Hard-wired to believe in God

The evolutionary anthropologist's response to atheism: we are hard-wired to believe in God, for our own good and that of the species.

Someone is trying to understand whether we humans are wired, coded, programmed, intelligently designed -- choose your metaphor -- for belief in a Supreme Deity. Is religion, or spirituality, for that matter, as natural as breathing?

Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God -- evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident? Is there something about the cognitive functioning of humans that makes us receptive to belief in a supernatural deity? And if scientists are able to explain God, what then? Is explaining religion the same thing as explaining it away? Are the nonbelievers right, and is religion at its core an empty undertaking, a misdirection, a vestigial artifact of a primitive mind? Or are the believers right, and does the fact that we have the mental capacities for discerning God suggest that it was God who put them there?

In short, are we hard-wired to believe in God? And if we are, how and why did that happen?

This is Patanjali's Yoga Sutras by a scientist, if you will -- one concerned that the 'universe is expanding.'

The New York Times is tackling these blockbuster themes at the interface of spirituality, health, and, well ... Being.

There is no 'coming out of the closet' as a spiritual person, it seems ... we're mostly all out:

Angels, demons, spirits, wizards, gods and witches have peppered folk religions since mankind first started telling stories. Charles Darwin noted this in "The Descent of Man." "A belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies," he wrote, "seems to be universal." According to anthropologists, religions that share certain supernatural features -- belief in a noncorporeal God or gods, belief in the afterlife, belief in the ability of prayer or ritual to change the course of human events -- are found in virtually every culture on earth.

This is certainly true in the United States. About 6 in 10 Americans, according to a 2005 Harris Poll, believe in the devil and hell, and about 7 in 10 believe in angels, heaven and the existence of miracles and of life after death. A 2006 survey at Baylor University found that 92 percent of respondents believe in a personal God -- that is, a God with a distinct set of character traits ranging from "distant" to "benevolent."

But why? Do these beliefs give humans an evolutionary advantage?

For that matter, do animals believe in God?

The article canvasses quite a few explanations on the human side, some very familiar - such as the notion that religion offers comfort and helps people band together, thus having a side benefit of creating additional survival security here. Not much new here past Freud's thesis in "Moses and Monotheism" that religion is invented to satisfy ourselves, a kind of wish fullfillment and projection of the father archetype onto a random cosmos.

The article concludes: "No matter how much science can explain, it seems, the real gap that God fills is an emptiness that our big-brained mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural." At the end of all the learning, the piece comes down to 'comfort and consolation.' I found that a disappointing ending to a promising premise. Nonetheless, the interdisciplinary addition of evolutionary theory, framed in computer age metaphor, to religious psychology makes for new twists on old arguments.

Meanwhile, as the article points out, whatever happens to us during airplane turbulence is probably the bottom line.
Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers general corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law with a unique focus on alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies.

Michael H. Cohen is Principal in Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and also President of the Institute for Integrative and Energy Medicine (also known as the Institute for Health, Ethics, Law, Policy & Society), a forum for exploration of legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues involved in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, massage therapy, herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care. The most recent published book by Michael H. Cohen on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy pertaining to complementary, alternative and integrative medicine and related fields is Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion. This is the fourth book in a series, following Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998), Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (2000), and Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health Care and Healing in Human Transformation (2003).

Health care and corporate lawyer Michael H. Cohen has also been admitted to the Bar of England and Wales as a Solicitor (non-practicing), adding to Bar membership in four U.S. states.