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NPR Reporter Investigates the Science of Spirituality

What does science have to say about the existence of God and why people embrace or dismiss God? NPR’s Religion Correspondent, Barbara Bradley Hagarty explores these and other questions in her new book “Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality.” She recently spoke with KSMU’s Missy Shelton about her book and its impact on her work as a journalist.

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports on science and spirituality.

Shelton: Barbara, thank you for being with me to discuss the research you’ve done and your new book. Was it especially difficult as a reporter and say, “I’m going to write a book about something so personal and as personal as religion and your own beliefs?”Bradley Hagarty: Yes, it was difficult. There were two risks. As a reporter, we take nothing on faith. We’re supposed to have evidence for everything we say. The trouble with God is God is a matter of faith so as a journalist, how do you navigate those shoals? The way I tried to do that was just talk to really solid scientists, ones who were well known and highly respected. So one risk was how can I do a series topic, journalist endeavor on something like faith. The other issue was what if it turns out that God was nothing but brain firings or brain chemistry. What if I end up at the end of the line that my faith is just bogus and that was another risk I faced but in the end, I decided it was really worth doing.Shelton: I read in one part of your book where two scientists are at odds over the existence of God. And from their conversation, you make the point that it’s a choice when you look at the universe to either include God or exclude God. Both perspectives are choices. I thought was an interesting observation.Bradley Hagarty: The science of spirituality is kind of like a Rorschach test. What you bring to it is how you interpret the evidence. If you’re a materialist and a lot of scientists are, who believe there’s nothing more than this and that brain chemistry kind of explains everything, all experience then you can look at the evidence and say, “See? It’s just temporal lobe firings.” On the other hand, there are an increasing number of scientists who are just now getting brave enough to talk about this who say, “Is it possible that this incredibly human phenomenon, that this is reflecting a reality we can’t quite see.” What world view you have when you look at t he evidence is where you end up in deciding if God is real or a delusion.Shelton: After all this research you did, talk to me about how this shaped how you’re moving forward in your own faith journey.Bradley Hagarty: When I started this book, I had a legitimate question, “Can you believe both in God and Science? Can an intelligent believe in both?” And I didn’t know the answer. Having talked to a lot of scientists and when I look at the way the universe is constructed, since the Big Bang, the universe expanded at a certain rate, the fact that life has evolved so that you and I can have this conversation. You and I have intelligent conversation where we can wonder if there’s more than this. When I looked at how finely tuned the universe is and how finely tuned we are as human beings and our brains, I feel like I can justify believing in an Intelligence that stitches together the universe. I want to stay away from the word “designer” because it’s so loaded politically but what Einstein talked about and Freeman Dyson talked about, as if the universe knew we were coming. I think that might indicate the hand of God. What I ended up with is a God I can actually defend a little bit better and that made me feel good.Shelton: That’s how it’s impacted you personally but how has this book and the process you went through to write it, inform you as a reporter who’s covering religion? Has it had any impact on that professional perspective you have in covering a wide range of religious views?Bradley Hagarty: It’s helped me believe one of my core, driving principles as I do the religion beat and that is that everyone has a religion to believe what they believe. I don’t know what the reason is but people have a reason to believe what they believe. I think what I got in my research is a profound respect for that, a greater respect for people’s beliefs. I hope this helps me further in talking to people, not just about spiritual issues but on political issues, how their religious views shape their life and their view of the world.