Religion Is in Your Head


Religion? It’s all in your head: New Scientist takes an unmitigated swipe at theism.

Based on a report that attendance in “strict” churches rose during the Great Depression, New Scientist writer Michael Brooks has leapt to a conclusion: that all of religion is imaginary, and that tough times spur our belief in the imaginary. He writes:

It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times. Our brains effortlessly conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters, and the more insecure we feel, the harder it is to resist the pull of this supernatural world. It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods.

Of course, the evidence is that Brooks presupposes that religion is imaginary and, within that deconstructive framework, elicits an explanation for the origin of religion that suits his presuppositions. He practically admits as much, since the two ideas he provides for the “origin of religious belief” are both evolutionary. (I.e., he presumably long ago rejected the possibility that there is a supernatural.)

Brooks spoke with a number of researchers (who all presumably have the same bias as he does) about the idea that thinking imaginary things is “hardwired” into the brain. “People readily form relationships with non-existent others: roughly half of all 4-year-olds have had an imaginary friend, and adults often form and maintain relationships with dead relatives, fictional characters, and fantasy partners,” Brooks writes.

If a person already believes religion is purely fantasy, it’s easy to buy into this sort of logic. Children spontaneously invent imaginary playmates, so “God” must just be a sort of sophisticated imaginary character for adults.

There’s a very straightforward problem with this logic, however, as Brooks acknowledges: “All the researchers involved stress that none of this says anything about the existence or otherwise of gods.” Yet he apparently remains confident that “religion is a natural consequence of how our brains work.”

The entire article is a lesson in how worldviews shape our understanding. Evolutionists almost thoughtlessly attribute religious belief to evolutionary forces, whereas creationists likewise see religion as man’s attempts (right and wrong) to engage with the supernatural. Brooks even describes a hypothetical experiment in which children would be raised in isolation: would they spontaneously develop religious beliefs? Our guess is that whatever the outcome, both evolutionists and creationists (or atheists and theists) would easily arrive at explanations consistent with their own worldview.

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