Promptings of the Spirit: Revelation Or Brain Chemistry

Recently, I read a post at a well known blog. The Mormon author of the blog is critical of the LDS church and it’s leaders. After reading one of his post and many of the comments, I decided to join in an express my thoughts on the problems unvarnished church history is causing church members. I suggested that when member are challenged by what they learn about church doctrine and history they should turn to the Lord for answers. I stated that some of my prayers have been answered in ways that doesn’t leave room for doubt.

My comments were read by other participants and an exchange of opinions commenced. The blog moderator intervened and selectively deleted some of my comments. I find it ironic that he censored some of my comments that promote faith and belief, but left the comments of others that detracted from faith and belief (The practice of censoring faithful comments is common in some parts of the bloggernacle).

Following is an exchange I had with one commenter. I wrote about my experience with prayer saying that in some instances, “I was answered in a way that doesn’t leave room for doubt”.

Here is his response:

“There is no doubt in my mind that you are sure that you had an experience that you value. When you say ‘I was answered in a way that doesn’t leave room for doubt’, I believe that that is a very real thing to you, and very valuable to you. However when you imply that an external source, external to your brain manipulated some sort of physical experience that had to have happened in order to register a biological/chemical awareness inside the chemistry of your brain, then that is a different thing altogether.”

[He believes that spiritual experiences are produced by brain chemistry, therefore—they are an illusion—a figment of our imagination.]

“I have no doubt that you think you have had a transcendent (spiritual in Mormon parlance) experience but think about it, if you say it comes from an external source, now you are making a claim about the natural world, and you are now in the purview of things we can measure, observe, and test, and your claim to be the recipient of external communications from sentient beings can be judged and critiqued and evaluated…The best and only method that objectively evaluates these claims and the only method so far that has proven time over for helping us understand the physical nature of reality is the scientific method.”

[This individual "worships" the scientific method because it has proven to be reliable.]

“So when somebody says no room for doubt, you can see the yellow flags go up with anyone who understands how we truly expand human knowledge. There is no doubt that you had an experience. There’s no ‘doubt’ you value it. However there is plenty to doubt when you assume it came from an external source as much evidence and repeatable experiment can reproduce in the brain what you’re talking about.” 

[In essence, he is saying: Jared, you couldn't have had an experience with God because there is no God. If God existed science could prove it with the scientific method.]

I’m assuming this individual is a faith casualty of the internet era. His explanation about spiritual experiences being an illusion is being trotted out every so often to explain away religious experience.

However, there is a major problem with this explanation. I’ll relate an account from the history of Wilford Woodruff that thoroughly debunks the brain chemistry explanation.

 “I drove my carriage one evening into the yard of Brother Williams [a local member of the Church]. Brother Orson Hyde [of the Quorum of the Twelve] drove a wagon by the side of mine. I had my wife and children in the carriage. After I turned out my team and had my supper, I went to bed in the carriage. I had not been there but a few minutes when the Spirit said to me, ‘Get up and move that carriage.’ I told my wife I had to get up and move the carriage. She said, ‘What for?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ That is all she asked me on such occasions; when I told her I did not know, that was enough. I got up and moved my carriage. … I then looked around me and went to bed. The same Spirit said, ‘Go and move your animals from that oak tree.’ … I went and moved my horses and put them in a little hickory grove. I again went to bed.

“In thirty minutes a whirlwind came up and broke that oak tree off within two feet from the ground. It swept over three or four fences and fell square in that dooryard, near Brother Orson Hyde’s wagon, and right where mine had stood. What would have been the consequences if I had not listened to that Spirit? Why, myself and wife and children doubtless would have been killed. That was the still, small voice to me—no earthquake, no thunder, no lightning; but the still, small voice of the Spirit of God. It saved my life. It was the spirit of revelation to me.” Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, p. 47.

How can the experience related by Wilford Woodruff be attributed to a brain chemistry illusion? He was warned twice by the promptings of the Spirit and his life and property were preserved. Many modern day church members can testify of similar warnings. 

I can testify from my own experience that the Lord can guide his followers in ways that doesn’t leave room for the brain chemistry explanation to stand up to reasoning and logic.

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