Sunday Times, 2 Nov 1997: Scientists believe they have discovered a “God module” in the brain, which could be responsible for man’s evolutionary instinct to believe in religion.
A study of epileptics, who are known to have profoundly spiritual experiences, has located a circuit of nerves in the front of the brain, which appears to become electrically active when they think about God.
The scientists said that although the research and its conclusions are preliminary, initial results suggest that the phenomenon of religious belief is “hard- wired” into the brain.
Epileptic patients who suffer from seizures of the brain’s frontal lobe said they frequently experience intense mystical episodes and often become obsessed with religious spirituality.
A team of neuroscientists from the University of California at San Diego said the most intriguing explanation is that the seizure causes an over-stimulation of the nerves in a part of the brain dubbed the “God module”.
“There may be dedicated neural machinery in the temporal lobes concerned with religion. This may have evolved to impose order and stability on society,” the team reported at a conference last week.
The results indicate that whether a person believes in a religion or even in God may depend on how enhanced this part of the brain’s electrical circuitry is.
Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran, head of the research team, said the study involved comparing epileptic patients with normal people and a group who said they were intensely religious. Electrical monitors on their skin – a standard test for activity in the brains temporal lobes – showed that the epileptics and the deeply religious displayed a similar response when shown words invoking spiritual belief.
Evolutionary scientists have suggested that belief in God, which is a common trait, found in human societies around the world and throughout history, may be built into the brain’s complex electrical circuitry as a Darwinian adaptation to encourage cooperation between individuals.
If the research is correct and a “God module” exists, then it might suggest that individuals who are atheists could have a differently configured neural circuit.
A spokesman for Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford, said whether there is a “God module” is a question for scientists, not theologians. “It would not be surprising if God had created us with a physical facility for belief,” he said.
Belief in God
Dr. Bilal Philips says, the vast majority of human beings have always believed in God. From the most ancient civilizations to the most primitive of modern societies, religions with God at their center have formed the foundation of human culture. In fact, the denial of God’s existence (atheism) throughout history was limited to a few individuals until the rise of communism in the 20th century.
Even today, in the secular societies of the West, where modern social scientists armed with Darwinian theories have argued that God is merely a figment of the human collective imagination, the overwhelming majority of citizens, laymen and even scientists, hold steadfast to their belief in God.
Consequently, the overwhelming body of archeological data in support of God’s existence has led some anthropologists to conclude that belief in God (deism) must be inborn and not learnt. Although the vast majority of social scientists proposed otherwise, recent scientific discoveries appear to support the minority view that deism is innate. In an article entitled “God Spot is found in the Brain,” Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran of the University of California at San Diego said that the phenomenon of religious belief in God is hard-wired into the brain.
Despite growing evidence that man is hard-wired with a “physical facility for belief,” the fact that the concept of God has varied greatly among human societies still leads some thinkers, even those who believe in God, to conclude that religions must be man-made.
However, thorough research reveals a common theological thread linking the various religions. That link is the belief in a Supreme Being among the various gods, a monotheistic foundation that can be found in even the most externally pantheistic of religious systems. For example, the concept of God in Hinduism exists as a single example among many religions, which supports the view that human beings were originally monotheistic and through various degenerative processes became polytheistic. In spite of its many gods and idols, Hinduism has a single Supreme God above all, Brahman.
Traditionally, most anthropologists have concluded that religion devolved from various stages of polytheism to monotheism, beginning with early man’s deification of the forces of nature, then, eventually, devolving into ditheism to consolidate all of the supernatural powers into two main gods (a god of good and a god of evil), and, finally, simplifying into a belief in one god, monotheism.
Thus, religion, according to anthropologists and social scientists, has no divine origin; it is merely a by-product of the evolution of early man’s superstitions, based on his lack of scientific knowledge. Hence, these same theoreticians believe that science will eventually unlock all of the secrets of nature, resulting in the disuse of religion to explain natural phenomena, and, the consequential extinction of religion altogether.
Man’s innate belief in a Supreme Being, however, seems to support the opposite view, proposing instead that man began as a monotheist, but in time, strayed into various forms of polytheism. This view is further supported by fact that all of the so-called primitive tribes, which have been “discovered,” have been found to hold a belief in a Supreme Being.
No matter what their evolutionary stage of religious development is found to have been at the time of “discovery,” most were found to believe in a Supreme God over all other gods and spirits. As such, the concept of a single Supreme Being remains in most of the religion’s as evidence that the masses strayed away from monotheism by giving some of God’s attributes to other aspects of creation, which eventually came to be regarded as lesser gods in some cases and as intercessors in others. Nevertheless, a Supreme God, in whatever form He takes, is at the core of most religions.
However, there does remain an aspect of belief in God which defies all logic and reason, but which has become a corner stone of faith. It is the belief that God became man. Where the original monotheistic belief in God degenerated into a belief that there must be intermediaries between human beings and the Supreme Being to either convey human quests or to act on behalf of God in the world, the intermediaries became objects of worship. The intermediaries were often conceived as spirits found in all manifestations of nature.
Consequently, humans from primitive times have worshiped spirits of the forest, rivers, skies and the earth etc., until the present time. Occasionally nature itself was worshiped, and at other times, symbols representing nature were worshiped. The religious systems, which evolved from these types of beliefs tended to be localized and remain scattered among primitive people around the world till today. Such beliefs did not converge in the form of a single belief system of international impact, as far as is known in the current records of human history.
On the other hand, where the monotheistic belief degenerated into the personification of God’s power as separate intermediary entities represented by images, idols became a focal point for worshipping God. The powers of God became gods. Such beliefs have culminated in ancient and modern times as natural religions of international impact. Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman religions have died out due to the complete subversion of these empires by Christianity. However, the Indian expression of Hinduism survived both Muslim and Christian colonization and remains the national religion of approximately one billion people in India.
Christianity and Islam, with exception of Bali in Indonesia, have supplanted their direct international impact in the majority of the Far East. However, the different forms of Buddhism, its offshoot, have become the main religion of hundreds of millions in the Far East. Different forms of this Hindu reform movement continue to spread in the West today.
Man is God!
According to Hinduism, the basic concept is that everything is God. There is, fundamentally, no distinction between God and His creation. In Hindu philosophy, every living being has a self or a soul that is called Atman. It is generally believed that the soul is actually God, called Brahman.
Consequently, the essence of Hindu belief is the idea that Atman and Brahman are one and the same; in other words, the human soul is divine. Furthermore, human society is divided into castes or classes, where each caste represents human beings who came into existence from different parts of the divine being, Brahman. The upper caste, the Brahmins, came from the head of God; whereas, the lowest caste, the Sudras, came from God’s feet. Though there are officially only four main castes, there are, in reality, many sub-castes. Each one of the main castes is subdivided into thousands of lesser castes. Hindus believe that when a person dies, he or she is reincarnated.
The soul, Atman, of the dead person never dies but is continually reborn. If people are good in this life, then they will be reborn into a higher level of the caste system in their next life. Conversely, if they are bad in this life, they will be reborn into a lower level, which is one of the main reasons why so many Hindus commit suicide annually. Daily, newspapers regularly record incidents of individuals and families hanging themselves from fans in their homes. In a recent edition of one of the local papers, a Hindu man killed himself when India lost a cricket match to Sri Lanka. When one’s belief system espouses reincarnation, suicide becomes an easy route to evade difficulties in this life.
When a person reaches the top caste, the Brahmins, after various reincarnations, the cycle of rebirth ends, and he reunites with Brahman. This process of reunification is called Moksha, and in Buddhism it is called Nirvana. The Atman becomes once again reunited with Brahman. Thus, man becomes God.
God becomes His creatures
In Hindu belief, the attributes of Brahman are manifest as different gods. The attribute of creation becomes the creator god, Brahma, the attribute of preservation becomes the preserver god, Vishnu, and the attribute of destruction becomes the destroyer god, Siva. The most popular one amongst them, Vishnu, becomes incarnate among human beings at different points in time. This incarnation is called in Sanskrit avatar, which means “descent.” It represents the descent of God into the human world by becoming a human being or one of the other creatures of this world. Primarily, the term avatar refers to the ten main appearances of the god Vishnu.
Among them is Matsya, the incarnation of God as a fish; Kurma as a tortoise; Varaha as a boar (a wild pig); Narasimha as a half-man, half-lion; Vamana as a dwarf; and probably the most common one is Rama, the human incarnation. Rama is the hero of the epic, Ramayana, about which movies are made and shown regularly in India. The other popular god is Krishna, the other incarnation of Vishnu as a human being. His epic is the Mahabharata, which describes the descent of the gods in human forms to save the Goddess Earth, oppressed by demons, burdened by overpopulation and in danger of dissolution.
There are different variations of this belief regarding how many incarnations there are and what other animal forms they adopt, but all generally follow these manifestations. Consequently, in Hinduism, the belief of one-fifth of humankind, man is God or part of God. The difference between the Creator and His creation is only superficial.
Popular Buddhism shares the Hindu incarnation concept with its own modifications. It teaches that every conscious being possesses the “Buddha nature” and is, therefore, capable of becoming a Buddha. Buddha, in earlier teachings, was truly a human teacher who lived and taught. However, in Mayahana Buddhism, the idea of the “eternal” Buddha, embodying the absolute truth, developed, and Buddha was elevated to Godhood. In order to reveal his message to humankind, this eternal Buddha manifests himself from time to time as an earthly Buddha to live and work among humans.
Thus, Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, became just one of the earthly appearances, a phantom apparition created by the eternal Buddha. Buddhism incorporated the elements of the Indian system of the gods and heavens and responded to the popularity of Bhakti Hinduism, personal devotion to savior deities. The Absolute or Buddha nature was seen by some as having attributes manifest as eternal Buddhas and bodhisattvas who existed in spiritual realms and offered their merits, protection and help toward enlightenment to all their followers who were devoted to them.
The chief ones among the eternal bodhisattvas were Avalokitesvara, a personification of compassion, and Manjusri, a personification of wisdom. And among the eternal Buddhas were Aksobhya (the Imperturbable), Amitabha (Eternal Light) and Amitayus (Eternal life).
Theravada Buddhism, Doctrine of the Elders, is essentially a discipline, which an individual practices in order to achieve salvation for himself by himself. Only monks who have the stamina and will power to live the strenuous religious life can reach this goal, and one who achieves it is called an arhant. There are two types of Nirvana, one with residue and one without.
The first is achieved by the arhant here and now, the five aggregates (skandhas: Which comprise all individuals; matter, sensation, perception, predisposition and consciousness) are still present, although the cravings that lead to continued rebirth are extinguished. Nirvana without residue refers to the state of the arhant after death about which the Buddha remains silent. There can only be one Buddha in an eon and enlightenment is reserved for an elite few. This aspect of Buddhism is called Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle.
With the passage of time after the Buddha’s death, Theravada monks were criticized as being too narrow and individualistic in their teachings. Dissensions arose and Buddhism evolved. A new form, Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, came to dominate.
God becomes one man
Christian belief in God’s incarnation has its origins in the beliefs of the ancient Greeks. The very terms used to describe God becoming Man exist in the Gospel of John 1:1 & 14, “In the beginning there was the Word (logos) and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Then the author of John goes on to say, “and the word be- came flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” Although the Greek term logos is translated as “word,” there is no single English term equivalent to it. Its importance lies in its use as a technical term in Greek metaphysical thought from the sixth century B.C., until the third century C.E., and in its appropriation by both Jewish and Christian thinkers. It first appeared in the expressions of Heraclitesas the motivating principle of the universe, but was, by Aristotle’s time, supplanted by the immaterial power nous and made the material power.
Logos reappeared in the system of the Stoics who termed their principle of teleology both logos and God. Philo (d. 50 C.E.), a Jewish Alexandrian philosopher, identified the creative word of the Old Testament with the logos of the Stoics. The logos thus became a transcendent principle, as the means by which God expresses Himself in the world. But logos also had a redemptive function; it was the means to a higher spiritual nature. In the Gospel of John, the logos are both creative and redemptive; the latter aspect is given greater emphasis than the former.
This belief required a reason, for which the concept of original sin and divine sacrifice were invented. It was claimed that due to the sin of Adam, which accumulated down the generations until it became so great that no human sacrifice could remove it, a divine sacrifice was needed. Consequently, God had a human son, who was God, Himself, incarnate. God’s son later died on a cross as a sacrifice for all humankind to God, Himself. The son, who is God, Himself, was later resurrected and currently sits on the right side of God’s throne waiting to judge humankind at the end of this world. So for Christians, also one fifth of humankind, God became a man at one and only one point in the history of this world, and belief in His incarnation is essential for salvation.
Men become God
From the perspective of Jesus’ humanity, the Christian belief that he is God could be perceived as elevating a single human being to the status of Godhood. There is, however, another body of beliefs among many of the followers of Islam, which, like Hinduism and Buddhism, offer human beings the opportunity to become God.
The origin of their beliefs can be found in mysticism whose roots are in ancient Greek mystery religions. Mysticism is defined as an experience of union with God and the belief that man’s main goal in life lies in seeking that union. The Greek philosopher Plato proposed this concept in his writings, particularly in his Symposium. In it he describes how the human soul can climb the spiritual ladder until it finally becomes one again with God. The basis of this belief is the teaching that human beings are, in fact, parts of God that have become trapped in this material world. The physical body cloaks the human soul. Consequently, the soul in their view is divine. The trapped part of God in this world must free itself from the material world and reunite with God.
There arose among Muslim people, a sect, which promoted this very same idea. Its followers are traditionally called “Sufis” and their system of beliefs is called “Sufism”. This term is usually translated into English as “mysticism” or “Islamic mysticism.” It is based on the same concept as that of the Greek mystics – that the human soul is divine and that the way that it becomes reunited with God is through certain spiritual exercises.
Various groups of Sufis evolved into cults called “Tareeqahs” (ways or paths). Each cult was named after its actual or supposed founder, and each had its own set of special spiritual exercises which members had to strictly adhere to. Most taught that after the followers performed the prescribed spiritual, emotional and physical exercises, they would become one with God.
This oneness was given the Arabic title fanaa, meaning “dissolution” or wosool, meaning “arrival.” The concept of “unity with God” was rejected by mainstream Muslim scholars but was embraced by the masses. In the tenth century, a Sufi devotee, al-Hallaaj (858-922), publicly announced that he was God and wrote poems and a book called Kitaab at-Tawaseen to that effect. In it he wrote, “If you do not recognize God, at least recognize his sign; I am the ultimate absolute truth because through the truth I am eternal truth. My friends and teachers are Satan, and Pharaoh. Satan was threatened by the Hellfire, yet he did not acknowledge anything between himself and God, and although I am killed and crucified, though my hands and feet are cut off, I do not recant.”