Swedish scientists can't replicate religious experience in lab
By Julia C. Keller
Getting the brain to see God may require more than just magnets.
In December, Swedish researchers reported that exposing the brain to low-level magnetism doesn't induce spiritual experiences as shown in previous research studies. Even if magnetism might not reliably excite the brain’s "God spot," the debate continues over the importance of studying the scientific side of religious experience.
The scientific method uses reproducibility to validate experiments. A researcher in a lab in Sweden should be able to reproduce an experiment first done in Canada and get the same results. The Swedes' findings, or lack thereof, raise the specter of bad science, in which the inability to reproduce an experiment calls neurotheology's methodology into question.
Pehr Granqvist, a researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden, attempted to replicate earlier neurotheology research done by Michael Persinger at Laurentian University in Montreal. By pulsing the temporal lobe of the brain with weak magnetic fields, Granqvist tried to induce spiritual feelings in his subjects.
However, Granqvist's team found no significant effect of magnetism on the brain when it came to feeling something otherworldly.
"I would not rule out the possibility that stronger magnetic fields might have the kinds of effects that are suggested by Persinger’s research," continued Granqvist. "And I base that on temporal lobe epileptics." He added that this population often reports paranormal experiences due to the intensity of their seizures ("Science and Theology News," Feb. 2005).
[TBC: "Scientific" attempts to find God have been likened to a group of blind astronomers without telescopes discussing the universe.]