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The “God Module” and the Complexifying Brain

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Recent reports of the discovery of a “God module” in the human brain derive from the fact that epileptic seizures in the left temporal lobe are associated with ecstatic feelings sometimes described as an experience of the presence of God. The brain area involved has been described as either (a) the seat of an innate human faculty for experiencing the divine or (b) the seat of religious delusions.

In fact, religious experience is extremely various and involves many parts of the brain, including some that are prehuman in their evolutionary history and some that are characteristically human. In the continuing integration of such experiences, spiritual formation takes place. Thus the entire human brain might be described as a “God module.”

Such a process is only possible because of the brain's complexity. The human brain is the most complex entity for its size that we know of. As used here, complexity is a specialized term denoting the presence of a web of interlinked and significant connections—the more intricate the web, the more complex the entity. Complex systems develop only in a milieu that provides both lawfulness and freedom, and they tend to be self-organizing, becoming more complex and more effective as a result of both inward and outward experience. The evidence suggests that both personal growth and spiritual growth are processes of complexification of character, and of the brain itself. This thesis is tested in light of the work of William James and James W. Fowler.

Keywords: God module; James W. Fowler; William James; brain; complexity; emergence; religious experience; spiritual formation; teleology; teleonomy

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Co-Director of the CTNS Science and Religion Course Program

Publication date: 2000-12-01

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