It always fascinates me how American culture treats science and its ability to give us knowledge. Take Michael Brook’s article in the New Scientist entitled, “Born Believers: How Your Brain Creates God.”  Brooks explores some new research being done on how religion could have evolved. Challenging the common hypothesis that religion offers some competitive advantage, Brooks cites various scientists who argue that religion is hardwired. Specifically, all humans have a “common-sense” belief in mind/body dualism and an exaggerated understanding of cause and effect, both of which can be seen in the way children understand the world. 

While I am always interested in the way atheists, materialists, and scientists try to explain the origins of religion, what strikes me most about this article is the conflict between the title and the content. The scientists who have been testing this “hardwired” hypothesis of the origins of religion are careful to point out that their research in no way speaks to the existence or non-existence of God, “whether or not a belief is true is independent of why people believe it.” Yet, the author of the article chose a title which does make this leap from origins to existence: “How Your Brain Creates God.” 

Note that the title could have read, “How Our Brains are Wired for God,” or “How Our Brains Could Create God,” but the author purposefully excludes himself by using “your” instead of “our,” and words the title in such a way as to suggest that there is no God out there to which our wiring corresponds, we “create” Him, a claim researchers themselves were honest enough not to make. 

Regardless of the title, the article itself is very insightful.


2 Comments

  1. Charles,

    There’s a general trend in our culture in which we discount/discredit/marginalize ideas/peoples/groups/beliefs by giving an account of their origins. If we know that a rapist had a bad childhood, we do not have to accept the fact that he is a sinful, fallen human just like us, he becomes an anomaly. If we can speculate on the origins of religion, we do not have to take it seriously. For whatever reason, the study of origins has a totalizing effect; we (our culture) have come to believe that origins are everything.

    And yet, as you point out, as Christians, we accept that a belief in God is natural.

    Another thing I find interesting about these studies is how well the fit with Peter Berger’s work. Berger argues that our lives are filled with “signals of transcendence,” like hope and humor, which defy what ought to be our natural inclinations. It seems to me that this study simply identifies a few more of those signals.

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