Did Man Create God? Is Your Spiritual Brain at Peace with Your Thinking Brain? By David Comings, M. D. Hope Press, 2008, 656 pages
The author is an eminent medical geneticist. Parts I and II are a very competent summary of biological evolution and a relevant rebuttal of creationism and intelligent design. Part III, with amazing clarity, deals with the ambiguities of quantum theory and modern cosmology—the big bang. We all know already that quantum mechanics is counterintuitive and no high priests of modern physics are going to try to impose belief in string theory upon us (the physicists know that they would be much less successful than medieval theologians). A few pages here and more in Part IV are devoted to disposing of the “anthropic principle”—that the laws of nature were arranged so that life and consciousness are possible—with several quotes from seemingly unlikely sources such as Steven Hawking. Most notable is from Ken Wilbur who collected the relevant statements of Heisenberg, Schrődinger, Einstein, De Broglie, Jeans, Planck, Pauli, and Eddington:
The last thing those theorists would want you to surrender is your critical intellect, your hard-earned skepticism. For it is exactly through sustained use---not of emotion, not of intuiting, not of faith---but a sustained use of the critical intellect that these greatest of physicists felt absolutely compelled to go beyond [the old] physics altogether. (page 274)
I am especially grateful to the author for Part IV. Here he describes very recent information about the anatomical and physiological basis for consciousness—the location in the brain and connections of the neurons involved. This information depends on brain imaging (functional MRI and PET scanning) of normal people and patients and animals with localized brain damage, including of course those abilities that are missing when known parts of the brain are absent or damaged. MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. Functional MRI shows what parts of the brain are active when thinking various kinds of thoughts (fortunately MRI involves no exposure to ionizing radiation). PET stands for positron emission tomography. Some aspects of consciousness have long been thought to make us unique among animals in possessing souls.
These observations show that specific parts of the brain are required for us to possess our traits that are associated with having souls suggesting that the soul dies with the body. This has major consequences for religion.
Without a living, functioning brain there is no soul. If there is no soul, there is no afterlife, no hell, no purgatory, no reincarnation, no cosmic consciousness, no heaven, and there is no reward in heaven for good behavior. In the same sense that we have said “evolution is real, accept it” we must also say that “the neural basis for the soul is real, accept it.”. (page 295).
Again, remember that people with specific brain lesions can live and function, to a degree, with that brain damage. In other words for any given trait characterized on any existing list as indicative of the existence of a soul in humans, a disabled person can be found with that particular trait missing from his human repertoire, and yet he is still conscious and functional to some degree. The remainder of Part IV discusses temporal lobe epilepsy and how the temporal lobe of the brain is also activated by various psychedelic drugs that produce very convincing religious experiences. It is noteworthy that rational people, well aware in advance of the likelihood of induced “religious” experience, still insist that the induced religious experiences were real. This correlates with known or strongly suspected temporal lobe epilepsy in many founders of new religious sects.
Part V deals with the complex genetics of behavior including bad behavior. Sociological research demonstrates that absence of religious upbringing of itself does not induce bad behavior in normal individuals, and a disruptive environment aggravates bad behavior mostly in genetically susceptible individuals. The book must be read with great care to understand how DNA, the chemical substance of inheritance, and other evidence leads to these conclusions (in spite of gaps in current knowledge). I know of no way to make such complex material easy.
Part VI is about the natural selection of intelligence and spirituality during eons of evolution. Like the personal traits discussed above, intelligence involves many genes. Imaging shows that increased brain connections are more important than brain size in contributing to high intelligence. It is probable that the onset of the current cycle of ice ages 250,000 years ago accelerated selection for intelligence by enhancing the ability of man to adapt to many new and difficult environments sufficiently promptly to thrive.
Self-transcendence and spiritual acceptance (the authors very words) are also inherited in a complex manner involving many genes that correlate with PET images and result in good behavior in spite of bad environment. Spirituality also improves survival by mitigating fear of death and increasing cohesiveness of social support. Are we learning to benefit from these beneficial traits of our spiritual brain while still retaining the benefits of our thinking brain? Here lies the essence Did Man Create God?
Part VII is a summary of mankind’s experience, good and bad, with religion. Part VIII lays out the evidence that man created God. I quote the most tellingly simple point:
The “problem of evil” is one of the greatest challenges for religion to explain. While many solutions have been proposed, none adequately deals with the fact that an all powerful, personal, caring God could eliminate the worst aspects of evil if he wanted to, The one solution that is the most logically satisfying to the thinking brain is to assume that Man Created God---in which case “the problem of evil” disappears. (page 620)
To me the book’s conclusion is: yes, man did create God and for good reasons. We must learn to respect our spiritual brains and our religious traditions for what they accomplish, for example, social cohesion and support as mentioned above, but we can do this without disabling our thinking brains. This will make us more tolerant of religious traditions other than our own “inherited” ones. Emotion takes charge often enough without us condoning it. I am sure from reading his book that David Comings would agree that even if we cannot bring ourselves to believe in the God created by man, belief in a more fair-minded, benevolent God, although difficult to conceive, remains intellectually acceptable.
This is a long and closely reasoned text. To the author’s credit he recognizes this. At the end of his brief preface he states flat out: “Finally, if you would like to skip the chapters on evolution and cosmology, go to Part IV.” There are also red summaries interspersed in the text (about 5% of the total) that coherently express the essence of the book. However, even the formidable complete text should be understandable to a determined, educated reader even one without special competence in science.
I hope this book will be widely read for many reasons. A prominent one will be that requests for the teaching of intelligent design as an equal to evolution will become less strident for the same type of reason that Roe v Wade reduced opposition to contraception.
John A. Frantz, MD, NASW (National Association of Science Writers)
June 23, 2009