God in the brain

BrainA few years ago Dr. Dean Hamer made a splash with the publication The God Gene, in which he argued that he pinpointed a gene responsible for theism. The study, however, was very poorly done as his indicators of theistic belief had more in common with Eastern mysticism than theism. According to my answers to the survey questions Dr. Hamer would predict that I am a very skeptical agnostic when in fact I have dedicated my life to my religious belief.

Carl Zimmer, writing for Scientific American, ridiculed Dr. Hamer’s new book. In 1993 Scientific American published Dr. Hamer’s peer reviewed study “The Gay Gene,” which study was enthusiastically received by much of the scientific community before it was discredited a few years later. Zimmer was not impressed with Hamer’s exotic theories motivated by a quest for self-understanding.

Dr. Hamer, however, was trying to answer an important and troubling question. Certainly not everybody professes belief in God, but religion is a universal phenomenon that has existed in every culture since the beginning of human history until now. Plutarch observed, “If you go round the world, you will find cities without walls, or literature, or kings, or houses or money, without gymnasia or theaters. But no one ever saw a city without temples or gods, one which does not have recourse to prayers, oaths or oracles.” Cicero likewise wrote, “There is no people so wild and savage to have not believed in a god… It is necessary to believe that there are gods, because we have an implanted or an innate knowledge of them.”

Freud argued that religion is neurosis but he could not explain its universal impulse. Feuerbach argued that belief in God is wish-fulfillment, but he could not account for why we should have a desire for which there is no corresponding fulfillment. Karl Marx, like many before him, declared that religion was the opiate of the masses devised by the ruling class to keep the working class in line. While it is true that many rulers have used and perverted religion to this end, John Calvin pointed out the flaw in this explanation: “they never could have succeeded in this, had the minds of men not been previously imbued with that uniform belief in God, from which, as from its seed, the religious propensity springs.”[1] Even atheists often feel “the truth that they are desirous not to know” and they are troubled with the prospect of this truth.

If there is a God who has implanted in mankind an innate knowledge of the Divine then it follows that this is a God to whom we are morally accountable to. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul writes these sobering words, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:18-23).

The prospect of a personal God to whom we are morally accountable to is a frightening thing. Atheism is quite understandable from a psychological point of view: who wants an all Seeing Eye scrutinizing our every action and thought? But there is a way that we can come near to God without fear. He has provided a way for us to approach him as a father instead of a judge. Only through Jesus Christ, who gave himself for sinners, can we serve God without fear (Luke 1:74). Jesus came to take our place as God’s obedient Son. He obeyed the law in every respect so that he might substitute our disobedience with his obedience. On the cross he was judged as a sinner and absorbed the wrath of God against sin. Through his resurrection he was vindicated and conquered death. Through faith in Jesus our sins are covered and his righteousness is imputed to us. We are able to stand on the Day of Judgment forgiven and clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Although we are guilty, we will stand acquitted (Romans 5:12-21; 2 Corinthians 5:12). It is therefore through Jesus Christ alone that we can enter into a right relationship with our Heavenly Father.

[1] Inst., 1.3.2.