A section of the BHA and affiliate of Center For Inquiry, Inc

Saturday, May 26, 2018

GOD IN THE LAB – with Oxford University Scientists

Posted by Stephen Law on November 5, 2008

presented by Centre For Inquiry London
and South Place Ethical Society

Organized by CFI London Provost: Stephen Law

Saturday, 21st March, 10.30am-4pm.

A day with leading scientific researchers into faith – looking at hearing voices, possession, the effect of faith on pain perception, etc. What goes on the brain of someone hearing voices? Come and see the fMRI scans. Is a disposition to religious belief hard-wired into us? Yes, says one of our speakers, and provides empirical evidence.

Venue: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square
London WC1R 4RL

£10 (£5 for students)

To book, send a cheque payable to “Centre for Inquiry London” to: Executive Director Suresh Lalvani, Centre for Inquiry London, at the above address (Include names of all those coming). Alternatively pay by PAYPAL. Use the “Support CFI UK” link at www.cfilondon.org and follow the instructions.



Do ghosts get itchy? Mind, body, and afterlife in cross-cultural perspective

Dr Emma Cohen is an anthropologist at the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford. She has researched and written on a range of widespread cultural phenomena, including spirit possession, witchcraft and sorcery, divination, mind-body dualism, afterlife beliefs, and Harry Potter. Her research addresses the question of why these phenomena are cross-culturally widespread, drawing from and developing our scientific understanding of how human minds work. In The Mind Possessed (OUP, 2007), Cohen develops a radical new approach to explaining the transmission of spirit possession ideas and practices, based on recent discoveries in the cognitive sciences and on long-term fieldwork with a group of Afro-Brazilian spirit mediums in Brazil. Her most recent work focuses on the regularities in the ways in which children and adults across different cultural contexts intuitively reason about the relationship between bodies and minds. This research further explores how the same sorts of intuitions that guide mind-body thinking also influence the form, appeal, and spread of a huge range of cultural phenomena, from Hollywood comedies about mind swaps to mind-over-matter magical displays to common ideas about illnesses and their treatments.


Although for most of us they are rare events, religious and spiritual experiences are widely reported in the normal population, and they are usually described as being benign, sometimes life changing events for the individual concerned. Such experiences often involve anomalous phenomena – hearing voices, the sense of an external, guiding presence, strong conviction in a new insight or revelation – which also characterise psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. This lecture will explore some of the paradoxes which arise in the uncertain territory between psychosis and spirituality, drawing on examples from clinical practice, and a series of research studies. Our current study of benign and pathological auditory hallucinations, allows us for the first time to compare FMRI images of the brain’s activity as these phenomena occur.

Dr Mike Jackson is a consultant clinical psychologist specialising in psychosocial treatments for the psychoses. He works in the NHS in North Wales, and he is an honorary lecturer in the School of Psychology at Bangor university.


Born Believers: The Naturalness of Childhood Theism

“Recent best-selling books may give the impression that children only believe in gods because of a combination of possessing a tragically gullible mental tabula rasa and abusive indoctrination practices. Nonsense. Recent scientific study of children’s conceptual structures reveals that children’s minds are naturally receptive to god concepts… In this presentation, relevant scientific evidence is presented. Children are ‘born believers’ in the sense that under normal developmental conditions they almost inevitably entertain beliefs in gods.”

Justin Barrett is Senior Researcher, Acting Director, Centre for Anthropology & Mind and Lecturer, Institute of Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford.


The Strength of Belief: Neuroimaging of religious-based analgesia

“Religious lore is full of stories of physical pain withstood and vanquished through the power of religious belief. However, until recently there was very little scientific evidence of religion helping in the alleviation of pain, and what could be the neural and psychological processes involved. In my talk, I will describe an experiment where we showed for the first time how religious belief may have an analgesic effect and help people deal better with pain.”

Miguel Farias is a researcher at the Ian Ramsey Centre and assistant director of the MSc in Psychological Research, at Oxford University. For his doctorate, he studied the psychological characteristics of people engaged in New Age spirituality. After that, he joined forces with neuroscientists and philosophers at the Oxford Centre for Science of the Mind to unravel what happens in the minds and brains of religious believers when they are subjected to pain.

Legal stuff: CFI reserves the right to change or cancel events without notice.

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