Brains and belief
A recent article in the New Scientist suggests that our brains create God. Born believers: How your brain creates God – science-in-society – 04 February 2009 – New Scientist:
So if religion is a natural consequence of how our brains work where does that leave god All the researchers involved stress that none of this says anything about the existence or otherwise of gods as Barratt points out whether or not a belief is true is independent of why people believe it. It does however suggests that god isn t going away and that atheism will always be a hard sell. Religious belief is the ‘path of least resistance’ says Boyer while disbelief requires effort.
Hat-tip to Nouslife.
This recalls a book published a few years ago entitled, Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, by Andrew Newberg. His thesis is summarised in an article 1 Brain Science & The Biology of Belief :: Andrew Newberg :: Global Spiral:
In its basic form, the holistic operator allows us to view reality as a whole or as a gestalt. In other words, this operator helps to give us the big picture. This ability allows us to experience a given situation in a more global context. A number of experiments involving both animals and human beings have indicated that the parietal lobe (toward to the back, top part of the brain) in the right brain hemisphere is intimately involved in the perception of spatial relations. More specifically, the perceptions generated by this area are of a holistic or gestalt nature. Thus, we have proposed that the holistic operator likely resides in the parietal lobe in the right hemisphere. In religion, the holistic operator might allow us to apprehend the unity of God or the oneness of the universe. Regardless of the particular object or group of objects involved, whenever one considers or perceives the global or unitary perspective of things, one is employing the holistic operator.
A few years ago a Russian colleague told me of his days as an ardent Comsomol leader, when he went to a monastery determined to preach the gospel of atheism to a popular spiritual elder there.
He launched into his spiel, and said that it was ridiculous to believe in an invisible God, and he had never heard God speak. The elder listened, and then said “Did you know that this room is full of voices that you can’t hear?”
The atheist replied that that was impossible.
The elder went on, “Do you know that this room is full of people that you can’t see?”
And he explained that if you got a radio, you could hear the voices, and if you got a TV, you could see the people. The problem with people who could not see or hear God was that they did not have an antenna.
Perhaps this scientific research shows that that is more than just an analogy, and that some people really DO lack the antenna.
And talking of brains and religion, Andries Louw recently posted some comments by Stephen Hawking, who was asked by Pik Botha of all people what he thought about life after death, and Hawking replied “I imagine what happens to human consciousness when we die is much like turning off a computer. I don’t believe in a heaven for computers. I think the after-life is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
But one can extend the metaphor a bit further. It’s quite OK to picture what happens to consciousness after death as being like turning off a computer, but then the Christian belief is that God has us all backed up on DVD somewhere, and that one day he’ll reboot us on better hardware.
In fact there was once a novel with a plot loosely based on this idea, The Müller-Fokker Effect by Jim Sladek, though it was before the invention of DVDs, so it envisaged tape backup.
Another researcher in the field, Igor Voronov, has said
“Many ideas of modern mathematics are based on the work of the same functional modules of a human brain, which served in the last history of mankind and form now a basis for the creation of religious feelings.” To substantiate his claim, he adds that “both spiritual experiences and experiences of a more ordinary material nature are made real to the mind in the very same way – through the processing powers of the brain and the cognitive function of the mind.” (from Andrew Newberg and others, “Why God Won’t Go Away”, page 37.)
In other words we are back to the absurdity of consciousness and the consciousness of absurdity. If God is produced purely by the biological functions of the brain, then so is everything else that we are aware of through our brains. And so we are back to the statement of N.F. Simpson
[let us thow back our heads and laugh] at knowledge which is an illusion caused by certain biochemical changes in the human brain structure during the course of human evolution, which had it followed another course would have produced other biochemical changes in the human brain structure, by reason of which knowledge as we now experience it would have been beyond the reach of our wildest imaginings; and by reason of which, what is now beyond our wildest imaginings would have been familiar and commonplace. Let us laugh at these things.