Scientists investigate if atheists' brains are missing a ‘God Spot’

From The Toronto Globe and Mail, Apr. 7.

(since this requires a news subscription, I am pasting excerpts with my commentary in bold)

This week, a U.S. appeals court rejected a lawsuit claiming that the use of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance discriminated against atheists,
while a vandal in Detroit this week destroyed bus ads that said, “Don't believe
in God? You're not alone.”

And now, the brain scientists who have famously sought the wellspring of faith in the grey matter of nuns and monks are turning their attention to the other side. In the past two years, an international scientific
network has been formed to collect research on atheism. Pitzer College in Los
Angeles is expected to announce the first secular studies department in the
world this spring. Last December, social scientists gathered at the University
of Oxford for a conference on atheism – a rare academic event, according to one
of the organizers, Stephen Bullivant.  They were looking at the natural next challenge in
neurotheology: If religion or spiritual belief is the human default position,
how does atheism happen?

So the 'default position' is blind belief?  Maybe that would be better termed our 'primitive, ancestral mindset'.

The widespread idea that human brains have a special area that governs spiritual belief – a “God Spot” – has been disputed by scientists such as Jordan Grafman, a neuropsychologist at the National Institute of
Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Md.

Doing brain imagining on believers while they prayed and meditated, he found that the areas of the brain involved were the expected areas of memory and feeling; no special section was suddenly activated. “Maybe we are special in the eyes of God, but God didn't
place anything special in our brains – at least as far as we can see,” Dr.
Grafman says. Other studies have shown that beliefs about God, for or
against, originate in the same part of the brain. Only the interpretation of
information is different.

No kidding. Some people choose to think critically, others lack the ability entirely. 

Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist at Pitzer College who studies atheists, points to people in his research who report growing up in heavily Christian background, but always feeling that they were atheists – with the same conflicted emotions,
he suggests, as gay people have growing up.

Puh-lease.  Atheism is a choice arrived at through logical thought.  Sexual orientation is biologically based.  No one in their right mind would 'choose' to be gay.   More evidence that 'social scientist' is an oxymoron.

Are atheists smarter than people who believe in God?

Historically, atheism has been a position open mainly to educated, upper-class people – a segment of society with the resources and leisure time to ponder life's larger questions, as well as the freedom to break
with social norms. A study released in February using survey data and IQ tests
from British teenagers found that the teens with higher intelligence scores were
more likely to be atheists.

Todd Shackelford, an evolutionary psychologist at Florida Atlantic University, has reviewed 40 studies on religious and intelligence going back 100 years. He
says all but two of them suggested that more educated people tended to be less

No surprises there.

Is religion innate?  “There is a lot of evidence that religious beliefs flow very naturally from the way the mind is designed,” Dr. Shackelford says. It has long been believed, he says, that atheism is a harder position to maintain because it
goes against the natural instinct to want to attach some kind of meaning to
phenomena we can't explain. “Perhaps religion is natural, but not inevitable.”

As in a primitive tendency that can be reversed by logic and reason, perhaps?

Evolutionary psychologists also suggest that religion developed in order to establish moral codes and build community among human being.

Exactly.  Religion is free to evolve as a human social phenomenon - without ANY requirement that it be based on truth.

In any event, Dr. Zuckerman says, the research on atheism is just getting started. “We'll never fully understand religion until we can understand
secularity,” he observes. “There are intellectual questions needing to be
answered, because they have real-life, political consequences.”

You bet.  Like preventing a return to the dark ages if either Christians of Muslims ever succeeded in their goal of world domination.

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I'm curious about the Los Angeles secular department. Mainly if they'll be paying volunteers for their studies. XD Let them analyze me all they want for $20.

I'm not sure what they mean by people missing the images that are in the Rorschach, as there are no specific images. Instead, there are just common answers and uncommon. Perhaps atheists are more likely to see the uncommon stuff simply because we think differently from the majority.
This is ridiculous. There is no scientific basis to even pursue the hypothesis. Children believe what they are brought up to believe and then evolve that believe through their own subsequent development to the extent that they are allowed contrast to the circumstances of their conditioning. Are they actually looking for a 'gullibility spot.' How offended would people be if we put it that way?

The only hard wiring in the brain that lends itself to a propensity to accept things on faith is based in the fact that survival often depends on our ability to remain calm in the face of danger (or perception of danger) - making best use of our fear to the extent that it spurs us into action but not into panic. Faith is easier than courage. The first allows for a false sense of security and the other requires a mental discipline that allows for the awareness of actual danger combined with a reasoned but decisive course of action to be taken in spite of that danger.

So maybe it is the 'coward spot' they are looking for.
Good Show!! maybe its simply folks trying to imply that atheist have a biological loose screw, or are inferior to the god fearing crowd....bah
So maybe it is the 'coward spot' they are looking for.

I think you've hit the nail closer to home than you realize.

In my understanding of the primary personality types of people, there are among the categories two discernible sets... those who feel they must question what they are told, and those who feel they must obey it.

We see this patten throughout literature as well. "Men and Mice", "Leaders and Followers", "Shepherds and Sheep".
The context is different, but the meaning is the same.

There are those of us who question, and those who obey.

It is thanks to those who disobediently question that we have the world today. Technologically and scientifically advanced. We are aware of the cosmos, chemistry, physics, etc.
It is unfortunately due to those who obey that we are forever dragging an anchor. They aren't obeying the current leaders, that's the unfortunate thing, the followers are obeying our ancestral leaders... which is why they act as our anchor.

Some day, the followers will be blindly clinging to some mistake we made in this generation and their leaders will curse us for making those mistakes.

Just as we are cursing our ancestors for making up such oppressive religions.
After reading the opening to the article I would be more interested in hearing a direct interpretation from the scientists who want to study this as well as information about their other work.
To me it seems similar to ideas about addiction, maybe we should not only look at those who are easily addicted, but at those who do not become addicted as well. (I'm not saying no-one does, this is just an example.)
It seems that the article was a bit slanted, especially looking at the opening paragraph criticizing two rather harsh examples of public Atheists in great detail then briefly commenting on the vandalism done against a bus that was pro-free thinker. That is why I would prefer to get better details before getting too mad at the researchers.
He also points out gender differences in religious belief, which may suggest something biological is at play. “Men always tend to be more secular than women. And that's in every study, in every country, in every race, for every known measure of religiosity,” he says. >>

Maybe not biological, but anthropological. Women have a long history of being lesser to men, especially in mind. Strength in faith is where women could easily be superior to men. Especially if they were locked away in their houses not able to interact in the world like so many Muslim women. What could they cultivate besides their faith, housekeeping and ability to create a family? I think a lot of women still have this mindset.
It's probably because they need a reason to believe why they're given such crappy roles. I'd need to believe that I'll be rewarded eventually for scrubbing the toilet and tending five screaming small children as well. >.X It's not so much superiority in faith, as the religions do degrade women, as it is finding a way to maintain one's sanity in such limited roles.
I agree with the anthropological approach you mention. I disagree that something "biological" has to be "at play" here at all. Gender differences in religiosity are cultural. Women do not have a mindset "naturally" to be religious. Culture provides the boundaries of acceptable behavior and acceptable beliefs....male dominated cultures define the roles of women. Our female brains and brain chemistry cannot explain the differences and are not deficient in the ability to be "secular". If women are uneducated and lack the opportunities to become educated, they will remain outside the secular world...locked in the chains that many religions actively encourage for the "lesser sex"(subservient roles).

I also disagree that "a God spot" region exists in our human brains or "neuro-chemistry". It doesn't appear to be proven by this research, anyway. Religion is a social institution...religiosity is an individual's level of belief and emotional investment (think of it as a range of zero to 10) Anything chemical going on in the human brain during religious ecstasy or prayer is vague and inconclusive as an explanation...similar to the chemicals that are affected during drug use or pleasurable activities, probably...nothing pinpointed directly to religious faith. The "God Spot" does not appear to be anything more than memory/language regions that everybody has, regardless of religious faith.

Religious belief is learned behavior and would not take place without parents/society. An individual's social environment fosters religion or it minimizes it. If a child is not subjected to a religious upbringing, he or she will be "natural" atheists. Those of us who discover atheism later in our teens and in adulthood have reached atheism by our own efforts/self education. This may expand a region of our brain or give us a different awareness, but it doesn't sound like anything substantial has been discovered by researchers yet to call it a "God spot" or "Godless spot".
It bothers me that the reporting on this kind of stuff is almost always slanted towards not trying to offend believers - or 'the gullible and the credulous', as they should be called. Why give them any deference when they forsake logic and reason for faith? It should not be politically incorrect to challenge the myths being flogged to the ignorant masses by so many hucksters.
What drivel. A god spot? I can't believe anyone is seriously even looking for something like that.
God Spot, G-spot, same old thing. Why do you thing women yell "Oh my God" when you excite their G-spot?
This is such an arbitrary question, it doesn't merit scientific investigation, at least in the way they are posing the problem. There could very well be a chemical of sorts in the brain that produces religious experience of a sort, such as DMT. I know first hand the profound and seemingly religious sensations it can illicit. If it wasn't already such an elusive neurotransmitter to pin down and find, they could perhaps examine the levels of this in different subjects of varying spiritual faith. I think this is something much more related to nurturing and psychology than physiology, however. Social indoctrination and culture is not dependent on regions of the brain. The entire presentation here rings of the approach to secular thinking from a non secular point of view.

But indeed, there are physiological stimuli that can produce a religious experience. Some epileptics have profound experiences after a brain seizure, leading to feelings of being a god.




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