Christian Belief Through the Lens of Cognitive Science: Part 2

This is a very interesting article by Valerie Tarico about God’s mostly anthropomorphic bodily appearance and nearly always humanlike mind.

Here are some examples of what we learn by reading Valerie’s text:

1) We learn that the orthodox Jesus story, as it appears in our gospels, follows a specific sacred or mythic template that existed in the Ancient Near East (actually long before Christianity or even Judaism). Cf. what is said about The Hero’s Journey, a pattern of narrative, once identified by Joseph Campbell, that is applicable in both secular storytelling and religious myths.

2) Our supernatural notions are shaped by built-in structures in our brains.

3) Those “default” systems/networks in the brain are unconsciously (and, in a way, you may say compulsively) searching for recognizable patterns for events and experiences in our surroundings. These processes allow us to generalize, i.e. from just a few bits of data or details we are able to construe some kind of wholeness (a more or less consistent pattern).

These pattern-seeking neural processes are usually summarized as apophenia or patternicity (apophenia can be defined as the experience of seeing and identifying meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data, while patternicity is the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise.

4) The found patterns – they are closely related to memories – have to be filed somewhere in the brain. That’s why the brain has got different filing systems.

We invent labels to tag each object (i.e. element or property), so that similar objects (i.e. the same sort of memories) can be directed to and saved in the same file(s). Those built-in filing systems are steadily increasing and refined over time.

5) Valerie also tells us that the labels usually start out blank. But actually some of them don’t. We all seem to have a couple of “preprinted labels” (cf. C.G. Jung and his idea that there are so-called innate archetype patterns residing in the “collective unconscious” of all humans).

But Valerie prefers to give the labels more mundane names, like “Humans”, “Non-humans”, “Animals”, “Plants”, “Man-made objects”, “Natural objects” and the like.

6) A very important pattern-seeking process (maybe the most important of them all) is about facial recognition. This (facial recognition) system can sometimes overfunction (giving rise to a phenomenon called pareidolia), and sometimes be underfunctioning (causing face blindness, prosopagnosia).

And now, at last, we are approaching the religious aspects and consequences of how our brains are wired. In short, Valerie Tarico tells us that the neural wirings in the brain can explain why most religions imagine and teach that their divine beings are both bodily anthropomorfic and also feeling, thinking, reasoning, and (at least partially) acting like we humans usually do (for example eating food that we put on a sacrificial altar, being angry, disappointed and so on).


Why God has a Human Mind 

Jesus was a human, fathered by a god and born to a virgin. He died for three days and was resurrected.  His death was a sacrifice, an offering or propitiation.  It brings favor for humans. He lives now in a realm where other supernatural beings interact with each other and sometimes intervene in human affairs.

Gradually the mainstream of the American public is becoming aware that none of these elements is unique to Christianity.  Symbologists or scholars who specialize in understanding ancient symbols, tell us that the orthodox Jesus story, as it appears in our gospels, follows a specific sacred or mythic template that existed in the Ancient Near East long before Christianity or even Judaism.  In part this is due to the flow of history.  Religions emerge out of ancestor religions.  Though the characters and details merge and morph, elements get carried through…

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Filed under Blogs I follow, Brain, Delusions, Gods, Jesus, Mind, Neuroscience, Religion

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