Friday, April 06, 2007

Are we hard-wired to believe in God?

Why do some of us feel more spiritual or religious than others? Call it science, or call it faith, or call it neurotheology, this is an interesting question posed in a article on CNN's website today:

"NEW YORK (CNN) -- "I just know God is with me. I can feel Him always," a young Haitian woman once told me.

"I've meditated and gone to another place I can't describe. Hours felt like mere minutes. It was an indescribable feeling of peace," recalled a CNN colleague.

"I've spoken in languages I've never learned. It was God speaking through me," confided a relative.

The accounts of intense religious and spiritual experiences are topics of fascination for people around the world. It's a mere glimpse into someone's faith and belief system. It's a hint at a person's intense connection with God, an omniscient being or higher plane. Most people would agree the experience of faith is immeasurable.

Dr. Andrew Newberg, neuroscientist and author of "Why We Believe What We Believe," wants to change all that. He's working on ways to track how the human brain processes religion and spirituality. It's all part of new field called neurotheology.

After spending his early medical career studying how the brain works in neurological and psychiatric conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, depression and anxiety, Newberg took that brain-scanning technology and turned it toward the spiritual: Franciscan nuns, Tibetan Buddhists, and Pentecostal Christians speaking in tongues. His team members at the University of Pennsylvania were surprised by what they found.

"When we think of religious and spiritual beliefs and practices, we see a tremendous similarity across practices and across traditions."

The frontal lobe, the area right behind our foreheads, helps us focus our attention in prayer and meditation."

To read on, click here.


Kelly Hills said...

As my previous username around here might have indicated, I am a practicing Buddhist (seems like a necessary disclaimer for a discussion about religion being hard-wired).

It seems like the debate, as it has been for a few years now, breaks down into what Michael Persinger called God Experiences and God Concepts (as opposed to Dean Hamer's God Gene). Personally, I like Persinger's model - to baldly quote a paper I wrote on this a few years back, God Experiences are transient, emotionally loaded phenomenon associated with the temporal lobe of the brain, while God Concepts are cultural, verbal and pictorial conditionings. Taken together, your God Experience and God Concepts create your God Beliefs – whether or not you believe in God, how you define God, whether or not you see God as a melding with the Universal All (a very Eastern concept), or a more fatherly and/or strict authoritarian figure (as in Western mythology) . It is also important to note that while Persinger was looking for God Experiences, he was not trying to reduce the question of God down to a single gene. Instead, Persinger was exploring a more emergent conception of God; that is, that God is a sum of parts. Persinger believed that “the God Experience is a normal and more organized pattern of temporal lobe activity."

This seems akin to the boat-building analogy brought up in the NYTimes piece, and one that seems sensible to me. We all have brains wired in a similar way, and thus all develop about the same thing for the same reason - be is God, Ananda, a Boddhisatva or a boat.

Perhaps because of my agnostic bent, I find the notion of a direct conduit to God a more difficult notion to swallow - it might make sense, I suppose, if I believed in God, but my own belief structure is absent that particular cultural mimetic. Those who are arguing the direct conduit belief (and I think Hamer, although not referenced in this article would likely count) seem to think that the potential for God is within us, and that our ability to perceive God is based on what genetic combination we have. Those who are more devout simply are more genetically inclined to be; a simple geneticization or biodeterminist belief.

For me, this just doesn't ring true. Sure, genetics might be involved - but that's because genetics are involved in most everything we squishy bags of water do. I find a lot more strength in the dual notion of cultural conditioning and general use/adaptability of the brain.

...which all might really just be splitting hairs, but hey, sometimes that's fun to do, too.

sushil yadav said...

Linda Glenn,

Prayer, Meditation, Faith, Belief and Religious Rituals make the mind peaceful - because they are repetitive in nature. Repetition brings peace to the mind which is otherwise restless because it is mostly exposed to Change, Transience and Impermanence.

In this context I want to post a part from my article which examines the impact of Speed, Overstimulation, Consumerism and Industrialization on our minds and environment. Please read.

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.

Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

Emotion ends.

Man becomes machine.

A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.

Fast visuals/ words make slow emotions extinct.

Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys emotional circuits.

A fast (large) society cannot feel pain / remorse / empathy.

A fast (large) society will always be cruel to Animals/ Trees/ Air/ Water/ Land and to Itself.

To read the complete article please follow either of these links :




Ana said...

While it might seem foolish to indulge in such a fantasy... (the idea of God,) it is a comforting idea to turn to, in times of desperation.

Having endured a number of hardships in my life, I can say that...believing in something greater than myself has been helpful.
Childish? Maybe.

And I do recognize that religion is just another expression of the patriarchy, believe me,
But at the same time, I also believe it's a function of the human condition. A way of coping.. with pain, perhaps.

People need authority. In many cases, divine authority. It creates in them a sense of purpose.

I don't know. It's an interesting question to pose, either way.

--Ana Casian Lakos said...

Whether because the Creator designed us that way or because evolutionary pressures selected those of us with inclinations toward a belief in that Creator, there certainly seems to be something that make us interested in concepts such as beauty, justice, truth, and love. Not a bad outcome.