Science Explains Why Our Brains May Be ‘Hardwired’ for God

Is the brain hardwired for God?

Neuroscientists have found and measured chemical changes in the brain when a person is going through religious or spiritual experiences and keep coming back for more. It turns out religion makes us feel the same way we do when we meditate — the evolutionary explaination is these practices help us improve our mental state, so in a sense, we all believe in the same thing… only our vision of what “it” is comes in different forms. Whether it be a God or a power we have inside of us.

Dr. Andrew Newberg explains:

… religious feeling is not invisible. The common thread among mystical and spiritual practices is that while people are engaged in them, the lobes of their brain can be seen working together to create a powerful emotional experience. “When we looked at [subjects'] brain scans, instead of the frontal lobes going up, the frontal lobes actually went down [in blood flow]. Which makes sense in the context of what they are describing is happening to them,” Newberg explains. “They don’t feel that they’re purposely making it [happen]. They feel that they are being basically overcome by the experience.”

“… It certainly looks like the way the brain is put together makes it very easy for human beings to have religious and spiritual experiences.”

In other words, science explains religion. Don’t you love the irony?

Big Think conducted an interview with Dr. Newberg, a pioneer in neurotheology (neuroscientific study of religious and spiritual experiences):

This concept reminds me of a quote by Dale Carnegie from his book How to Win Friends & Influence People:

“When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.”

The majority of people are driven by how they feel. Not by what makes sense. I have friends who don’t go to church or read the Bible but still preach that “there just HAS to be something more!” They want meaning. They crave explanations for uncanny occurrences in their lives or beautiful friendships they create or people they fall madly in love with.

All these things come down to the brain and what you do with it. We are born with a blank slate, and our life is defined by how we use our brains. You can insert your own meaning if you so please.

So learn to harness your thoughts and understand them, and you can make your life an open canvas! Draw. Paint. Carve. Weld. Wittle. Mold. Sculpt. Build. Use life as your own work of art.

Mine = Power. Explore the God within you.

About molly

Follow Molly: @Molly_Nelson/ www.mollyanelson.com

  • Corvis29

    I keep trying to explain this to theists that have it turned around the other way but it never seems to work..

  • Jeremy Chappell

    “Neuroscientists have found and measured chemical changes in the brain when a person is going through [self-reported] religious or spiritual experiences and keep coming back for more.”

    With the qualification I added, this is the only credible statement to be had here. The rest is sheer speculation. Furthermore, since when did brain states reflect only non-veridical phenomena?

    • Patterrssonn

      The ultimate “proof” for the existence of god, when all other arguments are lost to logic is along the lines of “I feel it in my heart to be true”. Well now we know that there’s a perfectly rational explanation for that feeling that doesn’t depend on communication with or the existence of supernatural creatures.

  • Daniel Schealler

    Friend: “I just believe that there’s something more out there.”
    Me: “Like what, Mars?”
    Friend: “No, that’s not what I meant and you know it.”
    Me: “Then say what you meant then. Don’t hide behind euphemism.”
    Friend: “I mean something bigger, grander.”
    Me: “So Jupiter, then?”
    Friend: …

    • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

      Friend: “Something bigger than us!”
      Me: “Like giant people?”
      Friend: “Bigger in the sense that they’re more powerful!”
      Me: “Aliens with superior technology?”
      Friend: …

      • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

        Are you guys making this up, or is it from somewhere? It’s funny!

        • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

          I just made mine up, as an extension to Daniel’s post. No idea if his was based on a real conversation or not. But it is funny to note the general lack of explanation about what “spirituality” and “something bigger, man” really mean.

          • Daniel Schealler

            It was loosely based on a real conversation.

            From memory, it was “I just believe that there’s something more out there.” To which I replied: “What, like the street outside?”

            The conversation pretty much ended there with my friend getting annoyed with me because he figured I knew what he meant and I was being facetious – which was pretty much right. But I pointed out that the only reason he could take his current view seriously was by dressing it up in euphemism: That if he were to actually state what he meant accurately it would appear transparently ridiculous, hence the need for euphemism.

            At that point he changed the subject.

            I think my joke version above was funnier.

            And TerranRich’s extension was pretty much spot on. ^_^

  • Bta1138

    Sorry, Hemant, but we are NOT born with a blank slate.  That’s an old theory.  Stephen Pinker has a good book explaining this called “The Blank Slate.”  We are born with innate tendencies, and our experiences shape and form those innate tendencies.  Some of us are born with less or more of a tendency to be conservative or religious, but it’s our life experiences that ultimately solidify who we become.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I don’t believe our brains are wired to produce religious experiences. I do think it likely that they can produce a spiritual experience. But it was humans who took  that native feeling of spirituality and corrupted it into religion. Religion is a man-made  institution designed to exploit a natural byproduct of how our brains work.

    • Jeremy Chappell

      What, exactly, is the distinction between “religious” and “spiritual” experiences? Also, you seem to be implying that religion
      somehow being a man-made institution exploiting brain function makes it untrue. Any institution can likewise be claimed to be designed by man to exploit brain function, but we wouldn’t claim that they are useless, much less their claims to be untrue.

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        Spirituality is a feeling. Religion is a construct. Perhaps a reasonable comparison would be that love is a feeling, and marriage is a construct.

        I don’t understand your comment about any institution being designed to exploit brain function. Do you have an example?

        • Jeremy Chappell

          A better question would be what *wouldn’t* be an example. Any institution, whether it be social work, education,  etc. is taking advantage of brain function. That fact doesn’t shed any light on its legitimacy. 

          • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

            Sorry, I don’t see that. I can’t think of any good examples besides religion. I might argue that an army (a construct) is designed by men to exploit the natural xenophobia that is present in humans. But I don’t think that’s as obvious as the spirituality/religion connection, and I can’t think of any other examples at all.

            I certainly don’t see social work or educational institutions as being created to exploit natural brain functions.

            And I don’t see what legitimacy has to do with anything here.

            • Jeremy Chappell

              You don’t think education “exploits” the brain’s ability to learn? That marriage/companionship “exploits” feelings in the same way that this article describes?
              There’s an aspect of the brain that is suited to organization: hence, many like bureaucracy. 

              If it sounds like I’m hand-waving and telling stories, it’s because I am. And that’s what is being done here. All that has been demonstrated here is that when people claim to have a religious/spiritual experience, there is a noticeable pattern in brain activity, and that they like the experience enough to want it again. 

              Does this mean the experiences are not veridical? No. Does it mean that they are veridical? No. Does it mean that people choose to construct institutions/religions because of this pattern in their brain? No.   

              Keep in mind this article’s “argument” is this spiritual/religious experience makes people feel good: hence, people feel good about religion. How can we not say that about any “institution” at some level? And isn’t any institution “man-made”?

              Nevertheless, the author would have us believe that this means that “science explains religion” and that “people are driven by how they feel”. The former is completely unjustified and the latter applies to atheists as much as anyone else. 

              The attempt is quite obviously to use this study as a means of undermining “religion”, as if these brain states have anything to do with specific beliefs. 

              Oh, and if legitimacy isn’t an issue, then the words “exploit” and “corrupt” are curious indeed.

              • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                I sense that you missed the whole point I was making in my original comment.

                • Jeremy Chappell

                  How so?

      • David McNerney

        …but religion claims that because it exploits our fundamental brain functions that it has value.

        McDonald’s exploits our brain functions with the purpose of “feeding” us (not much better than religion – but still better).

        Whereas religion offers nothing but more religion.

        A similar case could be made comparing Apples and Heroin.  Both fulfil a fundamental physiological craving – but obviously heroin is self serving, whereas apples provide sustenance (as well as being self-serving).

        • Jeremy Chappell

          Perhaps it would be more helpful if you provided an example of a religion that derived it’s value solely from experience. I don’t doubt that there may be some, but I can’t think of any.

          Religions are typically a set of beliefs and practices. Practices may attain value when corroborated with positive experience, but beliefs attain value with (perceived) truth.

          Religion is a lot more like apples than heroin. There is a lot of good that can be had, but is also easily spoiled. But this has nothing to do with the study, of course.

          • David McNerney

            Obviously, I wasn’t clear in my response.  You said:

            “Any institution can likewise be claimed to be designed by man to exploit brain function, but we wouldn’t claim that they are useless, much less their claims to be untrue.”

            Many other institutions are designed to exploit – but as you correctly point that doesn’t make them useless – however, equally it doesn’t make them useful either.

            That depends on whether they are intrinsically useful.  Unless they are then they are purely self-serving like Heroin and not Apples [the spoiling of apples is a Red Herring].

            In order to demonstrate if a religion is intrinsically useful, you need to demonstrate that religion can achieve something that non-religion can’t.

            • Jeremy Chappell

              I agree that just because something “exploits” brain function, it doesn’t make it “useful”. However, I see no reason why this particular quality needs to be judged exclusively on its intrinsic nature. Even if I were to grant that, I don’t see why we would be limited to demonstrating religion has some instrinsic quality non-religion has, instead, it makes sense to investigate whether or note religion would achieve this more often or “better” than non-religion. 

      • Patterrssonn

        Everything we do exploits a brain function, that in a way is the point. Religion is no different than any other product of the human mind. It would be interesting to know if any other strong ideological commitment is also rewarded by this part of the brain. Would explain a lot.

        It would also be interesting to know the timing of it. If like when the parts of the brain that control motor function go through the motions of moving a limb before we are consciously aware of our decision to move that limb. Do we start to feel the presence of the supernatural then his part of the brain lights up on response or does this part of the brain light up and then we feel the presence. I’m guessing the latter.

    • Classic

      “Why God Wont Go Away” – Andrew Newberg

      Chapter 4 – Myth Making
      Chapter 5 – Ritual
      Chapter 7 – The Origins of Religion

      He means we co-evolved with it. If you were to read the book and not relie on snippets of it, you would understand a great deal more.
      Those chapters in particular, blew my mind. 

      Tell me, do you believe yourself to be smarter and more well informed on Religion and the brain, than a Neuroscientist that devoted his career to studying the effects that religion has on the brain? If Yes, are you one of Newbergs peers?If no, stop thinking the same way as a Theist and educated yourself before claiming things that have no evidence to support it.
      Stop being Anti-religious, it’s impractical, gets you no where and distracts you from finding out the tried and tested answers.

  • Rajat Jha

    Hemant probably knows this, but the rough translation of the Hindu greeting “Namaste” or “Namaskaar” is “I salute the divine within you”. A rather similar statement to Molly’s. Also, hello to a fellow Minnesotan.

  • http://bareatheism.blogspot.com/ Deven Kale

    Is the very last line supposed to be “Mine = power”? I think “Mind = power” would make more sense, not to mention sound far less arrogant.  ;)

  • mikespeir

    In other words, we have certain innate needs and impulses which add up to a sum that we in our shortsightedness perceive to be more than is justified by its parts.  If it further happens that someone has introduced us to the notion of God, well, bingo, then!

    • Jeremy Chappell

      There is nothing in this study referring to needs or impulses. Claiming that whatever sensation is being experienced does not provide evidence for God/spirituality is to assume that the experiences are non-veridical, which the study also does not address. 

      • mikespeir

         You’re not reading enough into it.  It’s all about needs and impulses–always.

        • Jeremy Chappell

          It’s precisely because people read what they want into it that we get nonsense science articles like this. 

          • mikespeir

            It’s precisely because people fail to notice human nature that they can’t read it into articles like this.

  • Dan

    Molly, I have to disagree with you that “we are born with a blank slate”, and in fact saying the brain is hard wired for belief contradicts the claim that we are a blank slate, so there is a major internal contradiction in your post. I’d encourage you to read Stephen Pinker’s book “The Blank Slate: the modern denial of human nature” (my subtitle might be a bit off) to see why the blank slate is a bad metaphor.

  • http://twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

    This is when I start getting stuck in my loop of “Do I not believe in god(s) because I suffer from Anxiety/Depression or do suffer from Anxiety/Depression because I don’t believe in god(s)?”   Of course, a believer would be quick to tell me I am plagued by the devil and have a god shaped hole in my heart causing the mental illness.

    Neither is right, but it is just something I often ponder, being that it has been a lifelong mental illness and I’ve never been a believer even being raised Catholic and attending CCD class from 1st – 8th grade.  Is it that my brain is just not wired to buy into god(s) and does that have anything to do with my mental illness?

    If I were a neuroscientist this would be my area of study. 

    • Jeremy Chappell

      I would take comfort in that there is actually no evidence from this study that brains are hardwired to believe, or not believe, in God.

    • http://bareatheism.blogspot.com/ Deven Kale

       I don’t know if this helps you at all, but I’ve had much the same kind of experience with mental disorders and religious belief. I’ve never once believed there was any kind of connection. Even when on medication and feeling really good, I still have no desire to “Find God” or join any religious group whatsoever.

      • Nordog6561

         Neither did I back in the days marked by my extensive use of various psychoactive substances.  Okay, mostly beer, pot, and cocaine, with a rare appearance of LSD or mushrooms.

        None of that experience inclined me away from my atheism/agnosticism.  I was clean and sober a good 8 years before that inclination took hold.

        • http://bareatheism.blogspot.com/ Deven Kale

           Mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and anti-psychotics are a far cry from recreational drugs.

          • amycas

            plus, pot != cocaine. two completely different ball parks there.

    • amycas

      Well, I suffered from anxiety/depression even when I was a believer; so I doubt the two things are related much (at least in my case).

  • http://www.facebook.com/brandie.winchester Brandie Lynn Winchester

    I remember in high school when discussing mythology and folklore and my teacher mentioned that these stories made up by diffrent cultures had similar themes, basically created to explain why we are here, because we humans need answers, to not know is maddening. A discusion among peers passed on through the generation as truth and finally believed as truth, she never brought up christianity but to me I think this idea was the one that lit the fire under my eventual accptance that God is a story we tell ourselves to make the world make sense. Funny thing is that when I use this theory to defend my resoning for disbelief I am told, that I am being cynical. To me this article makes alot of sense, we are hardwired to find answers and when we are posed with an unanswerable question we make up an answer and believe it to be true. Which then eases our mind and helps us find peace, because even though the answer we give ourselves is a lie, it doesnt matter to the brain that sees it a truth.

    • Jeremy Chappell

      Confirmation bias much? If you see this article as evidence for disbelief, it is because you are reading into it what you want, not because you are examining the evidence. 

  • Ryan

    “In other words, science explains religion. Don’t you love the irony?”
    I would, if it were ironic, but it is not. The science vs. religion conflict is an artificial one, and only if a particular religion is defined in opposition to science is there a conflict.

    • Cheron22

      Every time religion makes claims about how the world works it comes into conflict with science. To date EVERY testable religious claim has been shown to be wrong.

      • Jeremy Chappell

        This is utterly, completely wrong. Perhaps a list of these “testable claims” would be in order. 

        • Cheron22

          Age, shape, location of the Earth.
          The cause of illness
          Adam and Eve
          Source of lightning
          Slavery
          The great flood

          The list of religions failures is almost endless…

          Care to provide a single instance of where religion got it right even once?

  • advancedatheist

    I look forward to the day when people who want to have religious, spiritual or mystical experiences can bypass crude empirical methods like prayer and meditation and go directly to brain stimulation. 

    And eventually it will sink in that these experiences exist independently of all the accidental accretions around them, like creation myths, harsh moral codes, absurd miracle stories and obedience to dubious religious authority figures.  

    • Jeremy Chappell

      If, in this future society, I wanted to simulate being somewhere else, and they could stimulate my brain with the appropriate sights/sounds, would I then be justified in concluding that sights/sounds ” exist independently of all the accidental accretions around them”?

      • advancedatheist

        Neuroscience throws a lot of our assumptions about “reality” into question. For example, do left and right exist apart from our brains? Most traditional philosophers would consider the question absurd and probably would argue for the metaphysical necessity of left and right, until you meet people who display “hemispatial neglect”:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemispatial_neglect

        • Jeremy Chappell

          I don’t know of many, if any, philosophers who would argue for the metaphysical necessity of left & right. Even if there are/were, I highly doubt that that this condition would throw that into doubt. Perception of reality would never throw a metaphysical position into doubt. That’s like saying a blind person throws the actual existence of light into question, or a deaf person casts doubt on the reality of sound waves. 

        • Nordog6561

           I think most traditional philosophers would argue for the physical, not metaphysical, necessity of left and right as co-relatives based in physical position.

          I don’t think most (any?) traditional philosophers would accept that physical spacial considerations have any metaphysical capacity at all.

          Metaphysical and supernatural are basically the same words, both in practice and in etymology; the former from Greek, the latter from Latin.

          • Jeremy Chappell

            No, metaphysical and supernatural are not synonyms. Although, many do use them as such, which does cause confusion. It basically refers to “real” or what actually exists. “Supernatural” may be real, but it would only be a subset of metaphysics. The same goes for the “mere” physical.  

            Agreed that no philosophers I am aware of would argue for the “metaphysical necessity” of specific relative terms. Such a claim belies both philosophical naivety and bias.

  • Mandocommando23

    “Explore the God within you.”
    Oh boy, I can hear the fundies now, “You see–those evil atheists really do believe they’re gods!”

  • Nordog6561

    Where does science show that the brain is causing the reaction, instead of being a part of the reaction?

    • http://bareatheism.blogspot.com/ Deven Kale

       This conclusion is based on the physicalist philosophy of mind.  Since there is little to no evidence for any of the other theories (such as dualism), I see little reason to consider the other options either.

      • Jeremy Chappell

        That depends on what you consider “evidence”. The fact that there are physical correlations in the brain for given phenomena is compatible with any philosophy of mind that includes the mind as, in some way or another, related to the brain. 

    • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

      Nordog, I suspect that I agree with at least a portion of the sentiment behind your statement… in an agnostic sort of way.  Having spiritual experiences manifest as a measurable phenomenon in a person’s brain does nothing to sway people away from the original belief regarding deities and/or spiritual experiences.  Theists and non-materialists will see the measurable change as evidence of an interaction stimulated by some outside phenomenon… similar to the fact that the brain’s reaction to any stimulus is measurable in some way.  Or they might interpret such research as supporting the notion that an outside force crafted human brains to experience spirituality as a means of “sending a message.”  Atheists and/or materialists will see it as evidence that the experience originates in the brain and only exists within the brain.  I suspect that most folks will interpret this study in a way that meshes with previously existing beliefs regarding deities, spirituality, and supernatural phenomenon.

      Personally, I was amused to see folks respond in the expected way in this thread (“And thus, science indicates that there is no god!”).  Here are folks happily treating this as a triumph when “the other side” will interpret such matters in a completely different way.

      Imagine if our brains worked differently, and this research showed responses to spiritual experience that were similar to neural reactions to mundane activities such as reading a book, watching a movie, engaging in conversation, or simply thinking random thoughts.  The response from atheists would probably be, “See!  Spirituality is no different from everyday life.  The brain responds as it would to any normal activity.  There is nothing out of the ordinary about spiritual experience and thus, nothing supernatural.”  Perhaps the “supernatural” is as much a part of nature as any other phenomenon?  That would be an alternative way of interpreting such matters.

      People see what their perspectives bring to them, regardless of whether one is theist, atheist, agnostic, or something else altogether.  And thus, differing perspectives survive another day…

      • Jeremy Chappell

        Well said, timberwraith. I would add, however, there has been a study done with Carmelite nuns that indicated their spiritual experiences were veridical, as it was engaging the same parts of the brain as external stimuli. Of course, if you want to spin it, you can say “Spiritual is real!” or you can say “There’s nothing special about it.” Such statement reveal more about the biases of the person than they do about the evidence, however.

        • Patterrssonn

          What spiritual experiences were those? And by veridical do you mean verified as true?

          • Jeremy Chappell

            By veridical I mean they definitely weren’t faking it, and the neural correlates were consistent with what regions in the brain that correlate to other “real” stimuli. 

            The experience in question was what the nuns described as “mystical union” with God that they sometimes achieve during prayer. The psychological effects sound common enough when compared with other experiences (like meditation), but the neural correlates were different than what is described above, and what is described in the “God helmet” studies. It wasn’t just the temporal lobe that correlated, but regions across the brain. 

            http://www.pucrs.br/feecultura/2010/neural-mysticism.pdf

            • Patterrssonn

              Thats interesting I’ll have to take a look at it when I’m at a screen that’s bigger than my iphone.

    • Patterrssonn

      I know I’m repeating myself but the final theist argument for the existence of god when all others have failed is that they just feel it to be true, or they know it in their hearts. We appear to have found the biological seat of that ‘feeling’. And apparently that same centre is triggered by other spiritual experiences. In other words there is nothing unique to this personal experience of god.

      • Nordog6561

         I think I agree with what you’ve said here.  Certainly I see nothing unique about the personal experience.  However, neither do I see anything conclusive from this regarding the reality (or lack of reality) regarding God.

        There is one thing I would take issue with in what your wrote.  Not all theists have as their “final argument” a feeling or what they “know in their hearts.”  Some have experiences of the supernatural.  Now of course reports of such experiences will not receive any warm welcome in these parts, and most likely would be written off as some type of mental episode.  The point is simply that for some it is more than a feeling, regardless of what it is in actuality.

        • Patterrssonn

          Some people believing that they have experiences of the supernatural doesn’t qualify as them having an experience of the supernatural.

          • Nordog6561

             …and your apt observation here has no bearing on those cases in which they did experience the supernatural.

          • Jeremy Chappell

            It is true that belief in the nature of the experience does not mean that they are *actually* experiencing what they think. However, an important question here is: does such an experience count as “evidence”? Is it rational to believe that such an experience is, in fact, “spiritual”?

            There is nothing in this study to indicate that we should answer in the negative. Consider Newberg’s claim:

            “… It certainly looks like the way the brain is put together makes it very easy for human beings to have religious and spiritual experiences.”

            Is this “fact” more plausibly true if theism is true, or if naturalism is true?

            • Patterrssonn

              It could count as evidence, just not useful evidence as far as supernatural events are concerned.

              As far as our brain structure making it easy for us to have experiences that we perceive as supernatural, it isn’t proof for the existence or no existence of the supernatural, but it does give us a lovely natural or mundane reason for the widespread belief in the supernatural.

              • Jeremy Chappell

                And what is determining “usefulness” here? If by “useful” you mean “objective”, then sure.

                As to your second point, you’re making a leap from the feeling to the belief. It isn’t clear that the experience precedes belief. It could be that the feeling merely reinforces existing belief. It isn’t as if people randomly have religious experiences. Typically, they occur in religious contexts.

                • Patterrssonn

                  No there’s plenty of subjective evidence that’s valid but eyewitnesses to the supernatural have a history of never being corroborated. If we treated personal experiences of god as good evidence then we’d also have to accept personal experiences of ghosts and goblins or psychic abilities as good evidence.

                  No it still gives us a lovely biological reason for the widespread use and the evolution of religion, especially
                  when combined with the way we tend to project our theory of mind onto non-human subjects.

                • Jeremy Chappell

                  Eyewitness have a history of never being corroborated? Corroborated by what? Physical evidence? Or other eyewitnesses? In any case, I agree that eyewitness testimony is not *necessarily* “good”. But designating it “good” for certain phenomena does not mandate it being declared so for all. 

                  This study gives absolutely no account of the evolution of religion, nor a biological reason for it. The only way you get that is reading what you want into it. It becomes just-so story-telling. 

      • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

        Yes, that does indeed fit in well with a materialist/atheist paradigm.  As I mentioned above, however, it won’t really impact a non-materialist/theist people. Two of the responses I mentioned above:

        1) They might interpret such research as supporting the notion that an
        outside force crafted human brains to experience spirituality as a means
        of “sending a message.”
        2) The “supernatural” is as much a part of nature as any other phenomenon.  Hence, the physical manifestation of the brain state behind the “supernatural” has the appearance of a natural phenomenon.  Put another way, god and/or spirituality are natural processes and appear as such.

        As far as uniqueness between differing spiritual experiences not manifesting as differing brain states, people might respond that all spiritual experiences ultimately are manifestations of the same (or similar) causal sources.

        The point to remember is that these experiences, although usually exclusively subjective in nature, are so powerful in intensity and regular in frequency that the purely “naturalist” explanations embraced by atheists simply are not as persuasive as alternative explanations similar to the few I’ve delineated.  Or looking at it in another way, the intensity of the experience is sufficiently persuasive on its own.

        I suppose non-believing folks could respond with dismissals of such subjective explanations as being delusional, but that response will also be largely unpersuasive. 

        As I said before, each tribe will continue to listen to its own beliefs, experiences, perceptions, paradigms and what-have-you.

        • Patterrssonn

          I can’t imagine too many theists arguing that all spiritual experiences are manifestations of the same source, at least not christians or muslims anyway. I’ve never had the experience of buddists or hindus trying to argue the existence of god to me.

          As far as people of different beliefs having different rationals for these findings, I’m really not interested. What interests me is what these findings actually tell us about human nature from the position of science, or without the presumption of faith.

          Also I really don’t care if someone believes in god or any other supernatural creature and have no desire to dissuade them or ‘convert’ them to atheism. I only care if they demand that others have to follow rules supposedly laid down by supernatural entities. Or if they try to convince me of the validity of their beliefs in the supernatural in an attempt to dissuade me from my lack of belief.

      • Jeremy Chappell

        Let’s not pretend that we have all spiritual experiences mapped. There are studies that have been done with different neural correlates for other spiritual experiences. So no one can say that we know when a theist says they “know something in their hearts” that it necessarily indicates a temporal lobe neural correlate. 

        Furthermore, what is meant by “there is nothing unique” about this experience? Is there some other experience that maps similarly on the brain? Or is everyone’s spiritual experience supposed to correlate differently? And if that were the case, couldn’t we just as easily claim it was something completely subjective, dependent on the individual? 

        • Patterrssonn

          This ‘feeling’ doesn’t appear to be unique to a particular supernatural agency. Something you wouldn’t expect if this function was created to allow people to experience the presence of one specific god.

          • Jeremy Chappell

            Your first statement is unjustified. You can, however, fairly claim that this experience does not appear to be unique to one particular religion. But I don’t know many religions that would claim that other religions have *no* access to the supernatural, so while it is interesting, it doesn’t demonstrate much.

            As to the second claim, that is fair enough. So [assuming that this faculty is created of course] we could reasonably state that the purpose seems not to be for experiencing the presence of one specific God, as understood by specific religions. This may dishearten some hardcore exclusivists, to be sure. But it is just as explainable in a theistic framework as it is a naturalistic one. And the mere fact that people have these experiences in the context they do is *better* explained with theism.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORRVVC5R2QWLTXEM6SX5L6BORE Jay Arrrr

    I’m so glad that “hardwiring” got burnt out in my brain.
    Seriously. I don’t have a “spiritual” cell in my body anymore.  There is a rational explanation for everything, we just haven’t discovered all of them yet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeromy-Rutter/100000811362791 Jeromy Rutter

     a spiritual experience? come on. what is that? the “spirit” experiencing itself? if the mind is but projections and/or reflections of the brain, then certainly. but to use it as an esoteric or mysterious state of mind is ridiculous.
    what some people call spirit, I call psyche. both refer to the holism (holy), the totality of being. emotions, memories, thoughts, impulses. why call euphoria, peace, or epiphany a “spiritual” experience? who is it that judges such a thing as such? ourselves. why? because i like this more than that.
    the whole idea of meaning is personal as well. i can’t tell you what life, or your life, means to you. you have to do that. this idea of meaningless existence without a deity is ludicrous. we either see or create it ourselves, and if we are thinking of afterlife (note, death wouldn’t exist, so calling it afterlife is meaningless, as death would only be a transition), then we’re missing this one. no wonder life has no meaning for people that believe god is necessary…they won’t live their lives.
    i don’t understand why we must be “hardwired”. the whole thing works on belief as a function of a conscious brain. if i believed chocolate made me happy, it would. no religion necessary, but belief in general is. it’s funny how thoughts and emotions are made of memories and expectations based on them when compared to the current state of affairs. compare: being 10 years old and watching a horror flick, being scared afterward in your room alone, the memories of the movie fresh in your mind, to getting your license and having the freedom and responsibility that it entailed….and then consider what every experience would like if we didn’t have a memory at all….they’d all be new, even if we experienced them 1000 times a day. what do we meditate or pray about then? better yet, what is meditation to someone with no memory, no values, no beliefs, no self-awareness?

  • SteveS

    I vote that they may – or may not have any kind of emotional experience. I think most of it is simply some peoples’ deep-seated need to belong to a group. Call it mirror neurons or whatever. But, most people in my experience need to fit into a group and will go along with whatever the group says and does – particularly whatever the groups leader tells them… no matter the amount of bullshit they have to swallow (or appear to swallow). Groupthink is being pounded into people as never before. They get so far in that there is no practicable way they can see to stop and say ‘wait a minute – that is bullshit.’ They take the path of least resistance and stay within the boundaries drawn for them by the group. It becomes mob mentality and we are seeing some master manipulators pushing to see how far they can get people to go. Good people have been slyly pushed over the edge into monstrous behaviors for thousands of years. I don’t think we are immune now and I don’t think this era will end well.

    • Jeremy Chappell

      Groupthink is a double-edged sword. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1315419355 facebook-1315419355

    This guy wrote a book where he claimed that neuroscience proves there is a spiritual reality – having read it, the anti-rationalist screeds here and there really made his bias clear.

  • DesertSun59

    This doesn’t explain why people use their ‘feel good religion’ to start wars, perpetuate hate groups, or throw their children out to the street.

  • pxlmvr

    What Molly left out through the ‘convenient’ use of ellipses …

    “He believes that what subjects describe as their interaction with God is
    a shutting down of their **concentrative, willful attention** in order to
    allow this experience of transcendence **to happen**. “For them it’s the
    spirit of God which is moving through them. I can’t prove that or
    disprove that on the basis of a brain scan, but I can see the changes
    that are going on in the brain while they’re engaged in this very, very
    powerful and very deep spiritual practice… It certainly looks like the
    way the brain is put together makes it very easy for human beings to
    have religious and spiritual experiences.”

    So to clarify, if the frontal lobe was active, they would be making it up; this is not the case. It is happening *to* them. This refutes the notion that they are willfully making it up. The author of this article seems to rather skirt the findings and mold them to their worldview.

    Second, note the doctor’s observation … “I can see the changes
    that are going on in the brain while they’re engaged in this very, very
    powerful and very deep spiritual practice…”

    … atheists, take note …

  • Jim Miller

    As far as I can tell, no one, philosophically or scientifically, believes we are born with a blank slate anymore. In my book Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know, I explore how neurotheology impels us to believe, but without giving in to the idea that theology can be reduced to evolutionary biology. There are too many presumptions on which we depend which are inherently theistic.

  • Jim Miller

    Reductionist explanations for religion like the kinds presented by evolutionary psychology don’t prove that God doesn’t exist. In fact, they suggest human beings are Hardwired for God. It may just be a homing beacon. See Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know.

  • http://thinkersneedhelp.com/ Michael Anguelo

    My conclusion is,
    “the fact that no one ever have proved or disproved, the existence
    of God.” Nevertheless we must belief in it, even if it is a fantasy
    product of the imagination, and fear to the unknown, fear that we may
    be condemn to hell, because we do not believe in God or had done
    something wrong. The believing or not is irrelevant, Hell and Heaven
    are in our actions, hear in earth, we will be condoned or rewarded, by
    our conscience, and public opinion. (Brain researchers have
    discovered humans are hardwired for mystical experiences in gaps,
    strengthens my sense that the God concept serves a beneficial
    purpose). I call those gaps “the place where God lives”. I
    also believe there is an indefinable energy that exists in those
    gaps. I call those “gaps,”God Energy.


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