Ongoing Book Project

The Human Being in Herself, the World, the Universe and God.

What is it to be a human being in herself? How can we understand what we call the self? What can we tell about human experiences? What is it mean to be a person?

What is it to be a human being in the world? Is free will really free? How can she cope with the evil in the world? Is empathy enough? Is a human being somehow unique compared to other species and if so, in what sense?

What is it to be a human being in the universe? How can we understand the problem of time? Related to this, how can we understand the problem of reality?

What is it to be a human being in God? How can we understand a relationship between the divine and the human? How can we understand divine actions in the world?

These are questions that are investigated and evaluated.

Ongoing Project

The structure of Creditions: The Role of Cognition, Emotion, and Appraisal.

Prof. Dr. Theol. Hans Ferdinand Angel, Prof. MD Rudiger Seitz and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Theol, Anne L.C. Runehov

"Credition" is a neologism which denotes the "processes of believing" as it might appear in a religious or secular manner. In this sense, credition is conceived as a psychological term (ANgel et al. 2006; Angel 2009; Angel 2010; Angel 2011).

Approach

Contrary to a considerable part of current research the concept of creditions focuses explicitly on the process character, i.e. on What happens when someone is doing what we call "he/she believes"? This approach initiated a neuroscientific debade concerning the manifestation of religious experiences in the human brain (Runehov 2007). Of particular interest is the neuroscientific controversy about the question whether religious experience is cognitive rather than emotional in nature. Functional imaging experiments showed that the circumscribed areas of the neo-cortex are involved in religious experience (Azari/Seitz 2001). Quite differently, the limbic-marker theory (Saver/Rabin 1999) understands religious experiences as being created in the limbic system. From this point of view it may seem difficult to explain rationally one's religious experiences in words. As a result of this controversy the term credition was introduced into the academic debate (Angel 2006). It coincided with the basic notion that creditions are connected with emotions and cognitions to which they stand in a finely tuned balance. Creditions are conceived as mental processes, which is not exclusive to the notion that not all processes of believing reach consciousness (Teske 2007/208). The aim of the project is to clarify and elaborate the theory of creditions as well as to set up empirical research on their putative cerebral implementations.

Completed projects

Divine Empathy in the Age of Neuroscience?
Theories, Explanations, and Understandings. (2008-2010)

Introduction

In the beginning was empathy and empathy was with God. God and Empathy were one. Then empathy became neurons and as such dwelled amongst us and we studied them, built our theories and forwarded our explanations. But, did we understand?

When somebody smiles at you, you smile back. When you meet a person looking the other way, your immediate reaction will be to look the other way too. Hence, our behaviour affects others. Indeed, smiles affect and thereby spread feelings of well-being. In other words, it affects our personal and interpersonal emotional and cognitive mental states as well as our social lives. Why is this so? Technically, what are the neuro-mechanisms behind such behaviour?

Social neuroscientists coined this behaviour mindreading. Human beings, it is argued, are mindreaders. Empathy is the core capacity of mindreading. Empathy is the subject matter of the present philosophical investigation. They place different explanations at our disposal concerning what empathy is and what causes it. One and perhaps the dominant explanatory paradigm to explain the capacity of mindreading is the Theory-Theory of Mind (TToM). Roughly, according to the advocates of this theory, our capacity of mindreading, and hence, empathy, is entirely dependent of our capacities to theorize. More precisely, that we understand ourselves and others is due to theoretical reasoning and the causal laws of folk psychology. There is nothing more to it. The theory comes in two main versions, the Child-Scientist View and the Modulatiry Approach. Another theory that lately has received a lot of attention is the Mirror Neuron Theory (MNT). In short, what is meant is that it are the same neural structures that are active when we detect actions, sensations and emotions in others as those that are involved in the processing of our own actions, sensations and emotions. To court, monkey-neurons see, hence monkey-neurons do. The mirror neuron system of human beings comprises in principle the whole brain. Actually, if the advocates of mirror neurons are right, humans are living mirrors. A third dominant theory of mindreading is known as the Simulation or Empathy Theory (ST or ET). The hybrid version of this theory is perhaps the most liberal since it does not exclude that there may be mirror-neuron mechanisms at work in mindreading nor does it exclude the importance of theorizing for that purpose. Nevertheless, paradigm simulation theorists refrain from the idea that we need theories in order to understand our own and othersí mental states. What the advocates of the hybrid and the paradigm version do have in common is that they argue that we put ourselves in another personís mental shoes by way of simulation, imagination, and projection. Social neuroscientists challenge philosophers by forwarding different theories of empathy. Perhaps the problem is that the different theories concern different aspects of empathy. Some emphasize the cognitive aspects of empathy merely or more than its affective aspects, others put the focus on the affective rather than on the cognitive aspects and yet others try to embrace both. That is not a problem from a scientific point of view. Indeed, methodological reductionism is common and adequate practice of scientific enterprising. What is philosophically problematic, though, is that all draw the conclusion that their version of explaining empathy is the most valid one (the best explanation), thereby refuting or neglecting other feasible explanations. Also, only in few cases attention is paid to the phenomenology of empathy and hitherto no studies are performed on the relationship between empathy and religion.

Sacred or Neural? The Potential of Neuroscience to Explain Religious Experience. (2000-2004)

The project can be briefly described as follows. Are relgious experiences of God or Ultimate Reality, or are these experiences merely a product of the human nervous system? In other words, are religious experiences sacred or merely neural? The starting point of this conceptual and argumentative philosophical analysis has been that today, neuroscientists place different explanations at our disposal concerning what religious experiences are and what causes these experiences. For instance, some neuroscientists explain religious experiences in terms of consequences of a damaged, malfunctioning or mentally deranged brain. Others explain them in terms of existential crises. Again other neuroscientists maintain that religious experiences are correlated with the brain as are all human experiences. The purpose of the project was to investigate the actual potential of contemporary neuroscientists to explain religious experiences. I particularly (but not merely) analyzed and evaluated the research performed on religious experiences by the Canadian neuropsychologist Michael Persinger and the American neurologian Andrew Newberg and his fellow researcher, the late Eugene d'Aquili. On the basis of the same research material, i.e. religious experiences, these scientists draw opposite conclusions. While Persinger argued that neuroscience has proved that religion and God are illusory, Newberg and d'Aquili tend to say that neuroscientific results open the possibility for the existence of God. The main question was, in what way and to what extent can neuroscientists explain religious experience? To answer this question, I established specific criteria for when an experience can be considered to be a religious one and suggested models for how religious experiences can be explained interdisciplinarily and presented erroneous and accurate ways of reduction. In relation to this, a distinction is made between methodological and ontological reductionism which are then adapted to the different neuroscientific views. From this a theoretical exploratory model is built. This model is based on the cooperation of different disciplinary studies of religious experiences. Such theory, it is argued is necessary to broaden the understanding of religious experiences. The conclusion drawn is that neuroscientists can explain religious experiences in a methodologically restricted way and to a methodologically limited extent. However, also philosophical and theological explanations are limited to their methods. Hence there is a quest for interdisciplinarity.

News

Conference: Ľ
[Added 2009-07-24]
Nordic Society for Philosophy of Religion, Reykjavik, June 26-28, 2009