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How The Brain Creates God

February 21, 2009

Is religion, an evolutionary adaptation that makes people more likely to survive and pass their genes onto the next generation or is it the natural by-product of the way the human mind works ?

While the former theory has been argued here [Link], evidence of the latter has also come to the fore. Scientists seem to agree that these two theories are not mutually exclusive.


Courtesy []
Courtesy []


This excellent article ‘Born believers: How your brain creates God’ which appeared in The New Scientist recently, talks about the natural inclination of human beings to believe in God and argues that “some of the foundations for religious beliefs are hard-wired” in humans. 

Based on experiments done on children from a few months old to pre-school, scientists have come to believe that “belief in some form of life apart from that experienced in the body is the default setting of the human brain.”  But, scientists also hypothesized that

The ability to conceive of gods, however, is not sufficient to give rise to religion. The mind has another essential attribute: an overdeveloped sense of cause and effect which primes us to see purpose and design everywhere, even where there is none.

Children as young as three were found to attribute design and purpose to inanimate objects and animals. But, what about adults ?

adults are just as inclined to see design and intention where there is none. Put under pressure to explain natural phenomena, adults often fall back on teleological arguments, such as “trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe” or “the sun is hot because warmth nurtures life”.

Aha ! Now I know why the genius Ray Comfort thinks bananas are the perfect evidence for creationism. But, does that mean atheists don’t find design and purpose in the natural world?

“…even adults who describe themselves as atheists and agnostics are prone to supernatural thinking….[from]interviews with atheists, it became clear that they often tacitly attribute purpose to significant or traumatic moments in their lives, as if some agency were intervening to make it happen. They don’t completely exorcise the ghost of god – they just muzzle it”

The article then goes on on describe how research has shown that trauma causes people to slip into believing supernatural phenomenon and finding patterns when there is none.

……….when we feel a lack of control we fall back on superstitious ways of thinking. That would explain why religions enjoy a revival during hard times…… [this also suggests] that god isn’t going away, and that atheism will always be a hard sell. Religious belief is the “path of least resistance” …. while disbelief requires effort…..
 So there you have it Atheists – religion is after all a man-made emotional crutch. And while we are at it, congratulations on that extra effort !!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2009 8:02 pm

    Lol, I guess it’s my turn to be the skeptic!

    I think that it’s quite a leap to make a connection between people seeing purpose in dots on a page and a natural inclination to believing in God. No wonder the article said that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove a connection between the experiments and faith.

    I do agree with the article’s statement that evidence that there is a “default” position isn’t proof that faith is wrong, though. Interesting stuff!

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      February 22, 2009 11:01 pm


      You a skeptic ??!! are not watching too much Bill Maher on HBO these days, are you? 🙂

      Skepticism is not that bad after all, only if we apply that same skepticism to everything and not only to ideas which are different from our previously held notions.

      Btw, there was no connection made about dots or patterns and natural inclination to belief in God but the connection was with mental state of people who become superstitious. Science doesn’t depend on leaps of faith but on tons and tons of supporting evidence like the one above where experiment after experiement showed the connection leading upto the conclusion. Moreover there is no conclusion in science that is irrefutable or 100% correct and atleast science is humble enough to admit it. Unlike religion, that is. But seriously , was that the only thing you noticed in an entire article with so many experiments and evidence?

      I also wasn’t sure where in the article did it say, there wasn’t sufficient evidence between the experiments and faith (although I may have missed it). Between belief in the existence of God and the actual existence of God …sure and that is because the God proposition is not a testable hypothesis..

      Btw, science does not attempt to prove anything right or just searches for evidence and facts. What we make of it is upto us. Moral judgements do not fall in the realm of science.

      Interesting stuff indeed !! 🙂

  2. February 23, 2009 6:00 am

    The article says of the tendency toward a teleological understanding of things:

    “Our predisposition to believe in a supernatural world stays with us as we get older. Kelemen has found that adults are just as inclined to see design and intention where there is none. Put under pressure to explain natural phenomena, adults often fall back on teleological arguments, such as “trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe” or “the sun is hot because warmth nurtures life”. Though she doesn’t yet have evidence that this tendency is linked to belief in god, Kelemen does have results showing that most adults tacitly believe they have souls.”

    And I would never watch Bill Maher! Bleh!

  3. April 3, 2009 7:02 am

    Well, I do watch Bill Maher, I just disagree with him a lot of the time.

    I find a lot of similarities in religion and science, actually. Some things are always going to have to be taken on faith.

    I believe, for example, that Christ existed, was the son of God, is my savior and Lord.

    I also believe in evolution and creationism and see no real conflict with either. I think science is always going to support religion as it will report the truth and the truth will always support itself.

    Is there a God? I believe there is. I don’t believe Him to be as limited or as well defined as some, because I don’t believe He can put into a box, as religion tends to try to do. For this reason, I have no real affiliation to any one particular religion, but hold that that God exists, I don’t have to understand Him, and that Jesus is the closest I will come to an understanding of God.

    In short, I have faith that there is a God and that He loves me, and you, and everyone. This faith is exactly the same faith that I have in science’s ability to illustrate the workings of the universe and the way it has been formed.

    Science will always see the pie, maybe even the recipe eventually; but the baker is still out there.

    For me both are leaps of faith.

    The more we discover of the universe, the more we realize that we don’t know the way it works. New and exciting things are being discovered every day. Science leaps ahead and knocks down barriers, changes it’s voice, listens and reports. But we may discover that everything we “know” about the universe is completely false. And it may be that we are not even near the cusp of understanding anything about anything. Natural law is redefined on a regular basis. Some scientists believe that the speed of light may not have always been a constant, for example. It may have traveled much faster in the first few milliseconds of the big bang. For the most part, we accept certain scientific theory as fact; such as evolution. We come closer to knowing the conceptual “plan” of evolution with every speck of knowledge we gain. But it is a theory that we have grown to accept on faith.

    Accepting science on faith seems to be common, but is unrecognized as such. Science is no more sure of the workings of the universe than we as Christians are of the workings of the mind of God, and for basically the same reasons. Both are concepts that are vastly beyond the scope of our everyday lives.

    In the end, does it really matter that we know and understand all that we seek? Is the seeking itself a reason for our existence? Or do we as humans need to respect the idea that there are some things we will never know, and just accept that as a part of our lives?

    If we are here to enlighten each other, as I believe we are, then it makes perfect sense to me that Jesus came and gave us His teachings.

    Science and religion may always be at odds, I don’t know.

    Science has to see proof of God to know he exists, but the faithful see proof of God all around them.

    Science accepts gravity even though the conventional understanding of gravity only explains its effects as they apply to the world we live in. The formulas don’t work at all on a grand scale and have to be adjusted when applied to, say, galaxies.

    An understanding of how God works is not necessary for the faithful, that’s why it’s called faith.

    An understanding of gravity may be necessary for some, but acceptance of gravity is not even a question in anyone’s mind.

    In both cases, however, an element of faith has to be in place for an understanding of either. Proof, however logical, accepts some things to be what they appear to be.

    It may all be a question of whose eyes we see out of at the time.

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