At an Intelligence Squared debate attracting approximately 600 people at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College Tuesday night, most people were convinced by arguments that “The More We Evolve, the Less We Need God.”
Arguing for the motion were Heather Berlin, a cognitive neuroscientist, and Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society who is also a best-selling author. Berlin also serves as assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and practices clinical neuropsychology at Weill Cornell Medicine in the Department of Neurological Surgery.
Arguing against the motion were two doctors. The world-renowned Deepak Chopra, a popular New Age author and speaker, and Dr. Anoop Kumar. Kumar is a board-certified emergency physician practicing in the Washington, D.C., metro area, where he also leads meditation gatherings for clinicians.
Before arguing in support of the motion, Berlin noted that she was raised Jewish culturally and she is still “open to the possibility that there’s some higher creative power in the universe, some benevolence that I can’t quite comprehend that might deserve the name God.”
She quickly warned the audience, however, that they weren’t debating the existence of God.
“We’re not here to debate whether God exists. We’re here to debate whether God is becoming less needed as humanity evolves. And, however we measure that need, whether it’s a need for explanations, a need for comfort, or a feeling of belonging, or just to give us a higher sense of meaning or purpose, the answer is clear. The more we evolve, the less we need God,” she said.
Berlin, who said her interest in neuroscience was sparked at the age of 5 when she decided she wanted to know where her thoughts came from, then explained what it means to evolve and how evolution has led to the debunking of some religious dogma.
“We’re not talking about biological evolution or changes in gene frequency. We’re talking about cultural evolution, or just the development of humanity.
“And scientific progress over the past several hundred years has completely transformed our knowledge of how the world works. And each major scientific breakthrough has had to overturn some religious dogma, right? So we’ve gone from believing in special creation to an understanding of how all living things descend from a single common ancestor by blind trial and error process — natural selection,” she said.
“We’ve gone from believing that diseases were curses caused by evil spirits and bad karma to an understanding of the deep mechanisms of disease at the cellular and molecular level. But we still live in a world where people reject life-saving medicine on religious grounds. Just the other day, there was a news story about a 2-year-old boy who died because his parents chose prayer over medical treatment,” she continued. “The more our understanding evolves, the less we need God. Now, using God to explain natural phenomenon is an argument known as ‘God of the Gaps.’ Throughout history, if there was a gap in our understanding, it was by default to say God must explain it. But the more science illuminates our world, and gives us a real understanding, the fewer gaps are left for God to inhabit.”
She further argued that consciousness cannot be God because consciousness is what the brain does.
“Now, my own field, neuroscience, 350 years ago, Rene Descartes had argued that our perceptions had to be accurate because God would never deceive us. And our brains were made of physical mechanisms, but our conscious minds are an immaterial essence, a spirit that interacts with the physical brain through the pineal gland. But today, neuroscience is revealing that Descartes was wrong. Our perceptions are biased and inaccurate, which may explain the persistence of supernatural beliefs. And consciousness doesn’t interact with the brain. Consciousness is what the brain does,” she argued.
Berlin noted, “There’s no reason to believe that consciousness existed before brains existed,” because “now, some people think they’ve experienced God directly, with or without drugs.”
“Neuroscientists can now induce religious or transcendental experiences by stimulating specific brain areas with powerful magnets, giving people out of body experiences and sensation with oneness with the universe, not to mention hallucinations that would rival the Book of Revelations. So, the more our understanding of the brain evolves, the less we need God. And evolutionary and cognitive psychology are also helping to explain the origins of our need for God, for comfort, morality, sense of belonging, and why that need is diminishing,” she argued.
She later pointed to countries like Denmark and Sweden where the majority of people are atheist yet their societies are “high-functioning and relatively free from suffering.”
This is an indicator she said that “living without God is fully compatible with human psychology, as long as the need to make sense of the world is satisfied by science and our need to belong is satisfied by our social networks and communities.”
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Source: Christian Post