God on the Brain: Argument from Innate God Concept


As with all my God arguments this one does not claim to prove God's existence, but to demonstrate that bleief is rationally warranted and thus meets a reasonable prmia facie burden.


(1) Studies of religious experience and brain reveal a sense that there is an innate idea of a God cocnept in human brain.

(2) The brain structures seems to be organized in such a way that this concept of "the divine" is so much at the center of the way it works that's actually good for us to ponder it.

(3) Innate ideas are impossible and genes can't ponder ideas. This would seem to indicate that these ideas are somehow purposely implanted by some higher form of mind that understands them and wants us to have them. The fact that they are good for us to think about indicates that we are "designed" to know God.

Science doesn't recognize innate ideas. Many people might think it does, they are fooled into thinking by the nature of genetic disposition. Genes determine many things in our behavior and of course everything about our physical endowment. Those are not ideas. Behavior is not an idea and we call "instinct" is not an idea. That is to say we don't' have fully formed concepts that we are born with, we are born with urges and drives to pursue certain things. We don't have fully formed ideas of these things, they have to be discovered and the ideas must be developed.

It seems now that we are born with a certain idea of God. That seems to stretch the credibility of evolutionary theory and marks the game as fixed. That's like finding the fifth ace up someone's sleeve. Beginning about mid 90's the media began talking about "the God part of the Brain." They ran stories on scientists stimulating people's brains and producing religious feelings. Here's a quote from one of those early stories:

by Steve Connor
Science Correspondent
Sunday Times,UK 11/02/97

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 overstimulation 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 is this part of the brain's electrical circuitry, the scientists said. 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 brain's temporal lobes – showed that the epileptics and the deeply religious displayed a similar response when shown words invoking spiritual belief.

Since that time researchers (notably Andrew Newberg) have discovered that there is no one area that is stimulated by religious behavior. There are several areas, different areas for different activities such as meditation or prayer. These areas are mainly in the parietal lobe and the temporal lobe.

two arguments:

I. Innate idea:

the same basic set of ideas about the ultimate or the top of the metaphysical hierarchy are found around the world. There is some variation between personal or impersonal but essentially they all refer to the notion of some kind of Ground of being or Transcendental Signifier. They all center on the notion of a "divine" or "Holy" referent. These are actual ideas not merely instincts and their nature as ideas, our reactions to them which the same world over, seem to indicate this is more than an instinct and yet it shouldn't be more than that.

that gives us pause to think that it's a clue. It's something we are meant to have in order to find the higher reality. More than just evolutionary because evolution can't give you full blown ideas.

Those who try to explain religion away as a by product of the way our minds work, nevertheless help illustrate the innate idea in God awareness.

Mind Power News
Original Source is Michael Brooks
in New Scientist

That's not to say that the human brain has a "god module" in the same way that it has a language module that evolved specifically for acquiring language. Rather, some of the unique cognitive capacities that have made us so successful as a species also work together to create a tendency for supernatural thinking. "There's now a lot of evidence that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired," says Bloom.

Much of that evidence comes from experiments carried out on children, who are seen as revealing a "default state" of the mind that persists, albeit in modified form, into adulthood. "Children the world over have a strong natural receptivity to believing in gods because of the way their minds work, and this early developing receptivity continues to anchor our intuitive thinking throughout life," says anthropologist Justin Barrett of the University of Oxford.

Even though this is an atheist trying to explain away God belief,we must ask why do our minds work in such a way as to produce the idea of God? More on this below under objections.

II. Good for us to think about.

Because it's good for us that would indicated we are fitted for it. We are made for it, it is there for a purpose. It's more than just survival of the fittest mechanism there's no indication that it's genetic, that is the positive aspects of thinking about it.

Newberg:Random House
Excepts of How God Changes Your Brain

In Why God Wont Go Away I demonstrated that the human brain is unquely constructed to perceive spiritual realities....spiritual practices even when stripped of religious beliefs enhase the neural functioning in ways that improve phsyical and emtional health... long term contemplation of God and other spiritual values appears to permanently change the structure of those parts of the brain that control our moods, give rise to our conscious notions of self, and shape our sensory perceptions of the world. Contemplative practices strengthen a specificc nuerologial circut that generates peacefulness, social awareness, and compassion for others.
(website by Random House with excepts from Newberg's book)

III. objections and answers

A. Naturalistic origin Turnaround

Skeptics argue that the idea of stimulating the brain and getting religious proves that religion is just a naturalistic part of genetic endowment. That is proof enough for them that God is not involved. I argue quite the contrary it actually makes a dandy God argument (it meets the prima facie burden on rational warrant--gives us a reason to believe in God).

Newberg doesn't believe that naturalistic mechanisms rule out God. He says the skeptic is too hasty in assuming this:

Newberg, Why God Won’t God Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. (New York, Ballentine Books), 2001, pp. 157-172.

A skeptic might suggest that a biological origin to all spiritual longings and experiences, including the universal human yearning to connect with something divine, could be explained as a delusion caused by the chemical misfiring of a bundle of nerve cells. But …After years of scientific study, and careful consideration of the a neurological process that has evolved to allow us humans to transcend material existence and acknowledge and connect with a deeper, more spiritual part of ourselves perceived of as an absolute, universal reality that connects us to all that is.

…Tracing spiritual experience to neurological behavior does not disprove its realness. If God does exist, for example, and if He appeared to you in some incarnation, you would have no way of experiencing His presence, except as part of a neurologically generated rendition of reality. You would need auditory processing to hear his voice, visual processing to see His face, and cognitive processing to make sense of his message. Even if he spoke to you mystically, without words, you would need cognitive functions to comprehend his meaning, and input form the brain’s emotional centers to fill you with rapture and awe. Neurology makes it clear: there is no other way for God to get into your head except through the brain’s neural pathways. Correspondingly, God cannot exist as a concept or as reality anyplace else but in your mind. In this sense, both spiritual experiences and experiences of a more ordinary material nature are made real to the mind in the very same way—through the processing powers of the brain and the cognitive functions of the mind. Whatever the ultimate nature of spiritual experience might be—weather it is in fact an actual perception of spiritual reality—or merely an interpretation of sheer neurological function—all that is meaningful in human spirituality happens in the mind. In other words, the mind is mystical by default.5

5 Ibid., p37

The medieval German mystic Meister Echkart lived hundreds of years before the science of neurology was born. Yet it seems he had intuitively grasped one of the fundamental principles of the discipline: What we think of, as reality is only a rendition of reality that is created by the brain. Our modern understanding of the brain’s perceptual powers bears him out. Nothing enters consciousness whole. There is no direct, objective experience of reality. All the things the mind perceives—all thoughts, feelings, hunches, memories, insights, desires, and revelations—have been assembled piece by piece by the processing powers of the brain from the swirl of neural blimps. The idea that our experiences of reality—all our experiences, for that matter—are only “secondhand” depictions of what may or may not be objectively real, raises some profound questions about the most basic truths of human existence and the neurological nature of spiritual experience. For example our experiment with Tibetan mediators and Franciscan nuns showed that the events they considered spiritual were, in fact, associated with observable neurological activity. In a reductionist sense this could support the argument that religious experience is only imagined neurologically, that God is physically ‘all in your mind.’ But a full understanding of the way in which the brain and the mind assemble and experience reality suggests a very different view.7

7 Ibid. pp. 35-36

B. God works through natural

God created nature and can work in it all the time. Tielhard de Chardin believed that the strong force was God's presence holding the universe together. There's no reason to reject God from the natural, unless one is a skeptic and searching for an excuse not to believe. The only problem with this answer is that there must be something one can point to that determines a difference between God being involved and not involved. Without that it can't be a rational warrant for God belief. That difference need not be a naturalistic biological mechanism. Otherwise there's a tie, and we need tie breakers.

C. Tie Breakers:

(1) The innate aspect of the idea refutes naturalistic assumption
There are still aspects of the innate God sense, such as it's nature as an innate idea, that argue agaisnt a totally naturalistic origin. If the atheist argument were true and universality is examined by human brain structure, we all have the same brain so we all have the kinds of religious experiences, then we should all have the same language and the same culture. On How stuff works (website) there's an explaination as to why we don't all have the same language.

One prominent theory about the development of the first languages relates to tools and resources. Teaching another person how to use tools requires a certain, agreed-upon vocabulary, as does the process of sharing and protecting resources like food and shelter. Small groups of people living in close quarters would therefore need to develop a way to understand each other, so they came up with a vocabulary and syntax that meant something to them. A group of people across the world from them, though, would probably need an entirely different vocabulary of words, so the languages would have developed differently in isolation. Think of the oft-quoted (but erroneous) example that Eskimos have 100 different words for snow because they have so much of it. While that common statement is wrong, there are cultures that have far more words for rice and camels than, say, English does.
If you think about it that's just another way of saying "becasue it's not pre-determined." We have different experiences and so we have different reactions. This would indicate that religous experiences are actual;u experience of something, which the same thing for all.

Objection to tie breaker 1:
Isn't generative grammar an innate idea?

Noman Chomsky says there is a "preprogramed" language organ in the brain.

Answer: Not really the same thing. We don't have fully formed concepts of grammar in our minds as we grow up. We know how to use grammar instinctive but we don't have to have grammatical theories fully formed in our heads. Yet people seem to respond to religious experinces with the sense taht there is this "thing" God, the divine, the transcendent. There's a concept to that that's already formed; the numinous.

(2) The universality of the idea

Adrew Newrber
The Mystical Mind 199
In Western Religion and in Hinduism...God is conceived as the ultimate externaltiy (transcendent) the ultimate internatility (immanent) and sometimes as both...Often God is not perceived as simply a higher being but has been has been described as the Ground or substance of all being. Thus God is not only the higher being but also a state of higher being or ultimate realty. In fact, in the mystical traditions of Western religions, the goal of the practice of meditation is to become intensely untied with God...The important point is that no matter how this ultimate being or state of being is described, it's fundamental characteristics are remarkably similar across traditions and cultures. (on line page 4)
That correlates with Dr. Hood's findings that when one removes the specific names and doctrines, the nature of the experiences and the way people relate to them are the same across all cultural boundaries. (Hood, Ralph. W. Jr. (2006). The common core thesis in the study of mysticism. In P, McNamar (Ed.), Where God and science meet, Vol. 3, pp. 119-138. Westport, CT: Praeger.)

Hood States in German Psychological Journal

Elsewhere I have argued for reading James' treatment of mysticism in the Varieties as an example of the unity thesis in mysticism (Hood, 2003). The unity thesis is the view that both within and outside of the great faith traditions, is an experience that is essentially identical, regardless of interpretation. James put the issue thusly:

In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian Mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which brings it about that the mystical classics have, as has been said, neither birthday nor native land. Perpetually telling of the unity of man with God, their speech antedate language, and they do not grow old (James, 1902/1985, p. 332, emphasis mine)

The above quote clearly hints at two of the basic assumptions of those who support the unity thesis. First, it implies that a distinction can be made between experience and its interpretation. Second, it suggests that for at least some linguistic descriptions, an underlying uniform experience cuts across language differences (Hood, 2003, 2006). This position has been most systematically developed by Stace (1961) under the rubric of the common core thesis and is the basis of the most commonly used empirical measure of mysticism, the Mysticism Scale which has been used in numerous studies for more than a quarter of a century (Hood, 1975, 1997).(http://www.journal-fuer-psychologie.de/jfp-3-2008-04.html)

Atheist objection to no 2:
Human Brain Structure produces Universal Ideas?

This is the answer most often given to the universality argument for mystical experience and the God sense in the brain that seems to unite people across cultures. That would be their direct Answer to Tie barker number 2.


(a) No scientific correlation between uniformity of brain structure and uniformity of experience

Clearly we don't all experience the same things just because we are human.

(b) Universal behavior is always assumed in scinece to be genetically based in some sense.

We must assume that ideas are from culture. Fully formed concepts are cultural constructs. These are not genetic the usually differ form culture to culture.

Anders Rassmussen Blog
"Universal Human Behaviors"
Friday, December 29, 2006

There is a trend amongst scholars in sociology and gender sciences to argue that more or less everything is social constructions. Relationships and roles in the society are constructed by humans in our conversations. Hence, they argue, there are almost no universal behaviors. Anthropologists writing about strange habits in different societies are often cited to show that there is great variability between people living in different places, and indeed there is. However, it is often overlooked that there are many similarities between different cultures as well. I argue that even though there are many differences between people in different societies that stand out, there are also many, more fundamental, behaviors which do not vary between different cultures. These behaviors seem so natural to us that we barely notice them...

Take beauty for instance. Is it true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Research suggests not! People from cultures all around the globe agree on what faces are beautiful and which are not beautiful. For example, symmetrical faces are seen as more attractive than non-symmetrical faces. Similarly, around the globe a 0.7 and 0.9 waist to hip ratio for women and men respectively, is considered the most attractive body shape. Preferences for the amount of fat on the body varies between cultures. In starving countries in Africa "wider" ladies are generally preferred whereas in western cultures almost anorectic women are seen as very attractive, but consistently it is found that people prefer 0.7 and 0.9 waist to hip ratios. We can do even better than this. For example, have you seen someone who becomes happy when faced with misfortune and sad when life is good? Have you heard of a society where there is neither love nor hate?

If there's a genetic disposition to the idea of God that's a pretty good reason to believe God had to put it there. Could a gene or a Spandrels really develop based upon an imaginary being in the sky? Or even based upon the ground of being? There would require ideas implanted in the gene structure, if they were false ideas that would be even more remarkable.

Either it's cultural in which case it shouldn't be universal or it's genetic in which case the geentic structure of an idea must be explained.

(more tie breakers)
(3) the "coincidence" of the idea

It just happens that this beneficial mutation or combination of genetic endowments happen to produce this confirmation of a full blown idea in the mind that is about not only something that doesn't exist but also the one thing of which atheists are terrified and spend their lives fighting, and it just happens to be this one thing. No other natural sense taht we have is about unreal things. We have an instinct for food, food exist. We don't have any other instincts that give us a mythology of fantasy about unreal things that happen to serve us better than reality.

(4) Problems with Evolutionary Assumptions

From O'Connor article above.
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 co-operation between individuals.

(a) why not just adapt to genetic trait for co-operation? why all the mystical and religious hubub just for that? It seems that would be more efficient and would have been more likely.

(b) in other endowments we don't mustache belief in fantasy and unreal things that just happens to work out to benefit us.

"Religion Is Not an Adaptation" 159
Lee A. Kirkpatrick
In Where God and Science Meet
ed Patrick McNamara
Finally, perhaps the biggest problem with religion-as-adaptation theories
is that, in virtually every example I have encountered, it seems clear that a
much simpler design could solve the (presumed) adaptive problem at least
as well as religion. Natural selection is a very conservative process that,
starting from the existing design, fashions new adaptations by changing as
little as necessary. Simpler designs are more evolvable designs. Consider, for
example, suggestions that religious beliefs are adaptive because they provide
relief from anxiety or other psychological benefi ts. In addition to other problems
outlined previously as to how religion could represent an adaptation
designed to produce such effects, it seems obvious that a much simpler way
for natural selection to reduce anxiety would be to simply tweak a parameter
of the anxiety system or mechanism to make it quantitatively less reactive
in response to threats or to simply recalibrate it to produce consistently
lower levels. Such a minor change in an existing anxiety system would be far
easier—and thus more likely—for natural selection to produce than all the
complex systems and mechanisms (not to mention group-level phenomena)
required to produce anxiety-reducing religion.

(c) that assumes that somehow our genes would know that religious is bound up with social cooperation. It just happened to develop as side stream of co-operation but that's assuming a lot. There's no reason why belief in God had work into a social thing. The individual aspects of belief indicates there's more to it than that.

(d) The full blown concept of TS, the top of he metaphysical hierarchy and the basis of all that is seems to be present in all God concepts, weather personal or impersonal. Evolution can't bestow a full formed idea. That has to be a cultural construct and a produce ot culture becuase it's sophisticated and consists of too many prior concepts.

Atheist Objection:
way the mind works

The argument (from Michael Brooks above) that a separation between animate and inanimate is created in infancy and childhood by the seeming disembodiment of dreaming and mind/body distinction.So we can project a mind in the sky.

This is pretty much begging the question, and does more assuming about religious ideas being fully formed. It just as easily confirms the innate idea of god. It's assuming a host innate concepts such as life after death are projections of the way the brain works, still means innate ideas.


What this argument does not do is establish God as a fact beyond dispute. We don't' want to do that. That would circumvent the personal search God wants us to conduit to internatlize the values of the good. What it does do is demonstrate that we have empirical data that can be used to extrapolate from logcially and in a valid way, to warrant belief in God in a ratinoal and verifiable way. These verifiable scientific facts about the effects of God concept on brain chemistry indicate that:

(1) We have God finder equanimity designed into us

(2) It's good for us to use it, indicates we are designed to have it. We are fit to be religous.

The atheist slogan will be employed "we don't arguments we want facts" I've already demonstrated that the same kind of extrapolations are used by scientists in support of theory.

(a) Neutrino

Scientists first proposed the neutrino based upon theory and the behavior of other particles They did not have any direct proof of a neutrino for 30 years but they continued to assume they were real based upon argument form theory!

(b) smoking as a cause of cancer

We went 40 years without knowing the mechanism for smoking causing cancer but we acted on the fact of a very tight correlation by itself. (

Website “Cancer Research UK,” URL http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/healthyliving/smokingandtobacco/, “Smoking and Cancer” visited March, 24, 2009.

See my page on Religious a priori, "Scientists Extrapolate to Argue for Theory" Where I present more evidence on the Neutrino argument.