Finding the God spot

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photo by everyone's idle on Flickr
photo by everyone’s idle on Flickr

A recent scientific study has shown that there's no God spot in your head. Oh my! Why would anyone think there would be such a thing? Well, it comes out of scientism, also called scientific fundamentalism, the idea that science can explain everything, even God.  There has been a rise in the scientism lately, especially among young people. Adherents want to say to those who are religious, “Well you just believe in God because the left side of your brain is bigger, or maybe part of your brain has been damaged.”  In other words, religion can be explained biologically. 

Unfortunately for them, the experimental results aren't cooperating. Instead, it appears belief is a part of perfectly functioning rational brain. But what if there were a God spot? What would that prove? No one will ever be able to make any positive or negative correlation between brain structure and the existence or non-existence of God. Did your brain structure cause your faith, or did your faith mold your brain structure? 

It's the scientific fundamentalists who seem to have the problem. They've acquired amnesia to the groundbreaking work of philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, who determined reason has limitations, especially with questions of religion. According to Kant and those who followed after him, reason and science will never answer questions of faith and religion. In fact, society needs both science and religion. Reason does not work without faith, and faith does not work without reason. They are both vital components of humanity. 

But there might be another explanation for the results of this particular experiment. Perhaps faith actually comes from another source, like, (I gasp), God? No, I must have hit my head on my God spot.

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23 comments

  1. Hanane Neff-Loutf

    Good Morning Bruce,

    This is probably out of the subject, but do you think monkeys are atheist? (I have an idea).

  2. haha, I can’t wait to see where this is going!

  3. Good morning Hanane- great question! I’m interested to hear your idea. My thought would be they don’t have the higher reasoning capability to consider God either positive or negative. What does everybody else think?

  4. I’m not too worried by the fact there is no “God spot” in the brain. I don’t think there needs to be one to be able to account for religion naturalistically. As for Kant, there is much disagreement over whether he was really correct, so I don’t see appealing to Kant as a nail in any coffin. Nevertheless, it isn’t too hard to agree that the human use of reason is limited and yet this is no pass for religion or faith.

    Reason and science indeed have answered certain religious questions and continue to severely limit its boundaries. Furthermore, it could be argued that those questions or ideas of religion beyond the reach of reason are dismissible as meaningless and worthless drivel. As Christopher Hitchens has put it, claims offered on the basis of no evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

    I therefore think it wholly inaccurate to say that reason cannot operate without faith, though I’d be curious as to how you are using the term here. And if faith cannot operate without reason, then, again, what use are the parts that go beyond reason? Faith is unfalsifiable and therefore of what use? I dare say that if religion were suddenly struck from society that it would continue on with no ill effect.

  5. Ernesto Tinajero

    Even bigger challenge comes from Wittgenstein. By rightly locating many of the problems of reason and logic to the use of language.

    Ryan, the whole of science can be said to rest on the verifiable principle: all claims must be verifiable to accepted. Or, using Hitchens reformulation, all claims must offer evidence. Sounds right. Except they fail their own test. The verifiable principle cannot be verified. The basis of science must be rejected by its own test. What use are the parts that go beyond reason, you ask and if you apply it to science and not simply religion, you would be force to say the very foundation of science goes beyond reason. Using Hitchens you can throw out belief in God, but you could also throw the whole of science as well. What butters the knife butters the toast.

    “As Christopher Hitchens has put it, claims offered on the basis of no evidence may be dismissed without evidence.” is a claim without evidence and can be dismissed. Do you see the problem? When Dawkins says the word God, he uses it differently than I and as such it is irrelevant to my belief in God. He does not understand what the word is use and only argues against God as it is use by St Anslem. so most of his argument goes to the direction of what Wittgenstein called logical Nonsense.

    “I dare say that if religion were suddenly struck from society that it would continue on with no ill effect.”

    The irony of your last statement, which revives the old enlightenment myth of humans would be better off or at least as well off without religion, is so rich. The scientific evidence works against your claim as people of faith tend to live longer and healthier in modern cultures. In the most horrible of circumstances. (see Viktor Frankl) the religious survived in larger numbers. Evolutionary forces tend to favor those who practice religion.

  6. Ryan- Thanks for your comments- I think some great thought has gone into it. Ernesto said it all above. Let me just add to Ernesto’s point at the end with some more examples. Think of what NAZI scientists did during WWII. Think also of when Stalin tried to suppress religion and murdered some 20 million. Mau Zedong tried to get rid of religion in his cultural revolution and murdered 60 million. Is this what you had in mind with no ill effect?

  7. Ernesto, I dare say you’ve created an artificial problem as I have in no way argued for logical positivism. Never did I argue that “verifiable” had to mean in a scientific sense, I specifically said “reason”, which is the very thing you used to critique my comment.

    It is just plain false to say that the foundations of science go beyond reason. Do they go beyond scientific verification? Sure, but not beyond a philosophically sound rational basis. So, no Hitchens statement implies no such thing because evidence need not mean physical evidence.

    Because of this, it is not a claim without evidence, but is a logical principle, which amounts to saying that claims with no rational basis may be dismissed as irrational. There is nothing about a mere claim that commands acceptance or do you entertain all possible claims as equally valid? Do you make a habit of incorporating irrational beliefs and claims?

    “The irony of your last statement, which revives the old enlightenment myth of humans would be better off or at least as well off without religion, is so rich. The scientific evidence works against your claim as people of faith tend to live longer and healthier in modern cultures. In the most horrible of circumstances. (see Viktor Frankl) the religious survived in larger numbers. Evolutionary forces tend to favor those who practice religion.”

    So, your argument amounts to the usefulness of religion residing in its health benefits? I don’t think it is religion per se that generates these benefits, but what it often provides, namely, meaning, community and peace. All these things can be obtained without religion and you could not say that humans would fail to adapt in this regard if religion were gone. Besides, even if lifespan did decline somewhat, I don’t think society on the whole would be so adversely affected as you seem to suggest.

  8. Bruce – Obviously not, and to suggest such a thing strikes me as disingenuous. Note first of all that Nazi Germany is a poor example as Hitler claimed Christianity and believed he was doing God’s work. As for Stalin, it is a gross misreading of my statement to interpret it as suggesting forced removal of religion by some power.

  9. Hitler’s doctors believed they could “better” the human race by their experimentation on human beings. This is one example of science and rational thinking without the guidance of religion.

    Stalin believed a mechanized and scientifically planned society without religion would triumph over Western culture with religion. Obviously it didn’t, and more than that many of the people starved to death.

    Mau attempted to overturn the traditions and the Chinese people with his scientifically planned society and nearly destroyed his country.

    Religion is an integral part of human existence, and without it degrades into the examples given above.

  10. No it doesn’t. You’ve only listed situations where twisted views were forced upon a society and no doubt that will produce terribly consequences.

    Hitler’s doctors were guided by religious beliefs. Where are you getting the idea that they weren’t?

    Stalin had an insatiable desire for power and control and that leads to bad consequences no matter what the motive or position. It does not prove your point. The same goes for Mau.

  11. It is fallacious to argue that these examples demonstrate an integrality of religion to society the absence of which would lead to a degeneration to some analogous state of affairs. It is fallacious in the same way as if I tried to argue that examples of religion causing significant pain and suffering (e.g. inquisition, crusades, suicide bombers, North Korea, etc.) means that the presence of religion will necessarily lead to a degeneration of society.

  12. Well, my understanding of Hitler’s doctors is that they were guided by evolutionary ideas, not any religious ideas. They wanted to achieve a ‘perfect race’ through scientific experimentation. I understand that desire for power and control were a big part of Stalin and Mau and every other dictator that has rampaged the world, and the same problems drive popes and pastors as well, just on a much smaller scale. In religion we call this ‘sin’. But that’s part of my point. Working to achieve a scientific society couldn’t solve any of these problems. If anything, the scale of bloodshed just got larger with mechanization.

  13. I don’t agree that that is true. Look at North Korea or the crusades and inquisition. They can hardly be said to be on a smaller scale.

    Even if Hitler’s doctors were guided by evolutionary views, they were equally guided by religious views. Again, Hitler believed he was doing the work of God.

    In the end, a world without religion need not be one governed by science in the sense of viewing society as a machine. Instead it would be governed by a philosophy of humanism, which does not amount to destroying people.

  14. Thanks for the debate, Ryan. I look forward to many more!

  15. The real problem exposed by this post is the cauliflower revealed nestled in the left quadrant of that brain scan above.

  16. I think you found the God spot!

  17. Yes, I’m sure we’ll have some good discussions Bruce.

  18. Ernesto Tinajero

    Ryan, Hitchens was a master prose stylist and probably one the best of the last generation. But the glib quote of his is a simple restatement of the verifiable principle. A claim without evidence maybe dismissed, pretty much sums the verifiable principle and that means that it was you not I that brought up the verifiable principle. All I did was point out the known logical problems with verifiable principle. To say that is not what you meant, and that I created the problem does quite fit the facts.

    In a way I was being coy.

    “It is just plain false to say that the foundations of science go beyond reason.”
    Now, on the foundation of science being beyond reason. I hate to point out that I did not make up the problems of epistemology and philosophy of science. You seem to think that these are easy and not of any concern. Again, I did not make these up, I just point them out. If you found an answer to the foundations of Knowledge and Science that navigates through all the turbulent waters of language and epistemology, I am all ears. I do believe that there is a Nobel in it for you as well if you have, indeed, have found a route. Though be warned, many have thought they found the shores only the end up sinking after striking an iceberg.

    Finally, on the last point. My argument was not that we are healthier with religion, but pointing out the evidence to disprove your last point. In other words, I was poking at you logic and not making arguments of my own. You said that their would be no ill effects. Science points to evidence that show the opposite. I do have to cut you slack as you made no claim as to what constitute “ill effects.”

  19. Ernesto Tinajero

    Ryan, Hitchens was a master prose stylist and probably one the best of the last generation. But the glib quote of his is asimple restatement of the verifiable principle. A claim without evidence maybe dismissed, pretty much sums the verifiable principle and that means that it was you not I that brought up the verifiable principle. All I did was point out the known logical problems with verifiable principle. To say that is not what you meant, and that I created the problem does quite fit the facts.

    In a way I was being coy.

    “It is just plain false to say that the foundations of science go beyond reason.”
    Now, on the foundation of science being beyond reason. I hate to point out that I did not make up the problems of epistemology and philosophy of science. You seem to think that these are easy and not of any concern. Again, I did not make these up, I just point them out. If you found an answer to the foundations of Knowledge and Science that navigates through all the problems of the foundations of epistemology, I am all ears. I do believe that there is a Nobel in it for you as well if you have, indeed, have found a route. Though be warned, many have thought they found the shores only the end up sinking after striking an iceberg.

    Finally, on the last point. My argument was not that we are healthier with religion, but pointing out the evidence to disprove your last point. In other words, I was poking at you logic and not making arguments of my own. You said that their would be no ill effects. I do have to cut you slack as you made no claim as to what constitute “ill effects.”

  20. Ernesto –

    As a wordsmith and master of prose, and given the context, I think it is fair to say that Hitchen’s statement was designed to be pithy as opposed to a wholesale commitment to logical positivism. Being somewhat clever, the statement’s form is no doubt susceptible to scrutiny by subtle philosophical analysis. And while it is good to be rigorous, I do believe that to nitpick here is to miss the point to some degree. I think one could maintain that his statement is contextually valid.

    The verification principle generally concerns the meaningfulness of certain propositions. But Hitchen’s statement need not be taken as implying that claims offered on the basis of no evidence are empty of meaning. Instead, it seems more to highlight a kind of symmetry between asserting and denying. That is, if one can advance a claim (to be safe, perhaps we can qualify it as a certain kind of claim) without regard to evidence, then it seems that an interlocutor is equally free to reject the claim without regard to evidence without a great danger of being irrational. The opponent need not maintain that the claim was meaningless, but only that he/she is not obliged to accept it without some reason for doing so. Perhaps one might call this more of a fairness principle.

    As for the foundations of science, I am very aware of the issues of epistemology, but I don’t think appealing to them saves faith. I would still maintain that it is, in general, false that the foundations of science are beyond reason. But even if it is in some sense or to some degree, its malady is hardly of the order of that suffered by religion and faith.

    With regard to the last point, I simply meant that society would move on; it would adapt. Perhaps I should have said that there would be no permanent ill effects.

  21. Lace Williams-Tinajero

    Important post and comments, pointing to the need for further investigation into how people acquire their beliefs, either belief in God or belief in no God–work that ought to be interdisciplinary with theologians, neuroscientists, and philosophers of language.

    Due to the personal, subjective, first-hand nature of beliefs tied to a person’s experiences, encounters, etc., beliefs vary from individual to individual. When I asked John Searle, a speech act theorist at UC Berkeley, a nonbeliever, what he makes of the fact that most if not all people have some religious/spiritual experience at some point in their life, he said, “From religious experience, nothing much follows.” I wonder, though, if this really is the end of the conversation given the plethora of religious beliefs in the human population.

  22. That’s an interesting comment from Searle! I’ve always thought of religion/belief as the most powerful force in the world. I read a fascinating news story once about how even mafia and drug cartels use a form of religious belief to form cohesiveness in their ‘organization’. Any further investigation on how people acquire belief would certainly be interesting. Gangs may want to know it too!

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