Wednesday, March 31, 2010

God-Shaped Hole -- or Defective Brain?

This is DAY 6 in a seven-day discussion of issues raised on my Facebook Wall by some "non-theist" friends.

Some have put forth the contention that an evolving “God concept” in our brains somehow created the biological need for us to believe in God, which presumably means that all the biblical and social testimony of God's divine interaction with people throughout history must all be made up.

But frankly, for me, this assertion takes too preposterous an amount of “faith” (in the sense in which some have used that word) to believe. Why? One reason is Occam’s Razor … the simplest explanation usually is the best. Unless there is evidence to the contrary, I am inclined to take the historical and biblical accounts of God’s influence on human history, the testimony of multiple eyewitnesses recorded in Scripture, at face value, believing their testimony to be internally and externally consistent and that those who testified can be deemed trustworthy. It takes more faith for me to believe that somehow it’s all a big conspiracy, a big lie to get me (for whatever reason? There really isn't one I can think of that makes any sense at all) to believe in a God who isn’t there.

I simply can’t see a postulated negative motivation of all those eyewitnesses who provided their compelling accounts of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Not to mention all the Old Testament prophets and others who witnessed to God’s interaction with humans throughout Scripture. What was the cost of these supposedly manufactured lies? In many (if not most) cases it was a grisly death by martyrdom. If there were recantations (“Please don’t kill me! I confess, I really made it all up!”) they’re not recorded.

And how do you explain the Apostle Paul? His dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus? You could plead insanity or some such, but as we are studying the brilliance of his logic in the book of Romans, I just don’t see it. I’ve read what crazy people write (believe me, I have), and it doesn’t ring the same.

Most of all, of course, there’s Jesus himself. He claimed to be God. These claims were either manufactured by someone, or else he was a liar, or he was deceived (a lunatic) … or they were true. And then there's his resurrection, which we celebrate this weekend. Eyewitness accounts claimed that he was raised from the dead! No one who believes otherwise has been able to produce a body to prove these accounts false.

It also seems to me there’s a logical problem with postulating that a God concept has “evolved” within the human brain. You can't have your cake and eat it, too … if this “God concept” evolved for communitarian reasons, because it had social utility, then how could some “advanced” individuals (who are really somehow smarter than everyone else) think that their rejection of this concept makes them smarter than everyone else? Wouldn’t that rejection instead be a step backwards and away from group survival?

Furthermore, even if the evolutionary hypothesis of religion was correct, it doesn't prove that God doesn’t exist. Even if our brains did evolve a God concept, we are still responsible to assess whether the claims of Christ are true or not. It's actually worse than that: the whole question of truth becomes a real problem if evolution is true, which in and of itself calls the claim to truth for evolutionary theory into doubt.

Couldn't the supposed "evolution" of a God-concept in reality be a hard-wired, God-shaped “hole” placed there by God himself, who claims that he created us and that we need to connect with him in order to fulfill our purpose?

I’ll be honest here, because another possible explanation presents itself. I confess a predisposition to suspect that every crisis of faith is more likely to find its roots in moral crisis than in intellectual struggle. As I’ve followed what has been written by at least one avowed non-theist, it looks more (from where I sit) like her personal turning point coincided with just such a slide, possibly accompanied by (or precipitated by) some sort of interpersonal trauma; rather than some sort of an intellectual challenge to her supposed faith.

But, obviously, I can’t say this with any degree of certainty, as I don’t really know her personally and have not yet seen any rational arguments or any evidence for what she claims to be true. (Frankly I'm not even sure what she claims to be true. She seems to have spent all of her energy attacking what others have said, rather than exerting herself to say anything of value.)

All I know is what she has written, and what I read in the papers, as they say.

I have read a bit on the topic of the so-called “God concept,” written by people like Richard Dawkins, Nathaniel Branden and Ursula Goodenough. As far as I have been able to tell, they all start their constructs from a presupposition that God must not really be there, that evolution alone is a more sensical explanation for all that we see. Then they seem to proceed from there. Really makes me wonder if the primary motivation for their presupposition is that they don’t like the fact the idea of God imposing his moral code on them, either.

Also, despite their utter commitment to evolutionary theory, none that I have read ever get around to addressing the fundamental issue of ultimate cause (what caused the initial proteins and amino acids to get together and align themselves in such a way as to create sustainable and reproducible “life”? what was the initial, causative agent?); but then I realize they would also claim that we theists (and deists) have been unable to answer the question, “What caused God?” I guess we’re both in a quandary.

The Bible says that God had no cause, that he simply was. (“Before Abraham was, I Am.”) I'm not going to try and explain that, my brain is far too small. But the evolutionist’s quandary is even worse. If there was no creator, then what caused us? (And the life that preceded us?) What was the initial cause of all that exists?

Christians often speak of how we are created with a “God-sized hole” in our hearts, which only he can fill. This is not a literal biblical concept (not in these words, though I think Scripture supports the idea), and to support it directly people most often quote St. Augustine’s Confessions: “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”

It seems to me that anyone who postulates that our brains now have an (evolved) need to entertain a God concept is focusing on the flip side of this principle. Or perhaps it is simply an attempt to explain the power and influence of conscience?

In writing to the Romans his basic theological treatise, Paul builds a case that some of the fundamental things that can be known about God, even “apart from the Law” (his direct revelation of his standards, designed to demonstrate to us the vast gulf that separates our character from his), are revealed about him a) in creation (nature), and b) in our hearts (what old-timers called “natural law” -- our consciences, our more-or-less innate sense of right and wrong). The unbeliever looks at natural law and says, “Oh, that’s common sense, everyone innately knows the difference between right and wrong just because that’s common human experience. Self-preservation declares that it doesn’t make sense to lie and cheat and steal and take our neighbor’s wife and do injustice and murder.” The believer, of course, looks at these same things as evidence of a standard that God created within us. He cites as evidence the fact that if natural law were not from God, we wouldn’t break it a thousand times every day, even though we acknowledge its value.

I guess you can chalk up this disparity to the difference in perspective between disbelief and faith. It always does seem to boil down to that.

The really interesting thing to me (which I’m sure could be “explained away” by brain biologists) is that our conscience convicts us even when we do these things in a way that no one else knows about, that “hurts no one else” … for instance, even when we steal our neighbor’s wife in our hearts only. To fantasize about adultery with my neighbor’s wife surely doesn’t harm my neighbor, or his wife? Right? And yet my conscience convicts me even of this secret pleasure, nonetheless.

Christ, of course, linked the two – he said that me lusting over my neighbor’s wife is fundamentally the same thing as simply taking her and having adultery. Ouch. He must not have understood the biology of the brain.

The biblical position of course is that all such sin hurts us, and pains God in that it separates us from him and is therefore an affront to his love for us. It doesn’t lessen or diminish him in any way (by definition, God cannot be diminished by our sin, or else he wouldn’t be God), but that isn’t to say he doesn’t hate it for what it does to those he loves. And that he doesn’t ultimately act to put a stop to it.

Tomorrow: We'll finally wrap this up with "God Vs. Evil." How could a loving God create, or at least tolerate, the presence of evil?


Elizabeth Grattan said...

Going to have to take this in parts with multiple posts.

Let's start with the razor. Larry, you again beg the question. You aren't using the razor at all. You start with a presumption that there is a god that IS interacting and dismiss the premise that people are just telling stories about a "god" they thought up to explain mystery.

It's hardly a reach.

The simplest explanation is easiest, and that is that we have brains WE KNOW imagine, create, conceptualize, and think up stuff. Hell, the fact that our brains are constantly processing information and relaying it back is the only evidence necessary to grasp that the mind makes stuff up.

You mention the testimonies again. People tell stories. Children tell stories. Adults tell stories. We tell stories about things we think we see and things we dream. We share our memories as if they are exact reproductions when they aren't. It doesn't need to be a vast conspiracy. It only needs to be the opiate of masses and the tendency for the human brain to agree.

Paul's conversion can easily be discarded as his own delusion. It is a false dilemma to suggest a person can't be educated or share philosophical wisdoms and still not be delusional. (Think: A Beautiful Mind).

The life and death of Jesus also doesn't need to be discounted. The resurrection - that can be. If all you have (and the text says all you have) is the resurrection story, you aren't using the razor at all. And why would a body need to be produced? The idea that this body would have been enshrined or tombed with any sort of significance even according to the story telling of it in no way suggests a body would need to be produced to prove he was dead. The burden lies on the one making the claim. And that burden only has testimony - which we already discussed (or at least I tried to show you) is the most unreliable evidence there is.

And people die for lies all the time. A lot of the time simply because they have been deluded into believing the lie themselves. (as you are, having been indoctrinated at 8 yrs old - far too early for your own brain to have formed the regions necessary to consider all factors logically or objectively).

Elizabeth Grattan said...

As to the claims about society being backwards, Larry, now I will sound arrogant to you: I am SHOCKED that you toss the term logical around as you do. First of all, you must not understand what the evolutionary process means to suggest it is backwards for a society to advance beyond the God Concept. It is no longer NECESSARY. Certainly it is probable that it was at one stage, which is evidenced by the mere fact that even today the MASSES are still theists. It is social suicide to be (a)theist in many many places. I imagine you wouldn't last a day in your job, your family, your community if you renounced your faith. There is a whole hell of a lot of pressure for you to stop your investigation short, whether you want to admit it or not.

The evolutionary hypothesis of god concept isn't setting out to prove there is no god. (again, why do you use the word logic?, when all you do is beg the question over and over again?)

And now you bring up truth? Since when is there a problem discussing matters of "truth". Truth is a highly subjective term used to set a measure for knowledge and understanding. The discussion here isn't about absolute truths. It's about discovery and growth.

Your "couldn't it just be a god shaped hole god put there" question again is an appeal to ignorance - not logical. The simplest answer is that our brain has come up with the concept of supernatural in an attempt to discover itself. Based on how the brain maps the body and mind and determines space/time, it makes more sense that supernatural is simply the gap for "what/why".

Elizabeth Grattan said...

And you are wrong about crisis of "faith". Again, you beg the question. You suggest it is a moral crisis? Mores are not absolute or universal. And your attempt to think you grasp my intellect is ad hom.

Larry, because you chose to call me out personally, let me assure you: My belief in theism was grounded on many things. But I was always logical. I can put forth a better argument against my position than you can, and could have then. To suggest that there was a trauma is deflection. And expected. Correlation is not causation. (again, why suggest you are objective and logical?).

You say you haven't seen rational arguments when you have been shown all the fallacies alone in your irrational ones. That's enough. The burden lies on you, by your choice, and you have failed to meet it. (again, logic). To suggest I have not offered value is insulting ad hom again.

The "what I read in the papers" was a nice touch. Would have expected better from you.

Elizabeth Grattan said...

Again, suggesting it is about a moral code is ignorance as there is no universal more, and the mores of the biblical text changed from culture to culture and generation to generation. Perhaps you think mores are not fluid? That's not even close to what the biblical text suggests.

It also isn't a quandry. Again, apply the razor correctly and you won't appeal to ignorance for your argument on cause.

The conscience can be explained. Again, I suggest you do more study on the human brain and how it answers the philosophical concept of "I Think, therefore I am." I can recommend some books for you if you like?

You seem to keep starting with some incorrect understanding of the brain and soul and spirit. You have placed "supernatural" into an equation without any evidence for it to begin with.

And you are totally wrong to make such a gross overgeneralization (again, logic please?!) - suggesting nonbelievers all subscribe to universal mores, when there is zero evidence of such a thing. "Right" and "wrong" are SUBJECTIVE terms that are meaningless apart from norms and mores and laws. They are irrelevant sans cooperation in a community or relationship for a benefit.

And you are incorrect about the conscience convicting us even when no one watches us. You say "hearts" again as if there is a soul floating apart from a conditioned mind. Again, from BIRTH we are in a constant process of gathering information about what is expected of us.

Elizabeth Grattan said...

I am so saddened to read this series. Because I am so disappointed in the lack of logic utilized. There are so many fallacies that the whole thing feels like one big red herring just keeping you from realizing that you can't meet your burden.


I hoped you were smarter than this.

And that isn't an ad hom. I already addressed your argument's flaws, now I'm just expressing the rest.

Enjoy the chasm your weekend celebrations bring to you and yours Larry... as it causes you to alienate yourself from others.

Perhaps the reason you went personal and assume it's a "trauma" and not intellect is because you are convicted by your own traumas yourself? Deflect much?

(don't you see, can't you see... when your own words come back to you... how incredibly divisive the are yet?)

My guess is you won't see that. You will be cradled and coddled by the community of believers who reinforce your belief system and just tell you "she needs salvation".

While I vent to others about how deluded theists can be...