The God Sense
From: Marilyn Burge

Remember the questionnaire some of us filled out? The one that some of us were so sure was devised by a closet fundy? Here's the first pass at his paper, somewhat incorporating our responses to that questionnaire:

From: LazarusGS@aol.com <LazarusGS@aol.com>
To: marilyn_burge@email.msn.com <marilyn_burge@email.msn.com>
Subject: The God Sense I
Date: Thursday, September 17, 1998 6:27 AM

Hi Marilyn,

Sorry for the delay. Itís been a busy summer, with family, work and holiday. But finally I have something I can send you, partially as a result of your generous participation. The following is more of a set of notes outlining my ideas, rather than a completed paper. That will probably take some time before it is ready for a serious presentation. I do appreciate the time you took to help me, and also your thoughtfulness. I do hope this is of some interest to you.

Again, thank you sincerely,

GS Lazarus


The God Sense

(Human Spirituality in a Secular World)

A Preliminary Report

By GS Lazarus

September 1998

WHY GOD WONíT GO AWAY. The title caught my eye. It was on the cover of a Sunday paper supplementary magazine. Probably some bubbly religious patter, though the title hinted, if not promised, something of interest to a person like myself who doesnít believe there is a God to either stay or go away.

It turned out to be a short newspaper column, and the first few paragraphs indeed were written in typical sugary Christian phrases. But in the third paragraph, an entirely new topic and idea was introduced. One that I had to stop and reread several times. The article seemed to echo an idea of mine, one that I was very excited about.

YOSEMITE

It was at Yosemite National Park that the idea came to me. It came after the first night, when my family and friends and all the kids slept in their tents and I lay by myself in a clearing beneath a sky full of stars. Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places in the United States, the camp grounds set in a valley created by glaciers during the Ice Age. It is scenic and breathtaking during the day, but to me it is at night that the real wonder reveals itself. We are so used to city night skies with their handful of pale stars, that we forget what is actually up there: an infinite panorama of dazzling stars. And to lie beneath a sky like this is truly dizzying. I woke up many times during the night and each time marveled at the sky above. And each time felt a feeling of deep awe, almost a religious feeling of grandness.

When I awoke in the morning, all the tents were silent. The sun had just come up and the sky was pale gray. The stars were gone but the towering trees now took their place as objects of wonder. I lay back with my hands behind my head and enjoyed the trees, the long majestic trunks and the green leaves shining in the morning sun.

And again I felt that "religious" feeling. I am a life long atheist who has never for a moment believed in God, or any creator. Yet there is this "feeling." It is a feeling that I think we all recognize, whether we believe in God or not, that there is something bigger than ourselves in the universe, that there is something grand and wonderful that we are a small part of. That life is full of awe and inspiration. And that maybe a God really did create it after all. It is not a strong enough feeling for me to doubt my convictions, yet I still felt it, sometimes in great intensity. Such as that morning in Yosemite.

I lay there feeling that sensation as strong as the most Holy Father kneeling in prayer. And this made me curious. Because just as strong as I felt that sensation I have no confusion at all about God and his existence or any supernatural element to life and the universe. There isnít any. Yet something deep in my heart seemed to be assuring me that there was!

I have been puzzled by this paradox for some years now, dating back to 1989. In that year my wife and I took a drive in California, up to Big Bear Mountain. Near the top we stopped at a look out point and stood together looking out over the vista of mountains and forest. It was grand and majestic and beyond properly describing---- and I felt the same feeling of awe and depth, the same feeling that I was in the presence of God. And it struck me as strange because I knew there was no God, that mountains and trees have no inherent meaning nor beauty or anything at all, but that we humans give all of those qualities to them and to the stars and to everything that holds any meaning at all for us.

But there was no denying this feeling in the mind and stomach that was "religious."

I have thought on it ever since and pondered it, and lying there in Yosemite under the trees, the night full of stars still dazzling somewhere in my brain, the answer came to me:

Human Beings are programed to have this religious feeling. It is like a sixth sense or extra emotion. It is wired into our system. It is beyond logic or thought. It might be the very thing that makes us human.

Immediately I sensed the truth of this idea.

MANíS BRAIN

Logic alone and the evidence of the world speaks for the absence of any God or Creator. But the powerful depth of religious emotion wired into our human hearts and minds transcends that. There is a God because we can feel it so plainly!

Manís brain has evolved a religious sensation, a very strong faculty of spirituality. This not only explains my own mindless gut feelings of religious awe but the reason that religions have such a powerful hold on humans---- it is because the feelings so strongly reinforce their beliefs, that logical proof is entirely irrelevant. If I can have these feelings even with the brain power and logic and commitment I employ in my belief in a secular world, how in the world can some simple God fearing person fight it?

I knew that I had an important idea, something to add to the worldís discussion on religion. Something to explain so much in all of us. Maybe even something that could be proved someday.

SPIRITUALITY

For some time I have separated spirituality from religion. Iíve have to, because I consider myself "spiritual." It was part of the puzzle, this experience of "religious" or "spiritual" feelings in a wholly secular atheist. But why not? I told myself, these feelings are what make us human, what makes life the amazing thing it is.

I tended to consider "spirituality" the art of communing with yourself. If you sat and looked into a fire at night and felt that sensation of depth and wonder, that was you being in touch with yourself, your own mind, the dreams that move you and the forces that have shaped your consciousness. Listen to great music, make a graceful maneuver in your car, throw a basketball straight and true into a basket---- all these things and millions more activate this spiritual part of our brains. I recognized that these are the same sorts of feelings that people who pray or respond to religious rituals experience; they seemed so much to be feelings of spirituality that that is what I considered them. And thus spirituality had to be something that existed on its own and not as a connection to God.

A religious person might at this point claim that whether or not I believe in God is irrelevant; those spiritual feelings are caused by God because He exists and He is instilling them in me. It is proof of His existence and I must realize that.

And indeed, if my belief in the Man-made nature of God wasnít so overwhelming, I would have doubts. How could you not in the face of such religious feelings? And no doubt this explains the millions of people who call themselves, "agnostics." Their thinking brains tell them that there is no God, because any thinking brain must come to that conclusion. Yet this feeling of spiritual depth and power is present and so strong that it is confusing; what can it indicate other than the existence of God or some Divine presence?

When I was younger I was swayed by these feelings myself, and truly, it was a battle between my senses, which FELT that God existed, and my mind, which told me he didnít. It was the very same battle that agnostics of God face every day.

After accepting a strictly secular world, I had to explain the persistence of religious or spiritual feeling. The truth had to be that human beings have a built in spirituality that helped guide them through life, helping to distinguish right from wrong and ugly from beautiful.

What happened at Yosemite was the finding of the missing piece to the puzzle that had bothered for so long: why did an atheistís spirituality seem to have a connection to God and religion?

And the answer just slid into the front of my brain: Man is built to experience this feeling. It has nothing to do with starry skies or looking into fires. It has nothing at all to do, for that matter with God and crosses and churches. It is a built-in feeling of depth and awe and because of it religion was not only brought into being, but has survived with undiminished tenacity into this modern scientific age.

WHY GOD WONíT GO AWAY

When I came home from California I put my notes into the computer and let it sit. It would be some time before I was ready to write about it.

And then I saw that headline on the cover of the Sunday paper magazine supplement: "WHY GOD WONíT GO AWAY." (the article was by Ana Veciana-Suarez)

I began to read:

"Not long ago, I read about two scientists in Philadelphia, Eugene d'Aquili and Andrew Newberg, who are tracking how the brain responds to religion... In his talk, Newberg said our intuition of a Ďtranscendent realityí---- something above and beyond ourselves---- may be hard-wired into the human mind. And because the brain is set up to help us survive, faith, as expressed through religion, is actually a survival mechanism: it offers reassurance that there is a purpose to random events in a scary world."

And there it was. This appeared to be exactly my idea! "Our intuition of a Ďtranscendent realityí---- something above and beyond ourselves---- may be hard-wired into the human mind." Exactly!

Now I had to find out more about Andrew Newberg, who had given the talk and conducted the experiments.

Gentlemen, to the Internet:

"Andrew B. Newberg is a Fellow of the Division of Nuclear Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. His research has focused on neurophysiology and human ritual, religion, and neuroimaging techniques to study the effects of meditation on the central nervous system. According to Newberg, religion appears to serve two major functions -- it is a system of self-maintenance and a system of self-transcendence. Since both of these functions bear directly on human survival and adaptability, the neuropsychological mechanisms that underlie religious experience appear to have become thoroughly ingrained in human development."

To my surprise the few things I saw seemed to be written by religious people who are very excited that science may finally be on the verge of "proving" the existence of God!

Here is one of them. I will reprint more a little later but right now here are some passages:

WHAT RELIGION CAN DO FOR YOUR BRAIN

By David O'Reilly

*

In a recent talk on "Science and the Soul," Newberg described how their two- year study of the brains of people engaged in Buddhist meditation provides "mounting evidence" that sensations of calm, unity and transcendence correspond to increased activity in the brain's frontal lobes (behind the forehead) and decreased activity in the parietal lobes at the top-rear of the head.

*

"We can't say we can see God with these imaging studies," Newberg, 31, said with a laugh recently at his office. "What we can say is: When somebody has religious experiences, this is what it's doing to them. "

Newberg, d'Aquili's research associate since 1993, titled his talk, attended by about 160 people, "Why God Won't Go Away. " By that, he means an intuition of transcendent reality may be hard-wired into the human mind.

*

They propose that the brain's amygdala, which translates sensory impressions into emotions, "generates a sense of religious awe attached to behaviorally `marked' ritual gestures such as bows or signs of the cross. "

*

D'Aquili and Newberg say there is no way of knowing for sure, but they insist in all their published papers that it would be foolish to suppose that religious awe, numinous vision or mystical experience "is reducible to neurochemical flux. "

*

I read the article with interest. The two scientists were not interested in making a claim that God did not exist. They said it would be "foolish to suppose that religious awe, numinous vision or mystical experience Ďis reducible to neurochemical flux.í"

Yet this is exactly my belief now. That in fact religious awe, numinous vision or mystical experience is reducible to neurochemical flux.

D'Aquili and Newberg are only interested in brain states and not in upending religious thought. And itís interesting that a lot of people take their findings to be evidence that God is real.

THE GOD SENSE

By now I had come up with a name for this sensation, this "intuition of a Ďtranscendent realityí" I called it the God Sense.

I knew that my own contribution to the eventual examination of my idea would only be defining it. I was no scientist, I was never going to win a Nobel Prize for proving it existed. And until science did prove it, it would remain only a theory, one that would be scorned and laughed at not only by religious people (of course!) but by many secular people who would find the very idea offensive.

PHILOSOPHY

I said there is a limit to what I can accomplish with the God Sense. There is. A thing like this needs to be verified. I canít do that. My own God Sense tells me that I am right, but that is not enough. So I can only be a philosopher here, which is my intent anyway.

A philosopher is a person whose laboratory is his mind. He uses his brain to answer questions important to his fellow humans. He also uses his brain to think up questions important to his fellow humans . Nothing a philosopher does is scientific. On the other hand, philosophers are needed to deal with the human implications of scientific discoveries. All of science is open to philosophical debate and exploration, something that few scientists themselves are mentally equipped to do.

WHAT RELIGION CAN DO FOR YOUR BRAIN

More from that article, with my comments:

WHAT RELIGION CAN DO FOR YOUR BRAIN

By David Oriole

GS LAZARUS: Right from the title we get the idea: "What religion can do for your brain" as opposed to what the article actually implies and what I believe: what the brain can do for religion. The God Sense makes it even impossible for people to understand that there is a God Sense.

This is interesting, that people reading this take it to be proof of God. They look at it this way: that God produces these religious feelings in us and Science has finally detected them.

*

"Total deafferentation of the left posterior superior parietal lobe results in the obliteration of the self-other dichotomy at almost the same moment that the deafferentation of the right posterior superior parietal lobe generates a sense of absolute transcendent wholeness. " -- Eugene d'Aquili and Andrew Newberg

Right posterior what? Deafferentation who?

GS Lazarus: Exactly. This is all science gobbledy gook. This is the realm that will someday uncover the working of the God Sense, and win someone a Nobel Prize. Meanwhile, even after this discovery, the God Sense will rage on unabated, supporting religion and God and countless other bizarre beliefs as long as Man lives.

*

Now, brain research suggests such beatific visions can be described neurologically in terms of eruptive overflows, "reverberating circuits" and blood flows and blockages involving the prefrontal cortex and various lobes of the brain.

GS Lazarus: I firmly believe that the human brain, including consciousness, will be shown to be as mechanical as a car engine. This includes emotion and feeling, as well as the God Sense. It will be possible to describe in great detail just how this works some day.

*

In a recent talk on "Science and the Soul," Newberg described how their two- year study of the brains of people engaged in Buddhist meditation provides "mounting evidence" that sensations of calm, unity and transcendence correspond to increased activity in the brain's frontal lobes (behind the forehead) and decreased activity in the parietal lobes at the top-rear of the head.

GS Lazarus: Not sure what they are actually looking for. Doesn't it make sense that any mental activity will have some effect on the brain, will show up as some sort of brain activity? Itís like wondering if a carís movement is in any way related to the engine.

*

"We can't say we can see God with these imaging studies," Newberg, 31, said with a laugh recently at his office.

GS Lazarus: Newberg says, with a nervous laugh, that the imaging doesnít show God. He obviously is getting a lot of calls from people who are dying for science to prove there is a God once and for all. It must be very exciting for religious folk, at the same time, nerve wracking to this young man who only wants to study the state of the brain during meditation.

*

"What we can say is: When somebody has religious experiences, this is what it's doing to them. "

GS Lazarus: What heís saying and what he probably means seem to be two different things. Heís saying that when someone has a "religious experience" it does something to the brain. What he may mean, and what the God Sense theory says, is that when someone is having a religious experience his built in God Sense is activating. The God Sense is activated or tripped by outside stimuli, a very wide variety. Once it trips it is on its own.

*

Newberg, d'Aquili's research associate since 1993, titled his talk, attended by about 160 people, "Why God Won't Go Away. " By that, he means an intuition of transcendent reality may be hard-wired into the human mind.

GS Lazarus: "An intuition of transcendent reality may be hard-wired into the human mind." I like that, well said.

The amazing thing to me is that, having said this, what else could it mean except that there is no God?

Actually, I suppose that there could be a God and he hard wired it into the mind. This would be the comforting and even triumphant interpretation of the religious.

*

"The idea is that the brain is set up in ways to help us survive," he explained earlier in the week. Religion "offers the reassurance that there is purpose and causal effect in this pretty scary world. " Thus, "religious and spiritual experiences are right in line with what the brain is trying to do for us" by helping us to function and make sense of life here on the third rock from the sun.

GS Lazarus: I disagree. It may or may not be set up to help us survive. If it is, it has more to do with wonder and awe and inspiration, the things that set us apart from animals, rather than just letting us know there is a purpose to life, as mysterious and unknown as it is.

What this passage actually is, is a scientist trying to be a philosopher. Why the God Sense exists is much more a philosophical question than a hard science one. Heís a young guy with his head in brain waves from meditating and heís way over his head when it comes to trying to explain what purpose this built in sense serves.

*

The team has measured brain function and cerebral blood flow during Tibetan Buddhist meditation in eight subjects during the last two years. "It's pretty exciting," said Newberg.

GS Lazarus: This is exciting to Newberg, measuring brain waves and blood flow. Not upending the very foundation that religion rests on.

*

They propose that the brain's amygdala, which translates sensory impressions into emotions, "generates a sense of religious awe attached to behaviorally `marked' ritual gestures such as bows or signs of the cross. "

GS Lazarus: Along with many other rituals or objects or experiences. Again, the basic message here is that these feelings donít come from God, they don't come automatically from the heavens like a bolt of lightning zapping you. By making the sign of the cross you are activating the process in your brain. All so simple, yet even these two scientists donít really know how to proceed with what they are learning.

*

This, they say, builds on research tying hallucinations, out-of-body sensations, and `deja vu' to activity, or suppression of activity, in parts of the brain.

GS Lazarus: Hard to resist getting sarcastic. In other words, all these things may actually have something to do with the brain?

*

So, are the great mystic illuminations exalted throughout the ages authentic glimpses into true being and the ultimate reality? Or are the revelations of enlightenment and beatific vision nothing more than the brain's perceiving its own activity?

GS Lazarus: Huh? The first part of this inquiry makes sense. Are the religious experiences that people have had throughout the ages real? But the second part makes no sense at all. My suspicion is that the writer, a religious person, doesn't want it to make sense. "Or are the revelations of enlightenment and beatific vision nothing more than the brain's perceiving its own activity?" That wasnít what anyone claimed, that the God Sense is just the brain "perceiving its own activity." Awful and confused writing, not to mention understanding. The second half of this question should have read, "Or are the revelations of enlightenment and beatific vision nothing more than the normal operation of the brain." or "nothing more than the God Sense at work."

*

D'Aquili and Newberg say there is no way of knowing for sure, but they insist in all their published papers that it would be foolish to suppose that religious awe, numinous vision or mystical experience "is reducible to neurochemical flux. "

GS Lazarus: Why would that be "foolish?" The real reason here is a fear of being involved with the battle with and against God. Newberg himself may be a religious man. This trouble he needs? But it is hardly foolish to suppose the most sensible interpretation of this data.

*

"What's really real? It's a big issue," Newberg conceded last week.

GS Lazarus: Itís not only a big issue, it is firm philosophical ground, the work of many centuries. In fact, the Greeks were very involved in this question of what is real. Newberg has little of philosophical interest to say about his work.

*

Although their data can be interpreted to mean that certain mental states are the result of specific brain activity, that assignment of causality can be "flipped" entirely: Is it not plausible that the changes in brain function are the "result" (not cause) of changes in consciousness?

GS Lazarus: Why can only "certain" mental states "result" from specific brain activity? I would say that all mental states result from that. But the main point here is a good one, and one that will be argued by the religious: isnít the God Sense merely a response to God?

This is why religious people might be very happy with this article.

*

And because mystics throughout history have been so emphatic that the reality they perceived in their illuminated state was "primary" (that is, more real than ordinary earthly existence), "we have to be careful what we claim," he said.

GS Lazarus: Look at the fear here: who cares what the mystics through history have claimed! If the God Sense exists, and is the cause of all of their mysticism, so be it!

*

"Western science says matter is primary, but if you flip it around and look at what the mystics report, you could say that it's ultimately consciousness and awareness that are primary. "

GS Lazarus: I think that science will reveal some future year, that everything is one and the same. Matter, energy, consciousness. Thatís another topic, and one that intrigues scientists and philosophers alike. It is my suspicion about the ultimate end of it all.

*

And so perhaps science will someday discover what Emily Dickinson asserted more than a century ago.

"The Brain," she wrote, "is just the weight of God. "

GS Lazarus: Good capper to this article about the God Sense. Obviously science has discovered God!

Human beings believe in God and mysticism and spiritual matters and superstition, because we are built that way. No amount of argument, logic, or persuasion will ever affect that. Even when science has shown the entire universe, including human consciousness to be a matter of physical mechanics, people will still go on giving their hearts to God.

Because of the God Sense.

THE SURVEY

Curious to hear other people talk about some of these things, I went on the Internet with a request for atheists and agnostics to fill out a survey. It was not a survey in the sense that I was looking to find out anything statistical. It was a very informal questionnaire that aimed to get opinions and to also ask if people recognized any of the sensations I associated with the God Sense.

Regarding the God Sense I was interested in two things: do atheists feel something that they may or may not permit themselves to regard as "religious" feelings, and do they regard themselves in any way as being "spiritual."

If I am correct, all normal humans have a God Sense. It either powers and supports whatever religious beliefs they have, or it exists as a series of emotions that may or may not be tied to feelings of spirituality and grandeur.

I knew from my own experience that it is not a strong enough sensation on its own to make one doubt oneís atheism, but it did produce feelings, however irrational, that something supernatural existed outside of humankind.

Why should anyone feel any sort of grandeur and awe from gazing at the sky or hearing beautiful music? Why was the feeling so transcendent? Why was it so close to the feeling always associated with religious people?

What would atheists have to say?

... God made me an atheist and who am I to question His divine wisdom?

FEELING THE GOD SENSE

On the survey I said:

I find myself often filled with wonder and awe at the sight of a star filled sky or a breathtaking nature scene. It almost feels "religious." Do you have these feelings?

Here are some answers: (first the agnostics)

Yes.

*

Yes I feel this way every time I look into the sky.

*

Yes, it does encourage me to think more about God, mostly in an appreciative sense.

*

Not so much a God, as something awesome, perhaps just unlimited space and possibility. And awe at the complexity and mechanics and beauty and sense that it cannot just be wild chance and chaos which created it.

*

The order of the world is something to behold. I feel that it is evidence of SOMETHING but we have LITTLE knowledge of what it is.

*

It causes me to think that there is SOMETHING, but not necessarily a GOD.

*

These are agnostics, people who are in doubt as to whether or not something greater than ourselves exists and in some way is in control. The first answered with a flat "yes." Unadorned. The second response is that of an astronomer, whose love of the sky amplifies the normal awe that a starry night produces. The last says it "causes" me to think there is something... Indeed, thatís exactly what the God Sense does.

Following are replies of the atheists:

I am filled with awe that all this could come from a beginning of absolute chaos

*

Nature and the cosmos fills one with awe.

*

I've experienced that feeling a great many times. This is often described as "spiritual".

*

I do have these feelings quite often, I actually look for them and enjoy them enormously.

*

I do have these feelings.

*

[This feeling] always used to be one of the big sticking points for me

*

Situations like these do make me wonder. I wonder if there was a creator that designed these beautiful things or if they appeared random.

*

Yes, as a sense of wonder and appreciation of the natural beauty in the world and universe. And a sense of awe at its size and complexity.

*

Is there any reason at all why an atheist should have these feelings? This is what was so puzzling to me when I had them. What are they there for? Why should a person who is grounded in science say things like. "[This feeling] always used to be one of the big sticking points for me " or "I am awe- inspired at times and it does make one question."

Question what? Why question?

Yet the feeling is there.

This is the God Sense

SPIRITUALITY

I have talked about spirituality. I believe it is present in most humans, related to the God Sense. I have always considered myself a spiritual person, even though I have never in my life believed in God or any religion. I have come to feel that what we call spirituality is our own communion with ourselves, not anything outside of ourselves. Everyone goes about it a little differently but we all feel it, whether or not we want to attach a word like "spiritual" to it.

I asked everyone if they considered themselves to be spiritual. Here are some answers from the agnostics:

I can't define spiritual. It is word that I am still seeking the meaning of.

*

Whenever I learn something new, or solve a problem about the stars or physics or mathematics, I get a spiritual feeling

*

Yes, I think am spiritual. But, in my world, spiritual means having the ability to take knowledge and extrapolate on that knowledge to gain more knowledge....in other words being open minded to EVERYTHING

*

Spirituality is responding to the urge for belief in a higher form or belief system without the trappings of religion like politics and extremism

*

The second answer comes from our astronomer again. His answer reminds me of a conversation I had with my mother, a life long atheist. I was telling her about the God Sense, about how our brains are hard wired to form religious sensation, or as the article put it, ""Our intuition of a Ďtranscendent realityí---- something above and beyond ourselves---- may be hard-wired into the human mind."

"I donít feel that," she said. My mother is someone who has nothing but scorn for people who believe there is a god. Yet I know that she, like all humans, has a God Sense and thus has felt the sensation.

"Let me ask you something, " I said. My mother is a linguist with a fascination for the origin of languages. "Tell me what it feels like when you discover a connection between two words in, say Swedish and Armenian?"

Instantly my motherís face lit up. "It feels like a warm glow," she said, holding her hands to her stomach, "It feels ecstatic."

It is my belief that this ecstatic feeling is a manifestation of the God Sense. Our astronomer friend, an agnostic, has no problem identifying this ecstatic feeling as spiritual while my mother, a lifelong atheist hostile to religion, wouldnít. Yet it is the one and same feeling. And again, it is important to ask, why is it there?

Atheists also had a concept of themselves as being "spiritual." Here are some of their answers:

I wish there was a better word than "spiritual", because it just has too much baggage

*

I think 'spiritual' for me is wrapped up in consciousness. I believe in making very considered choices in my life and doing & saying nothing that I can't justify. It's a very vague word isn't it? It's a way of being that's very switched on to all sorts of stimulus in a very open way.

*

Unlike some atheists, I have no objections to the use of the word "spiritual" to describe certain feelings of "attachment" to the universe, or kinship with humankind.

*

There is a very deep need within all of us to experience beauty. it is this need that has led some people to create religious ecstasy as one way of fulfilling it. Life is full of such wondrous beauty...a beautiful woman, a poem, a work of art, a symphony, a tree, a star. These things stimulate our minds and our emotions, it is not hard to see how they could be considered spiritual.

*

I don't want to conclude things like souls and such without proof, but I would define spirituality as Ideas beyond our realm of comprehension. Things such as answers to the meaning of life. The definition of existence, things like that

*

I have feelings that something is semi-spiritual, but not religious. Spirituality is just a way for us to sort of cope with the painful question of the meaning of life. But we must make certain we don't automatically accept this spirituality as fact.

*

I am spiritual in the sense that I think it is very important for each individual to find a way to live in harmony with the world in which he lives, and find peace with himself.

*

Obviously even people who have no doubt about religion and the supernatural FEEL things that religious people might call "unearthly," or "mystical," or spiritual. In fact, to hear these atheists talk, any Jehovaís Witness standing at your door would take it as proof that atheists have a connection to God, even if they deny it.

Of course this is the whole definition of spiritual, having to do with "connection," though it is not to God but to oneís self.

Spirituality is associated with a FEELING, and that is why these atheists are not afraid to use the word. There is a feeling. And the feeling is one that is mysterious and awesome and powerful. Imagine if you really did believe in God, how those feelings would support that! No wonder you cannot change the mind of a believer, no matter how many arguments you bring to bear. They are not just being stupid and dense, they are feeling something so powerful that they are able to shrug off any argument. They are feeling the God Sense.

FIGHTING THE GOD SENSE

I have said the God Sense is powerful. It is. It has shaped and dominated all of mankind. But it is not powerful enough to overcome the rational mind. If you are an atheist you may feel something that you would call spiritual, you may occasionally feel a sensation that there must be something bigger than Mankind, you may even be tempted to believe in something supernatural. But the God Sense will not change your mind.

Throughout the survey answers were remarks supporting this. These agnostics were careful to say that their doubts and questions were based on their own intellect, and not on emotion:

Yes, once in a while I feel like that and sometimes I wonder if some almighty beings made it so beautiful but it doesnít make me believe in God, just makes me wonder

*

I see beauty in many things but this does not affect my belief.

*

I can experience the wonder and awe of natural phenomena, but it has no religious significance to me

*

Atheists could be harsher:

Huh! What possibly could such a scene of wonder have to do with religion or believing by faith. It is there and natural. Nothing has to be believed about it in one's wonder other than that it exists.

*

Other atheist remarks about the God Sense as proof of GOD:

I don't see any relevance to beauty or awe to religion. I believe people who do are fooling themselves once again.

*

Although I am often awe struck by the boundlessness of the universe, it does not shake my convictions.

*

If it ever causes me to question my atheism, it is fleeting. I usually end up thinking "Wow, to think this is all the product of billions of years of evolution/chance."

*

I have feelings that I can very well understand other people misinterpreting as religious. But my perspective seems to keep it all in...well, in perspective.

*

There is always some other explanation, although I know many people would attribute such feelings to religious explanations.

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Interesting. One atheist admits to feeling tempted to question his atheism, although the feeling is "fleeting." Another has feelings that he "can very well understand other people misinterpreting as religious." Both of these atheists really have no doubt, but both are dealing in one way or another with this inborn feeling, this sensation that feels so obviously "religious."

Whether or not you associate the feeling with spiritually or religion, it is nonetheless present, and makes an impact on your life, whether it makes you question your beliefs, or whether it just makes you feel like life is worth living.

For myself, these feelings which I have had all of my life have never made me question whether or not there is a god. I have always been a firm atheist. The notion of God is far too ridiculous for feelings to change my mind. But I have long been fascinated and curious about the feelings themselves.

And I don'tí think many people have focused on this. People just accept it as part of their lives, whether it reinforces a belief in God or whether it just makes you feel awe and mystery when you look at a star filled sky.

But I now believe that some day science will reveal these feelings to be a basic component of the human mind, and because of it, religion and god will never go away.

FIGHTING THE GOD SENSE (those who come close)

Some atheists came very close to describing the God Sense. Hereís one:

It does absolutely nothing to validate any silly myths. It's a shame that the religious have. It isn't- it's a very human emotion.

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Very good. Of course instead of doing "absolutely nothing to validate any silly myths" the God Sense in fact does everything to support them. To most people.

"It's a very human emotion" that the religious have "tried to hijack" and "claim... as all their own." Yes, though I look at it the other way around, that a growing percentage of the human race is becoming free of its delusional powers, leaving us free to enjoy its positive power.

Another atheist made this remark:

"The perception of beauty and order are by-products of our evolution."

Well, exactly. The "perception" (and we may substitute the word, "sensation") of beauty and "order" are by-products of our evolution. And what is "order?" Beauty is one thing; there is beauty in randomness. But "order" implies a maker, an "orderer." Someone who ordered. Letís go back to the magazine articleís fine definition of the God Sense:

"Our intuition of a Ďtranscendent realityí---- something above and beyond ourselves---- may be hard-wired into the human mind."

and compare that to:

"The perception of beauty and order are by-products of our evolution."

They are very close. If we consider ourselves part of what is "ordered," then the "orderer" would have to be something greater than us.

Here is another atheist, a young man with no illusions:

Of course I experience "religious" moments, as you call them, but I acknowledge that it is a matter of feelings which again is due to chemical reactions in my brains.

Excellent! But why not ask the question, why are those chemicals mixing thusly in the brain? This is the step that needs exploring, this is the path to the God Sense.

"Chemical reactions" lead to many mental states not present in all humans, for example such severe depression that a human being will kill himself. That is relatively rare. But the chemical reaction that produces the God Sense is present in every human being in the world.

As I have said, the key to the God Sense is the brain and mind, and understanding the mechanical aspect of this organ. There is no reason at all, scientifically, why your brain should be any different than your heart or lung as far as being a functioning biological organ. It is only far more complex, so much so, that science still finds itself with many unanswered questions.

Part of the problem is that the mind and consciousness is what makes us human, what makes us special. No one likes the thought that in the end we may all be a collection of chemical and electrical responses. Here is an atheist uncomfortable with the thought:

"Iīm not so sure Iīd like to see everyone completely convinced that human beings are just chemicals processes."

I agree, what a depressing thought. Yet that is what I am convinced the human race will have to accept as scientific fact some day. How could it be any other way unless you posit the existence of a supernatural order?

And yet because the brain is wired the way it is, including the God Sense, we will never lose our feelings of awe and grandeur, of ecstasy and passion, and yes, of religious and spiritual beliefs. We are wired to feel those things.

As to science eventually replacing religion? Not a chance. Here is the same atheist we just heard from on chemical responses:

"I donīt think modern sciences will ever satisfy the deep spiritual needs human beings have felt all through their evolution."

No. It canít. It can satisfy our search and quest for knowledge, including the knowledge of who and what we humans are, but it has no facility to deal with the emotions and passions produced by the God Sense. That is something that man will always have to do for himself.

Finally one 23 year old atheist wrote the following:

"I figure this is how religion came about in the first place -- people needing to explain such feelings and how the universe could possibly inspire such things. I think they are natural in all people, in all cultures."

These feelings are "natural" in "all people," in "all cultures." Or, in other words, this is something common to every human being, something that transcends culture and race. Something built in to every one of us.

The God Sense

***MISCL NOTES

Man is powerless against the God Sense. It has shaped his world and culture. Is it what has made us human?

The idea that because the God Sense is "hard wired" into the brain it must serve some survival purpose is interesting. Was there a time when man had no God Sense?

There must have been.

Perhaps the God Sense was a bizarre mutation in the mind of some long ago ape man, a shaggy hairy thing not quite an ape anymore, but not yet a man.

Did this little ape child grow up with the worldís first God Sense? Did he feel wonder and awe where the others in his ragged little group only felt hunger and the other basic animal feelings? Was there something so advantageous to having this God Sense that he and his offspring eventually took over the world?

Another interesting aspect, a side bar to this question of early Man possessing the God Sense, is: are there people who donít have it? Or have a muted one. Or for that matter is the God Sense vary from person to person? Might someone like a Jesus or the kook on the corner thumping the bible have an overdeveloped God Sense raging in his head? Did someone like Freud, say, have none at all?

*****

Whatís in a name? A God Sense by any other name is still a God Sense. Yet the name could be as troubling as the concept itself. Is the fact that the word "God" is a part of the name a bad thing? To some people it will be, just because they want nothing to do with God or Gods. The idea that some inborn function has anything to do with "God," even if only in the name, could be unacceptable to people who donít have a God in their lives and donít want one.

My own feeling is that God is a generic term for many of the things associated with the God Sense. Religion, mysticism, superstition, etc. In fact the only reason that the God Sense was "discovered" was that the sensation just didnít make any sense in the absence of God. The whole concept of the God Sense is in relation to God. If the sensation had only been related to a feeling of awe for nature there would have been no real thought on the matter. You see an incredible night sky full of stars and you feel a deep wonder. A lot of people do this without thinking of God or a creator.

Bringing the word "God" into the picture makes perfect sense because the whole concept exists to explain why people so fervently believe in their gods. There is no logic, nor even a lifetime of training, nor even because they have been doing it for a million years. They believe because they feel it "in their heart." They feel it as surely and warmly as the sun on their face. They feel Godís presence. That is the God Sense.

I have more trouble with the "sense" part of the name. A sense, like touching or hearing or seeing, has to do with perception. Perceiving information from outside the body. The God Sense doesn't perceive in this way, it only feels like itís perceiving.

But maybe thatís important. Perhaps because of the feeling of perception, we can call it a sense. At least poetically.

*****

I am reading a book right now called "The End of Science." It postulates that science may be nearing an end for several reasons. One of them is that the basic map of knowledge has, according to the author and the scientists he quotes, been roughed out and it is a matter of only filling in the details. The book proposes that, once science answers a few remaining tough questions, among them how to cure cancer, all interest in science will come to an end and there will be no public funding.

Itís possible. I have also thought that there must be a finite amount of knowledge in the universe and once it is all filled in we will know everything, whether that takes another hundred years or a million years. I have also had the thought, and this is echoed in the book---- which is why I mention it, that surely, once Man understands how everything works, including his own mind and awareness, there can not be any mystery and wonder in the world. What kind of dead life would humans lead?

They have not thought of the God Sense.

It occurred to me that Man will always experience awe and wonder because the God Sense will make him. When we stare into a burning campfire, lost in the flickering flames, and we feel that sense of mystery and depth, it is not because there is anything mysterious or deep about a fire. There is nothing mystical or innately spiritual. We are really just feeling our God Sense. It doesn't matter how much knowledge we have and whether we know how the universe works and everything in it---- we will still carry with us a sense of awe and wonder because we canít help it. Life will always be worth living because humans donít respond to awe and wonder, we produce it.

In this book, one of the scientists, particle physicist Steven Weinberg, is profiled:

"Weinberg had little patience for those who suggest that a final theory [that explains everything] will reveal the purpose of the universe, or, Ďthe mind of Godí as Stephen Hawkings put it. Quite the contrary, Weinberg HOPED THAT A FINAL THEORY WOULD ELIMINATE THE WISHFUL THINKING, MYSTICISM, AND SUPERSTITION THAT PERVADES MUCH OF HUMAN THOUGHT, EVEN AMONG PHYSICISTS. [my CAPS]

Keep dreaming, Steve. The God Sense will go raging on no matter what is discovered by scientists. Yes, even cold hearted physicists.

*****

The God Sense is triggered by many things, big and small. So far that is my opinion. It may turn out that the actual God Sense is related only to very grand feelings of awe and mysticism and that the smaller feelings of wonder and satisfaction are an altogether different set of brain works.

But it appeals to my sense of wholeness that it is all related. It also makes sense because not everyone identifies this feeling with religion. They are used to identifying it with a variety of other things, some grand and some mundane.

And why, indeed, should they relate it to religion if they are atheists? They may spend their whole lives just enjoying the God Sense feelings without having questions about it. They look at the stars and feel that awe and magic and perhaps think that there is something beyond the stars that is, not a God, but something wonderful for the human race. Or they just enjoy the feeling and leave it at that. God doesnít have to enter their minds, even in a question.

I have a feeling that if they are very honest with themselves they may admit to at least wondering about it just as I have. Because this feeling did truly say to my brain, "A God created that!" And it was hard to argue with, except to be convinced that a God didnít.

*****

The Human brain being the complex thing that it is, science will one day sort it all out, identifying exactly all the individual elements. The God Sense will be one such element and when it is isolated it may be found to be a very small signal that gets reacted to by other parts of the brain. That might account for why people experience it in varying degrees.

It could be that in the labyrinth of the mind, the God Sense signal is either amplified or negated, each person experiencing the final emotion somewhat differently.

Again, anyone wanting to understand the science behind the God Sense has to deal directly with the Human Brain, the engine that makes life and humans everything that we are.

The whole concept is so interesting, that a patch of activity in the mind is responsible for all of the millions of years of religion and mysticism. But of course the human mind is responsible for everything, including the very appearance of material reality.

*****

What might be the reaction to the God Sense? Religion is such a personal and deep subject argued for centuries. People are very attached to their theories and beliefs. Even atheists. Atheists have miles and miles of theories as to why religion exists and why people believe in God.

What the God Sense does is says that people believe in God because a sensation in their brain encourages them to. It is as simple as that. The God Sense renders the discussion of God and religion obsolete. Theories of why God was created and has persisted will have no real meaning. They donít to me any more.

Which is ironic. Not long ago I read a book that was a debate between an atheist and a theist. Both were philosophers. The atheist went first and he made these incredibly complicated philosophical arguments. I was actually stunned at the waste of time. Philosophy has all of these formulas and ways of thinking and arguing and presenting logic, some of them as mathematical as a physics equation. I guess Iím just more of the old fashioned thinker; that stuff is entirely a bunch of nonsense to me. Kay Kaiser, the atheist philosopher, reduced the term God to its most perfect definition and found that it defied definition, was actually nonsense and thus couldnít exist.

This is just my rewording and understanding of what I think he was getting at. I found it a long road to take to prove there was no God. I thought the whole debate was pointless in any case. The theist, on the other hand, tried to back up Godís existence with science. He knew a lot about physics and the big bang and worked it all up in support of God. Meanwhile the little pulsating patch of spaghetti in his brain was actually responsible for the existence of God.

*****

CONCLUSION

This paper proves nothing at all. It is a collection of notes and speculation. Pending scientific verification some year, the God Sense must remain a theory. Because the brain is still uncharted it must remain a theory that also cannot be refuted. But it is still a theory.

Yet it is a good theory, for the very reason that any theory is a good theory: it answers the questions. It answers every single question about Man and Religion, believer, agnostic and atheist.

Try this: pretend you believe that religious sensation is built into the brain. That "our intuition of a Ďtranscendent realityí---- something above and beyond ourselves---- may be hard-wired into the human mind." Pretend that you believe this and see if it makes any sense as you go through your day.

You may find yourself as I did last weekend, having a discussion with a good friend, who was trying to describe to me her spirituality. It was a very complex explanation of the universe and manís alignment with certain energies, etc. In actual physical terms it meant nothing at all, but my friend was passionate that this was in fact how Man and the Universe worked together. "But those words donít actually describe anything," I said, "they donít actually make any sense."

"I know," she said forlornly, "Itís hard to put into words. But I can feel it." she put her hands to her heart with passion. "I can feel it so strongly!"

The God Sense.