/

Neuroscience, psychology and God

July 4th, 2016

A lot of christians struggle with the idea of biological evolution because it seems to leave God out of creation. But I think evolution points to God if we consider some of the findings of neuroscience and psychology.

Evolution and God

I believe the scientific case for evolution is strong, especially the evidence from DNA. Not perhaps as strong as some claim, but enough not to be worth arguing over.

If evolution occurred and there’s no God, then everything we see is a result of the physical environment on earth, the laws of physics and chemistry, and natural selection acting on random process and mutations. All that we are as human beings has to make sense within that account of human origins.

On the other hand, if God exists and was involved in the creation and evolution of the universe, these same processes could be seen as his way of creating us humans “in his image”.

Examining key features of the human brain and mind may therefore reveal characteristics which are better explained on one or other of these hypotheses. Let’s look at a few.

What makes people happy and satisfied?

Extensive research shows that two factors are most important in human happiness once basic needs are met – good relationships and a sense of purpose.

  1. It seems obvious that relationships are important for happiness – we are social animals.
  2. A sense of purpose has two main components. Positive psychologists say we need meaningful work to be satisfied in life, preferably voluntary work. And we are happier if part of our lives is serving a cause we believe is greater than ourselves.

It is no surprise then to find that, on average, religious people are happier than non-religious. They tend to have stronger communities, their beliefs give them a strong sense of purpose, and they are generally healthier.

Prosociality

Prosociality is the term given to making a positive contribution to the community around us – essentially, being altruistic. It is related to good relationships and purpose.

Again, it turns out that religious people are, on average, more prosocial than the non-religious. They volunteer more in the community, donate more to charity and are less likely to exhibit anti-social behaviour.

God and our brains

Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg and therapist Mark Waldman have found that “faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain”.

They explain that many religious practices (meditation, prayer, faith and rituals) are beneficial to the brain’s health. They explain that non-believers can do secular equivalents to most of these practices, but it seems these things come more naturally and easily to believers.

Humans and animals

Naturalistic evolution makes no qualitative distinction between humans and animals – we are just smarter and have evolved further. But Newberg and Waldman say there are significant differences: “evolution gave us a nervous system that actively participates in its own neural construction, something we do not see in other animal brains.”

Professor Terrence Deacon, a neuroanthropologist, agrees: “We think differently from all the other creatures on earth, and we can share those thoughts with one another in ways that no other species even approaches …. We alone brood about what didn’t happen, and spend a large part of each day musing about the way things could have been if events had transpired differently. …. No other species on earth seems able to follow us into the miraculous place.”

So it seems that language and the evolution of a different sort of brain that allows language are ways that humans are qualitatively different to animals.

Consciousness and free will

It is fair to say that there is no agreement among neuroscientists that we have an adequate understanding of human consciousness – why our brains seem to be “inhabited” by our minds and a sense of self. There seems to be no reason why natural selection would lead to us being conscious.

Neuroscientist Susan Blackmore: “You’ve got a brain made of billions of neurons, and all those neurons are doing is shunting electrical impulses and little molecules of chemicals here and there, back and forth. That’s all they’re doing. How can that be, or give rise to, or be responsible for …. the experience of [colour]?”

Free will is even harder to explain. Many neuroscientists (most?) believe we don’t actually have the freedom to choose between alternatives, but that the electrical and chemical processes in our brains, which they say are “us”, follow laws that determine our choices.

Yet this is contrary to our experience, and few if any of us can consistently live that way. Our ethics and laws are built on the idea that, unless we are impaired in some way, we are responsible for our actions and generally could decide differently.

Clues to God?

I find all this as affirming my belief in God. We cannot “prove” God’s existence from this evidence, but these facts may give us clues to God.

Certainly, I think it is quite clear that these facts would be less likely to be the case if there is no God and the human race evolved through natural selection alone, but more likely if a creator God exists.

If the God revealed by Jesus created the universe, it would produce beings who were capable of being rational, ethical and altruistic. He wanted us to find our destiny in him, by freely choosing to enter his kingdom and join the revolution it is bringing into the world. He made us so that we would find wellbeing and fulfilment in loving him and loving our neighbour. And he made us spiritual beings, something that is not (apparently) the case for animals.

Thus the scientific findings I’ve outlined and this view of God are consistent. But if there’s no God, there is much less consistency.

I believe there are clues here for those with eyes to see.

Photo: MorgueFile.

3 Comments

  1. You have the right idea, but I would put it this way: I can prove England is an island by showing you all the maps and offering to pay for your trip to England if you admit I proved England is an island. If you don’t admit I prove England is an island, there is something wrong with your character. I can prove humans are embodied spirits and that the human soul is spiritual because all religions, East and West, say we pay for our sins when we die. If you understand this, there is an argument, not a proof, that God exists.

  2. It appears that you are just making stuff up. There is no substantive evidence to support the notion of a god as a being existing. All evidence points the other way. Humans believe in various types of gods for a variety of reasons.

  3. Hi George, sorry to be so slow in replying, but I have been having some problems with corruption of the WordPress database, and I had to fix that first so your comment, and mine, would appear. So I don’t know if you’ll see this response.

    I disagree with your first three sentences, but agree with the last. Would you like to discuss this?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *