(Un)wired For God
By SHARON BEGLEY - NEWSWEEK
Added: Fri, 28 Aug 2009 23:00:00 UTC
At last check, intimations of mortality had not been banished from the human mind—the Grim Reaper still stalks our thoughts. Nor have our brain circuits shaken their habit of perceiving patterns in chaos, such as seeing the face of Jesus in a piece of burned toast; imagining the invisible hand of a supernatural agent in acts of randomness, as in "answered" prayers; and conjuring what anthropologist Pascal Boyer of Washington University calls "non–physically present agents." We use the same circuitry to envision "what if" scenarios about our pasts or futures as we do to imagine angels and demons. Yet scientists have invoked both the fear of death and the fact that normal mental processes predispose us to belief in the supernatural to explain the near universality of religious faith down through the ages. (Of course, humans might believe in God because a deity designed that belief into our brains, but that hypothesis is not amenable to scientific investigation.) But there's nothing like facts to spoil a good story.
Before I get to the pesky new data, it's worth emphasizing that there are intriguing neurobiological findings suggesting that the brain may indeed be wired for God. In addition to the habits of thought that lead us to see the supernatural in the natural and the extraordinary in the ordinary, neuroimaging studies suggest that we come preloaded with the software for belief. For instance, the brain has a region, the parietal lobe, that detects where our body physically ends and the larger world begins. But this circuitry can be silenced by intense prayer or meditation, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg has found, producing a sense of oneness with the cosmos or God.
Link to Evolutionary Psychology research article by Gregory Paul
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