This is Your Brain on God


NPR has a fun little interactive page about religion and the brain in which there are 5 basic subtopics:

The God Chemical
The God Spot
Spiritual Virtuosos
The Biology of Belief
Near Death Experiences

Reading through the articles I had some positive and negative reactions to what was being said. I want to focus on the first topic, the god chemical, as this was both the most obvious explanation for people's passionate belief in god and the article which inspired the most negative response from myself.

Under the first category, the god chemical, it reads:

research suggests that chemicals that act on the serotonin system trigger mystical experiences that are life-altering. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that helps regulate mood and sleep. Now those neurologists -- and others -- are replicating studies from the 1960s in which patients with end-stage cancer were given LSD to see if they were convinced that life exists beyond death. The research raises the question, is God a delusion created by brain chemistry, or is brain chemistry a necessary conduit for people to reach God?

Now, I have had my assumptions all along that there must be some kind of correlation between brain activity/chemical balances and the passionate adherence to beliefs which logically seem entirely ridiculous. The thing that bothers me about this is the question which is posed at the end - The research raises the question, is God a delusion created by brain chemistry, or is brain chemistry a necessary conduit for people to reach God?

This question is only raised if you are somehow inclined to believe that god exists in the first place. Given the overwhelming evidence that points to god not being real, it seems ludicrous to say that in this instance brain chemistry and activity might exist as a conduit for holy interactions when in most other cases brain chemistry and activity is considered with far more scrutiny - certainly more scrutiny than would allow such a theory in any other area to even be proposed.

This begs the question: why is it that the rules seem to change whenever god is brought into the picture?

Now I admit I'm treading into unknown waters here as I am not a biologist or scientist of any kind and so I also freely admit that there could be information which I don't know about which could solidify the suggestion of there being a god connection wired in the brain. I know that the brain is one of the most unknown organs of the body despite decades of dedicated research, but that to me seems to weaken the argument that because x part of the brain reacts in this way when exposed to god, that means that x could be necessary in talking to god. That seems like more of a logic jump than what should be allowed with the amount of information we currently have available.

Logic jumps like these seem to only be widely permissible when kept within the context of religion, and so to a skeptic like myself that makes these allowances all the more suspect.