The Neuropsychological Basis of Religions, or Why God Won't Go Away



By the end of the eighteenth century, the intellectual elite generally believed that religion would soon vanish because of the advent of the Higher Criticism and the scientific method. However, two hundred years later, religions and the concept of God have not gone away and, in many instances, appear to be gaining in strength. This paper considers the neuropsychological basis of religion and religious concepts and tries to develop an understanding of why religion does not go away so easily. In general, 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 religions appear to have become thoroughly ingrained in the human gene pool and ultimately human experience. This paper reviews these two functions of religions from a neuropsychological perspective to try to explain why religion continues to thrive. Finally, we consider the conclusions regarding reality and epistemology that a neuropsychological analysis of religious experience suggests.