I found the premise of Barbara Bradley Hagerty's new book "Fingerprints of God" quite intriguing.  The author, raised as a Christian Scientist, attempts to look into alternative religions and science to see if her faith is justified.  There is nothing really new here - in terms of topics that have been covered in many other popular books.  

But what I found interesting was her interpretation of her experiences and investigations.  She chronicles her struggles and revelations in an autobiographical format - and I'm usually a sucker for autobiographies.

It was also quite fun to read Chapter 7 "Searching for the God Spot" because she visits my first lab mentor Michael Persinger at Laurentian University, when I was putting rats in magnetic fields trying to induce limbic seizures.  This is a colorful chapter on many levels, especially her description of putting on the "God helmet" and reporting her experience as the magnetic fields were activated at different locations.

She also covers mystical experiences brought on by psychedelic agents (she attends a Peyote ceremony), epilepsy, meditation and near death experiences.  The chapter on trying to explain the connection between lovers using "quantum entanglement" theory made me cringe, as it does in all books of this type.

This isn't really a spoiler because everyone will see it coming - her faith comes out validated at the end.  But what is interesting is how she reframes phenomena like limbic seizures and psychedelic experiences from viewing them as simply brain states to considering the option that they open up the brain's ability to receive information and communicate with God.  

Perhaps without realizing it she has proposed a testable scientific hypothesis - that the processes which occur within the brain matter of humans (not sure about her thoughts on other animals) do not follow the laws of physics and chemistry as we already understand them.  If that turns out to be the case it would indeed prove to be an immense paradigm shift, as she explains in the last part of the book.  

In my opinion - and the opinion of probably most scientists - there is no truly compelling evidence to consider that possibility seriously. Brains behave as matter should behave.  That to me is the more astonishing finding - that consciousness correlates with the deterministic behavior of plain old molecules. Like it or not, that leads to counter-intuitive results like the illusion of free will.

I don't find the evidence she provides convincing - and no I can't explain them all away, which doesn't really mean much.  I can't explain how Chris Angel does his tricks but that doesn't mean I think he violates the laws of physics (which he doesn't claim).  When a psychic or magician can consistently make a living winning lotteries I'll start to pay attention.

It would be reassuring to conclude - as she does ultimately - that the universe is a result of a "loving intelligence".  People like me will conclude exactly the opposite based on all available evidence.  The universe is decidedly *amoral* in how it operates - things happen because of basic physical laws.  

You might not come to that conclusion if you focus more on mystical states and examples of altruism and love.  But you also have to take into account the existence of pathogens, sociopaths and natural disasters of every kind.

If I left it at that it might come off that I didn't like the book.  I don't typically finish books that I don't enjoy.  I also liked the author - I can appreciate her inquisitive approach to life - and I think I would enjoy meeting her.  I just don't agree with her.

For as fundamental a thing you might expect religion to be that doesn't seem to be an issue in day to day life.  For me what counts much more is what I might call "moral compatibility", which has to do with how you treat people and what you expect from them. That's why I can work and interact very closely with people who have different religious views.

To preempt an obvious complaint: the universe is amoral but a person can have a morality?  That's how many of our brains are wired (except sociopaths).  The explanation is that there is an evolutionary advantage to this for human societies, just as there is to have a small percentage of sociopaths exist.