Programme 3: Mind And Consciousness

The Big Question Is: Is there credible evidence for God in the human mind and consciousness?

To the onlooker it appears an unremarkable sponge-like object. To Professor Chris Frith: “the total number of possible connections within this human brain are greater than the number of particles in the known universe.” The brain is not only the personal HQ of every individual, it is also the source of a deep mystery. How does it link to our sense of being conscious human beings with a sense of the past, the present, the future and of each other? It is such a deep mystery! Science is unable to explain why consciousness exists or what it is. Across the world, the vast majority of people are associated with some kind of religion: a sort of consciousness of God. In the western world, especially in Europe, grand cathedrals make statements in stone about the majesty and the glory of God. However, across the world human beings also have a strong tendency towards superstition. SO……

  • Instead of being real, might religion just be a form of superstition?
  • Does the fact that specific religions are popular in specific parts of the world indicate that religion is merely an invention of the culture?
  • BUT:
  • Is it also possible that religions have more in common than divides them?
  • Might this be a highly significant factor in trying to answer the God question?

“If we’re created by some kind of god who wants to have positive engagement with us, then our very nature is going to be receptive,” says Oxford University’s Justin Barrett. The second part of “Mind, Consciousness and The God Question” scrutinises human accounts of experiences of God. Priests in a Catholic seminary near New York maintain that they “know the presence of God in their souls” and defend themselves against the claim that they have merely engaged in wishful thinking. An ex drug addict meanwhile gives God the credit for the revolutionary change in her life. It is a testimony echoed by a group of prisoners in Darrington high security prison in Texas. Their dramatic story is transforming prison life. BUT:

  • Might the true explanation just be in human psychology?
  • Could a ‘god gene’, when activated, be responsible for the feeling that God is in human experience but it’s all down to imagination?
  • BUT:
  • Isn’t this Christianity delivering what it claims to offer?
  • Wouldn’t this be a test of truth?

All is examined in Mind, Consciousness and The God Question. So much for trying to find God in life but what about trying to find God in death? Hammersmith hospital, London is a participant in a worldwide experiment to test the reality of near death experiences and reports of a ‘world beyond’ coming from patients who were clinically brain dead but were then resuscitated. One interviewee claims to have spent 90 minutes in heaven at a time when, after a road accident, he was clinically dead. So might there be evidence here of life after death? The advice of consultant psychiatrist Peter Fenwick is: “Ask the dying. They know.” So does the evidence suggest that God is real – or ‘all in the mind’? Are atheists justified in claiming that the only reality is what science reveals? The evidence for God might hang on whether or not they are right. It’s a judgement for viewers to make for themselves.

Programme Contributors

Team Member

Rev Canon Dr Alan Hargrave

Canon Missioner of Ely Cathedral. The role not only...read more

Rev Canon Dr Alan Hargrave

The Theistic Perspective

Alan Hargrave on two contrasting ways he has a sense of God.

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Canon Missioner of Ely Cathedral. The role not only involves full clerical responsibility but has the specific task of encouraging the cathedral to look out to the community and the community to look to the cathedral.

Team Member

Prof Andrew Newberg

American Neuroscientist. Newberg has focused his...read more

Prof Andrew Newberg

More about the Science

Andrew Newberg on the challenges of being truly open minded in evaluating evidence. We are more prone to look for evidence that supports a view we already hold.

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American Neuroscientist. Newberg has focused his professional expertise on the nature of religion, spirituality and their relationship with the functions of brain and mind. He has also studied how our fundamental belief systems arise.

Team Member

Prof Chris Frith

Professor of Neurospsychology, University College London....read more

Prof Chris Frith

More about the Science

Chris Frith on how specific parts of the brain have very particular functions.

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Professor of Neurospsychology, University College London. His main interest is in the applications of functional brain imaging to the study of higher cognitive functions in humans, although he is also well known for his earlier seminal work characterising the cognitive basis of schizophrenia.

Team Member

Chuck Colson

A member of the Nixon Administration, he was jailed in 1974...read more

Chuck Colson

The Theistic Perspective

Chuck Colson on contrasting atheist and theist world views.

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A member of the Nixon Administration, he was jailed in 1974 for his part in the Watergate Scandal. Thereafter, became a committed Christian and founded Prison Fellowship - which operates in 112 countries worldwide. Author of a number of influential Christian books.

Team Member

Prof Daniel Dennett

American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist. His...read more

Prof Daniel Dennett

The Atheist Perspective

Daniel Dennett on how evolution by natural selection explains the survival of religion.

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American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist. His research centres on the philosophy of mind, science and biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. A firm atheist and secularist. A prominent member of the New Atheists.

Team Member

Prof David Sloan Wilson

Argues that the evolutionary paradigm can adequately...read more

Prof David Sloan Wilson

The Atheist Perspective

David Sloan Wilson on his view that beliefs are formed on the basis of their survival value and not because they are true.

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Argues that the evolutionary paradigm can adequately explain not only phenomena in the biological world but in the social world of religion and morality as well. There is, therefore, no need for a creator.

Team Member

Dr Dean Hamer

American geneticist and author. Profoundly skilled in...read more

Dr Dean Hamer

The Atheist Perspective

Dean Hamer on human beings, uniquely among species, having higher forms of consciousness.

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American geneticist and author. Profoundly skilled in communicating the complexities of molecular biology to a lay audience and in linking this information to the big issues of the programme. Author of "The God Gene" which argues that spiritual experience is merely a function of the brain.

Team Member

Denyse O’Leary

Co-authored "The Spiritual Brain" which examines how the...read more

Denyse O’Leary

The Theistic Perspective

Denyse O’Leary on how the mystery of consciousness provides clear pointers to the existence of God.

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Co-authored "The Spiritual Brain" which examines how the brain processes religious, mystical and spiritual experiences. O’Leary concludes that spirituality is a manifestation of the reality of God. She believes that the brain and the mind are separate entities.

Team Member

Don Piper

Author of 90 Minutes in Heaven, Don recounts his story of...read more

Don Piper

The Theistic Perspective

Don Piper on how his attitude to death has changed after ’90 minutes in heaven’.

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Author of 90 Minutes in Heaven, Don recounts his story of his brief experience in heaven following a car accident when he was on his way home from a conference in 1989.

Team Member

Father Matthew Green

Former Professor of Philosophy in a New York Catholic...read more

Father Matthew Green

The Theistic Perspective

Father Matthew Green on attempting to describe his inner experience of God.

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Former Professor of Philosophy in a New York Catholic Seminary, Father Green attempts to make the nature of spiritual experience accessible and understandable.

Team Member

Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks

One of the most respected figures of the British...read more

Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks

The Theistic Perspective

Lord Sacks on the importance of learning how to listen and how to study in order to know God.

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One of the most respected figures of the British establishment, Lord Sacks is a key contributor to public debates on ethics, religion and science.

Team Member

Prof John Lennox

Oxford Professor of Mathematics and Philosopher of Science,...read more

Prof John Lennox

The Theistic Perspective

John Lennox on evaluating whether his belief is just a product of his upbringing.

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Oxford Professor of Mathematics and Philosopher of Science, he is a prominent defender of Christian faith and author of several books on science and religion including "God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?" and "Gunning For God: Why The New Atheists Are Missing The Target."

Team Member

Dr John Rutter

British composer, conductor, editor, and record producer,...read more

Dr John Rutter

More about the Science

John Rutter on music and its mysterious capacity to evoke a sense of God.

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British composer, conductor, editor, and record producer, mainly of choral music, he is undoubtedly one of the best known in the field of religious music. Offers insight into the connection between music and spirituality.

Team Member

Dr Justin Barrett

Founding editor of the "Journal of Cognition and Culture"...read more

Dr Justin Barrett

The Theistic Perspective

Justin Barrett on the questions underlying why people are receptive to religious belief.

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Founding editor of the "Journal of Cognition and Culture" and is author of numerous articles and chapters concerning the cognitive science of religion. Provides key insights into the social and psychological importance of religious belief.

Team Member

Prof Keith Ward

British philosopher and theologian with specialist interest...read more

Prof Keith Ward

The Theistic Perspective

Keith Ward on how discoveries in the sciences inevitably are raising the ‘God question.’

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British philosopher and theologian with specialist interest in comparative theology and the relationship between science and religion. Highly critical of the view that science can ever be a prism through which the validity of spiritual experience can be judged.

Team Member

Maitreyabandhu

Teacher at the London Buddhist Centre and a member of the...read more

Maitreyabandhu

Teacher at the London Buddhist Centre and a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order. Has published articles on Buddhism and meditation in the UK and overseas. Passionate about insight into the nature of mind and specifically the exploration of its subconscious elements.

Team Member

Prof Peter Atkins

Former Professor of Chemistry, University of Oxford. An...read more

Prof Peter Atkins

The Atheist Perspective

Peter Atkins on his belief that religious belief is wishful thinking.

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Former Professor of Chemistry, University of Oxford. An outspoken critic of any attempt to argue that science and religion are compatible. Professes total incredulity that respected scientists can believe in a God.

Team Member

Dr Peter Fenwick

Neuropsychiatrist and neurophysiologist known for his...read more

Dr Peter Fenwick

More about the Science

Peter Fenwick on his research into the experiences of those who are dying.

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Neuropsychiatrist and neurophysiologist known for his studies of end-of-life phenomena. He is recognised as an authority on the relationship between the mind and the brain.

Team Member

Dr Sam Parnia

Physician who researches into near-death and out-of-body...read more

Dr Sam Parnia

More about the Science

Sam Parnia on why the human mind might be a separate entity from the brain.

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Physician who researches into near-death and out-of-body experiences. Author of What Happens When We Die, based on his research which considers whether human consciousness can survive death.

Team Member

Prof Steven Pinker

Harvard College Professor in the Department of Psychology....read more

Prof Steven Pinker

The Atheist Perspective

Steven Pinker on how certain he is that God as explanation is not necessary.

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Harvard College Professor in the Department of Psychology. One of the most respected cognitive scientists in the world, he was named one of "Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Thinkers" in 2004. Known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind.

Team Member

Stuart McAllister

Former International Director of Ravi Zacharias...read more

Stuart McAllister

The Theistic Perspective

Stuart McCallister on faith and doubt.

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Former International Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries; currently Regional Director, the Americas. A passionate advocate of the rational basis of Christianity.

To help viewers determine a contributor's stance on the topics discussed within The God Question, we have introduced a series-wide colour coding scheme; Theists, Atheists and Neutral Contributors.