Nothing New Under the Sun

For a long time now, secularists have been trying to come up with reasons why people believe in God. If you take a strictly naturalistic view of the world, after all, it can be pretty difficult to understand how anyone would put their faith in an invisible supernatural being. And yet, generation after generation continues to hold to do just that. It’s a question that has puzzled and fascinated some of the most prominent minds of our time. Now there’s an intriguing new explanation for religious faith. Paul Bloom, a Yale professor of psychology and linguistics, argues in the Atlantic Monthly that belief in God is a biological accident. Basically, Bloom’s theory goes like this: Human beings are naturally dualistic. Studies show that from a very young age, we can tell the difference between the physical world and the psychological world. That is, we understand that rocks and trees do not have thoughts and feelings, but that humans do. Our brains use one system to understand the physical world, and another to understand the psychological world. As Bloom sees it, “Both these systems are biological adaptations that give human beings a badly needed head start in dealing with objects and people. But these systems go awry in two important ways that are the foundations of religion. First, we perceive the world of objects as essentially separate from the world of minds, making it possible for us to envision soulless bodies and bodiless souls.” And Bloom continues, “This helps explain why we believe in gods and an afterlife. Second, as we will see, our system of social understanding overshoots, inferring goals and desires where none exist. This makes us animists and creationists.” In other words, we humans look at inanimate objects and tend to see evidence of design and purpose in them—evidence that Bloom says just isn’t there. Essentially, we are using the wrong part of our brain to interpret them. And we make the same mistake when we assume that human bodies have souls that live on after death. Because we have powers of reasoning, thinking, and feeling, we naturally tend to think of ourselves as something more than just bodies. But, Bloom says, it is all the result of a mistaken way of thinking—as I said, he calls it a biological accident. Well, all this may impress some scholars, but I think there are a few big holes in his argument. For example, I would submit to Professor Bloom that even if human brains have a tendency to infer design, that is not evidence that design does not exist. Maybe we infer it because it is so. It would be a biological accident only if you accept Bloom’s premise that the universe is a closed system with no possibility of supernatural intervention. And Bloom, like many scientists, does not attempt to prove this very important point—he just takes it for granted, just like evolutionists do, which makes science hostage to their philosophy. So Bloom’s scientific studies, carefully conducted as they seem to be, prove only what he wants them to prove if one starts from a materialist point of view—the same materialist point of view that has tried and failed to disprove religion for so many years. When it comes to tempting “new” theories to explain away religion, it looks like there really is nothing new under the sun after all.


Chuck Colson


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