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How Your Brain creates god

In Michael Brook’s article Born Believers: How your brain creates God, Brooks discusses the idea how human beings have a natural tendency to create religion, and the idea of god. He says “It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief especially during hard times.” This is obviously relevant to us in the state of our economy, the war in Iraq, environmental issues all leading up to our new mega churches and Jesus camps.

Brooks talks about different theories as to why our brain is programmed to think supernaturally, and create this idea of religion. He says that the one leading idea is that “religion is an evolutionary adaptation that makes us more likely to survive and pass their genes onto the next generation.” This seems to be a bit absurd, seeing as I’m sure we could reproduce and pass our genes on to the next generation without thinking of someone in the sky. The idea was that religion formed these tight knit societies that got together and out competed each other, something to do with Darwinism. I agree with Scott Atran on this one, that this explanation for why we develop supernatural ideas just does not make much sense.

Another theory behind this idea of our natural inclination comes from Atran, he believes that religion is a product of the way our mind works. He says we are not necessarily programmed to create a God but that as a species we have a tendency for supernatural thinking. To further explain this, Atran discusses that our brains have separate systems for dealing with living things and inanimate objects. He brings up the example such as when we’re babies we believe that objects obey the laws of physics and move in predictable ways, while people have their own minds and can move however they want.

The article then goes on to further touch on the idea of the mind having two separate systems. “The body is for physical processes, like eating and moving, while the mind carries our consciousness in a separate – and separable- package.” It is written in our childhood that we are to think supernaturally, we form relationships with imaginary friends and even adults form relationships with dead relatives or fantasy partners. It’s kind of what Berger said, how when we look at a picture of someone dead who was close to us, we feel as if they are present with a flood of emotion.

Another philosophy is that our overdeveloped sense of cause and effect makes us look for purpose and design in everything. And with every purpose and design there is a creator or designer, which is present in every ontological argument out there. Olivera Petrovich (University of Oxford) did a survey with pre-school students, asking them about the origins of things such as plants and animals, and found that children were seven times as likely to answer that they were created by God. This may be a bias survey, Petrovich could have easily surveyed a group of students from a religious pre-school where they are taught this. The article itself seems to be lacking in that information actually, Brooks never touches on where these child surveys are being taken place, or where these facts are coming from. We may think supernaturally, but not necessarily in a religious way. I don’t quite understand why he assumes the two are automatically linked.

Brooks then says that trauma is a huge responsibility for Adults to divulge into religion. Adults look for a cop out, a way to blame things on other people or a way to hope that things won’t go wrong. Brooks quotes Atran, “When natural brain processes give us a get-out-of-jail card, we take it.” He’s pretty much saying here that religion is our crutch, our way of saying that hey we screwed up but if we keep on praying we’ll get out of it with good faith.
The article then continues on to keep debating between religion coming from adaptation, the will to survive, which makes no sense and the cognitive systems between the physical and the mental. He talks about how victims who have lost control look back on superstitious ways of thinking, and that’s why religions “enjoy a revival during hard times” which can only really make me think of AA meetings. Brooks ends the article with saying that discovering the true origins of religion is going to be really difficult and complex, as if we had not already known this.

Comments

I can see the point that you made and it is very valid and I can understand where it came from. Our minds do have to create God, but the stories we hear when we are younger are the ones from the Bible. That is when we don’t know anything about evolution. Although I was taught evolution in high school, I never truly understood the full concept, and as such, I don’t think I can really believe in it. I believe in the end it is all what your mind makes up in order to imagine God.


Our mind has a great imagination and makes us think of things in the large picture. Perhaps our minds are constructed in such a way to create God because that is the way the world works. We were created to be able to immediately imagine a higher power or to realize our creator exists.

You have a very interesting stance on religion and the way it is construed. I understand your statement questioning why ALL supernatural phenomenons are automatically linked with religion but I think if you look at it they are linked. Something supernatural is a happening of the unseen or a action of a “higher power”. That is pretty much what religion is, the belief in a higher power so when something supernatural happens, usually the two become associated. I agree with you that surveying pre-schoolers is tainted for a few different reasons. One reason being that they are not quite old enough to make there own decisions on how the world is affected by religion and faith etc. But I do feel that you contradict yourself in a way by comparing religious revivals to AA meetings in a negative connotation. When a person is an alcoholic they go to AA meetings to try and improve their life. No it may not be the best solution for every alcoholic but if it helps some then it is worth it. It is the same with religion, yes people seem to gravitate towards prayer and faith in hard times, but is that bad? If a person is near the end of their rope and the thought of a God watching over them helps to get through the day and continue on with life then I believe it has served its purpose.

I think we can all agree that a surge in faith makes complete sense when things get bad, people do not want to deal with these problems by themselves. They would much prefer that it be in the hands of God. I agree with you on your analysis of the religion is an adaptation that enables to survive better. I find this concept very hard to accept because as pointed out in the article that would not increase our ability to reproduce.
I am a little dubious of the thought that we are pre disposed to religion as children. I can deal with the claim that children are receptive to just about everything when there brain is developing very rapidly. I think children are taught religion by their parents and often respected members of the society. At the age a child or baby will believe in a God just as much as they believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny. I also think that by the sound of it, their studies might lack genuine information. I don’t know of any technology that allows you to know exactly what a baby is thinking. The rich and powerful have almost always been associated with a certain religion, it is then passed down to the individuals beneath them who wish to ascend the social ladder to a like position.
What I think is most interesting about this concept is, why does this resurgence of faith only thrive when things are going terrible? You would think in times of prosperity the churches would be full of devout worshipers praising their god for answering all their prayers. It is often not the case.