Intelligent Design

Are you (a) a religious robot or (b) a religious freak?

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At CNN, A. Chris Gajilan asks, Are humans hardwired for faith? Maybe we religious robots can’t help it,

Newberg calls religion the great equalizer and points out that similar areas of the brain are affected during prayer and meditation. Newberg suggests that these brain scans may provide proof that our brains are built to believe in God. He says there may be universal features of the human mind that actually make it easier for us to believe in a higher power.

but on the other hand, maybe we are religious freaks,

Scott Atran doesn’t consider himself an atheist, but he says the brain scans offer little in terms of understanding why humans believe in God. He is an anthropologist and author of “In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion.”

Instead of viewing religion and spirituality as an innate quality hardwired by God in the human brain, he sees religion as a mere byproduct of evolution and Darwinian adaptation.

Now, before you decide which of these points of view sounds more plausible to you, please note one thing: In a pop science assessment, one possibility is absolutely off the table, and not to be considered under any circumstances: That people believe in a higher power (God, in theistic traditions) because they have in fact contacted a higher power.

The usual “neurotheology” dodge (that’s the fad term for this sort of study) is that science cannot consider such issues. But that leaves science in the position of trying to figure out religious experiences on the assumption that God does not exist and does not influence them in the present.

Newberg may believe in God, or something like that (so I gather from his interesting book Why God Won’t Go Away), but what the article means by “God” is simply a necessity built into the architecture of your brain. God is not trying to get your attention in real time.

In other words, science is not about assessing the evidence, it is about accumulating evidence that supports an atheistic perspective. The really interesting result is not the way in which such a perspective deforms our understanding of religion but – as Mario Beauregard’s and my forthcoming book, The Spiritual Brain will show – the way it deforms our understanding of science.

recent posts at Mindful:

The results of a fascinating experiment, in which some people deliberately ignored rational information in favor of emotional information in assessing probability.

What would non-materialist economics look like? It would look like the economic world you actually experience, not the one that materialist experts propose.

For a dose of really far out predictions, go here and listen to computer prophet Ray Kurzweil, who takes hundreds of nutritional supplements every day, “reprogramming my biochemistry.”

Harvard briefly considers core course in religion.

23 Replies to “Are you (a) a religious robot or (b) a religious freak?

  1. 1
    jb says:

    Perhaps finding that our brains are hard-wired to believe in God is empirical support for Plantinga’s “Proper Function.”

  2. 2
    Ekstasis says:

    It would be interesting to consider whether humans have ever had a widespread desire for anything else that does not exist. In other words, thirst exists because we need water, feeling cold exists because we need warmth, curiosity exists because knowledge exists and we need it.

    But of course our intellectual giants across the land have found this magnificent exception — we need God but none exists. Fascinating!!

  3. 3
    mike1962 says:

    Years before anyone started talking about a “God spot” in the brain, I surmised that if some higher power existed who is responsible for the existence of humans, and the higher power intended on making contact with some of them in ways other than the normal five senses, there must be some area in the brain associated with numinous experience. Otherwise, how would we *remember* any such experience of the numinous if we had it?

  4. 4
    Jared White says:

    Ekstasis, your comment is very thought-provoking.

    I’m very mixed on this whole concept of being “hardwired” to believe in God. On the one hand, you could argue that God created us to believe in Him. That seems logical enough. On the other hand, however, it makes it easy to argue that we simply “evolved” to look to a power or entity beyond ourselves for inspiration and comfort even when no such power or entity exists. Given how much neuroscience seems to be based mostly on inference and even pseudo-intellectual hearsay, I think it’s highly doubtful we have a “God spot” or “God gene” or whatever you’d call it.

    Denyse, I absolutely love your argument. Maybe people believe in God because God actually exists and we’ve touched Him and have been touched by Him. Amazing how such a simple explanation is overlooked so frequently.

  5. 5
    shaner74 says:

    Don’t know about anyone else, but I’m really getting fed up with all this materialist speculation about God. It’s starting to sound downright foolish. I really wish they’d just shut it until they actually have a clue what they’re talking about. Maybe they could start with figuring out exactly what thought is and where it comes from, then they could begin to ask bigger questions. I think in a thousand years or so, history will probably nickname this period in time as the “Ignorant Age” It will probably go from around 1850 to 2050. I just hope I’m alive to see materialism come crashing down.

  6. 6
    ajl says:

    there must be some area in the brain associated with numinous experience

    I’m starting to lean that way in my theology and science as well. That is, at our core, we are spiritual beings. Yet, for whatever reason, God has chosen to wrap us in these physical bodies. We then experience God through the medium that he has created: our physical world.

    What I like about Narnia is that Lewis was asking: “If God had to save a world, unlike ours, what would that look like”?

    In the same way, if we step back from our world, we have to ask the same questions: how would God have done it, given he created our bodies with DNA, etc.

    If God spoke out of a cloud to say “this is my beloved son…”, then the people heard that voice in their ears, and all the physical things that occur through our hearing senses.

    So, if God wants to communicate with us in our minds, then perhaps he’s chosen a location in the brain by which to connect our physical bodies, spiritual reality, and His spiritual existance.

  7. 7
    Apollos says:

    Personally I think of myself as a freak-robot hybrid, perhaps a transitional form of sorts.

    Taking the rational assumption that God exists, it would follow that aspects of our physiology are designed for divine understanding, and perception of and interaction with Him. To limit this to “belief” isn’t necessary.

    In addition, if we take a non-materialist view of the brain, we can understand that brain activity may be as much of an effect as it is a cause. Viewing things this way would undoubtedly alter our perceptions of what’s going on inside of our heads.

    If there really is a “god” region in our brains, then making full use of that gray matter may require acknowledgment of the divine, which would explain the limited scope of inquiry over at CNN.

  8. 8

    […] Are you (a) a religious robot or (b) a religious freak?. The ‘hardwired for faith’ (or god) nonsense seems to go on and on without any awareness in scientists of the absurdity of their basic position. Now brainscans are going to prove this. I would wager a fair sum they will do nothing of the kind, and that the great hope represented by this technology will prove stillborn, or at best ambiguous. In any case, mechanical causal events that are taken to explain religious behaviorism are not religion at all. […]

  9. 9
    Freethinker18 says:

    All this discussion about a “god spot” in the brain that allows the spiritual entity called god to communicate with our material brain is very reminiscent of Descartes and his theory that the pineal gland was the interaction point between the soul and body.

    It also suffers from the same flaws as Descartes’ theory. It makes no logical sense to posit a physical location as a contact point between the material and the immaterial.

  10. 10
    Mats says:

    But that leaves science in the position of trying to figure out religious experiences on the assumption that God does not exist and does not influence them in the present.

    Welcome to “modern science”. All assumptions are valid except the assumption that God exists, and interacts in nature (parting the Red Sea, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the world wide flood, and specially, the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus).

  11. 11
    Janice says:

    “Religion is a byproduct of many different evolutionary functions that organized our brains for day-to-day activity.”

    How? I want specifics, not this vacuous pap.

    I’m completely fed up with being presented with such contentless garbage and being asked to take it seriously.

    It’s been suggested that religion is the expression of our attempts to allay our fear of the unknown. Well, if we’re just animals, why don’t we do something like my dogs do when they are startled by, say, the sound of a palm frond falling? Why don’t we just rush up and do the equivalent of barking in the general direction of the noise and then, when no threat appears, go back to whatever we were doing before and forget all about it? If none of our ancestors had ever had an encounter with the immaterial something that’s not supposed to exist what on earth could ever have prompted any of us to suppose that it does exist?

    And if religious faith is supposed to be hardwired in our brains why doesn’t everyone have it?

    Could it be that we were designed to enable us to be in relationship with God but, because of sin, many of us choose to turn away from Him?

  12. 12

    I guess I’m a freak. At least I “feel” a little better programmed than C-3P0. And so is this wireless router on my computer. It has a material explanation, yes, but at the same time the physical manifestation of THIS communication device gives a hint of a purpose.
    This might be the real situation in any “God” section of the brain. A material manifestation is not necessarily an indication that its function is the byproduct of something other than–communication.

    Two comments in particular stand out here: It was mentioned by the first poster that “Perhaps finding that our brains are hard-wired to believe in God is empirical support for Plantinga’s ‘Proper Function.’”

    Perhaps. More on that shortly.

    Ekstasis mentions that materialists might be accepting of a “God” type component but reject God all the while acknowledging the need from some kind of survival mode, etc.

    I had heard this years ago, and rejected it then as being connected with what forum I heard it mentioned, that being late night radio with the “CIA-is-beaming-radio-waves-into-my-teeth-fillings” type conspiracy nuts and mavens who generally have equally nutty guests.

    However, while I realize that some are tired of all the materialist supposition about this God gene, or component, or whatnot, let’s step back a little and give some breathing room. This is not as nutty as some my suppose. Nor is it necessarily a materialist response to why some of us hardheads mulishly cling to notions of the Creator. One does not have to have the Dawkinsonian dismissal of this as being merely some archaic survival relic of the distant past(no doubt one he thinks we need to overcome lest the world end); the idea here being that as mortal creatures we needed comfort about the non-existent afterlife so we could get on the role of just survival and having kids and eating and mating and fighting proto-simian territory wars.

    No, the evolutionary mindset offers little more insight than that such things might exist. I reject their reasoning as to the how. But consider, as C.S. Lewis did, the roles of our senses and desires and match them to the reality of “what is out there” to be had. Men have thirst, and indeed there is such a thing as water. Men have hunger, and food does exist. Men have desires for productive work, and jobs and careers are had or available. Men have a desire for greater knowledge about the world and an innate curiosity about their environment–The world exists, and all knowledge included. Men have “other” kinds of desires, and indeed there are charming women abounding. So it goes the other way around, “men” being a generic term here.

    Men have an innate desire to seek God, and…..well….

    So, perhaps not evolutionary needs, but interpersonal needs, dictate the mechanics of the brain. The notebook computer I use for my work automatically scans and picks up wireless transmissions, even of those that it cannot even access. (Are we likewise being transmitted to? ).

    Indeed, open the components up and take a look and you will surely find the wireless router among other things needed for proper function.

    Dawkins and are welcome to put a sock in it–the King of Narnia beat him to the punchline.

    –SWT

  13. 13
    UrbanMysticDee says:

    I just don’t understand these [particular] atheists masquerading as scientists. I don’t try to convert them to my religion, why do they keep trying to convert me to theirs under the guise of science? They don’t have to believe in God, just stop trying to eliminate God from the lives of those who do believe.

  14. 14
    DaveScot says:

    freethinker

    It makes no logical sense to posit a physical location as a contact point between the material and the immaterial.

    Could you explain why you think it’s illogical? I wouldn’t argue that there’s little if any evidence of it but can’t see why it would be necessarily illogical. Religion seems to be one of the few things that definitively separates us from other animals. While subjective in nature the depth of the spiritual connection felt by many in every culture across all of recorded history can’t be denied. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to me if there was some physical basis with an identifiable locus connected with it.

  15. 15
    Ekstasis says:

    Sure, part of our brains may be designed to process spiritual experiences. But, just like the mind in not limited to one key component — the brain, likewise spiritual existence is not limited to this particular brain function.

    As evidence, check this out, and play the first video clip. Yes, it is hokie, but I promise you it will leave you as dumbfounded as your pride will allow.

    http://www.zeitun-eg.org/stmaridx.htm

    Thousands of people of all religions, and unbelievers, were all eye witnesses at the Coptic church in Zeitun, Egypt, over a period of years, where legend has it that Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus passed by in their exile from King Herod. The vision was first seen by Moslem workers. This was 1968 – 1971, so some high tech shenanigans can be ruled out.

    Quick, Materialists, put on your thinking caps and come up with some contrived explanation.

    Quick, Christians that hold all theological truth in the palm of our hands, how does one explain the Virgin Mary?

    Must we all go where evidence leads, as distasteful as it is for practically all of us? Wouldn’t this be just like God, requiring us to swallow our pride?

  16. 16
    mentok says:

    So let’s see, um, my brain is made up of a bunch of cells. What part of those cells are “wired” (hard or soft) and how exactly does that “wiring” influence what I intellectually believe to be true or false about anything? How does a cell influence my thought process? What is a cell and what can a cell do? A cell is a bunch of proteins and other chemicals formed into tiny machines. How would tiny little machines influence me to believe in God?

    It is a sign of a descent into madness to actually seriously claim that our brain chemistry/biology is the cause of belief in God. I am stunned to see that otherwise normal seeming people would even begin to take that seriously. People believe in God for various reasons, from various causes, and to varying degrees. Some people are conditioned to believe in God through being raised to believe in God. Others believe in God due to an intellectual conclusion of one sort or another. Others believe in God because they believe they feel the presence of God in one fashion or another. And each of these 3 types of belief can be present at the same time or a mixture of any of them or just one of them can be cause for belief. Also belief in God comes in varying degrees, from just barely having faith to 100% certitude.

  17. 17
    bork says:

    I guess I am broken, or just short circuited as I have a hard time believeing in God. Funny though, I usually hear this vice versa.

    However, I have to agree that a lot of scientists seem to amass evidence to disprove God, despite the fact that I don’t feel science leads one way or another.

    And for some reason, we hold these scientists to the pinnacle of intelligence. I don’t quite understand why we hold intelligence in such regard, as pointed out earlier, Mother Teresa did a lot of good and I doubt she could do differential equations. Love has a far greater impact then any intellect, it is only when intellect seems to be used in an act of love that anything is accomplished.

    Seems like most prominent atheists spew more hate than love. I feel (from my stance) that religion is just as viable as atheism. I use to think that atheism was the only viable position, but having to believe in a multiverse and looking at some information theory is really prying the “door” open for me.

    Anyways, this all goes back to materialism. I feel like the finding of a God spot will be used by far more atheists to promote the idea of chemical imbalance and write off religion. Just another tool in their bag of tricks.

  18. 18
    Ekstasis says:

    bork,

    Amazing, isn’t it? Find some part of the brain that “executes” or implements spiritual thoughts, meditations, and perceptions; and, presto, God is dropped from the equation.

    Using this logic, we will prove that food doesn’t exist once we find the part of the brain that registers thoughts about food, and the perception of feeling full!!

  19. 19
    bork says:

    Ekstasis,

    I don’t know if I would go as far to say that food would be dropped.. though the need for food might be dropped, such as Breathians claim.

    Also, I feel like this skepticism is only applied to religion. How can one be a skeptic and yet agree so wholeheartedly to current ideas? String theory, multiverse, etc. People use Darwin’s idea to push god out of the equation, just as it seems like modern physics doing. Unfortunately, they seem to be shifting God around.

    I don’t think I will ever see someone doubt sunrays, gravity, sound, etc

  20. 20
    mike1962 says:

    Freethinker, “All this discussion about a “god spot” in the brain that allows the spiritual entity called god to communicate with our material brain is very reminiscent of Descartes and his theory that the pineal gland was the interaction point between the soul and body.”

    Descartes had the right idea. But it wasn’t the pineal gland. It may be a quantum effects within microtubles within neurons.

    See:

    http://www.quantumconsciousnes.....tions.html

  21. 21
    eebrom says:

    Hmmmm. Me, a freak? A robot?

    Likely, fully one and the other together in hypostatic union 😉

    The one, dingbatish, awkward, missing the mark, failing to grasp and express the Will of his Designer. The other, dutiful, lawful, knowing what is right; and, together, knowing what is right, doing the opposite.

    Such tension would seem to demonstrate almost total disability, yet, in acknowledging weakness there comes strength — also, the other way around. And so the tension, often spelled f r e e d o m , directs activity, expression, devotion, one way or the other – often simultaneously.

    Which all makes me wonder what sort of a shell could house such intention tension. Or in what exclusive part of the shell might a God-cell hide out, or play its tune.

    Biblical ideals would suggest that “freedom shells” are “temple cells”. And “temple cells” are “worship cells” through which holy bits are exchanged. Together, as an icon, an image, a window where “love-designs” are intimately, and intelligently exchanged. Each cell, every cell, in parallel, as one, totally connected, totally consumed by a love that knows no end.

    My suspicion is that in every cell there is (can be) some sort of connection to the divine, and maybe there’s a control centre in the brain.

    Those who have scientifically observed a love that exceeds premeditated expectations chance to glimpse the possibility of an even greater, everlasting love. Especially those who once knew it, now, are ever more convinced. Few would deny that every cell they have connection to, is connected to that greater love. Theologically, Christians believe that such divine energy, as lovingkindness, designed us (Jer 31:3). Designers tend to have intimate knowledge about each and every part of their design.

    And so that freedom, often transmogrifying separately into freaks or robots, offers a deeper level of understanding: cosmic connection between the Will of the Creator and the Will of his created images.

  22. 22
    late_model says:

    Has anyone ever thought about turning this around to see if people are hardwired for atheism?

  23. 23
    eebrom says:

    late_model:

    Yes, I think St. Augustine figured it was caused by a faulty firmware “upgrade” over the cosmic connection between “Adam/Eve Consulting” and their Maker. Apparently, they didn’t follow the clear instructions — and he didn’t read them first.

    Needless to say, third-party fixes have been legion! Traditional Blogs maintain that there is one legitimate fix that provides a complete “re-burn”; they call it re-birth.

    From most accounts, the unique re-burn/re-birth of this latest firmware upgrade lasts unto the ages of ages. It does take the dedication of regular maintenance checks against the ever evolving/mutating competing viruses, but that was part of the downloading instructions.

    Seems to work as promised in the original, archived firmware instructions. They use a Cross-shape as Their logo on the front cover, and you’ll find other logos on each page.

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