Why We Believe in God(s) by J Anderson Thomson
At the first glimpse one wonders why this 140 something page small format book was brought out in a book form when all this could well have been published online as an essay. However, the author explains that he wanted to write a small book which the reader can go through in a couple of hours. Point taken, but you certainly need more than that; a couple of days actually.
Anderson tries to explain scientifically how faith evolved in human mind whereas it has been proved that no “god centre” existed in the brain. Darwin’s Natural Selection is based on the concept of adaptation to the environment. How religion enters our mind is not through the evolutionary adaptation but as a by-product of adaptations that occurred for other reasons. What are these adaptations? Well, the psychological mechanisms like ‘social bonding’, ‘attachment system’, ’pleasure’, ‘craving’, ‘seeking protection’ and ‘desire’ are some of the adaptations our brain has through the evolutionary process.
The human brain has developed a region called the Medial Frontal Cortex for the purpose of perceiving the non-physical. Anderson calls this ‘hard wired’ for the things non-physical. God was created as a protective figure and the attachment system (an adaptation) is keeping it alive in human psyche.
The abilities of the human mind like ‘decoupled cognition’, ‘theory-of-mind mechanism’, ‘transference’, ‘hyperactive agency detection’ etc. are directly responsible for perception and interpretation of religious phenomenon, in the guise of the non-physical. The author pertinently provides a link with the primitive religion and the mechanisms through which it affected human brain.
The earliest and the most primitive form of religion that our ancestors practiced was that of rituals based on song, dance and trance. When in a trance brain chemicals get a boost and the neurotransmitters that regulate various social functions of our brain caused specific behavioural patterns depending upon the intensity of their stimulation. The state of trance was caused by excessive physical exercise, sleep deprivation for longer periods of time and also some potions or concoctions etc. In trance people spoke to their dead ancestors (later gods), heard extraordinary voices etc. The author also reveals that the feeling of “oneness with the universe” – as claimed by the godly and the religious people, is in fact a disorder of a specific area of the human brain. Similarly, epilepsy of the Frontal Lobe of the brain leads one to behave with extreme religiosity. Some godmen claiming having experienced contacts with god were in fact epileptic and suffered from hallucinations and that sort of mental disorders caused by electro-chemical disturbances in the brain.
What reinforce religion in our brain are the factors like ‘deference to authority’, ‘kin psychology’ and ‘morality’. Morality is easily identified with religion which is not at all true because our primitive ancestors living in social groups and in absence of religion would not have survived without the sense of right or wrong. Therefore, putting morality in realm of religion is not only conceptually wrong but also scientifically untrue.
Anderson believes that once religion’s psychological roots are exposed – something this book does, it will wither away. Moreover, his research is helpful in revealing that religion was man made and not sent from any heavens.
All in all, a nice little ‘mind-opening’ book.
- R K Sudan