The God Delusion And The Irrational Basis Of Religion: Reflections of a former Skeptic

by Felix-Abrahams Obi

And when one can’t resolve the problem of death according to psychiatry he either denies or becomes obsessed with it like Freud did. Carl Jung was said he never met a patient over 40 years old whose problems did not go back to the fear of approaching death. I also remember nights as an undergraduate when I dreaded sleep for the morbid fear that I may not wake up the next morning, but since I came to believe in God mentally and emotionally, my sleep has been smooth without the usual bouts of insomnia!
For many Christians, the decision to have faith in God is purely emotional and somewhat superstitious as they are wary of applying their intellect and reason to question their spirituality. Some are too scared to be confronted with arguments that shake and try their spiritual foundations and belief in God. They feel more comfortable only with those who share their convictions and avoid interactions with those who don’t. But they need to realize that though faith in God is considered a simple decision, it is consolidated and fortified by rational thinking and conclusions based on evidences and experiences that support the veracity of our spirituality.

We have to balance our emotional approach to spirituality and belief in God without making our minds unproductive in the process for lack of intellectual engagement and in seeking ways to knowing more about God and realities of living on earth. For instance, it is said of 17th century German mystic Angelus Silesius that he managed both joy and serenity through “the spiritual detachment of his brilliant mind, capable of reaping all the benefits of education, preferment, and social or ecclesiastical structures can offer, without allowing them dwarf the life of the spirit.” Some people testify that the life of the spirit is corroborated by the mind, but cannot be apprehended by the mind alone for we are both intelligent beings on one hand and spiritual beings too. And both are not mutually exclusive in reality for when spiritual attainment is confined to the intellect- the spirit suffers!

The Christian needs to know about the prevailing arguments against Christianity and the sustained efforts being made to promote non-theism, atheism and secular humanism as an ‘organized religion’ worldwide by leading scientists, philosophers and other intelligent minds. Living in such denial and self-delusion will certainly not help the course of Christianity and the negative consequences show as shallowness of the faith and spirituality that we showcase to a world that has transformed rationality and scientific facts into an enviable height that seeks to stifle our religious beliefs.

The celebrated Oxford Professor and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins does not hide his anger at those who believe in God. In his famed book, THE GOD DELUSION, he writes; “As a scientist, I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. It teaches us not to change our minds, and not to want to know exciting things that are available to be known. It subverts science and saps the intellect.” He considers belief in God as accepting an irrational ‘God Hypothesis” and intellectual high treason which leads to bigotry, intolerance, oppression, child abuse, arrogance, homophobia, abortion-clinic bombings, violence against women, war, suicide bombings, and educational systems that teach ignorance when it comes to math and science.

And if believers in the Christian God feels stunned by this professor, they would be further shocked if they happen to read other writings of modern atheists like: Daniel Dennett’s “BREAKING THE SPELL: RELIGION AS A NATURAL PHENOMENON’; Sam Harris’ ” LETTER TO A CHRISTIAN NATION” ; and Christopher Hutchins’ “GOD IS NOT GREAT: HOW RELIGION POISONS EVERYTHING.” They all believe that the Christian’s claim to God-inspired and induced morality is not necessarily superior to that of most atheists hence the God factor appears to have no significance in the choices we make in life.

Evolutionary biologists and a lot of scientists wonder why humans are too ‘gullible’ to commit to religious beliefs they think can’t be subjected to scientific investigation, and taking a cue from their guru, Charles Darwin, they have studiously ignored the whole issue of God. But the trend is gradually changing especially after a few evolutionary biologists and neuroscientists decided to find empirical ways to study the religious phenomenon. The results emerging from the realm of science now is making some of them see religion as a real ‘evolutionary puzzle’. Though religious belief and behavior seem to be at odds with everything evolutionary biology holds dear, some biologists have identified some ways in which religion might provide some degree of evolutionary fitness and benefit.

In a special report by NEW SCIENTIST in January 2006, some sociological studies showed that compared with non-religious people, the actively religious are happier, live longer, suffer fewer physical and mental illnesses, and recover faster from medical interventions such as surgery. Emil Durkheim one of the founding fathers of modern sociology and many others believes that religion also acts as a kind of social glue that holds society together. This also helps in shaping the moral foundations of the society like the justice system that helps to check excesses in behaviour that can threaten the cohesion of the society. It is now known that he religious rituals and shared community activities help in bonding societies by triggering the release of endorphins (brain’s natural opioids ) which create a mild ‘high’ which may explain why religious people tend to be happy. Endorphins also tune up the immune system which explains why religious people are healthier and the sense of community provides comfort to the suffering.

Belief in God and the healing power of faith may seem irrational and intangible until you have the privilege of looking inside the brain using PET scans. Belief in the widest sense is primarily a product of either rationality or reasoning on one hand and emotional -a sort of gut reaction. Though mental accent is important, oftentimes people don’t practically think belief, they feel belief and that is why biologists have no clue as to why people believe in God. Evidence available from studying placebo-treated pain has shown that belief is actually a conscious, rational process- a kissing cousin to expectation. And further evidence from behavioral studies published by The Lancet (vol. 366, page 211) seems to bolster this. It was observed that those who prayed for themselves or knew that family and friends are praying for them seem to produce positive results than those who were secretly prayed for.

Belief, -be it in God, medicine or whatever- slightly alters our emotional state just as the feeling of joy has chemical effects on the brain and is thought to be mediated by neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that mediate other emotions. A scientist has found a variant of a gene called VMAT2 that may be associated with greater spirituality. Though the picture is still very hazy to some scientists, the evidence on ground suggests the fact that belief is real and has measurable effects in our brains and this reality can’t be denied. More intriguingly, these effects have the potential to influence the outcome of events beyond belief in God alone. For instance belief in self or one’s own abilities actually help one achieve personal goals and success in life’s endeavors can be a self-fulfilling prophecy that stems from one’s self belief. Believers also have greater activity in their brains’ right hemisphere which is used for creativity and lateral thinking -making connections with disparate concepts.

For any sincere Christian in our contemporary world, keeping faith in God has become a herculean task especially those who are exposed to all the moving arguments against God and organized Christian religion which has not made as much impact as expected. I still admire and envy those Christians

who remain unshakable in their faith in God in times like this; they just simply believe until they encounter those armed with arguments that counter everything they have believed. From my encounters and interactions with a lot of Nigerians on the net and from their comments on my previous writings posted on Nigerian websites, I have come to reckon though painfully that a lot of Nigerians have become atheists, non-theists, agnostics and secular humanists. Atheism is no longer a phenomenon in Europe for Africans and especially a sizeable portion of intelligent and brilliant Nigerians have joined the train too.

For most Europeans, a belief in God may have given way to a belief in democracy, law and human rights, but some analysts still believe that the Almighty is source of the secular freedom that is now pervasive. Way back in the early stages of World War 1, the poet C.J. Squire observed that there was no escaping God:

God heard the embattled nations sing and shout:
“Gott strafe England”-“God save the king”-,
“God this”-“God that”-and “God the other thing”.
“My God,” said God, “I’ve got my work cut out.”

Just a couple of decades down the line, these same nations in Europe that called on God have become liberal and secular believing that civilization had reached a plane higher than the one constructed on the ‘crude certainties of religion’. The Judaeo-Christian God’s influence in the modern world seem to be waning progressively and many are intent on making HIM extinct like the Greek gods that we now read up in legends and friezes. Yet the inalienable rights espoused and promoted through democracy didn’t originate from man himself, and should you ask anyone where the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights charters come from without God, and you not be sure to get a satisfying answer. The objective morality upon which modern societies is built did not exist apart from God for He was the source. And no act was considered wrong in itself, as it was wrong because God said the Bible.

When excavations of the mulch of generations of practice, assumption, agnosticism and unchallenged belief in secularism are made, one will still be able to see the deep-rooted notions of wrong and right, of freedom, liberty and natural rights which we hold sacredly in post-modern societies. That was why Martin Luther King would pursue civil rights for blacks because they were God-given and he was willing to place his life in harm’s way like Jesus Christ had done thousands of years in Palestine. And interestingly, Jesus Christ is not a European yet European nations built their societies on the ideals he preached and lived out .African nations are suffering variously due to failure to enshrine democracy and the principles of justice, fairness and equity in our societies and religion is lame without these moral ideals.

In as much as I subscribe to the scientific explanations of life’s reality, I still find as unacceptable to translation of science to the realm of religion whose custodians-scientists- make proclamations on human rights etc that empirical learning cannot altogether justify. For science or other material creations really can’t fill that God-shaped hole in the heart and soul of every created human being on earth. There is still a part of us that longs ultimately for that unknowable mystery at the heart of our very existence, and that is what God is even though science and secular philosophy think it is a delusion; a God Hypothesis! The lack of awe and reverence for God certainly has been a major bane of modern living in our contemporary world, and any civilization that pushes God to the fringes should be willing to face the travails that come with such declared ‘obituary of God”.

St. Augustine of Hippo , one of Africa’s greatest minds concluded after his long and tortuous journey in the search for the truth about God concluded that we all remain restless until we ‘re-unite’ with God who is our true essence. This truth is one the most enduring legacies that an African has ever left for posterity with its universal ramification. Yet this realization of God happens within for Jesus had declared centuries past that ‘the kingdom of God is within you’- a truth that the Great Russian Writer, Tolstoy discovered and imbibed.

As I conclude this long treatise, it would be instructive to mention that our modern lifestyle of perpetual cycle of activities and noise has been a major deterrent to encountering God in the quietness of our soul. When we truly settle down and determine to seek God without filling the interlude with ‘something’, we might encounter Him since we are not so far off from Him after all. Like Angelus Silesius said, “The voice of God is heard: Listen within and seek; were you always but silent, He’s never cease to speak.”

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1 comment

Iroabuchi onwuka March 20, 2009 - 5:00 am

Men this quite a piece. But does this mean that you are a skeptic or a believer. The people you mentioned, C.S lewis and Freud had different lives altogether. Freud was a Jew and his father a Rabbi. Freud was not an atheist but he wanted a proof of God. He believed in the power of the recollective and the power of Good and God, not in terms of the Bible.

You mentioned Charlse Darwin…I wished you wrote more about him. Charlse Darwin was not a christian even before he compunded his theory which are demonstrably wrong. He is credited at least in ‘origin of specie’ and ‘descent of man’ as far as I know to have hinted on internal mechanism through which plants and animals change over time, and today’s scientist perforce this as geneticist. It is common knowledge that neither his father nor his grandfather were christians or believers in God. This can go along way to explain the man’s mind construction.

Still speaking on Darwin, he truly did say something about God, in fact he excoriated the idea of God according to Genesis. His influence on Biology stem not so much from the power of his argument – which are feeble saving the multitude of examples – but from his willingness to challenge divinity. But why should a scientist concern himself with divinity?

Carl Jung is probably the only who fit the picture of this episode in your life when you are trying to come to terms with some questions. He is among the most mature existentialist, yet he never attempted any challenge on God. His father was a pastor and it was said that he usually wake up a child, screeming. He however matured on his own terms. The relationship between Jung and Darwin is what lies beneath, why and how anyone truly governed by truth and righteouness has no time to worry about God.

Richard Dawkins book on the ‘blind watch maker’ was a good argument on evolution not necessarily by natural selection. He believes in the self sustaining Earth, almost a parody of the second law of themodynamics but he made his case seriously complicated by the attempt to disprove the existence of God. As if he lacked faith in his own medicine.

The vmat2 gene responsive to spirituality si not new, in fact there is Matthew Alper’s “God part of the brain” the thou shall not believe in God. But why? why all these preoccupation with God. If man is created in the image of God, he need not seek to find where God is hiding. It is the weakness of the man to seek a self fulfilling God. Not to mention that God is supposed to have endowed man with the right to choose.

One of my favorite books is Arthur Schopenhauer “the world as will and representation”, where he negates fear. Life is possed by the will to live and if necessary the will to die. Schopenhauer was noted as a terribly confident man, phegmatic at times but righteous in conduct. You see all this skeptical effluvia and darth to religion, explains the lack of self will and dsicipline and above all lack of joy of righteous endeavor.

The ‘righteous shall live by faith’.

My Dad used to say ‘that every one gets a chance to do something. If you get your chance, do the right thing. A time will come when you look back to that incident, you will remember that you did the right thing and you will have a strange sense of fulfilment’

Iroabuchi Onwuka


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