Tag Archives: Daniel Dennett

Is God hardwired into the human brain?


A month or two ago I read this news story about how recent evidence suggests that God might be ‘hardwired’ into our brain. Before this study was even in the making, many of the New Atheists had already made up their mind that this was true. For example, in his book, “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon” Daniel Dennett claims that such hardwiring is a “fiction generating contraption” (Dennett, 2006: 120). Dawkins concurs: “The irrationality of religion is a by-product of a particular built-in irrationality mechanism in the brain”  (Dawkins, The God Delusion: 184). I’m not so sure if this conclusion is warranted. If a personal and loving God existed we would most certainly expect him to make himself known to his creation in order that they might engage with him in a Father-child relationship. This evidence puts yet another nail in poor Sigmund Freud‘s coffin, who said people believed in God as a result of nurture rather than nature. The great reformer John Calvin, meanwhile, has once again been vindicated by his comments written more than 400 years earlier that, “there is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.3.1, P43).

Another point may well be made to those who attempt to use the scientific evidence to undercut belief in God. Many of the New Atheists seem to think that because our belief in God may have originated from the way our brain is wired, this means that the belief is false. However, this seems to a clear example of the genetic fallacy in action. It is fallacious to try to invalidate a belief by simply showing how it originated. Yet even if we did grant that belief in God is false (which I don’t for a minute accept), then what implications would this have about the reliability of our cognitive faculties,  that evolutionary and biological mechanisms tend to create parts of our brain based on entirely vacuous concepts? Charles Darwin expressed his concerns like so, “With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” (Letter from Charles Darwin, pictured right, to William Graham, July 3rd 1881.)

Charles Darwin. 1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in....

Image via Wikipedia

Unless humans possess a mind which cannot be reduced purely to physics and biology, or there is a God who designed our cognitive faculties to aim at truth rather than mere survival, then what we know about evolution undercuts belief in an atheistic naturalism. On Professor Dawkins’ view our beliefs are the product of non-rational, deterministic physical forces beyond our control, regardless of whether we’re theists or naturalists. Paul Copan has said here, “in fact, if the naturalist is right, it’s only by accident—not because he’s more intellectually virtuous than the theist. That is, the naturalist has accidental true belief (which is not knowledge) rather than warranted true belief (which is knowledge).” Alvin Plantinga has written quite extensively about his ‘Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism’ (if that interests you check this out), and I think his argument poses a huge threat to naturalism.

If we accept what Dawkins et al. would have us believe about our cognitive faculties, then all our knowledge of two plus two equaling four, an external world existing, rape being morally wrong and there being objective purpose in life, are thrown out.

Surely it makes more sense to accept that we are hardwired for God because he designed us so, and because he genuinely wants us to know Him.

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