Appendix: Stimulus Example

New research reignites age-old battle between science and religion

Science and religious leaders clash over new research.

Scientists at the University of Michigan say a spike in brain activity that happens when the body is near death may explain why many patients report out-of-body or spiritual experiences during times of faltering health.

The research, which provides evidence that the dying brain can create experiences that would not be possible under normal circumstances, has become the latest lightning rod for criticism from those who accuse scientists of going to extremes in their attempt to explain any phenomenon that might otherwise be credited to the work of a higher power.

The study is just the latest of many recent attempts by the science community to encroach on turf that has long belonged to spirituality and religion: Territory where questions about the human soul, consciousness and morality are explored.

Experts say recent discoveries have breathed new life into the age-old war between religion and science.

“The war between science and religion has been waged for centuries,” said Arthur Jacoby, a political science professor who studies the social impact of science and religion.

Jacoby says the conflict is fairly straightforward.

On the one hand, there are those who believe science can explain all the phenomena associated with spirituality: the origins of life and the universe, prayer, consciousness and the existence of a higher power. On the other hand, some think that despite its incessant attempts, there are simply some things science can’t explain.

University of California Berkeley psychology professor Tania Lombrozo said that those who think science can answer all of life’s questions and those who think otherwise need to find some charitable ground.

“We need some shared territory in which we recognize that other people’s religious and scientific commitments can be as deeply felt and deeply reasoned as our own, and that there’s value in understanding why others believe what they do,” Lombrozo said.

This tension tugs at humanity’s underlying, individual value systems in such a way that it elicits strong responses from scientists and the devoutly religious.

For example, a recent public admission by technology reporter Virginia Heffernan that she is a believer in creationism, the Biblical account of the world’s origins, led to a firestorm of controversy. Her science and technology colleagues expressed disappointment —  and even outrage — at what many referred to as Heffernan’s “naivete.” But many in the religious community rallied to her defense, arguing that Heffernan was brave to acknowledge her beliefs, especially considering her role as a technology expert.

Patrick McNamara, a professor of neurology at Boston University, says it’s possible that science and faith can answer the same questions.

“Does that mean one is useful and the other is useless? If there is one absolute truth about life, death and eternity, couldn’t science and faith simply represent two separate paths that both ultimately lead to this truth?” McNamara said.

The hostility in the religion-versus-science discussion also reared its head recently when a Catholic bishop in Wisconsin banned children in the local Catholic diocese from visiting a scientific discovery center because the center is associated with research that conflicts with Catholic beliefs.

But National Institute of Health Director Francis Collins challenges the idea that science and religion must operate in separate spheres.

“There are a lot of scientists, I’m one of them, who believe there is a ‘middle ground’ between science and faith,” Collins said. “I’m quite happy, and comfortable, in my middle ground.”

Cases like these are just the latest hash marks on the timeline of the ongoing battlebetween science and religion. Jacoby says the debate is unique in that so many people feel a personal stake in the conflict.

“In this debate you’re talking about the heart of life, the core of who we are are as living beings,” Jacoby said.