A Leap of Faith


Perhaps it had no beginning.  Perhaps, being spacetime itself, it is neither where nor when.  Like the scarlet ribbons of song, it came “I will never know from where.”  Yet here I am, awake in this vast improbability for a nanosecond of cosmic time, a mote of life on a fleck of rock afloat in the cosmic ocean.  What better way to pass that waking instant than to probe its mysteries?  What better ends than love and wonder, the two great gifts of consciousness?  A true sense of wonder ignites an open quest for knowledge―not the idolatry born of an egocentric metaphysics, of our paleolithic brains, our parental programming, or the need to restore childhood innocence―but a curiosity rooted in true humility, one guided by the highest of human endeavors, the enterprise of science.

Beyond all the practical benefits, science is a spiritual quest in the broadest and deepest sense.  At its heart is the attempt to perfect a grand internal model of reality, to find the center by completing the edge.  Yet if science is a belief, it is simply a faith in the inherent potential of humanity.  As the only reliable road to whatever reality is accessible to us, scientific knowledge is the result of open inquiry and debate, accepted only when a range of compelling evidence is corroborated and replicated by a community of inquirers.  Science is structured like a web; its facts are bound tightly in place by many supportive threads.  When they enable us to make accurate predictions and build powerful devices, we know we have tapped into some form of reality.  “It is not the ‘true’ story,” said philosopher Paul Kurtz, “but it is certainly the truest.” 

Yet there is a great wall dividing what we know from what we feel.  We are a species still in childhood, only now becoming aware of the true immensity and complexity of the cosmos, a universe turbulent and mysterious beyond anything our forebears conceived.  “Mystery surrounds us.” wrote Chet Raymo.  “It laps at our shores.  It permeates the land.  Scratch the surface of knowledge and mystery bubbles up like a spring.”1  And “the larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shore of wonder.”

Wonder reflects the mysterium tremendum, the aura of unfathomable majesty, utterly humbling and wholly Other, surrounding the sublime and terrifying unknowns that have bordered our models of reality—the dark forest, the sacred mountain, the boundless sea, the black silence of cosmic infinity.  The proclivity of otherwise educated people to believe in Adam’s rib and Noah’s Ark suggests that some of us have an inability to confront the abyss.  A mature sense of wonder occurs when one no longer perceives the world and the cosmos in a provincially personal context.  Entering mental adulthood, one sees the world as neither parental nor primarily threatening, but as impersonal and indifferent.  There is resignation, if not romance, in ones isolation, and a higher tolerance for ambiguity, for ones insignificance, and for the high probability that there is no personal meaning out there, no divine parent watching over each of us.  The chasm between innocence and maturity is that the one sees the cosmos as familiarly personal, while the other sees the personal as inscrutably cosmic.

In the face of all that we have learned, how is it that most of us still live conceptually with one foot in the twelfth century?  How is belief maintained not only in the absence of any clearly defined nonmaterial concepts but in the face of overwhelming, contradicting, empirical evidence—the same body of fact believers accept as the basis for all other areas of life?  For the believer, the answer is simply “faith.”  But far from supplying an answer, faith is the very thing that needs explaining.  The problem often lies in the search for a single answer.  In truth, religious belief is the result of many interrelated conditions, rooted in evolution, biology, psychology, and society. 

The first axiom for any answer is that religiosity is the default state of the human psyche.  Contrary to the assumption of many atheists that religious belief is a deviation, the rectification of which would return the believer to a more natural state of mind, it is the atheist who is deviant, albeit in the same sense, he might argue, that the first sea creatures to reconnoiter the land were deviant forms of life.  But given the near universality of belief and the benefits that counterbalance its burdens and brutality, it is better to seek an understanding of it than to treat it as a primitive anachronism or collective sickness.  No amount of rational analysis or caustic sarcasm will convert the true believer.  Present dogmas are no more eradicable than consumerism, media addiction, conservative provincialism, or liberal naiveté.  Open-minded, self-reflecting skepticsthose whose lives are more than a borrowed scriptare prone to live in a lonely world.

There are three broad bases for disbelief.  The first is the failure of all arguments for the theology of belief, so final and familiar as to need no repetition.  The second is the age-old problem of evil, all abstruse attempts to explain it away faring no better.  Third and most important is a new perspective on the psychology of belief.      

The Psychology of Belief

The first thing to note is that such incentives for faith as the fear of death or the need for social connectionfeelings common to believers and nonbelievers alikeare secondary explanations.  Rather, the challenge is to explain how intelligent people can assuage those needs with bizarre beliefs

        Of the many complex and multifarious factors influencing religious conviction, eight seem particularly significant: (1) parental conditioning; (2) separation anxiety; (3) the personalized world; (4) the counterintuitive nature of reality as revealed by science; (5) the hardwiring of the brain, the neurophysiology of spirituality as revealed through brain scans; (6) what has been called “caveman logic”―our proclivity, evolved for survival during millions of years as hunter-gatherers, to achieve meaning and control by projecting patterns and hidden agency onto experience; (7) the confluence of factors encouraging belief, producing a circumstantial gestalt, a whole that overrides weakness in any of the parts;and running through all of these: (8) the ability of language to reify would-be concepts that simply multiply aspects of known reality by zero or infinity (∞·love, ∞·power, 0·space, 0·time, 0·matter).

1. Parental Conditioning:

The vast majority of believers have inherited the religion of their parents.  Even if one of the world’s myriad religions were “true,” adherence would more likely derive from parents than from truth.  Unlike other animals, we are born with instincts insufficient to guide us automatically in all situations.  Young children are therefore predisposed by natural selection to believe whatever their parents or tribal elders tell them.  We thus learn many of our core beliefs before we have the rational capacity to evaluate them.  Subsequent information is processed along neural pathways that harbor our previous experience; the more frequent the associations, the more solid they become, which makes beliefs, once learned, so difficult to change.  The synaptic pathways become set and the stories are passed on in perpetuity. 

Children are prone to magical thinking, due as much to the brain’s initial overconnectivity as to lack of experience.  They see everything, living and nonliving, as serving some purpose.  The low limb of a tree exists to facilitate climbing, not from some blind organic process.  The ability of Santa Claus to descend all the world’s chimneys in one night needs no further explanation than his love of children―of oneself.  Like the later notion of God, he is an extension of the parents, the omnipotent, omniscient providers who appear over and over again to rescue us from hunger and distress and to respond to our emotional needs.  The relation to parents and to an unseen benevolent world in which everything relates to self is internalized, at first like the “transitional objects” of object-relations psychology, the teddy bears and puppy loves that function as substitute bonds while aiding the break, first from mother, and later from home.  One result of that separation is the second condition of belief. 

2. Separation Anxiety

Two great complexes animate our lives, the dream of immortality and the fantasy of the Magical Other (mother, father, soul-mate, God).  “Nothing has greater power over our lives,” says psychologist James Hollis, “than the hint, the promise, the intimation, of the recovery of Eden through that Magical Other.”2  The root experience is the clouded memory of wholeness, of union with the maternal, with the world as extended Self.  Childhood and adolescence are essentially a process of self-definition, of becoming a separate individual.  Lacking clear boundaries between self and others, the infant sees everything as a literal extension of herself.  Gradually, through frustrating encounters with limits, she learns the boundaries between self and other.  The sense that the warm intimacy of home extends into the world begins to shrink.  My bed as an integral extension of me becomes simply a bed; and the ego grows ever more finite and detached in a world of impersonal and interchangeable objects. 

In adolescence this individualizing process accelerates.  The imperative is to break out of the parental cocoon and become a unique, autonomous individual.  But in truth the adolescent is torn between the security of home and the promise of the world, the paradoxic desire to escape the parental world while remaining safely within it.  The greater the separation, the greater the longing to carry the cozy parental aura into the world and the cosmos, where the notion of a personal God replaces the parents, the sense of infinite possibility becomes belief in a hereafter, and the great mysteries are diminished, at worst, to fundamentalist fairy tales.  The etymology of the word religion is “to bind back to, reconnect with.”  The drive is to retain or recapture the primal sense of unity with the world and restore oneself to the center of that intimate, personal universe.  The core desideratum of human consciousness is always to find some kind of oceanic meaning that reunites the self and the world. 

In The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief, psychologist Mel Faber explains that our parents―the earliest people with whom we enter “object relations”―become our inner universe, an inextricable part of us.  Separation is then seen as a significant loss of self, leading us to project the internalized parental image “out there” where it was originally experienced.  To deny that projection, to reject God, is therefore experienced as a loss of identity.3

3. The Personalized World

We think of consciousness, our own minds, as superior to dead matter by a whole order of being.  The notion that ultimate reality must be some greater version of human consciousness is so natural that most of us never escape it.  While the natural world seems governed by immutable laws, consciousness appears to have free will; it manipulates matter and is the locus of all meaning—meaning lying in whatever complements the ways in which our minds are programmed to see the world.  The root assumption is that consciousness is more than that programming, more than the brain.  Once that is assumed, it is natural to project the superiority of mind over dead matter as the essence of any final reality.  And since the only model for that mind is our own consciousness with its inherent structure of meaning, it is easy to project a cosmic mind that reflects that same structure.  We are little surprised, then, to learn that this cosmic mind enters the material world, takes human form, performs miracles, and becomes our Superparent. 

The resulting personalization of reality, a reality centered on us, rests on the groundless assumption that we are more than complex electrochemical features of the material world we disdain.  Yet even accepting that condition, we are still prone to assume that its product—human meaning—somehow underlies all existence.  It is the drive to meaning that is inescapable, not only to allay our fears and fulfill our needs, but to discover where and what we are.  To that end, science differs from most theologies in that it sees meaning as an unfolding but unending quest in an impersonal cosmos.

The quest is less about meaning in the world than meaning in one’s own lifethe need to feel significant, to know that in some way one’s existence matters.  We long to be needed, to be known, to leave a mark, to be the focus of other beings, real or imagined.  It seems more than coincidence that the foundations for all the world’s major religions arose (along with the birth of philosophy and science) in what philosopher Karl Jaspers called the axial age, 800 to 200 B.C., a time of transition from the intimacy of tribal villages to the impersonal environment of life in cities.  The advent of coinage and abstract markets, for example, could reduce one’s mattering to the facade of numeric wealth.4  As civilization became ever more depersonalized, convictions that bolstered the need to matter, to inhabit a more personalized world, became ever more important.  In the West, this meant the spread of the Hebraic-Greek tradition of monotheistic religion and philosophy.  As philosophy evolved into science (originally called natural philosophy), the major figures of the scientific revolution remained deeply religious; but as science came to understand more of the world, the conflict between faith and reason grew apace, exploding most recently in a plethora of books, articles, and public debates.

4. The Counterintuitive World

When the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake knocked out the power in the middle of the night, Griffith Observatory received a number of calls asking if the quake was responsible for the sky being “so weird.”  The city-bound callers had never seen a star-filled sky.  Why are so many of us unaware of the vast vistas and inexhaustible mysteries of space and time?  An immense number of us are uncurious about anything we can’t perceive directly.  Since the universe of modern science violates what we call common sense, many choose simply to ignore it.  The alleged fifteen percent who believed that the moon landing was an elaborate government hoax staged for television somewhere in Arizona exemplified in the extreme the widespread want of the most elementary concepts necessary to grasp the event.  The default state of the psyche is to believe direct experience, to affirm our immediate perception—what feels right.

mail.google.comSeeing is believing.  Which of the lines is longer?  Clearly, the one on the right.  We feel no need to measure.  Yet measurement reveals them to be the same length.  It’s obvious to the eye that the sun circles the Earth.  And I know from a finger’s touch that the table is solid and cannot be 99.9999999999999 percent empty space.  Yet all the subatomic particles in all the six billion people on Earth would pack into a volume slightly larger than a grain of rice.  How, then, did we come to look beyond our directly perceived “truths” to discover the Earth’s rotation and the nature of matter?  Why would anyone question a perception for which there are no apparent contradictions?  Why would anyone measure the two lines?  Most of us, in fact, do not question.  I accept the rotation of the Earth only because I have inherited the proof from someone else.  Education is essential.

For most people, science seems irrelevant to their personal lives.  Surveys show that the vast majority of Americans are scientifically illiterate.  Of thirty-two European nations and Japan, only Turkey surpasses America in the percentage of citizens rejecting evolution.  Even in the realm of religion, most are concerned far less with theological foundations than with practical needs and human relations.  To say that science is relevant to everything is not “scientism”—a straw man set up by those who fail to see that grounding consciousness in a material reality in no way compromises our values, art, or humanity.  It does not reduce our feeling for red to know that it originates in a wave length that has no redness itself.  Our direct experience is never less than primary.  By refining that experience, science can only enhance and deepen it.

5. The Nature of the Brain:  Caveman Logic

A number of books, including Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, Bruce Hood’s SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable, and Hank Davis’ Caveman Logic: The Persistence of Primitive Thinking in a Modern World, describe the hard-wired, autopilot brain circuitry that evolved over millions of years to solve the adaptive problems regularly encountered by our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  It was in that kind of existence that we developed a mind design programmed to infer structures and patterns in the world and to make sense of it by generating intuitive theories.  The time spanned by the agricultural, industrial, and urban revolutions is only seconds in evolutionary time.  We evolved as small bands of foragers.  Sedentary settlements, large tribes, kingdoms, nation-states, and other such modern institutions—let alone the counterintuitive concepts of science—are so recent in evolutionary time that we have not yet developed reliable intuitions about them.  This caveman mind, as Boyer notes, “does not work like one general ‘let’s-review-the-facts-and-get-an-explanation’ device.”  Rather, it comprises “lots of specialized explanatory devices, more properly called inference systems, each of which is adapted to particular kinds of events and automatically suggests explanations for these events” without our being aware of it.5  These mental shortcuts, while necessary for survival, also engender extraneous beliefs and experiences that lead us to infer hidden patterns, energies, and dimensions to reality.  Religion is a product of many of these systems.

The prime concern of our ancestors was not accuracy but survival.  We are predisposed, for example, to attribute agency or purpose to anything that puzzles or frightens us; it’s better to assume a rustle in the bushes is a wolf than to act on the odds that it’s only the wind.  Thus the human brain is pattern-seeking, attributing design, meaning, purpose, and intent to events that may in fact be random or coincidental.  The basis for pattern-seeking may be dopamine, too much of which causes people to see all sorts of patterns and significances unapparent at normal levels.  We have a great aversion to random data, habitually interpreting it to conform to transient or nonexistent patterns.  But again, it’s better to misperceive order than to risk missing a vital pattern.  Where a cause is unknown. inventing one allays uncertainty; it becomes a visceral belief, a simplistic myth.  

Related to this is our need to feel in control, to believe that one’s actions can determine personal outcomes.  Where we lack control, we presume an agent who has it and seek it either directly through prayer or by offering some sacrifice, a gesture in line with the reciprocal instincts inherent in social primates.  A mountain of anthropological evidence has shown that we are more prone to believe when we feel a loss of control.  Superstitious rituals increase with levels of uncertainty and great religious awakenings coincide with tumultuous eras.

If we were to make one generalization about these systems it would be that they ascribe to our experiences the kind of crucial meaning that directs us toward the physical and social ends required for individual and collective survival.

6. The Nature of the Brain:  Neurophysiology

The role of neurophysiology in belief is of course complex.  A few examples will suffice.  In a recent study, mystics were connected to a brain scanner and instructed to meditate until they reached their feeling of oneness with the universe.  The scanner showed that the active area of the brain in that state is the posterior parietal lobe, one of the functions of which is to create a three-dimensional picture of the body and its position in space.  People with damage to this area have a hard time negotiating their way around a house, can’t tell where they are—or in some cases even who they are.  The left lobe helps the mind define the limits of the body, whereas the right lobe locates the body within space.  The overall effect is to delineate the boundary between self and otherness.  The talent of the meditating mystic is to close out not only external sense data but all internal imagery as well.  The result is that the posterior parietal lobe keeps trying to calculate the boundaries without any data input and is left to conclude that the self extends out to infinity—that it is “at one” with the universe.

While seeing visions and hearing voices is common to schizophrenia and epilepsy, one need not be mentally disturbed to feel a “presence of God.”  In Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs, neuroscientist Michael Persinger contends that the biological basis of all spiritual and mystical experiences is due to spontaneous firing of the temporoparietal region—highly focal microseizures (called “transients”) without any obvious motor effects.  He feels they occur in everyone to some extent, the strength depending on genes, environment, and experience.  The main effect of such transients is to increase communication between the right and left temporoparietal areas, leading to a brief confusion between the sense of self and the sense of others.  The outcome, verified in experiments, is a “sense of presence” that people interpret as a God, spirit, or other mystical being.6 

Persinger’s work may help explain the ability of some people to feel that they are in direct communication with God.  In When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God, anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann describes it as a form of intense play in which one feels the experience to be both real and unreal―similar, perhaps, to the solace of imagining my deceased mother to be so fascinated with my present situation that I act with her in mind, all the while knowing it to be nonsense.7  But the difference between my mother image and the evangelical’s God is that the latter is sufficiently ill-defined (number eight below) to allow a bracketing of doubt, and thus the comforting possibility that the deliberate pretending taps into some transcendent reality.

7. Gestalt: The Whole Greater Than the Parts

Finally, there is a convergence of factors—parental conditioning, separation anxiety, personalized world, counterintuitive science, agency detection, pattern seeking, fear of death, and sense of community, along with the holidays, traditions, ideals, and cultural identities that support religious belief.  All the factors reinforce one another in one subjective gestalt.  When everything colors everything else, the whole can become immune to any discrediting of the parts.  The convergence of a sufficient number of seeming probabilities and their constant repetition constitutes an apparent certainty.

8. The Allure of the Non-world:

Metaphysical terms, concepts that contain no empirical data, can only be defined negatively.  To say that “God” is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient is only to say that “God” is not bounded by space or time and not limited in power or knowledge.  Though the statement “God is all-knowing” may seem to have positive content, it only says that “God” is not limited to the sum of human knowledge.  In all cases, we never know who or what this negatively defined thing actually is.  Likewise, to say that “God is love” is merely to coin a new term for love.  If “God” is simply the personification of love between humans, then we don’t need the new term.  If more is implied, then that “something more” reverts to negative definitions.

Of course there may be a reality that is not material and not limited in space, time, or knowledge.  As long as the question “Why is there something instead of nothing?” remains not only unanswerable but untranslatable into human meaning, anything is possible, including the possibility that a nonmaterial reality infuses our material reality in some way.  This is the foundation of religious belief.

The problem arises when the possibility of this negatively-defined nonmaterial reality is offered as a basis for positively-defined supernatural claims about the natural material world.  To make this-worldly claims that impact our lives, any theology must find its context in the empirical reality of spacetime that has become the province of science.  Since supernatural beliefs fly in the face of everything science has confirmed about that reality, their force rests on the negative nonmaterial assumptions, which must in turn depend on this-world theology for any positive content.  The circularity of this dependence is overridden by some combination of all the other conditions for belief.8

The Leap

In his bestselling book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt argues that religion is an evolutionary adaptation for binding groups together, helping them to create communities with a shared morality.  “The very ritual practices that the New Atheists dismiss as costly, inefficient, and irrational turn out” he says, “to be a solution to one of the hardest problems humans face: cooperation without kinship.”  Religions create cohesive groups that can function like organisms.  Thus the cultural evolution of religion was driven largely by competition among groups.   Believers answering Haidt’s questionnaires showed belongingness to be more important than beliefs.  “We are selfish primates,” he notes, “who long to be a part of something larger and nobler than ourselves.”9

Ideas, objects, events, and rituals that celebrate human meaning bind a group together.  They are considered sacred, endowed with infinite value.  The problem is that our inherent group-oriented imperatives, or “foundations,” as Haidt terms them (caring/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, liberty/oppression), both “bind and blind.”  To escape the blinding beliefs, says Haidt, is to lose the binding as well, the sacred credos and rituals—religious, patriotic, or fraternal—that bond a group together in common morality.    

Morality and religion have long been deemed inseparable, yet those who live without religion often exhibit a higher morality than those within.  Nor do they lack a sense of the sacred.  The rituals that sanctify our deepest meanings―coming of age, marriage, life achievements, death―are inherently sacred without need of validation from archaic stories, the alleged mysteries of which pale before those raised by science.  And if equating my electrochemical brain with all that I am is scientism, it is a truth more awe-inspiring than the cosmos itself, more mysterious than any “ghost in the machine,” a concept akin to phlogiston and a flat earth.  Ironically, the Romantic reaction to the Enlightenment now finds its epitome in the riddles revealed by science.  Like the old Romantics, science luxuriates in mystery; but it also seeks explanations.  It does not wallow in mystery. 

But what if we escape our blinding beliefs only to lose the binding—the imperatives that foster stable groups and societies?  The present awakening in large pockets of humanity may augur a collective drift toward traits often associated with Aspergers syndrome, a mild form of autism currently on the rise.10  Those habits of mind that dissolve the illusions of belief—independent thinking, empiricism, single-minded focus, emotional detachment and compartmentalization―are also traits that Aspergers magnifies at the expense of social connection.  We could become a species of enlightened outsiders, dissociated like hiveless bees.

On the other hand, the more recent “intense world theory” of autism suggests that the autistic, far from being narrowly focused and unempathetic, is too empathetic and susceptible to sensory and emotional overload, the obsession with detail and social withdrawal being simply defense mechanisms.  This would contrast with the ability of neurotypicals to filter out the irrelevant, contradictory, and undesirable aspects of their beliefs.  The intense world theory has led some to suggest that traits touching lightly on Aspbergers may lie on the leading edge of human evolution, promising escape from the ideological polarizations that now threaten civilization.11

Human behavior has changed radically over the last few centuries.  Much of the world has seen an end to slavery and human sacrifice, to the torturing of criminals and execution for property crimes, to rape as the spoils of war and the ownership of women.  Our moral circle has expanded from families, clans, and tribes to encompass ever larger groups and other races.  Psychologist Steven Pinker suggests that this stretching of our innate capacity for empathy owes much to the rise of printing and electronic media, forcing our projection into the lives of people of different times, places, and races in ways that would not spontaneously occur to us.  If an expanded awareness in line with the intense world theory were to temper the current polarization of political left and right (provincialism on the right carrying binding to narrow extremes, naive idealism on the left losing touch with the nonrational bases of human behavior) the result might be a global perspective that binds enlightened self-interest with the needs of all groups.  Only time—if our inbred blindness allows—will tell.  The path of evolution is littered with failures.  But future failure may mean virtual extinction.

In short, if we hold to any faith it must find its roots in the real world of humanism–in those hints of our species potential that radiate hope against the horrors of our history.  Perhaps it is more than coincidence the Sigmund Freud and Edwin Hubble shared the same moment in human evolution, Freud exposing rational awareness as a tiny clearing in the dark forest of the mind, Hubble revealing that our galaxy is only one among billions, that the heavens are immense beyond imagination.  To gaze into the night sky and feel the vastness and passion of creation is to glimpse an equally vast interior.  We are aware of the stars only because we have evolved a corresponding inner space.  Like Hubble’s discovery of the expanding universe, the expansion of inner space—our leap in self-awareness—is a relatively recent development.

Of the two great gifts of consciousness, other animals share a form of love but not wonder.  Dogs experience an unconditional love, but not in the self-reflexive sense of human consciousness, which takes love to a new dimension.  A similar but intraspecies leap has occurred in the case of wonder.  Science has given wonder a new dimension beyond the ignorance not only of our primitive forbears, but of modern religious dogma as well, and done so to no less degree than the evolution of love from canine to human.  While the comparison may seem an exaggeration, its truth lies in the fact that both are leaps in self-awareness.

Science is counterintuitive, as unnatural to the human mind as religion is natural.  Science education—the public understanding of science—is requisite to the survival of civilization, if not of our species.  Ignorance is the prime medium for every war, act of terror, and myopic “ism.”  “It is only through science that we have been able to pierce the infantile, dysfunctional need to be the center of the universe,” said Cosmos producer Ann Druyan.  “That we even do science is a hopeful sign for our mental health.  Science is nothing more than a never-ending search for truth.  What could be more profoundly sacred?”12  In some far future, when all our conceits are revealed to be but a product of our history and inborn imperatives, science will still be ratcheting ahead, finding bits of reality.  “No single bit is sacred,” adds Druyan, “but the quest is.”

“We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology,” said Carl Sagan, “and yet we have cleverly arranged it so that almost no one understands science and technology.  There is a worldwide closed-mindedness that imperils the species.”13  The unreflective imperatives of our hunter/agrarian past are inadequate to the present.  We have wars on terrorism, crime, and hunger, but any victory lies in winning a war that few realize we are inthe war on ignorance.  H. G. Wells said it best:  “The future is a race between education and catastrophe.”



1Chet Raymo, Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection Between Science and Religion.  New York: Walker and Company, 1998, pp. 47-48.

2James Hollis, The Eden Project: In Search of the Magical Other.  Toronto: Inner City Books, 1998, p. 50.

3M. D. Faber, The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief: Searching for Angels and the Parent God.  Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2004.

4The observation that “mattering” emerged during the axial age is from a talk by Rebecca Newberg Goldstein, “The Mattering Map: Religion, Humanism, and Moral Progress,” presented at the Center for Inquiry Conference, “Women in Secularism,” July 1, 2013. Accessed at www.youtube.com/watch?v6rekIIHooss.

5Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought.  New York: Basic Books, 2001, p. 17.

6Michael A. Persinger, Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs.  New York: Praeger, 1987.

7T. M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God.  New York: Vintage, 2012.

8I am not suggesting the strictures of what philosophy terms “logical positivism.”  Since there may be a reality beyond space and time, it is a valid subject for contemplation.  The point here is only that such speculations fail as a basis for historical or empirical truth.

9Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind:  Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.  New York: Vintage, 2012, pp. 255, 299.

10Though the Aspergers label has been deemed too broad and is now removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychologist’s Bible, it remains true that many of its associated traits seem to be on the rise.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report a 30 percent rise during 2012 to 2014 (Dennis Thompson, “U.S. Autism Estimates Rise by 30 Percent for Kids,” HealthDay, March 27, 2014, www.consumer.healthday.com.).

11See “Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about the Intense World Theory for Autism,” www.wrongplanet.net/ article419.html, and Adam Smith, “The Empathy Imbalance Hypothesis of Autism: A Theoretical Approach,” The Psychological Record 59 (2009), 489-501, available online.  There are conflicting theories on the nature of autism, yet all of them would suggest that the autistic is less susceptible to religious beliefs.  Most popular has been the idea that the autistic is deficient in understanding the intentions of others, in the ability to imagine what others are thinking or feeling.  Lacking that ability, often termed a “theory of mind,” which evolved to enable humans to live in complex groups, the autistic would be less empathetic and less likely to think teleologically―to attribute intention or purpose not only to others but to nature and existence itself.  In line with this, psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen has suggested that autism is the male brain taken to extreme.  Males make up the great majority of autistics.  With greater lateralization of brain hemispheres and a smaller corpus callosum for communication between, males tend to be left-hemisphere dominant, more analytical and literal, and less in touch with the metaphoric, gestalt picture and related feelings residing in the right.  Polls do show males with lower religious affiliation and belief.  See Simon Baron-Cohen, The Essential Difference: Men, Women, and the Extreme Male Brain (New York: Penguin, 2011).  Also science journalist Mathew Hutson, “Does Autism Lead to Atheism?” in Psychology Today, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/psyched/201205/does-autism-lead-atheism, and Catherine Caldwell-Harris, “Why Are High-Functioning Autistics More Likely to Be Atheists or Agnostics?” Science and Religion Today (September 26,2011), www.scienceandreligiontoday.com/2011.  However, the intense world theory is more in line with what autistics themselves report.

12Ann Druyan, “Ann Druyan Talks About Science, Religion, Wonder, Awe . . . and Carl Sagan,” Skeptical Inquirer 27 (November/December 2003).  Accessed at www. csiop.org/si/show/ann_druyan_talks_about_science_religion/

13Tom Head, ed., Conversations with Carl Sagan.  Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 2006, p. xv.



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