NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Are humans hard-wired for religious faith?
Atheists from Karl Marx to Sigmund Freud to Richard Dawkins have claimed that religion is a manmade opiate of the masses, a cultural virus that infects the human mind.
Christian scholar Paul Copan, however, challenges those who question the existence of God and the human soul. While biology and psychology may play a role in religious faith, it does not prove the non-existence of God, nor does it diminish the existence or role of the human soul, Copan said in a lecture at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary on April 4, part of a two-day regional Evangelical Philosophical Society event held at the seminary. Copan holds the Pleger Family Chair in Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“God has placed eternity in our hearts, so it makes sense that we would be hard-wired with God-ward inclinations,” Copan said, referring to Ecclesiastes 3:11. “That natural processes contribute to religious belief doesn’t disprove the existence of God.”
Supporters of research in what is called “cognitive science of religion” seek to transform religious belief into a psychological or biological process, Copan said. The argument that religion is a virus can be turned on its head, he argued.
“If God has designed us in such a way that these sorts of processes enable us to come to know God personally, we’re actually at our cognitive best when our faculties direct us to a true belief in God,” Copan said.
He added: “Despite religious superstition and extremism, natural processes partly contributing to the formation of religious belief are not at odds with God’s existence; indeed such processes may indicate that our minds are properly functioning — according to the way they’ve been designed.”
The existence of God is a better explanation for the creation of the universe than the atheist view that the universe came to existence without cause, Copan said. “The better unifying explanation is a supremely valuable, supremely aware, reasoning, truthful, powerful, intelligent, beautiful being,” he contended.
Copan also took issue with those who deny the existence of the human soul. Christians have long believed that humans are comprised of the physical body and the soul, in which human identity continues even after the physical body dies. Cognitive science of religion, however, links personhood to the physical. Acceptance of that view packs dangerous consequences, Copan noted.
When the existence of God is rejected, “the existence of the soul is also at stake and the suggestion that our choices, behavior, reasoning and beliefs are physically determined is hard to escape,” Copan said. “The clear result [of rejecting the soul’s existence] is undermining of robust freedom of the will, moral responsibility and the human ability to reason and seek truth.”
The atheist argument that theology is “a useful fiction” — or worse, a harmful delusion — falls short of explaining why the religious impulse is so deeply imbedded, Copan said.
“The reasons humans persist in looking beyond the finite realm in search of the source of coherence, order, morality, meaning and guidance for life is because this realm doesn’t contain it,” Copan said. “Humans, though embodied, are moral, spiritual beings with the capacity for self-transcendence upon our world and our condition; that, in turn, enables us to search for a world-transcending God.”
Paul F. South is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.