God Made Man or Man Made God?

Here is an op-ed piece from the Los Angeles Times that I have been meaning to comment upon. There is a discussion here about the possible origins of religion. The scientific research that the authors of this article refers to is interesting and may well shed light on certain aspects of human cognition and behavior but I think their conclusions, that this research shows there is no God or gods, and the religious impulses are simply the result of natural selection and should be discarded, go beyond the realm of science and are unwarranted. Here are some excerpts.

Before John Lennon imagined “living life in peace,” he conjured “no heaven … / no hell below us …/ and no religion too.”

No religion: What was Lennon summoning? For starters, a world without “divine” messengers, like Osama bin Laden, sparking violence. A world where mistakes, like the avoidable loss of life in Hurricane Katrina, would be rectified rather than chalked up to “God’s will.” Where politicians no longer compete to prove who believes more strongly in the irrational and untenable. Where critical thinking is an ideal. In short, a world that makes sense.

In recent years scientists specializing in the mind have begun to unravel religion’s “DNA.” They have produced robust theories, backed by empirical evidence (including “imaging” studies of the brain at work), that support the conclusion that it was humans who created God, not the other way around. And the better we understand the science, the closer we can come to “no heaven … no hell … and no religion too.”


In addition to these adaptations, humans have developed the remarkable ability to think about what goes on in other people’s minds and create and rehearse complex interactions with an unseen other. In our minds we can de-couple cognition from time, place and circumstance. We consider what someone else might do in our place; we project future scenarios; we replay past events. It’s an easy jump to say, conversing with the dead or to conjuring gods and praying to them.

Morality, which some see as imposed by gods or religion on savage humans, science sees as yet another adaptive strategy handed down to us by natural selection.


Beyond psychological adaptations and mechanisms, scientists have discovered neurological explanations for what many interpret as evidence of divine existence. Canadian psychologist Michael Persinger, who developed what he calls a “god helmet” that blocks sight and sound but stimulates the brain’s temporal lobe, notes that many of his helmeted research subjects reported feeling the presence of “another.” Depending on their personal and cultural history, they then interpreted the sensed presence as either a supernatural or religious figure. It is conceivable that St. Paul’s dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus was, in reality, a seizure caused by temporal lobe epilepsy.

The better we understand human psychology and neurology, the more we will uncover the underpinnings of religion. Some of them, like the attachment system, push us toward a belief in gods and make departing from it extraordinarily difficult. But it is possible.

We can be better as a species if we recognize religion as a man-made construct. We owe it to ourselves to at least consider the real roots of religious belief, so we can deal with life as it is, taking advantage of perhaps our mind’s greatest adaptation: our ability to use reason.

I don’t suppose that it could possibly occur to the authors that the reason that humans are “hard-wired” for religion might possibly be that there is, in fact, a God, and that He has provided the means for us to know Him.

The fact that religious impulses and feelings can be tracked by scanning the brain is no great surprise.  Nor is the concept that religion, in many cases, encourages moral behavior and is an advantage in natural selection. There have been many surveys which have shown that religious people tend to be happier and better adjusted. It goes beyond the findings of science to conclude from these facts that there is no God or that reason and religion are incompatible and frankly, I think that it is inappropriate to attempt to use the mantle of science to promote what are simply the personal opinions of the writers.


I notice that most of the related articles provide by wordpress seem to be by atheists gleefully reporting that Science shows that God does not exist. Here is one that rebuts the article from the Loss Angeles Times better than I could.

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