Thursday, July 23, 2009

I just finished reading a book called "The God Part of the Brain" wherein an unaccredited thirtysomething with a BA in philosopy attempts to argue that belief in God is simply an evolutionary, genetic mechanism programmed into us so that we humans may deal with some insurmountable fear of death. Somehow, out of this theory, the author, a man by the name of Alper, comes to the conclusion that there is no God, that's its essentially an illusion cooked up by our brains (or rather by our distant ancenstors' brains and then passed down to us). Now I'd like to preface this whole thing by saying I believe Alper negated his whole book by elaborating on the fact that before he even started his research he was a devout atheist, therefore flawing his attempt with an experimental bias. Instead of setting out to explore the possiblities of God and what God's existence implies, he simply set out to prove that God does not exist. And now, a scathing review of said book. I hope it elicits some intersting discussion.

I'd like to begin by stating that I'm an agnostic. That being said, this was an awful book. While the premise, that a belief in God is an evolutionary trait designed to abate fear of death, is an interesting one, the book and Alper's arguments and logic are full of holes. First off, although Alper is a self-pronounced scientist (and atheist), he seems to think that if you can't empirically record something, then it does not exist. Well, any self-respecting scientist anywhere would and should tell someone that just because we can't record something or haven't seen something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You can't see an electron or subatomic particles; everyone in science just takes it on good faith that they exist because that's what makes sense...right now. Who knows, something totally bizarre might be discovered someday that turns everything on its head. It wouldn't be the first time that's happened. General relativity, meet special relativity.

Secondly I would like to attack the logic of Alper's argument. Even if there was substantial proof that believing in God was a genetic predisposition, the fact that we are hardwired to do so biologically does not preculde the actual existence of God, as Alper would seem to suggest. There is no logical way to conclude that an evoltuionary mechanism for belief in God = God does not exist. I'd say its perfectly reasonable that God and this mechanism, if it exists, could exist independent of each other. Or perhaps the mechanism to strive for spiritual meaning and knowledge of God was instilled in us BY God. But of course Mr. Alper would never acknowledge that possibility.

Alper also rather blatantly sidesteps the idea of non-traditonal or metaphysical Gods. Alper's studies seem confined to the traditional idea of God, to the one's that we human beings have ascribed to said Being. Things that Alper never touches on: What if God did not create the universe, but is an omnipotent being within it? What if God created the universe and then let everything evolve on its own? What if God is exactly as he/she/it is portrayed in religious texts? All of these are things that science can neither prove nor disprove, therefore it seems foolish to discredit them.And Alper's reasons for discrediting them?

Well human beings all share the common traits of believing in God(s), building special sites of worship, burying the dead, praying, and have remarkably similar codes and laws or mythologies. According to Alper this is proof that God doesn't exist (for some reason), that it's all an elaborate defense mechanism to help people cope with death. The probem I have with this is two-fold. If it walks like a duck, sounds like a's probably a duck. Does it really make sense to witness all of these similarities and say, "Wow, all of these people believe the same things, independent of each other! Instead of considering that this might be because there is in fact some spiritual realm that we are some part of, I'll concoct an elaborate and unproven theory about how our non-spiritual minds have fabricated a spiritual world which we would never be able to live in because we aren't spiritual beings and spirits don't exist, because people are afraid of dying!" It's called Occum's Razor, Mr. Alper. Why would evolution take such an abstract path? Why not simply hardwire into us a nonfear of dying? We as human beings are aware of death and what it means, but acknowledging death and what it means and not being afraid of it are not mutually exclusive.

While the prospect that spirituality is a genetic trait is indeed a fascinating one, this book compeltely bungles it up. Everything comes off as some misguided and poorly thought out and executed attempt by Alper to prove that God does not exist, probably to reconcile the events of his childhood (which the book touches on). It's all in very poor taste.