Author: Huxley
© Huxley - an almanac about philosophy, art and science.
3 minutes for reading

Evolution “registered” God in our brains

Evolution “registered” God in our brains
Share material
Vsevolod Shvaiba. Armillary connection


Spirituality and religiosity are deeply rooted in neurobiological processes. This is evidenced by the latest scientific research published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

On the one hand, sociology argues that atheistic attitudes in humanity are slowly but steadily growing. On the other hand, they are unlikely to be able to cope with evolution, which once built religious feeling into the neurobiological matrix of a person.




The answer to this question is not easy. On this score, there are conflicting sociological data. Some studies claim that the number of people who consider themselves religious is steadily increasing. Others say that the number of atheists in the world is growing every year. Moreover, both of them confirm their conclusions with rather insignificant percentages of growth.

If we discard the extreme points of view, then we can say that the number of believers and atheists on average is quite consistent with the “universal law of distribution” discovered by the Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto. Approximately 80% of humanity considers themselves to be religious people, and a maximum of 20% are convinced atheists. Probably, with small fluctuations, this proportion can be considered a constant.




Of course, several centuries of massive atheistic propaganda have made their own adjustments. But, most likely, the person’s need for religion was not greatly shaken. The fact is that a person’s belief in the supernatural is biologically determined. Religious and spiritual feelings have long been registered in the oldest part of our brain – its brain stem.

For the first time, conjectures about the existence of a certain “center of spirituality” in the brain appeared immediately after the Vietnam War, when 105 American veterans with injuries of a certain stem section were interviewed. The survey showed that these injuries greatly altered the spiritual feelings and religious beliefs of former military personnel.




Similar phenomena were discovered and studied by Michael Ferguson, who observed 88 patients at the Brigham Women’s Health Center in Boston. Before removing the part of the brain affected by the malignant tumor, women were asked in detail about their religious views. After the operation, the interview was repeated.

During this experiment, Ferguson noticed that most of the operations did not affect the level and nature of the patients’ religiosity – in general, it remained unchanged. But there was one exception – operations that involved an area located inside the upper brain stem, the so-called periaqueductal gray matter of the midbrain. Previously, scientists knew that this part of the brain is responsible for regulating pain sensitivity, fear and flight responses, and positive emotions.

Ferguson’s experiments showed that this part was also responsible for religious activity. The damage to this zone led to radical changes in religious views. Moreover, the removal of some nodes of nerve cells stimulated hyperreligiosity and strengthened the mystical perception of the world, while the removal of others, on the contrary, sharply reduced it.




Of course, these discoveries in no way allow us to judge that it is in this part of the brain that the birth of “normal” spirituality and religious feeling takes place. But the fact that there is a zone that regulates this feeling is a scientific fact. Moreover, from an evolutionary point of view, this zone is one of the oldest, which means that it is common to many living beings.

Whether mammals, reptiles and fish pray to God is impossible to establish. But they have the same brain circuitry that “is in charge of God” as humans do. So the legends about Francis of Assisi, with whom birds and fish flew in and flocked, may have some real reason to pray with him.

By joining the Huxley friends club, you support philosophy, science and art
Share material

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: