Did Scientists Discover a “God Spot” ?

Q. For centuries scholars have long wondered why the belief in God is so ubiquitous in cultures all around the world. Recently, neurologists propose a possible explanation suggesting that the belief in God is deeply embedded in the human brain. Simply put, the brain is hardwired and programmed for religious experiences. A study involved forty participants, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, and Buddhists. For the analysis, researchers used a functional MRI machine, which can identify the most active regions of the brain. Each of the individuals was asked to ponder religious and ethical dilemmas dealing with issues of faith. As they answered, three areas in the brain began to light up, indicating that these same areas control religious belief and has been dubbed as the “God spot.”

The study also found that several areas of the brain were involved in religious belief, one within the frontal lobes of the cortex – which are unique to humans – and another in the more evolutionary-ancient regions deeper inside the brain, which humans share with apes and other primates, Professor Grafman said. He further observed, “There is nothing unique about religious belief in these brain structures. Religion doesn’t have a ‘God spot’ as such; instead it’s embedded in a whole range of other belief systems in the brain that we use every day.”

My question is simple: What do you think of the “God spot” scientists have now discovered?

Reply: A friend of mine made the offhand remark, “The ‘G spot’ may also signify, ‘the God spot.” Although said in jest, there is some interesting truth to this observation. Religious ecstasy and sexual pleasure each correspond to different regions of the brain. The above study only seems to confirm this intuition, for mystical experiences activate more than a dozen different areas of the brain at once. One of the regions, called the caudate nucleus, has been implicated in positive emotions such as happiness, romantic love and maternal love. This could explain how mystical experiences are related to the feelings of euphoria and unconditional love described in mystical writings.

Perhaps since its inception, mysticism has invariably used erotic metaphors to express the soul’s passion for the Divine, a fact that can be seen in every page of the Song of Songs, as well the commentaries that expound its mystical significance. For example: St. Theresa of Avila had numerous mystical visions that had a sexual quality to them; perhaps the nexus between sexual pleasure and mystical experience may not be too far apart in terms of their psychological and physiological manifestations.

However, let us not put Descartes before the horse! The God-spot theory is reminiscent in some ways to an old philosophical concept that was famously proposed by Descartes, who viewed the mind or soul as a kind of non-physical “homunculus” dwelling inside the brain (which he identified the pineal gland as the “principal seat” of the soul).

Personally, I am inclined to reject Descartes’s doctrine of a non-physical separable substance called “the mind”, since it continues there are certain aspects of the mental life or what we now term “consciousness” that are in essence sui generis and not reducible to the objective descriptions of physics.

The following anecdote may illustrate this idea. Once there was a Russian teacher who wanted to make a case for atheism. He said to the class, “Students, there is no such thing as God. Can you touch God? Can you smell God? Can you see God? Can you hear God? Can you taste God, therefore, there is no such thing as God!”

A bright student replied, “Teacher, can I ask the class some questions?” “Sure,” said the teacher. “Does our teacher have a mind? Before you answer yes, ask yourselves, ‘Can you see his mind? Can you hear his mind? Can you smell, touch, or taste his mind?’” The class answered, “NO!” “Therefore,” concluded the student,” based on the lack of empirical evidence, we must say that the teacher has no mind!”

As another friend of mine explained, “Just because a phenomenon is associated with an observable structure doesn’t mean that the original value correlated to is itself an epiphenomena dependent upon the secondary structure. Vision correlates to eye structures. That doesn’t mean that objects visually seen are not real but illusions “evolved” to serve a social purpose.” The physiological effects may be observable, but this does not necessarily mean that the brain creates God.

If anything, the human brain does not contain a single “God spot” that is responsible for producing mystical and religious experiences. Instead, the sense of union with God or something greater than the Self often described by those who have undergone such experiences involves the recruitment and activation of a variety brain regions normally implicated in different functions such as self-consciousness, emotion and body representation.

While mental, ethical, and spiritual phenomenon can certainly be gauged in terms of its neural activity in the brain,  it is a huge leap to suggest that this area of the brain is the source of religion, ethics, and mystical experience.

Perhaps, what we are dealing with here is a phenomenon that cannot be completely localized or confined to specific points in space or time. Quantum physicists refer to this idea as a theory of non-locality, which may offer a much more accurate view of how consciousness works. In the end, human beings are more than the sum of their biological parts. In the final analysis, the biblical writers said it best, “From my flesh I will behold God “(Job 19:26).