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Fingerprints of God

Barbara Bradley Hagerty reviews the science of spirituality

By Ambury Stuart

Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality
By Barbara Bradley Hagerty
(Riverhead Books) $33.50

My discernment committee’s position was simple enough: “You can’t be a minister, Stuart, because scientists don’t believe in God.” It’s a common assumption. Thousands of people buy books like The God Delusion, in which the famous atheist Richard Dawkins uses science to argue that God is an evolutionary adaptation that allows us to build community, isolate and kill aliens, and deal with death.

Fingerprints of God is a review of the emerging “science of spirituality,” the attempt by scientists to understand the nature of religious experience. As the religion correspondent for National Public Radio in the United States, author Barbara Bradley Hagerty describes scientific studies on such disparate topics as the brain scans of contemplatives, out-of-body and near-death experiences, and the search for the “God gene.” She interviews scientists who claim that something non-physical is going on, and others who contend that these events can be explained by traditional scientific materialism that precludes anything supernatural.

Throughout her book, Bradley Hagerty adheres closely to the journalistic virtues of fairness, accuracy, thoroughness and clarity. As a result, Fingerprints of God is an accessible, up-to-date assessment of the growing scientific understanding of religious experience.

Unlike Dawkins, however, Bradley Hagerty approaches her subject as a seeker. Raised in the Christian Science denomination, she was very devout as a child, lost her traditional faith as an adult, but retained a curiosity for faith issues. Fingerprints of God also contains her own reflections on what she is discovering about the nature of God as she continues her spiritual quest. Her attempts to reconcile her growing knowledge of the science of spirituality with her developing concept of God will resonate with questioning Christians, agnostics and other seekers who read the book.

Her conclusion is that belief in God is a choice. It is possible to look at all the scientific studies and see the hand of God behind them — or to look at the same studies and decide that everything can be explained without recourse to a deity. Either path can result in a sustainable, consistent world view. So, to answer my discernment committee of 10 years ago, it is possible for a scientist to believe in God.

Rev. Ambury Stuart is an environmental scientist and minister at Glebe Road United in Toronto.
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