Matthew Alper begins The God Part of the Brain with an explanation as to why belief in a supernatural being is important. If God does not exist, absolutes do not exist. For the most part, he says that our laws, our morals … are as flawed and imperfect as the humans who created them. Any notion of good or evil, truth or falsehood would be left to the subjective interpretation of each individual. These concepts become relative terms.
Death would provide a constant anxiety we could never escape. This angst includes not only fear of dying at some remote future time but also the immediate, daily fear of death by sheer happenstance: accident or disease. We see the fate of both old and young: the elderly die, sometimes in agony; we see the young die, maybe with leukemia or in an automobile accident. Alper posits that this fear of non-being would gnaw so heavily on our consciousness that it would destroy evolutionary development, leaving our race to face emptiness, meaninglessness, and ultimate despair.
Next, The God Part of the Brain explains that unlike religious beliefs, the scientific method has provided mankind with a systematic way of observing, testing, and measuring reality as it is perceived by our brains through our senses. Alper only allows himself to believe whatever science can discover about God, including the very nature of this deity from a strictly physical, that is, from a scientific perspective.
From his perspective of a time-line dating back to the Big Bang, Alper emphasizes that science has now explained the origin and evolution of the entire physical universe. This would include the 3.5 billion years of evolution of terrestrial life leading up to the appearance of thinking, conscious man. Yet, every truth mankind knows as certainty has come strictly from science; what we can know with conviction about God is this: God is a three letter word on a page.
Alper explores behavior patterns characteristic of brute animals. Those exhibiting the same instinctual behaviors must be genetically wired to do so, he says. One example he gives is the intense labor behavior in an ant colony. Here, some insects are born to be workers, others become soldiers, some forage for food, one becomes the exalted queen. Without this innate caste system, the ant colony could not survive. Evolution has worked its miracle on these tiny creatures, building into their nervous systems the specific role each will play so that the fittest colonies survive.
Likewise, Alper claims that human animals exhibit predisposed behavior patterns. Although he gives many others, a few example patterns would be: the creation of puberty rites, funeral rites, marriage customs, legal codes, sexual taboos, trade relations, penal sanctions, gift-giving. He would also include abilities such as speech, music creation, math computation, religious beliefs – although false, as evolutionary wired-in behavior patterns. Complex, involuntary, genetically inherited reflexes are responsible for all human expression of emotional states.
Are we really that anthropocentric to believe that we are above the same laws of nature that bind each and every one of our evolutionary ancestors?
The God Part of the Brain reasons that if evolution had not genetically built in a genuine but false belief in the supernatural, all motivation for self-preservation of our species would be gone. In order to survive the hopelessness of death, the first humanoid had to develop a coping mechanism — a God center within its brain, however primitive — or become extinct: "(God is) … a coping mechanism that compels us to believe in an illusory reality to help us survive our unique awareness of death."
With this adaptive function within its corresponding physical part of the brain, the human race has been able to evolve–living and developing as if there is some ulterior reason to be. Man no longer needs to linger in lethargy, only to die by old age, sickness, his own hand, or the hand of immoral others. Although make believe, God is an entity projected out there from sheer necessity.
I can truthfully say that The God Part of the Brain is an easy book to read. While somewhat philosophical and scientific, it is written in terms most any adult could read.
A technical background is unnecessary to follow Alper’s reasoning, or his fascinating concepts. The book is extremely thought-provoking and could be enthusiastically read as an introduction to college level courses in logic, basic philosophy, biology, evolution, and religion.
Atheists admire the work for its assertion that God is a figment of the human thinking process and nothing more. On the other hand, Christians are drawn to the book to disprove Alper’s disturbing theory, so they can persist with their methodical religious beliefs and practices.
As a reviewer, the book fascinated me, but I had a problem with Alper’s main theory from the very first few pages. Here’s why. If evolutionary adaptation instills in our brain the false notion of the supernatural so mankind has a reason to survive, why was continued existence necessary in the first place? Without it, humans would have become extinct—finis—kaput—the end!
For some reason, The God Part of the Brain almost suggests purpose was involved in human adaptive evolution – it seems important that man survived. Also, how then can an atheist exist? Evolutionary adaptation should have weeded non-believers out aeons ago. Alper would explain that all human traits and characteristics fall within the parameter of the normal bell curve: "On the opposite end of this same curve are those we might call spiritually deficient, those born with an unusually underdeveloped spiritual function."
He claims that atheists fall at the lower end of the standard deviation of the religious bell curve. These folks are spiritually deficient in the same manner that some people are musically deficient. They have little or no talent nor are they able to appreciate melodies.
To this reviewer, Alper’s solution is problematic. Evolutionary adaptation of a God brain center so the species can survive is quite different than adaption of a music center. In the former case, non-adaptation would lead to extinction and evaporation of being. In the latter case, it would simply lead to some humans developing with more talent than others.
I would be very interested in what other readers think about the book itself and my own comments in these last paragraphs. Remarks can be left below this article by scrolling to where it says: Add Your Comment; Speak Your Mind.