Home » Intelligent Design, Religion » Is there a “religious” impulse?

Is there a “religious” impulse?

To look at this account of the religious fervour surrounding Barack Obama by Michael Medved, one would think so. Consider

Author Garen Thomas makes similar observations in “Yes We Can: A Biography of Barack Obama”, a newly published book for children. “There has emerged a new leader who seems to be granting Americans a renewed license to dream. Barack Obama has proven repeatedly that he can touch people from all genders,” (not just both of them, you’ll note, but all of ‘em), “political affiliations, and across racial divides. There are few times in your life when you have a real opportunity to alter the course of history and put civilization back on a course toward prosperity and unity for all races and genders.” All of them—again. “If you were to look at dates in your history books, you might see centuries pass before something remarkable and worth noting occurred, when one person or a group of people stood up for change, making an enlightened leap in the evolution of the human story.”

It goes on. Take your anti-nausea prescription before you follow it up.

Now, some, including Logan Gage at the Discovery Institute, think that innate religiosity proves that religion is an innate human impulse. I have never agreed with that, and in The Spiritual Brain neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and I made clear that there is no innate religious impulse.  Here’s the skinny:

If you have a human mind, you naturally wonder about stuff like

- Are there laws that govern the universe? Can I influence them in any way?

- Could beings greater than myself be in charge of what happens? Can I contact them?

- I know I will die, but what will happen then? What happened to my parents and grandparents?

- Does it matter how I live? Can I change anything by thinking or praying about it?

- Why do bad things happen to good people?

And so forth.

I am not convinced that we need anything more than a human mind to ask these questions because the mind will generate them when in contact with reality, for the same reasons as mathematics works.

If I am wrong, I would like to hear a reasonable explanation why that is so.

Also, at the Post-Darwinist:<<

Saint Darwin: Science mags still pipe the hype, and no, you are NOT just imagining that uproar behind the curtains …

Burying Darwin while he is still hot? The Altenberg 16 (I keep updating this … )

Intellectual freedom in Canada: The first order of business is comedy!

Trees: When the truth is dug up, dogmatic science theories are sometimes uprooted too

*I am a Canadian. I do not vote in the United States. But the whole Obama thing reminds me so much of late 1960s Trudeau-mania in Canada … Trudeau was a smart guy and a hero to some.

But on his account, many of us are now in the fight of our lives against his Nanny Monster. We will win. He will lose. She will die. But it will be messy.  Hey, watch the National Hockey League. Get the idea. 

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20 Responses to Is there a “religious” impulse?

  1. 1
    CannuckianYankee

    A little off topic.

    I’m a Canadian citizen living in California. Recently I lost my greencard. Because of this, in order to apply for a new green card, I had to prove my citizenship. Since in the process of moving across the US about 10 years ago, my birth certificate and immigration papers (I was born in Germany) came up missing.

    So I had to apply for what is known as a Canadian Citizenship card. I received that several months ago, which allowed me to apply for a Canadian Passport – have to have that for the visa required to gain a green card and I couldn’t get the passport without the citizenship card.

    OK, so I received the passport about a month ago. Now the process and expense of applying for the actual green card is in it’s beginning phases.

    Bureaucracy has been on my side, as these two documents arrived earlier than I was told to expect.

    Now once I finally receive the green card, I can apply for a new Social Security card, which was also in my wallet with the green card when I lost it.

    With everything that is now going on in Canada with the assault on free speech, and the fascist human rights tribunals, am I fortunate that the bureaucracy has been played out in my favor? I think so.

    Next year I plan to become a U.S. citizen. My only ties to Canada right now are some family members living there, my passport and citizenship card, and my newfound admiration for the expeditious process in receiving them.

    I mean no disrespect for those who continue to live there, but I don’t believe I could be happy there under those conditions. Am I overreacting?

    Just one more observation on the other hand – for Christians living in Canada, it seems that there is this government enforced exercise in being gracious in their speech, which might have some positive benefits. If they have to watch their words under close eye of the government or of complainants who have a tendancy to feel offended, graciousness should be a welcome discipline for some. There is still no law against Galatians 5:22.

  2. People have an impulse to worship. Found any atheistic native tribes out there yet?

  3. Cannuckian Yankee (yes, I thought there might be a story there … ) ” for Christians living in Canada, it seems that there is this government enforced exercise in being gracious in their speech, which might have some positive benefits.”:

    There is a cosmic difference between gracious words flowing from gracious thoughts and the “little police station in the head” that fascist government (the Nanny Monster) implants.

    (Read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism .)

    What we are undergoing in Canada does not lead to graciousness; it leads to a resentful, servile, dependent, and stupid population punctuated here and there by heroes who are quickly disowned by their fellows and forgotten.

    For example, even though white, Christian Protestant males have been overwhelmingly more likely than anyone else to be Nanny’s victims, they have been as silent as the grave, too frightened to defend each other.

    Right now, it has been mostly Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim journalists, (and disproportionately women) who are doing the serious fighting – and not because they are safer (quite the opposite, they have been singled out for exemplary attacks as a result).

    So many people who might surprise you just sit around, passively waiting for the number for their government-funded ‘otomy to come up in the computer. If they’re religious, they claim that, after all, some Yankee evangelist predicted that the End Times would be like this and yada yada yada*.

    Trying to explain the problem to a friend, I said, “The Nanny Monster likes to play tennis without a net. Some people here have a different problem – all the balls are locked in the storage shed and they don’t know where the key is.”

    Anyway, good luck with sorting out the citizenship thing. And please, please do your new country a favour by opposing your local Nanny Monster while she is still easily controllable.

    Think she doesn’t exist? Visit your local U campus where, chances are, she is happily hatching her eggs.

  4. VPR comments, “People have an impulse to worship. Found any atheistic native tribes out there yet?”

    Thanks for asking!

    Many cultures have no sense of God (in the Western monotheist’s sense*).

    Having a W/m sense of God is not, in any event, the same thing as an impulse to worship.

    One can believe that there is a God – as does Antony Flew at this point – without an impulse to worship.

    One can have an impulse to worship and direct it toward an American political party’s presidential nominee, as you suggest.

    *When I taught a course last fall on the roots of the intelligent design controversy, one of the challenges I faced was getting across to many students, atheist and theist alike, that Western monotheism (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) is a specific type of religious belief. It is an easy type to teach, and adopt, but it is not universal. I was so thankful that a student who had studied other religious traditions as part of her work understood clearly.

  5. 5
    CannuckianYankee

    “What we are undergoing in Canada does not lead to graciousness; it leads to a resentful, servile, dependent, and stupid population punctuated here and there by heroes who are quickly disowned by their fellows and forgotten.”

    I agree with this, however I was pointing out that even when a nation becomes somewhat fascist, and freedoms are removed, Christians can still be Christians. In fact, I believe that Christians are stronger in their faith when faced with political adversity. So with every conditional negative comes a positive for exercising those peculiarities that make one a practicing Christian. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t fight to the T to stop whatever political adversity is being pressured upon the populace.

  6. 6
    CannuckianYankee

    “Read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism”

    I’ll put it on my list of “must reads.”

    At one time I was a liberal. I believed that my faith in Christ mandated a sense of justice – which I still believe. However, I interpreted that mandate as a political one, which scripturally it clearly is not. Justice comes when individuals act justly, not when the state intervenes to enforce individuals into the application of a particularly defined set of moral justice principles. This is where the liberals get it wrong.

    Ultimately we have laws so that justice prevails. Our two countries are based on moral law. However, the moral law mandates freedom of thought and speech. It is not up to the government to intervene when individuals freely exercise speech or thought that is contrary to the moral law. OK, there may be a few exceptions, such as bomb threats, or threats to kill political leaders.

    Here in the U.S. we have talk radio. Some of it is liberal, most of it seems to be middle of the road or conservative. There are actually liberal members of congress who want to silence conservative talk radio. Why? Simply because conservative talk radio SEEMINGLY denies the rights of certain minorities to not be offended.

    So talk violates the rights of certain minorities? How so? They are not forced to listen to talk they find offensive. The radio has a dial.
    While the state has the obligation to uphold justice, it does not have any obligation to correct the individual deficiencies in thought that might lead to unjust behavior.

  7. I’ve been reading this
    Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought

    And i’ve been finding it very interesting. I read your book first however.

    O’Leary, I guess you may have read it as part of the background research for your own book?

    If not, i’d recommend it simply to see what many consider to be the most elegant example of the materailists explnations. Know thine enemy etc ;)

  8. Furthermore, I’d be very interested to hear what books, papers etc, O’Leary, that you would consider as representing the best materilist attempts at putting some flesh on the bones of the mystery? I ask because you must have ploughed depths I will never have the time to reach personally and would gratefully recieve any tips on the best of the worst, so to speak!

  9. 9
    CannuckianYankee

    “So many people who might surprise you just sit around, passively waiting for the number for their government-funded ‘otomy to come up in the computer. If they’re religious, they claim that, after all, some Yankee evangelist predicted that the End Times would be like this and yada yada yada*.”

    Hardly – It has to get much worse before that happens. We have the free choice to stop it. Fatalism is not a Christian virtue. I lived in the Middle East for a couple of years, so I know where fatalist extremes lead to. “If your car had not been parked there in the first place, it would not have been hit by that other car, so it’s your fault…..etc”

    “And please, please do your new country a favour by opposing your local Nanny Monster while she is still easily controllable.

    Think she doesn’t exist? Visit your local U campus where, chances are, she is happily hatching her eggs.”

    I love your descriptive metaphors. The “Nanny Monster” has little chicklets running around outside the university as well.

    I don’t think the U.S. has defined hate speech to the extent that Canada has. The states can still introduce laws against gay marriage, for example. It appears as though Canada has gone way beyond that now.

    BTW, I’m what one would call an “exgay.” Very open about that. But my right to be an exgay could be something that the thought police begin hampering. Have you seen any evidence of that up there?

  10. I am not sure about whether it would be considered an impulse, as much as to say it is something real to be discovered. Here are two reasons:

    Every civilization has had religion at its roots. As the unifying religion fades, so does the civilization. This is put forth with huge volumes of research and data in the Light of Civilization, by Nicholas Hagger. He lays out what appears to be a convincing argument that humans from every tribe and time period have experienced a spiritual light that lifts up, inspires, and enlarges. Needless to say, words do not suffice. These experiences have been translated into different images, rituals, etc, accounting for the diversity of religions. He is also not saying that every human has this experience, but some do. Not every human experiences the joys of philosophy either, or the sight of a solar eclipse, or life under the sea, but all these exist nonetheless.

    http://www.amazon.com/Light-Ci.....1905047630

    Secondly, religion was undoubtedly fueled by near-death-experiences (NDEs). These do not prove, but certainly support, the idea of the eternal soul. And, as The Spiritual Brain addresses, as well as many other sources, the experience cannot be adequately explained by human psychology. See here:

    http://www.near-death.com/

    For me, these two reasons, as well as what many believe as direct revelation from God, go much further in explaining religion than the need to explain the inexplicable (God of the gaps), the need for a cosmic father, the childish need for fantasy, etc.

  11. “neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and I made clear that there is no innate religious impulse”

    I don’t know exactly what the writer has in mind for the meaning of the term “religious impulse”, but unless I’m mistaken, what she is saying does not comport with psychedelic research. Grof in the landmark “Realms of the Human Unconcious” in chapter 4 breaks the ice on this with the statement that subjects involved in his clinical research with LSD over a 17 year period invariably experience an opening of “spiritual dimensions that appear intrinsic to the human personality”. I broached this subject to the writer in a long email message (which was mainly about information theory, me being an engineer). My reason for mentioning this was to invite more exchange on the subject of clinical research and the potentially invaluable contributions that would be germaine to the ID cause but she did not acknowledge the message. I was hoping to introduce a very different scientific angle to the discussion of ID which right now is dominated by mainstream Christian thinkers. I also broached the subject with Granville Sewell, a mathematician who posts to this site. He was kind enough to respond, but expressed no interest in discussing this fascinating area of research.

  12. Ekstasis,
    The trouble with NDE is just that, they are “near”.

    Nobody has ever come back from an “actual” death experence to tell us what it was like.

    Until then, there are too many items of cultural baggage to take NDE seriously as a glimpse into the afterlife.

    It’s just wishful thinking. Don’t you think the Vatican would be running NDE workshops if they thought there was something to it?

  13. 13

    Is there a planned sequel entitled “Atheism Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Atheist Thought”?

  14. ari,
    Out of interest, do you think animals, if they could understand (and perhaps whales or dolpins or even monkeys could be taught sufficent language skills right now) would indicate they were atheist, theist or c) other?

  15. M.Baldwin,

    By the standards you’re laying down, there can never be a report. If anyone comes back with a report, they have not died.

    I’m skeptical of NDEs as well, but it’s not like they don’t provide anything worth taking seriously.

    And no, the Vatican wouldn’t be running NDE workshops, nor would any other responsible body: Bringing people to the brink of death just for research purposes? Some scientists may have no trouble justifying that. Many others would.

  16. Baldwin: “there are too many items of cultural baggage to take NDE seriously as a glimpse into the afterlife.”

    You apparently don’t take them seriously at all. So apparently you dismiss all the evidence of veridical perceptions during NDEs, the transformative spiritual personality changes that follow, and the cross-cultural and cross social/religious background similarities. Dismiss because the evidence doesn’t fit your world view?

    Baldwin: “Don’t you think the Vatican would be running NDE workshops if they thought there was something to it?”

    They would only think there was something to it if NDEs typically included visions of the Virgin Mary and of Hell.

  17. Denyse is surely right—anyone with a modicum of curiosity will ask the big questions: Why are we here? Where are we going? Is there a purpose to it all?

    What I’ve always found amazing is the lack of curiosity among so much of the educated elite. Evidently such questions are thought to have been answered (“there is no purpose”) or are unanswerable (“ough to know that we cannot know”), (or maybe it’s that we have no free will even to wonder?) so we devote our lives to the little things and all too often to pure nonsense. Then there is the fact that cultural and governmental institutions (universities, schools, churches, bureaucracies, agencies, etc.) deplore “boat rockers”—new understanding is always destabilizing and stabilization is what these institutions are about. Curiosity is in the heart of the child and we do our best to educate it out of him. Would that it were more often as in the proverb (Prov 25:2): “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.”

    But the mesmerizing mindlessness that swirls around would-be saviors—that’s not motivated by curiosity. Maybe it stems from some baser drive—one that our minds were meant to get under control, one that a little of that stifled curiosity would help to dispel.

  18. 18

    Animals don’t seem capable of understanding any philosophical idea.

  19. You apparently don’t take them seriously at all. So apparently you dismiss all the evidence of veridical perceptions during NDEs, the transformative spiritual personality changes that follow, and the cross-cultural and cross social/religious background similarities. Dismiss because the evidence doesn’t fit your world view?

    No, I don’t dismiss them at all. If real effects are felt, then that is that. Many other major events can bring about changes for postive ends. For example, there has been recent success treating alcholics with LSD and similar drugs. Many people report lasting postive influences from various trauma.

    And by “workshops” I simply meant research into the issue, rather then for entertainment as you seem to imply.

    There seems to be alot of writing on NDE and hell

    http://www.google.com/search?q=nde+hell

  20. 20
    CannuckianYankee

    “Is there a planned sequel entitled “Atheism Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Atheist Thought”?”

    I doubt if atheist Darwinists could get themselves to admit that their ideology fits as well within those explanatory parameters as theism.

    When I discuss atheism as a religion with atheists, I usually get something similar to the following response:

    “a-anything means the absense of: Atypical = the absense of typical,
    apolitical = the absense of politics. Therefore, atheism is simply the absense of a belief in God, and cannot therefore be defined as religious at all.”

    The radical atheist is like a god himself looking down on all of the other “isms” and “ianities” with a sense of being outside of them – freely absent from them, thus able to remain objective.

    I doubt if a sequal is in the making any time soon.

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