Is religion merely a psychological phenomenon, as is commonly pushed by so many atheists? I have heard reports of studies that show there is some kind of “God part” of the brain or some kind of brain part that is sensitive to religious experience. How do we respond?


I am assuming you are referring to the fact that neuroscientists have shown that there is a part of the human brain which “lights up” when we are experiencing something which could be described as “religious experience.” Using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), brain scientists have shown that when a Hindu or a Buddhist performs activities such as meditation, which can bring on what we might call a religious experience, a part of the brain which seems to be devoted to this function shows increased activity.

Neuroscientists who are committed to a purely deterministic/naturalistic world view have interpreted this as evidence that what we call religion is merely chemicals and electrical signals moving around in the brain. I suppose that this is one interpretation, but I believe that this interpretation is only one of more than one possible interpretation and that these neuroscientists reach the conclusion that religion is just chemicals moving around because they presuppose this is so before they even look at the data.

Let me provide a second possible interpretation of the data. Let us work from a theistic world view–one which assumes that God is real and that he wants to have a relationship with humans, who are made in his image. If we take this as our starting point, then we can predict that the human brain will have been designed by God in order for us to experience him. The brain can be described as a God-experiencing machine of wonderful design. This view explains the data at least as well as the naturalist presupposition. In fact, I believe that it explains the data BETTER. I believe this because the theistic model requires that the brain be able to experience God, whereas the naturalist presupposition really struggles to explain WHY the brain would have evolved to have religious experience. I am not saying that naturalism cannot explain the data, but I am saying that a theistic perspective is a more natural and reasonable explanation for why people are able to experience the pleasure which comes from contemplating the infinite and thinking about religious things.

What all can agree is that there is a “God” part of the brain which is sensitive to religious experience. This part of the brain produces significant pleasurable feelings. The claim that this disproves the existence of God is completely erroneous. In fact, it is more in tune with belief in God than it is with unbelief. I will admit that the data is not the strongest proof for the existence of God, but those who say it is proof that God is not real are simply wrong. If you want more material on this question, there is a power point and also an audio titled “Neuroscience: Room For The Soul” at the web site. It is from John Beggs, a physics professor at Indiana University whose scientific specialty is neuroscience.

In summary, religion is NOT just a psychological phenomenon and the fact that there is a “God” part of the brain is one good reason to reach this conclusion.

John Oakes

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