Monday, October 02, 2006

No 'God Spot' in the Human Brain

No 'God Spot' in the Human Brain, Livescience, Ker Than, 29 August 2006 ...

[Graphic: No "God spot" for nuns, Catholic News]

The human brain does not contain a single "God spot" responsible for mystical and religious experiences, a new study finds. Instead, the sense of union with God or something greater than the self often described by those who have undergone such experiences involves the recruitment and activation of a variety brain regions normally implicated in different functions such as self-consciousness, emotion and body representation. The finding, detailed in the current issue of Neuroscience Letters, contradicts previous suggestions by other researchers that the there might be a specific region in the brain designed for communication with God. ... "The main goal of the study was to identify the neural correlates of a mystical experience," said study leader Mario Beauregard of the University of Montreal in Canada. This is the neuroscientist whose book, "The Spiritual Brain" (Harper, 2007) Denyse O'Leary co-authored. "This does not diminish the meaning and value of such an experience, and neither does it confirm or disconfirm the existence of God."... See also Daily Telegraph & The Register and The Economist (2004). My understanding is that it was not "suggestions by other researchers that the there might be a specific region in the brain designed for communication with God" (my emphasis) but an attempt by materialists to explain away God as a delusion (I would not be surprised if it is in Dawkins' book of that name). That is how this 1997 LA Times article saw it, "a `God module' in the brain which could be responsible for man's evolutionary instinct to believe in religion":

"SCIENTISTS believe they have discovered a `God module' in the brain which could be responsible for man's evolutionary instinct to believe in religion. A study of epileptics who are known to have profoundly spiritual experiences has located a circuit of nerves in the front of the brain which appears to become electrically active when they think about God. The scientists said that although the research and its conclusions are preliminary, initial results suggest that the phenomenon of religious belief is `hard-wired' into the brain. Epileptic patients who suffer from seizures of the brain's frontal lobe said they frequently experience intense mystical episodes and often become obsessed with religious spirituality. A team of neuroscientists from the University of California at San Diego said the most intriguing explanation is that the seizure causes an overstimulation of the nerves in a part of the brain dubbed the `God module'. `There may be dedicated neural machinery in the temporal lobes concerned with religion. This may have evolved to impose order and stability on society,' the team reported at a conference last week. The results indicate that whether a person believes in a religion or even in God may depend on how enhanced is this part of the brain's electrical circuitry, the scientists said. ... Evolutionary scientists have suggested that belief in God, which is a common trait found in human societies around the world and throughout history, may be built into the brain's complex electrical circuitry as a Darwinian adaptation to encourage co-operation between individuals. If the research is correct and a `God module' exists, then it might suggest that individuals who are atheists could have a differently configured neural circuit." (Connor, S., "'God spot' is found in brain," Los Angeles Times, 29 October 1997. Emphasis original)

It is similar to the "God gene" theory (which seems to have died a natural death). But as Phil Johnson pointed out, "You may be sure that scientific materialists will never discover a 'materialist module'" (or an `atheism gene'):

"At its 1997 annual symposium in New Orleans, the Society for Neuroscience heard about the `God module,' a spot in the brain that apparently produces religious feelings. The evidence came from the gold mine of brain research, the mentally damaged: patients with temporal lobe epilepsy have religious experiences in their seizures. Christian antievolutionist Johnson shot back: `You may be sure that scientific materialists will never discover a 'materialist module,' meaning a brain part that causes people to fantasize that they can explain the mind in strictly materialist terms." (Larson, E.J. & Witham, L., "Scientists and Religion in America," Scientific American, Vol. 281, No. 3, September 1999, pp.78-83, pp.81-82).

So if finding a specific God-module in the human brain would have supported belief in God being "a Darwinian adaptation," then does not finding a specific God-module in the human brain not support belief in God being "a Darwinian adaptation"? As the Daily Telegraph headline put it, "Nuns prove God is not figment of the mind"! Or is it another case of heads Darwinism wins, tails Darwinism wins?!

Personally I regard this whole God-module (and God-gene) approach as being based on a false (and indeed pagan) assumption that religious feeling is equivalent to "communication with God" and therefore the greater the intensity of that religious feeling, the greater the degree of communication with God. Remember that part of the Da Vinci Code where pagan ritualistic sex culminating in orgasm (called Hieros gamos - `sacred marriage') was regarded as the ultimate communication with God. Also in the Old Testament , the religions of Israel's pagan neighbours had temple prostitutes (1 Ki 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Ki 23:7; Hos 4:14; Mic 1:7).

But in my ~40 years experience as a Christian, intense religious feeling and communion with God have little, if anything, to do with each other. Certainly the Bible gives no support for that assumption. For example, in the contest in 1 Ki 18:16-39 between Elijah and the pagan priests of Baal, the latter whipped themselves into a religious frenzy, but Elijah calmly prayed to God and it was his prayer that was answered. Also, Jesus taught those who wish to be His followers, "when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words" (Mat 6:7).

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
Genesis 4:8-12. 8Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. 9Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" 10The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. 11Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth."