Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Can evolution explain God?

A couple years ago, Pound360 asked, "what came first, our brains or God?" The headline of a recent New Scientist report, "How your brain creates God," suggests the former.

Let's say your brain can "create God." Does this mean God is dead? Certainly not. Just because science finds "our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods," doesn't mean the gods, or God, do not exist. "Whether or not a belief is true is independent of why people believe it," points out New Scientist.

How can the brain "create" God? There are lots of ways, but a couple of notable, fundamental points from the New Scientist article involve the concept of "common-sense dualism" and our mind's "overdeveloped sense of cause and effect

"Common-sense dualism" is our distinction between the mind and body. "There is plenty of evidence that thinking about disembodied minds comes naturally," this "primes the brain for supernatural concepts such as life after death."

Why would "common-sense dualism" be hard wired in our minds? One expert told New Scientist, "This is an evolutionarily useful skill. Without it we would be unable to maintain large social hierarchies and alliances or anticipate what an unseen enemy might be planning."

The notion of "an overdeveloped sense of cause and effect" stems from a less complex idea. First, what is an overdeveloped sense of cause and effect? Consider this simple example by Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, "you see bushes rustle, you assume there's somebody or something there."

"This over-attribution of cause and effect probably evolved for survival. If there are predators around, it is no good spotting them 9 times out of 10. Running away when you don't have to is a small price to pay for avoiding danger when the threat is real."

What does that have to do with God? "An overdeveloped sense of cause and effect primes us to see purpose and design everywhere, even where there is none."

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.