Recent developments in neuroscience that purport to reduce religious experience to specific parts of the brain will not diminish the fundamental cultural or legal standing of religion. William James debunked this possibility in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) when he noted that “the organic causation of a religious state of mind” no more refutes religion than the argument that scientific theories are so caused refutes science. But there will be incremental legal change in areas like civil commitment where judges must sometimes distinguish between mental disorder and religious belief. The paradox is that the ecstatic religious experience of unorthodox individuals will fare less well in the courts than the beliefs of conventional groups, which is precisely the opposite of James’ view of authentic religious life.
Steven Goldberg, Neuroscience and the Free Exercise of Religion, in LAW AND NEUROSCIENCE: CURRENT LEGAL ISSUES (M. Freeman, ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press 2010).
Scholarly Commons Citation
Goldberg, Steven, "Neuroscience and the Free Exercise of Religion" (2010). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 86.