Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Evolutionary Development of The God Concept (part 2)

tower photo eagle_nebula.jpg

part 1 was posted 3/21/17

,,,,The assumption that humans are projecting their own attributes is no more supported by the facts than the idea of progressive revelation. It could just be that our conceptions of God have to grow as our understanding of reality grows. How could Stone Age people start out understanding God in terms of quantum theory or transcendence in relation to the space/time continuum? As our understanding has grown our conceptions of God have become more grandiose, they have kept pace with our understanding of the nature of the universe. How could it be other wise? We can’t understand what we have never experienced or that to which we have never been exposed. New psychological research has indicated that children don’t have to understand God’s attributes by first understanding human attributes, but become able to distinguish between different kinds of agents at an early age (six).[1] We might still limit our understanding to our own experience of mind, yet as thinkers we are capable of conceptualizing beyond our own experience. This is born out by research which shows that people often have two understandings of God that conflict, especially in relation to ceremonial uses, they can anthropomorphize when explaining belief but recite doctrines they don’t understand when called upon to state beliefs.[2] That research pertains to Christian children but research has shown the same disparity with Hindus.[3] The real argument against the projection theory has to be the data discussed in the chapter on supernatural, the “m scale” studies by Hood that show universal nature of religious experience. If the concept of God is just the result of psychology how could it be that psychology is universe to all cultures and all times? It is true that the human mind is universal to humans, but it’s also the case that religion is thought of as a cultural phenomenon. The projection idea would be more than just a universal aspect of the human mind it would have to be the product of culture as well because it’s tied to specific cultural ideas of God. Yet all the mystics are having the same experiences regardless of their doctrine.Moreover, a positive transformative effect is tied to the experiences that indicates that something more fundamental than just cultural constructs is at work.

Examples of transformative effects

Sullivan (1993) (large qualitative study) The study concludes that spiritual beliefs and practices were identified as essential to the success of 48% of the informants interviewed.[4]  A study by Loretta Do Rozario of the religious practices of the disabled and those in chronic pain, the study demonstrates that religious (“mystical,” or “peak” experience) not only enables the subjects to cope with the trials of the challenges but also provides a since of growth even flourishing in the face of adversity.[5] The study methodology is known as “hermeneutic Phenomenology” it uses both intensive interviews and biographical essays. The Wuthnow study used questionnaires and the sample included 1000 people in San Francisco and Oakland. He asked them about experience of the transcendent, 68% of those experiencing within a year said life is very meaningful. While 46% of those whose experiences were more than a year old answered this way, that life was very meaningful. 82% of those experiencing within a year found they felt they knew the purpose of life, and 72% whose experiences were more than a year old. Only 18% and 21% respectively of those who had not had such experiences felt they cold say the same things.[6]
            Naturalistic assumptions about religion theorized it was explanation for natural phenomena. Linked to magical thinking because they assume it’s primitive and superstitious. Its real origin is found in the actual experiences and their transformative effects. The transformative effects are what links religious orientation with a concept of God. The sense of exercising God or “the divine” with the transformational effects has to be more than just projecting anthropomorphism since it takes us beyond our understanding and into a real that we can’t even express; yet the noetic qualities of the experience that impart meaning and significance to the events indicate that something real and larger than ourselves has been experienced. If we are projecting human qualities we have at least found, through religion, a way that those qualities connect us to come inherent meaning in life. It’s more likely that this something beyond ourselves. The sense that the power is beyond us is often part of the experience. This is a basic aspect of the definition of spirituality.[7]
            Over the last forty years or so the idea of a brain chemistry solution to the concept of God has become fashionable. Scientific research demonstrates a connection between the concept of God and certain aspects of brain function. This has led many theorize a totally naturalistic origin for the God concept.[8] Contrary to wishful thinking along these lines the association between thoughts about God and certain kinds of brain function is no proof that the concept of God originates totally within the brain as a side effect of brain chemistry. First, since we now understand that brain chemistry has to play a role in the communication process there should be no surprise that we find this association between God concept and brain chemistry. We find the same association between any two ideas. This is not proof that the idea of God is purely a side of brain chemistry any more than it is a proof that the ideas of mathematics are purely the result of brain chemistry. Secondly, the notion probably stems from the assumption of skeptics that God is supernatural and brain chemistry is natural and never the twain shall meet. As we have seen in chapter (on supernatural) that term was coined to describe an experience which is toughly a part of naturalistic life. Supernatural describes mystical experience, which we know is a very real experience.
            The idea that ties to brain chemistry are disproof of supernatural assumes that religious experience is seen as a miracle or something is wholly removed form naturalistic functions. This is merely a fallacy. As we discussed in chapter six (on supernatural) God created the natural, God is present in the natural, God is able to use the natural. The idea that the concept of God grows out of an accident or misfiring of brain wiring is merely a fallacious assumption. The probability is totally against any kind of “misfire” producing such an astounding sense of personal growth and transformation of life. Andrew Newberg and Eugene D’Aquili, after many years of research, specifically rejected that assumption; Newberg cited the realization of religious experience as a reality that connects us to the ultimate.[9] “the mind is mystical by default.”[10] What he means by that is that the same physical processes that carry messages from the body to the brain and make reality meaningful to us would have to be involved regardless of the reality of the external causes. God would have to use the chemical processes of our brains to communicate with us, and if God is real than that’s he made us. The view point that sees religious experience and belief as genetic adaptation is really missing the point about the nature of evolution. As Lee Kirkpatrick points out the simpler concept is the more evolved. Rather than evolving an elaborate structure such as religious experience to deal with anxiety, why would the human brain not just evolve an efficient and simple mechanism for coping with stress?[11]
            There is also an argument to be made that the relation between brain chemistry and God concept is a good justification for belief in the reality of God. The basis for a hard wired God concept need not be evidence of a “God gene.” It could also be the result of a combination of genes working together (Spandrels), either way the odds are against it happening by total accident. That in itself is a good indication of some pre planning on the part of nature or something behind nature. Again the universality argument comes into play. We can’t assume the universal nature of cultural constructs. It would have to be genetic. The problem is evolution and genes can’t really provide for the content of ideas. They couldn’t really account for the universality of the God concept. Some skeptics have been known to argue that universal behaviors are genetic.[12] These pertain to things like men finding symmetrical faces and women’s figures are more attractive. Those are not the content of ideas, they are just behaviors. That’s not instinct not idea. The universality of the God concept draws upon the content of the idea not just a behavior:
In Western Religions and In Hinduism, the higher Being has been called “God.”

In all theistic religions God is perceived as the ultimate, externality (transcendent), the ultimate internality, (immanent), and sometimes both simultaneously. Often, God is not perceived simply as a higher being but in many ways has been described as the ground or substance of all being. Thus, God is not only the higher being but also a state of higher being or ultimate reality. In fact, in the mystical tradition of the Western religions, the goal of the practice of meditation is to become intensely united with God and in so doing to become, in a sense, a part of ultimate reality involving release from the cycle of birth and death.[13]

The content of the ideas is what is universal, as well as the experiences (see chapter six—Hood’s argument and data). The way we as a species experience things can’t be genetically heritable especially when that experience has given rise to the content of an idea. That would be like positing the notion of innate ideas, which was supposed to be abandoned in the enlightenment. Innate ideas are assumed to be planted by God and are seen as the old religious way of looking at things. Innate ideas were assailed and dispatched by John Locke, in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding.[14]
            God was not invented by man and then evolves as a fictional concept, but God reveals himself/herself to man in progressive stages of revelation; our knowledge of God is ever deeper as people continue to seek the infinite. We can see the current result of this progressive revelation in the high state to which the concept of God had developed. The theological concepts we propose, sheer guess work in relation to the actual truth of the Holy, are evolved to a high stage of understanding regardless of their origin around the time of St. Augustine (354-430). The basic concept is that of transcendent reality that form the basis of reality as a whole, being itself, the ground of being. The basic attributes of the concept include eternal (timeless), necessary (meaning not contingent—not dependent upon any prior conditions or causes for its being) the ground of being. The secret to the continuing modernity of this concept is that it is no longer a concept about a guy; it’s an equation. It can’t be a maybe it has to be either a certainty or impossibility. There’s no reason why it should be impossible so it must be a certainty. The real kicker is it’s not about a magnified man or a jumped up state of being human, but with great powers added; it’s about a category. That’s what “being itself” or “ground of being” refers to. God is not another guy, God is not one of many others like itself, God is a whole category of being, a category that functions as the basis of all actuality. God might be likened unto the Hegelian dialectic, a form of logic that works by point counter point rather than a linear progression. In fact one of the major schools of thought about revelation (Barth, Bultmann) saw Biblical revelation as a dialectic between reader and the text.[15]
            This high level of philosophical development in the concept of God has culminated in several major theological ways of understanding God. Of course there’s the Tillich view of God as being itself, or ground of being, that understands God as a category of reality rather than an individual. Then process theology (Alfred North Whitehead), based upon the Hegelian concept of progressive revelation already discussed, this view sees God as di polar; in the potential realm God is unchanging because God is the basis of all potential, in the consequent realm God is moving into concrete being by evolving with creation. What God is doing in that state is bringing into and out of existence actual entities (that’s something like sub atomic particles). This doesn’t see God as stable static unchanging reality as a “society of occasions” like a movie made up of individual moments or frames but played fast creates a totally different illusion that of a moving picture show. Process theology is always unrated in its popularity. It is the most popular modern liberal alternative in terms of understanding God. It also spawned a popularized version called “open theology.”  Then there’s  Jurgen Moltmann’s notion of God working backwards from the future. That doesn’t really deal so much with the nature of God as with his orientation toward the future. The idea is not that time is running backwards but only that God’s position in time is to regard the horizon of the future and understand reality from there back (in other words, God is beyond time he can afford to pick his persective). Thus man is constantly moving toward a future horizon that he never actually achieves, but is already there drawing us on.
            These views are only guesses; the reality is beyond our understanding. That’s the secret of God’s success; he’s not only real but inexhaustible. Our best ideas about his nature are inadequate, yet they are modern they are keeping pace with our scientific understanding. We can quantum theory to understand aspects of God. For example the notion that the energy in the big bang is created in the expansion, it is not eternal, that can be understood by reference to quantum theory which would suspend the Newtonian laws at the singularity. Thus, no conservation of energy, so energy can be created. Or the Trinity might be better understood if we understood if we understood wave/particle duality. Yet these are ideas are bound to some day be lost to history and seem old fashioned. The theologies that spin off of them will no doubt pass out of fashion. Whatever comes into fashion will include a God concept and it will keep pace with human advancement. This is not because man is reinventing a concept he made up, but because there is continually more of God to discover. It’s the actual personal experiential discovery that is the secret to God’s success. There’s always more to be experienced in the each moment, in each life, in each generation.


[1] J. L. Barrett,  R.A. Richert, , A. Driesenga,  “God's beliefs versus mother's: The development of nonhuman agent concepts.”  Child Development, 72(1), (2001).  50-65
[2] J.L.  Barrett, F.C.  Keil, “Conceptualizing a Nonnatural Entity: Anthropomorphism in God Concepts.” Cognitive Psychology, 31(3), (1996). 219-247.
[3] J.L. Barrett, “Cognitive constraints on Hindu concepts of the divine,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37(4), (1998). 608-619.
[4] W. Sullivan, “It helps me to be a whole person”: “The role of spirituality among the mentally challenged”. Psychological Rehabilitation Journal. 16 , (1993),125-134.
[5] Loretta Do Rozario, “Spirituality in the lives of People with Disability and Chronic Illness: A Creative Paradigm of Wholeness and Reconstitution,” Disability and Rehabilitation, An International Multi-Disciplinary Journal, 19 (1997) 423-427.
[6] Robert Wuthnow, “Peak Experiences: Some Empirical Tests,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology, (18) 3 (1978) 66, see also 176-177
[7] K. Krishna Mohan, “Spirituality and well being, an overview,” The following article is based on a presentation made during the Second International Conference on Integral Psychology,
held at Pondicherry (India), 4-7 January 2001. The text has been published in:
Cornelissen, Matthijs (Ed.) (2001) Consciousness and Its Transformation. Pondicherry: SAICE.
Avaivble on-line through website of Indian Psychology Institute. On-line resource. URL:
Mohan defines spirutality in terms of “experiencing a numinous quality, knowing unity of the visible and invisible, having an internalized relationship between the individual and the Divine, encountering limitless love, and moving towards personal wholeness” which accords with mystical experience in terms of the M scale. He sites: (Canda, 1995; Gaje-Fling & McCarthy, 1996; Decker, 1993; King et al., 1995; Wulff, 1996). That is also in harmony  with Hood’s understanding of mystical experience, (see chapter six, on  supernatural).
[8] Matthew Alper, The God Part of the Brain, Naperville Illanois: Soucebook inc, originally published in 1996 by Rough Press, 2006, 11.
[9] Andrew NewbergWhy God Won’t God AwayBrain Science and the Biology of Belief. (New York, Ballentine Books), 2001, 157-172.
[10] Ibid., 37
[11] Lee A. Kirkpatrick, “Religion is not An Adaptation.” Where God and Science Meet Vol I: Evolution, Genes and The Religious Brain. Westport: Praeger Publishers,  Patrick McNamara ed. 2006, 173.
[12] Anders Rassmussen, “Universal Human Behavior”Anders Rassmussen Blog, Friday, December 39, 2006.
URL:    http://rasmussenanders.blogspot.com/2006/12/universal-human-behaviors.html
[13] Eugene d’Aquili and Andrew B. Newberg, The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experince. Copywright by the estate of Eugene d’Aquili and Anderw Newberg.1999. 3.
[14] John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, Great Books in Philosophy series, 12.
[15] Avery Dulles, Models of Revelation. Maryknoll New York:Orbis Books, Reprint edition, 1992,  84.


Daniel Wilcox said...

Joe, Thanks for the good overview. A number of your points take me back decades to my own study of various theologies and philosophies.

You wrote at one point, "God was not invented by man and then evolves as a fictional concept, but God reveals himself/herself to man in progressive stages of revelation; our knowledge of God is ever deeper as people continue to seek the infinite."

This is one key area where we disagree. I don't God reveals himself by "progressive stages of revelation:"

There are way to many contradictory claims made by so many contrary Christian denominations for God to have "revealed" himself.

I think rather that as humans develop as a species, we have the difficult opportunity of seeking God, especially through science and ethics.

But it ain't easy. I'm 70, and have sought the true God for 6 decades, but only am still in kindegarten in my search for the nature of ultimate reality.

Joe Hinman said...

A concept Trotsky used in dealing with the development of the history of the Russian revolution is "uneven and combined development." That means due to various factors you have situations where some aspects of modern development exist along side holdovers from feudalism. We find that same form of evolutionary development in religion because religion is file teed through cultural constructs. The revelations we receive are always distorted by the lens of cultural understanding.

Eric Sotnak said...

"God was not invented by man and then evolves as a fictional concept, but God reveals himself/herself to man in progressive stages of revelation"

It seems to me both hypotheses are consistent with the data. But oddly enough, it seems on your view the "progressive revelation" is running rather backwards, isn't it? Your view seems closer to some of the more ancient views (such as one finds in Hinduism, for instance) than to more modern ones.

Joe Hinman said...

"God was not invented by man and then evolves as a fictional concept, but God reveals himself/herself to man in progressive stages of revelation"

It seems to me both hypotheses are consistent with the data. But oddly enough, it seems on your view the "progressive revelation" is running rather backwards, isn't it? Your view seems closer to some of the more ancient views (such as one finds in Hinduism, for instance) than to more modern ones.

because you are accepting a secularist dogma.Process theology is not primitive or backward. It's more modern than atheism. Atheism is 19th century.

Joe Hinman said...

truth is timeless

Eric Sotnak said...

"Process theology is not primitive or backward"

Nor did I say so. I said "ancient". It was rather you who invoked the progressive characterization of history: "God reveals himself/herself to man in progressive stages of revelation" Yet it seems to me that on your view some of the older ideas are closer to the truth than newer ones. (But I would also contest your claim that atheism or skepticism is 19th century.)

Joe Hinman said...

Process theology is not primitive or backward"

Nor did I say so. I said "ancient".

I wouldn't call it ancient either

It was rather you who invoked the progressive characterization of history: "God reveals himself/herself to man in progressive stages of revelation" Yet it seems to me that on your view some of the older ideas are closer to the truth than newer ones. (But I would also contest your claim that atheism or skepticism is 19th century.)

The revelation is progressive, it moves more sophisticated and more detailed as time goes by,the truth are rimless, They were true before they were known and they will be true eons from now, our undestanding is what changes.