Home » Intelligent Design » The latest on God neurons: There ARE no God neurons

The latest on God neurons: There ARE no God neurons

I am sure glad Mario Lopez posted this “Wired” item under “eyes rolling”

Whatever those people are Wiring themselves with, they should stop.

Here’s the deal: Let us compare humans to weasels (a pine marten weasel is pictured at right).

Humans think about God because we have human mental faculties, period.

Weasels do not think about God because they do not have human mental faculties.

Humans realize that we will die one day, and wonder what happens after that. (Weasels do not.)

Humans think that some of our behaviour is good and some is bad, and we wonder whether the universe is organized in such a way as to promote the good and penalize the bad. (Weasels never think of these things.)

It is not correct to say that humans only think of these things because we are socialized to do so. Moral revolutions are often started by people who go against the leaders of their society. These revolutions can be good or bad, of course, depending on their outcome. It could be Gandhi – or Hitler – for example.

Human societies have changed a lot in the last couple of thousand years. (Weasel dens have not changed at all. They may not have changed in a million years, and will probably never change.)

There is a lot to know about being a human that we don’t yet know. (There is nothing to know about being a weasel that weasels don’t know.)

I think “neuroscience” studies about religion are often a waste of time because, as I said when I first climbed back onto my coffee perch in 2006, they are starting from a fundamentally flawed premise: That the explanation should be some God gene or circuit, rather than awareness of mortality and moral responsibility.

What they don’t want to confront is the reality of the mind. And they will never get anywhere until they do.

Denyse O’Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.

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10 Responses to The latest on God neurons: There ARE no God neurons

  1. Human craving for spirituality, human wondering about the afterlife is certainly an ingrained desire, far beyond socialization. We know this because we have detailed conversations with humanity in many situations.

    I am a bit baffled, however, as to how you know what a weasel thinks. While we have some evidence — weasels don’t seem to set up and worship idols, they don’t seem to respond to death with as great of sorrow as we do (some animals respond with significant sorrow) and they don’t ceremonialize their dead. However, beyond this evidence, we have no idea what weasels think. It might be that weasels have a comfortable, and complete interaction with their creator, one that is not marred by a sin-nature.

    I have seen radical downplaying of the thought-life of animals. I have seen the assumption that animals don’t feel, dispite the excitement we see from dogs when their masters come home. I see the assumption that the “fight or flight” response is a non-emotional thing — an instinctive mechanism. How do we know that? Why do we suggest that God’s creations are stupid.

  2. So here we go again. What does the study actually show? That brain MRIs for people under theological suggestion resemble those of people under empathy suggestion.

    But that’s not what we’re hearing from Grafman. According to what he told NPR, the study shows that there is no special circuitry in the brain that deals with religious belief. For one thing the study shows no such thing. Brain MRIs indicate general areas of electrical activity, not “circuitry.” They are at best impressionistic.

    Also the “special circuitry” argument appears to be a veiled attack on the notion of the soul. If so, then it provides another example of why scientists really should stick to what they know. Even if the correlation Grafman notes is true, it has no bearing on the soul, which subsumes physical being.

    Further out on a limb, Grafman told NPR that “some of the same underlying abilities that support other sorts of complex human social behavior also support the behavior that we’re terming ‘religious belief.’” Maybe, but this clever conclusion has nothing whatsoever to do with the results themselves, which are blindingly mundane.

    The results tell us nothing about “behavior.” All they show is that brain MRIs resemble each other under certain types of suggestion. And did we really need to see this in order to draw a correlation between empathy and religious belief? Who exactly is Grafman’s straw man? Let him come out and kindle.

    We’ll say one thing for the man—he knows his audience. NPR loves this sort of agitprop and is an easy mark for investigators who use their study results to glorify Darwin, no matter how violently they have to stretch them.

  3. bfast, I certainly do not know how a weasel – or a bat or a cat or a squirrel – thinks.

    I am certain beyond a reasonable doubt that weasels do not have or need a religion. (None of the above do either.)

    They live and then they die, and they ask no questions of life.

    If you have no questions, you do not look for answers.

    They do not sin, but they can be sinned against – by humans, of course.

  4. “they ask no questions of life.”

    If we can’t understand their language, how do we know that they ask no questions of life? Even if we can be sure that they don’t have a verbal language complex enough to discuss questions of life with each other, we still have no clue what goes on inside their brains.

    “they can be sinned against – by humans, of course.” I think that one way that they can be sinned against is to assume that they are stupider than they really are. Do I know that weasels don’t ponder questions of life? No. But I don’t know that they don’t. I am sure that animal intelligence has been underestimated much more than it has been overestimated.

  5. 5

    Why do you think this?

    “neuroscience” studies about religion are often a waste of time

    Don’t your co-author’s studies fit into that category? Also, why put neuroscience in scare quotes?

    I’ve quickly read the PNAS study (Wired was only a journalistic report, of course) and it strikes me as highly interesting. Why would a study like this be a waste of time? And how would you refute it scientifically?

  6. 6

    bFast, quite right. As Wittgenstein noted, “If a lion could talk, we would not understand him.”

  7. Good points all.

    Interesting post and as usual Denyse has it pretty much on the button.

    Yet, I too often wonder what animals (and insects) ‘think’ – I’m sure animals think of course – but what?

    Insects? Certainly doesn’t seem they could think much beyond ‘instinct’ (their genetic program + n degrees of freedom)

    Which brings us back to the garden.
    Eve talking, as though it were nothing surprising, to a serpent.

    I’m not at all sure that’s allegorical. I see no reason why it may not have been possible in some distant past. Since our genome is now highly mutant and rapidly (in geo time) approaching mutational meltdown (J. Sanford Genetic Entropy). Meaning that we are and have been devolving since the fall.

    So, were humans once capable of communication with the animal kingdom in some ways that we no longer are? Seems likely, given our persistence at making animals, insects and the whole of life ‘talk’ in countless stories, movies and legends.

    Just maybe, it is not some fluke of human loneliness to perpetually create anthropomorphisms. Just maybe, it was true at one time and we now ‘miss it’ like a kind of home sickness. :-)
    Hmmmm…

  8. Borne,

    I like your post. I’d like to be able to talk to animals. ^_^ lol

  9. Maybe weasels don’t think about the “big” questions because they already know the answers. Or maybe they simply have the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, the courage to change what they can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

  10. Davescot,

    Apparently weasels went to Alcoholics Anonymous too. lol

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