Posts Tagged ‘Science & Medical’

Roman Catholic beliefs produce characteristic neural responses to moral dilemmas.

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Although I only have access to the abstract and the sample is small, I thought it interesting to note potential evidence of neurological differences between Atheists and Catholics in processing moral issues:

This study provides exploratory evidence about how behavioral and neural responses to standard moral dilemmas are influenced by religious belief. Eleven Catholics and thirteen Atheists (all female) judged 48 moral dilemmas. Differential neural activity between the two groups was found in precuneus and in prefrontal, frontal and temporal regions. Furthermore, a double dissociation showed that Catholics recruited different areas for deontological (precuneus; temporoparietal junction [TPJ]) and utilitarian moral judgments (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex [DLPFC]; temporal poles [TP]), whereas Atheists did not (superior parietal gyrus [SPG] for both types of judgment). Finally, we tested how both groups responded to personal and impersonal moral dilemmas: Catholics showed enhanced activity in DLPFC and posterior cingulate cortex [PCC] during utilitarian moral judgments to impersonal moral dilemmas, and enhanced responses in anterior cingulate cortex [ACC] and superior temporal sulcus [STS] during deontological moral judgments to personal moral dilemmas. Our results indicate that moral judgment can be influenced by an acquired set of norms and conventions transmitted through religious indoctrination and practice. Catholic individuals may hold enhanced awareness of the incommensurability between two unequivocal doctrines of the Catholic belief set, triggered explicitly in a moral dilemma: help and care in all circumstances – but thou shalt not kill.


A few good links

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

A few links I found interesting for one reason or another:

Philosophical Fragments – The Welcome Demise of “Cultural” Christianity

Science on Religion – Forgiveness may affect longevity, health

Believer’s Brain – 8 Ways You Can Help When Someone is Mentally Ill

Neuroskeptic – Suicide is now much more of a class issue than it was in the past.

Big Circumstance – Praying Against Panic And Anxiety

Anglican Samizdat – The soul as quantum information within microtubules

Doug Chaplin – The academic failure of fundamentalism

The following video is via Everyday Theology:

A few good links

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

A few links I found interesting for one reason or another:

Opinionated Vicar – Ed Miliband ‘I am…a person of faith’

God and Politics – Rowan Williams: A wise man who makes my brain ache

Faith and Theology – Devilish doodlings

FullFact – Is the Government taking more money from disabled people than from the banks?

Mind Hacks – BBC Column: Can glass shape really affect how fast you drink?

Big Circumstance – Live On TV! The Second Coming!

Law and Religion UK – Hiring Church Premises – Some further thoughts

The below image was taken after two Hula Hoops were dropped in to a cup of Latte:

You can view a larger version here.

The Gospel Coalition on Psychiatric Medication – A truly baffling article

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is a hugely successful, influential, US movement and network of Churches and Christians, headed up by some very big hitters. They also host a multi-author blogging platform.

They have been variously described as: missionary passionate, Gospel focused, Reformed, conservative evangelical, Calvinist leaning, ecclesiastically restrictive, exclusivist, complementarian, dogmatists.

In view of this I was somewhat intrigued to note TGC engaging the topic of Psychiatric medication in a blog post entitled: Psychiatric Medication and the Image of God

The article is written by Jeremy Pierre, an assistant professor of biblical counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I’ve read the article several times now and fully acknowledge that this may be a failing on my part, but rarely have I read something so confused and generally baffling.

The question is posed at the beginning of the article:

How should Christians think about psychiatric medication?

And the answer to this is to be derived by looking at two aspects of what it means for people to be made in the image of God.

It continous with a brief look at psychosomatic unity followed by our God-given position of dominion over the created order.

But then it gets a little odd as the next section is headed up:

First, psychiatric medication does not address the main dilemma in human trouble: sin.

and continues:

….Medication cannot produce the obedience of faith.


Psychiatric medication should never been used in hopes of producing behavior that Scripture calls obedience, because obedience flows from faith.

And bringing in the ‘dominion’ theme:

Thus, dominion with regard to the human brain and psychiatric medication is not bringing about the coming of the kingdom through chemically perfected people.

I have never heard any Christian ever suggest that psychiatric medication be used as an agent against sin, nor for the bringing forth of obedience through faith, nor for bringing about the Kingdom.

Is this bizarre or what?

I had to smile at the “chemically perfected people” comment.

Is this what the author suspects Christian folk believe about psychiatric medication?

There follows a small treatise on the connection of the physical and spiritual and we are duly advised to consider how the physical is affecting the spiritual, and vice versa. In the next section we’re alerted to the fact that the brain has a possible hindering effect on the soul.

I had occasion to speak with my learned friend Tim on this topic and this is his comment:

My experience together with the things I have learned tell me that the mind and the body (of which the brain is a part) are two separate things.  I know that there are those that disagree with me but I am absolutely set on that score, and the evidence supports me.  So when I look at things that go wrong with the body, whether it be in the brain or anywhere else in the body, that is where doctors can help us out.  I look at it this way.  The body is the car and the mind is the driver.  Sometimes the car breaks down and things in it don’t work properly.  That is where the mechanic i.e. the doctor, steps in to try and fix things.  For example if the steering breaks down then no matter what the driver wants to do the car simply will not/cannot do it.  Then the steering gets fixed, or not as the case may be.  The time comes when the driver no longer needs the car and he/she is free.  Do you see what I mean?  So as far as medication is concerned then I support it, as our brains, imperfect and part of an imperfect body, do not always function as they should do, no matter what your mind is telling it to do.  After all, we’d do the same thing for any other part of the body that didn’t work properly i.e. go to the doctor, wouldn’t we?

I’ll leave off now with the conclusion of the article:

Scripture is sufficient for solving man’s ultimate need for redemption in Christ, peace with God, and the future renewal of the entire created order. And proclaiming the gospel is the primary way we exercise dominion. Psychiatric medication may be understood as a legitimate outworking of the dominion function, but merely as an imperfect attempt to mitigate sin’s effects on the present physical order. It cannot solve mankind’s primary problem of sin.

Applying this teaching practically is no simple matter. The psychiatric medication industry is largely driven by naturalistic assumptions and compelled by profit margins, and mental illness has been stigmatized in many of our churches. Thinking about how to navigate the process practically would require a discussion beyond the present one.

I’m left with no doubt in my mind that the author is not a fan of the psychiatric world. He either totally misunderstands psychiatric medication and serious mental illness, or presumes his readers do.

I find it highly ironic he finishes the piece with a cursury mention of mental illness stigma within the church, whilst the premise of the article is generally negative about the very medication these same folk rely upon.

Very odd indeed.

A few good links with bonus image

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

A few links I found interesting for one reason or another, with bonus image.

Parchment and Pen – Preaching morality vs preaching Christ

The blog of Kevin – Re-discovering the human

NHS Choices – Half of medical reporting ‘is subject to spin’

ThreadsUK – Is the religious right wrong

Self-harm is associated with poor physical health, according to new Lancet cohort study

Ekklesia – Shocking number dying on probation says new report

Cross reflected in a mirror

Religious fundamentalism linked to brain damage of ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC)

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

This is fascinating.

A small study has linked bilateral damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) with religious fundamentalism:


The psychological processes of doubting and skepticism have recently become topics of neuroscientific investigation. In this context, we developed the False Tagging Theory, a neurobiological model of the belief and doubt process, which proposes that the prefrontal cortex is critical for normative doubt regarding properly comprehended cognitive representations. Here, we put our theory to an empirical test, hypothesizing that patients with prefrontal cortex damage would have a doubt deficit that would manifest as higher authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism.

Ten patients with bilateral damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), 10 patients with damage to areas outside the vmPFC, and 16 medical comparison patients, who experienced life-threatening (but non-neurological) medical events, completed a series of scales measuring authoritarianism, religious fundamentalism, and specific religious beliefs.

vmPFC patients reported significantly higher authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism than the other groups. The degrees of authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism in the vmPFC group were significantly higher than normative values, as well; by contrast, the comparison groups did not differ from normative values. Moreover, vmPFC patients reported increased specific religious beliefs after brain injury.

The findings support the False Tagging Theory and suggest that the vmPFC is critical for psychological doubt and resistance to authoritarian persuasion.


As protests sweep the world in response to the video Innocence of Muslims, Pope Benedict has made some comments on religious fundamentalism on his way to Lebanon:

“The basic message of religion must be against violence which is a falsification like fundamentalism”


A few good links

Friday, September 7th, 2012

A few links I found interesting for one reason or another:

Connexions – A Tory Jesus

Mind and Soul – Faith and Recovery from Pychosis and Clinical Depression

Heresy Corner – Warsi’s new job

Copybot – Ad agency laughs at people on benefits

Mind Hacks – Stopped clocks and dead phones – Brethren Church denied Charitable status

Edward Feser – Brain hacking and mind reading

Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test

Monday, August 20th, 2012

If you get a mo have a pop at this quick test and let me know your score:

Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test

Locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson loses voluntary euthanasia case in the High Court

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson has lost his High Court battle to have a doctor end his life without fear of prosecution.

I blogged some background on this case back in March.

You can access the full judiciary ruling here.

And a helpful judiciary media summary here.

Should religious beliefs be allowed to stonewall a secular approach to withdrawing and withholding treatment in children?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

There’s a new paper on the Journal of Medical Ethics exploring the place of parental religious belief in end-of-life care for children. I’d love to access the paper but they want £24.

Still, the press release gives us a good flavour of the outlook of the paper:


Deeply held religious beliefs prompting sick kids to be given “futile” treatment Hopes of “miraculous intervention” causing children to suffer needlessly, say doctors.

Parental hopes of a “miraculous intervention,” prompted by deeply held religious beliefs, are leading to very sick children being subjected to futile care and needless suffering, suggests a small study in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

The authors, who comprise children’s intensive care doctors and a hospital chaplain, emphasise that religious beliefs provide vital support to many parents whose children are seriously ill, as well as to the staff who care for them.

But they have become concerned that deeply held beliefs are increasingly leading parents to insist on the continuation of aggressive treatment that ultimately is not in the best interests of the sick child.

It is time to review the current ethics and legality of these cases, they say.

They base their conclusions on a review of 203 cases which involved end of life decisions over a three year period.

In 186 of these cases, agreement was reached between the parents and healthcare professionals about withdrawing aggressive, but ultimately futile, treatment.

But in the remaining 17 cases, extended discussions with the medical team and local support had failed to resolve differences of opinion with the parents over the best way to continue to care for the very sick child in question.

The parents had insisted on continuing full active medical treatment, while doctors had advocated withdrawing or withholding further intensive care on the basis of the overwhelming medical evidence.

The cases in which withdrawal or withholding of intensive care was considered to be in the child’s best interests were consistent with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health guidance.

Eleven of these cases (65%) involved directly expressed religious claims that intensive care should not be stopped because of the expectation of divine intervention and a complete cure, together with the conviction that the opinion of the medical team was overly pessimistic and wrong.

Various different faiths were represented among the parents, including Christian fundamentalism, Islam, Judaism, and Roman Catholicism.

Five of the 11 cases were resolved after meeting with the relevant religious leaders outside the hospital, and intensive care was withdrawn in a further case after a High Court order.

But five cases were not resolved, so intensive care was continued. Four of these children eventually died; one survived with profound neurological disability.

Six of the 17 cases in which religious belief was not a cited factor, were all resolved without further recourse to legal, ethical, or socio-religious support. Intensive care was withdrawn in all these children, five of whom died and one of whom survived, but with profound neurological disability.

The authors emphasise that parental reluctance to allow treatment to be withdrawn is “completely understandable as [they] are defenders of their children’s rights, and indeed life.”

But they argue that when children are too young to be able to actively subscribe to their parents’ religious beliefs, a default position in which parental religion is not the determining factor might be more appropriate.

They cite Article 3 of the Human Rights Act, which aims to ensure that no one is subjected to torture or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

“Spending a lifetime attached to a mechanical ventilator, having every bodily function supervised and sanitised by a carer or relative, leaving no dignity or privacy to the child and then adult, has been argued as inhumane,” they argue.

And they conclude: “We suggest it is time to reconsider current ethical and legal structures and facilitate rapid default access to courts in such situations when the best interests of the child are compromised in expectation of the miraculous.”

In an accompanying commentary, the journal’s editor, Professor Julian Savulescu, advocates: “Treatment limitation decisions are best made, not in the alleged interests of patients, but on distributive justice grounds.”

In a publicly funded system with limited resources, these should be given to those whose lives could be saved rather than to those who are very unlikely to survive, he argues.

“Faced with the choice between providing an intensive care bed to a [severely brain damaged] child and one who has been at school and was hit by a cricket ball and will return to normal life, we should provide the bed to the child hit by the cricket ball,” he writes.

In further commentaries, Dr Steve Clarke of the Institute for Science and Ethics maintains that doctors should engage with devout parents on their own terms.

“Devout parents, who are hoping for a miracle, may be able to be persuaded, by the lights of their own personal…religious beliefs, that waiting indefinite periods of time for a miracle to occur while a child is suffering, and while scarce medical equipment is being denied to other children, is not the right thing to do,” he writes. Leading ethicist, Dr Mark Sheehan, argues that these ethical dilemmas are not confined to fervent religious belief, and to polarise the issue as medicine versus religion is unproductive, and something of a “red herring.”

Referring to the title of the paper, Charles Foster, of the University of Oxford, suggests that the authors have asked the wrong question. “The legal and ethical orthodoxy is that no beliefs, religious or secular, should be allowed to stonewall the best interests of the child,” he writes.

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