I am not a God-spotter
Bruce Hood denies he is the reductionist Raymond Tallis claims
In many ways, the article by Raymond Tallis, “In search of the G spot”, is so much of a straw-man piece that even the estate of L Frank Baum might consider plagiarism. No one denies religion is a culturally constructed and transmitted phenomenon. How else could you explain the diversity of belief systems? Clearly looking in the brain for a God spot is as misguided as looking for a humour centre. Only the very naïve researcher (and I accept there have been a spate seduced by magic of neuroimaging) would consider such reductionist neophrenology as an adequate explanation. But to throw the brain out of the equation, as Raymond Tallis happily does, is to deny that there is any measurable architecture of mind implemented in neurological computation.
Take language, another universal human ability that is culturally transmitted. No one questions that there are brain mechanisms for language that exist in human brains and not animal brains. Like concepts of belief, understanding language needs some consideration of culture. The stories and concepts we share may not be generated in the individual brain but they are certainly implemented there. Where else? Language constrains what stories can be told and how they are transmitted. Incidentally, I am not advocating all out Whorfianism, where there is no thought without the capacity for language. But is not the investigation of the brain mechanisms of language as valid as the search for mechanisms that generate universal beliefs in religion? After all, it is just another story.
So I am not a God spotter. I still have to chide my first year students who slip into the misconception of the brain/mind as a Lego construction – with blocks that can be added through evolution or removed through brain injury. In the article, I may have been identified as a God spotter, because there is subtlety in my by-product argument that some have missed. Maybe it was simply the fault of the page designer to lump me in with others who believe in neophrenology, but I do think there is room to consider the brain basis for natural reasoning processes that lead to the generation and propensity to supernatural beliefs – secular or religious. I happen to think that a major part of the answer will be found by looking at intuitive reasoning in children and the need to suppress those thoughts that lead to supernatural misconceptions.