Any thoughts on the book "The God Part of the Brain" by Matthew Alper?


Note:  This book has as its thesis that religious thought is entirely the result of genetic/physiological causes which were created due entirely to evolutionary forces.  It is published by Sourcebooks, Inc., Naperville, Illinois.

There is a lot of good information here and Alper’s arguments are fairly complete.  However, he does not present a compelling argument for his thesis, in my opinion.

I believe that Alper makes presuppositions which he does not prove. In my opinion his presupposition (that all things have a physical explanation and that God does not exist) is not true, and thus he argues in vain. He assumes that God is not real. He pretends to prove that God is not real, but that is not what he does. He assumes that God is not real. His reasoning is false. He says, "there exists a physical/genetic cause for spiritual thinking (by the way, I believe he does do a good job of proving this), therefore the thing which we think about (God) does not exist." This is false reasonong. It is an extremely weak argument against the existence of God.

He misuses Kant, in my opinion. Kant believed that there is a nearly 1 to 1 correspondence between our brain’s hardwiring and reality. For example, we are genetically hardwired to perceive time and space. This fact does not prove that time and space are not "real." In fact, they are almost certainly "real." The Kant, the existence of hard wiring was "evidence" that the thing was real.  To Alper, it is the opposite.  I believe that we could make a stronger argument that our hard-wired/genetic ability to perceive "God" is more likely to exist because God is real than because God is not real. The author misses this obvious connection. In fact, he chooses to use Kantian thinking to reach a conclusion in radical opposition to the one Kant would reach, without even mentioning that Kant would reach the opposite conclusion. This is evidence for a rather strong bias, in my opinion.

There is a lot of good research here (although his knowledge of anthropology is somewhat flawed, and his knowledge of animal behavior which is analogous to human behavior is quite incomplete). However, there is a ton of presuppositional thinking on almost every page which is not acknowledged. Many of the arguments are quite logical, but they are not compelling to me. The reason for this is that argument based on a presupposition can be very logical, but also can lead to a false conclusion if the presupposition is not true. 

The physical nature of our brain cannot disprove God. Period.

The fact that some physical traits develop in order to increase the likelihood of survival does not prove that possession of a religious imperative is the result of increased likelihood of survival. This is not a sound deductive argument. Neither does he present a compelling argument that it is even true, never mind proved. It is not an unreasonable conclusion, but it is not a compelling conclusion.

I have another presupposition to propose. I will admit that it is an unproved presopposition for now. My presupposition is that our propensisty to religious belief was imparted to us by God (because we are created in God’s image) and that God also gave us brains capable of perceiving spiritual reality. I believe that every fact about our spiritual nature and about our religious beliefs can be explained by this presupposition. In fact, I believe reality is better explained by this presupposition than the set of presuppositions used by the author of this book. Now, this presupposition is not a "scientific" one, because it posits a supernatural cause, but unless we presuppose that there is no supernal reality, there is no compelling reason to reject this proposition.

Personally, I do not mind that the author makes these arguments, but the fact that he simply ignores other possible arguments to explain the same data means that he is not being completely intellectually honest.

Thanks for sending me this interesting document.

John Oakes

Comments are closed.