Could a physical area of the brain trigger religious thoughts? Could humankind's relationship with spirituality be part of an evolutionary, survival process? This article discusses what scientists have dubbed "The God Module."
Social scientists and philosophers have long argued that God is nothing more than a construct of the primitive human mind, a result of the fundamental need to explain the unexplainable. And amidst the growing controversy concerning creationism vs. the theory of evolution, science has uncovered what it thinks is evidence that the phenomenon of religious faith and a belief in God is actually hard-wired into our makeup-an evolutionary adaptive strategy now part of our survival mechanisms.
A group of neuroscientists at the University of California at San Diego has identified a region of the human brain that appears to be linked to thoughts of spirituality and prayer. Stumbled upon in the course of studying the brain waves of certain people with epilepsy, the discovery seems to indicate a physical area of the brain that is involved with religious thought. For over a century now, psychologists have been documenting cases of epileptics who after suffering a particular type of seizure, often become intensely religious, reporting spiritually-oriented visions and revelations. But it wasn’t until recently that science had the technology to actually watch and measure the brain during such experiences. By measuring the electrical activity in the brains of test subjects during such episodes, scientists have discovered that a specific neural center in the temporal lobe fires up when the subjects thoughts turn to God; the same area that becomes overloaded with electrical discharges during their epileptic seizures. Nicknamed the “God Module,“ scientists speculate that this area of the brain could actually be some sort of physiological center of religious belief.
To further test the “God Module” theory, studies were conducted comparing epileptic subjects with random test groups of non-epileptics, as well as individuals who describe themselves as “extremely religious.” Test subjects (both epileptic and non-epileptic “religious”) were shown a series or words while their brain activity was monitored. To researchers’ surprise, the “God Modules” of the epileptics as well as the religious group exhibited similar responses to words involving God and faith. When test groups were shown non-spiritual lists of words, there was only normal levels of electrical activity in this particular area of the brain.
While social scientists have long speculated that religion may have developed as a self-regulating mechanism to foster socio-cultural cooperation with others, this is the first evidence that the “religious” instinct may be part of our physiological makeup.