Neurobiological Gods

God(s) evolved as one of our brain functions in the same sense that vision evolved as a means of processing stimuli arising from photons stimulating neural tissue. That is, god(s) are located within the brain where, we propose, their evolved function nudges us toward Darwinian ends. This “god function” is neither trivial nor dysfunctional. Instead, it is integral to the effective functioning of the human brain as an organ shaped by natural selection (282).

Rather, we would say that religion arises from an “itch” that we “scratch” during religious practices, just as sex-drives generate a wide range of behaviors and cultural practices that are related to sex, many of which have little to do with actual reproduction. [. . .] we see religious experience as about as valid or useful as erotica. It too concerns and stimulates an important function, one that is part of the behavioral substratum underlying evolutionarily appropriate human conduct. Like erotica, religion may become extreme or dysfunctional in some cases. Also like erotica, there is some variation in religious practice, not all of it worthy of either condemnation or praise.

Religious experience is not divine in origin. Instead, it is an evolved part of the human way of life, one that is abrogated or dismissed only at some peril. Gods are real, and important. But they are neither transcendental nor all-powerful, and their origins are decidedly material. These gods no more deserve our worship or awe than our livers do, though the liver really is a pretty impressive organ. (287).

from Michael R. Rose and John P. Phelan “Gods Inside,” 50 Voices of Disbelief. Why We Are Atheists, edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schüklenk

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