Biological Religion

From our friends at The Daily Mail, we have another article on the biology of belief. This is same conclusion I reached some 20 years ago and I’m delighted to see that science is now catching up. Brains ‘are hardwired to believe in God and imaginary friends’

“The evidence includes studies of babies and children which have shown the brain is programmed to think of the mind as being separate from the body.

“This distinction allows us to believe in the supernatural, to conjure up imaginary friends – and to conceive of gods, this week’s New Scientist reports.”

It should come as no surprise that there is a biological cause for religion: everything we do comes from our biology. I know this bothers some people, particularly militant atheists. I think, however, that these curmudgeon atheists are probably victims of the same brain-mind dichotomy that infects and deludes believers since they prefer to believe in reason as if it were derived from some force separate from the collection of chemicals that defines us.

Of course it would be a fair question to ask; if it is biological, why are there atheists at all? Doesn’t my non-belief prove that it is indoctrination – as Richard Dawkins suggests – rather than biology?

But that’s like saying that other people have dark hair so my blonde hair must be indoctrination.  Well…. okay, in my case – sure, point taken. But in general there are always variations within given biological sets.  Just as some people seem naturally gifted in mathematics, some people have an overabundance of religious thinking while others have less. Like it or not, it’s all thymine, cytosine and guanine.

It’s funny that I happened to find this story today since I was just dreaming about the subject last night. My position has been that religion is an artifact of the meaning-seeking wiring of the human brain.  Our brains are so geared to seek out the meaning of things that we find meaning everywhere even where none exists.

It has occurred to me, however, that there may be more to this than mere artifact and that there may be an evolutionary advantage to religiosity. The specifics of such an advantage, however, are open to debate.

In my dream, the point was being made that while I may reject religion, it may still be a necessity for society. The fact that some of us can find our moral compass without an invisible friend looking over our shoulder should not be taken to mean that every human possesses that ability.

Perhaps some percentage of the human race cannot function without religion. If this is the case then the best goal we can work toward is to find a belief system that does the least harm. This may be difficult to advance, however, because it also seems that the most draconian and judgmental religions are the most attractive to the average person.

Joe The Believer doesn’t want to hear how we’re all brothers; he wants to hear how we’re all in deep shit and are going to have to pay for our sins… except for Joe himself, because God says he’s special and he/she/they/it has picked him to lord it over the rest of us.

(Thanks, REM-state analysis)

Maybe an uneasy tension between belief and reason is all we can ever hope to achieve. The front line for this battle, however, is not at the center of logic – as we would prefer – but somewhere in the field of non-confrontational, non-judgmental faith.  And that is a place where most atheists (and most dogmatic religionists) are less than comfortable.

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One Response to Biological Religion

  1. rocky says:

    “The evidence includes studies of babies and children which have shown the brain is programmed to think of the mind as being separate from the body.”
    That word mind is so ambiguous. The dictionary defines mind as: ” (in a human or other conscious being) the element, part, substance, or process that reasons, thinks, feels, wills, perceives, judges, etc.: the processes of the human mind.” Somewhere imagination is missing in this equation and that is what religion is all about. Make believe and congers of fictitious illusions for a self gain is true religion in action.

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