological underpinnings of brain processes that ostensibly provide explanations for our most primitive behaviors, our spirituality, and the dovetailing of the two. A thoughtful epilogue, one informed by Aristotle, Hume, and the author’s own careful consideration of causality, concludes the volume. Frequently, the project’s ambition outstrips its resources, but rarely so much as to render the suggestions incredible. The straightforward though dense prose reconciles a scientific concern for detail with a preoccupation with questions about the meaning of human existence, helping the book succeed in informing and challenging.
A formidable and original interdisciplinary work, likely to interest theologians as well as lay scientists.