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Evolutionary Psychology and the Existence of God
by Dominick Hankle
01/22/09
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Evolutionary Psychology and the Existence of God

Evolutionary Psychology has the influence and star qualities Behaviorism had in the 1940’s and 1950’s for the practice of psychology. It seems that using the lens of natural selection to describe human behavior continues to grow, while the more classical ideas of the mind, human freedom, and non-deterministic theories have become passé. The work of such thinkers as Pascal Boyer, Justin Barrett, and Steven Pinker have brought the evolutionary approach for understanding human behavior into every conceivable element of psychological inquiry. This also includes the phenomenon of religion.

Atheists have to contend with the fact that every culture in the world has a natural proclivity toward religion. Atheism in a sense is learned later, early on human beings have a religious sense about them. The smallest tribe in the remotest part of the world has ideas concerning the divine, the after-life, and the mystical. Of course, a number of Evolutionary Psychologists would contend the reason for this system of belief is that there is an adaptive quality being served and therefore belief is important to the gene pool for survival. Other Evolutionary Psychologists propose that even if there is no adaptive purpose for this belief, then the belief in such a thing as “God” is merely a byproduct of other neurological adaptive processes. Regardless of their reasons, they dismiss the phenomenon as being nothing more than the result of adaption through the process of natural selection. Evolutionary Psychologists carry the banner of the famous “pseudo-atheist” Voltair who claimed “If God did not exist; it would be of necessity that he be created.”

Following the ideas above, it is interesting to note neurologists may actually bolster the claims of Evolutionary Psychology due to new technology in brain scanning equipment. Because of a condition called Temporal Lobe Epilepsy a number of neurologists have discovered that a great deal of brain activity related to religious experience occurs when the temporal lobes of the brain are stimulated. The idea is that this area of the brain (right near the ears) seems to be where the experience of religion is generated much like part of the brain is associated with language (Paul Broca and Carl Wernicke, early pioneers in brain function identified the left hemisphere of the brain to be the location for language). Given that there appears to be a genetic disposition toward rreligion just as there is for language, there must be an adaptive reason for this phenomenon, at least so says the Evolutionary Psychologist. Provided with the “scientific” evidence, it appears a great deal of the world also concurs.

As one who consistently deals with human beings working through psychological issues, the more deterministic view of behavior and belief has never made much sense. Theories such as those proposed by Sigmund Freud which are not necessarily evolutionary in nature but contain the same deterministic predisposition never really work when it comes to helping individuals make change. Freud’s idea that we are predisposed to act a certain way because of how we were weaned from the breast or were treated by our mothers does nothing to help an individual recover from anxiety or depression. Just knowing that this may have happened does not prescribe how to change the associated behavior and actually destroys the concept of the free will. Evolutionary Psychology tends toward the same presupposition and has one believe that we are genetically predisposed to behave a certain way and free will has little to do with what we do. So for the Evolutionary Psychologist, religion and the belief in God is not something we freely choose, but rather a biologically programmed response for adaptive reasons. In their view religion can be disposed of or ignored because when one uses the act of reason, one can just as easily develop the moral and social norms required to exist in communion which religion appears to have provided for our ancestors. My question to those of this persuasion is if it was required for survival and through the process of natural selection has continued, shouldn’t their own theory indicate that rekigion continues to be a required trait for survival? After all, that is the purpose of natural selection, to keep what is necessary and filter out what is not needed. One may respond that just like we continue to have a gallbladder and wisdom teeth, the genetic predisposition for religion is an obsolete appendage which can be removed without harm.

According to Christian theology, there is a “God hole” existing in every human person because the human person was created to live a life united with God. Human yearning calls out to this mystery we call God. By the use of the free will, the human person communes with God and finds its purpose and meaning within that relationship. God created the physical and metaphysical world and therefore it should be no surprise that he created a neurological system that seeks communion with him. The existence of biological structure does not imply there is no God, but rather speaks to the very existence of God. Much as we find in the universe the intrinsic truth and beauty of intelligent design, so can we see in this “God Spot” further evidence of the creator’s existence. Once again, the argument of whether science proves or disproves the existence of God is inappropriate because it is not the purpose of science to prove or disprove his existence. Science investigates the natural order through the use of reason; it does a beautiful job at setting the stage for that next movement of the soul, which is faith. If anything, I thank the science that continues to discover we are “wired for God”, not because it disproves his existence but rather provides a place for the very discussion to occur. No better place for evangelization in a world so in love with materialism and rationalism could ever exist.


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