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religion and the brain

Richard F Hall realistic at seanet.com
Mon Oct 25 03:59:26 EST 2004

On 11 Oct 2004 13:14:48 -0700, rscanlon at nycap.rr.com (ray scanlon)

>There is a continual attempt by the religionists to show that the
>brain is other than the expression of the DNA. The DNA constructs a
>precisely connected brain and sets the rules for synaptic growth and
>strengthening. These rules provide the structure with which the brain
>alters itself to adjust to the exterior world. 
It's true, the dog's brain is a different basic design than a human
brain and each of these designs carry out different functions.  So,
it's logical that there are subtle differences that make up the
variety of human brains, and many of these are measurable.  With a
little bit of study, we can see evidence of the effects of the
environment, through conditioning and learning, on the physical
outcome of the cranial organ.

>Any statement to the
>effect that the DNA does not have sufficient informational capacity to
>build such a brain is simply a denial of science.
So, what your saying here is short-sighted.  Why don't you just get to
the point and say you're denying anything other than a physiological
>Any statement that the neurons are randomly connected, or that
>behavior is not completely determined by the condition of the neurons
>at the instant of the behavior, is a denial of science.
>Any reference to free will, or to a soul with causal powers, is a
>denial of science. 

This last delineation isn't a complete sentence:
>For soul, read spirit, essence, psyche, mind,
>consciousness, awareness, intelligence, intellect, mentality, self,
>individuality, persona, personality, executive function, conscious
>mental field, self-awareness, sentience.
What did you have in mind here, Ray?

The following is an essay I wrote posted at 

There is and always will be a valid debate regarding "nature vs.
nurture". It is this author’s estimation that the events of the last
century in regard to racism, the holocaust, and civil rights, all of
which have genetic undertones, have had much to do with the rejection
of individual genetic differences and the promotion that all humans
are potentially equal. As a result, in this presentation, there will
be an emphasis on inherent qualities and how they interact with the

>From the evidence, let's say, it appears as though the brain is the
mind. The mind is what the brain does. As the brain is compromised,
damaged, or poisoned so is the mind. There are several indications
that there are specific areas of the brain that function for specific
activities. At one time, psychologists could administer a battery of
tests to determine an individual’s capabilities in a variety of areas.
Low test scores in specific functions would identify coinciding areas
of the brain where damage has taken place. Today we use direct brain
scans which are much more accurate in finding lesions. When specific
areas are damaged, such as with stroke victims, we know that other
areas of the brain will attempt to take over, but the result is never
as good as the original. Science has shown us that blood rushes to
specific areas of the brain in all of us when we think of certain
things. This suggests that these areas are the places in the brain
where this thinking is taking place.

There are many who maintain that all humanity is potentially equal in
capability, and that inherent determinants have nothing to do with the
brain. However, the evidence of inherent characteristics can be seen
in similarities between identical twins raised apart, for instance.
Family traits, including everything from talents to criminal
histories, also indicate evidence of inherent characteristics.
Inherent characteristics are evident in our virtually universal
obligatory social nature, and operations of learning and motivation. 
Throughout any population, the variation of most characteristics can
be recorded by the many bell-like shaped graphs of scores-
against-numbers-of-people. This common feature of variation is present
in virtually every measurement of human activity and form.
Standardized testing suggests that it is only rarely that individuals
scoring at a point in a graph of variation do anything other than
continue to score at that relative point when tested throughout their
life. There is something that maintains their level of capability
within the population.

All this points to the idea that a variation of "inherent
propensities" do exist in every group. As long as there is a variation
of a measurable characteristic in a population, there is the
opportunity to "shape" at least some of the members of a group. This
is accomplished when a small range of that variation is socially
sought after as appealing, such as height, or intelligence. Through
sexual mate selection guided by social values specifically encouraging
enhancement of some characteristic in the mothers and fathers, there
evolves a segment of their progeny with that enhancement. The brain
with its domain specific paths is highly sensitive to evolutionary
factors of both a social and inherent nature. The concept that
specific paths in the brain are dedicated to the representation of
particular aspects of what one perceives as reality has finally inched
its way into being applied to religious ideology. 

At this point, it would be safe to identify religious abstraction as
"supernatural concepts". This doesn't mean that there are genes for
these concepts, but that the design of the brain leaves us with a
propensity for them. An alcoholic who is never in contact with alcohol
will never become an alcoholic, just as a person with musical talent
will never realize their talent without music. One should also
recognize that a propensity has to be developed and reinforced as
socially advantageous and, as well, must not be contradicted by
personal experience. 

See http://www.seanet.com/~realistic/solipsism.html

The theory that concepts (memes, pronounced like "genes" with an "m")
are following evolutionary steps is very appealing to those who have
studied the history of humanity with ideologies in mind. The idea that
concepts that appeal to those working parts of our brains for which we
have a propensity, reinforced by our obligatory social nature and the
causal physical evolution, are the concepts which we will embrace also
makes sense against the evidence. 

Although the theories of memetic evolution fill books, a short
treatment is possible here. For instance, extinction of those who hold
a specific set of ideas through warfare is one of the major
contributors to memetic evolution. Any aspect of humanity that would
technologically advantage the group, or make it stronger, or larger,
would have a positive evolutionary influence by preventing such
extinction. One could also consider the impact of greater trust among
similarly thinking humans. This would lead to greater success, and
could be an evolutionary factor as well. 

So, now we have arrived at an anatomical aspect of the evolution of
religious and secular thought. We all tend to lean toward the
available philosophy that most compliments the domain specific paths
of our idiosyncratic brains. There are the creative individuals (in
the vanguard of evolution or the tangents of nonsense), the teachers,
the taught, and those who don't get it but tag along.
Is the atheist, like the individual who is blind from birth, merely in
possession of a brain that is deficient of the specific paths
sensitive to the religious experience? Intelligent humans are all
capable of seeing the same evidence, yet the theist will disregard the
atheistic notion due it's contradiction of their personal experience.
In this light, some might see atheism as a disability of
conceptualization; however, on the other hand, this might not be bad.
For instance, no one misses the excess body hair of our distant
ancestors even though this can be construed as a disabling of an
inherent characteristic.

Finally, it should be noted that religion is very integrated into our
obligatory social nature. It would be wise to consider these
characteristics rather than dispel them as a part of an obsolete
social mechanism to which many atheists are becoming alienated. Here
we are speaking of the general term "reverence". 
Reverence is composed of 1) identification, 2) dedication, 3)
humility, and 4) faith.

Psychologically speaking I can see the evolutionary advantages of
these qualities: "identification" with a group, when strengthened,
builds a larger, potentially more successful group. "Dedication"
brings a life into focus and gives meaning and purpose to existence.
"Humility" is not quite as obvious, but can be comforting in times of
individual trouble and doubt. This also has other more subtle
advantages. "Faith", though having unsettling connotations for some,
is held by everyone for some things. Why does one turn to science? One
has faith in it.

Richard F Hall
More on Reverence and Faith from A Measure Of Truth

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