Who had the first idea of ​​God

Why did all cultures develop a religion?

"As far as the history of mankind is surveyed, one can say that religions in the broadest sense, including belief in ancestors and spirits, are strongly developed everywhere. And this universality is often used for the fact that religion is not just a cultural product, but could be a characteristic of the human being. The human being as Homo Religiosus. "

Rüdiger Vaas, science journalist in Stuttgart, wrote the book "God, Genes and Brain" together with the religious scholar Michael Blume this year. In it they state that religion is a central component of all human cultures. There is almost no religionless society in the world. The sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson therefore considered the "system for religious belief" to be a likely "ineradicable part of human nature".

But this fact is no longer of concern only to theologians, philosophers or sociologists. Religion - or more precisely, religiosity as a human ability to have a religion - has meanwhile also become a field of research for biologists, neurologists and psychologists. Soberly, they ask what goes on in the brain of religious people. Questions about what earthly benefits religion can have, although at first glance it appears to be an almost luxurious undertaking with all its sacrifices, cults and rituals.

"The big problem is that most people in all societies we know invest a great deal of time and money in their religious activities. If that is a luxury, then the question is, is it a superfluous luxury and could this money be obtained?" not put somewhere else more effectively, namely directly in the offspring? And in that respect it is a legitimate scientific question, the answers are still quite speculative. "

But precisely because religion is celebrated at great expense in all societies, evolution researchers say it must be of great biological benefit. For, as the British zoologist Richard Dawkins put it, "universal characteristics of a biological species require a Darwinian explanation"; and that is, they offer a "selection advantage". So did religion develop in the course of evolution because Homo sapiens was better able to secure its survival with it? The Cologne zoologist Professor Wolfgang Walkowiak explains what this survival advantage of religion could be:

"Two aspects are often mentioned, one is a very personal aspect: By gaining the ability to plan very far into the future, Homo sapiens realizes that their life is finite, and that creates terrible fears. And if I find a way to overcome nature, physics, through metaphysics, it can be very helpful to see my own perspective on life much more positively. The second point is the social aspect. Religion based on these spiritual experiences has something It has great advantages for the social community through rites, through the belief in one and the same higher being, to promote cohesion in a society. "

The "disenchantment of the world", the great enlightenment project of Europe, does not stop at the last questions of metaphysics. Belief in a supernatural being is literally "naturalized". In their book "The Darwin Code", published this year, the two biologists Sabine Paul and Thomas Junker attempt to fathom the evolutionary benefits of religion. They establish a connection between art and religion, as both were characterized by their downright "lavish character". In other words: both art and religion require a great deal of time and money to promote their seriousness, ideas and goals. And both religion and art have a community-building effect by bundling collective fantasies, feelings and desires. Professor Thomas Junker, evolutionary biologist at the University of Tübingen:

"My personal theory is to say that religion is a kind of art, something similar to art, but which only arises at the moment when we have state formation. And it achieves something similar, art achieves a kind of community formation. If you ever experience a pop concert or an opera in a group, you know how strongly community-building art is, an expression of their collective feelings - and that religion does the same in very strongly hierarchical groups.

Thomas Junker leaves no doubt that he prefers art to religion. Religious systems, at the center of which is the belief in a higher being, according to Junker, arose at most 10,000 years ago, while the first forms of art, for example cave paintings, have been around for 36,000 years. For him it was a sign that religion was only used with the emergence of large settled associations, cities and states in order to create a community within it with more or less authoritarian means. On the other hand, according to Junker, art was the earlier - and friendlier - strategy for creating social cohesion. Because the smaller groups of hunters and gatherers of the early Stone Age tried to stabilize their own social structure less through coercion than through aesthetic enhancement.

"Art is more voluntary, religion is more compulsive. And it just arises in the moment when you have a strongly hierarchical state. The differences between the rulers and the ruled become so great that it is difficult to just relate these collective desires and feelings To be based on voluntariness. And that is why it is subject to compulsion. "

Of course, however scientific such theories may be, there is still much speculation in them. According to Junker, "comparatively egalitarian" hunters and gatherers hordes with a sense of the aesthetic can be fabulously written about, as can religion as a post-Stone Age means of "submission to the interests of the rulers". Archaeological finds do not provide clear information on these issues, so that such conclusions are based more on guesswork than on hard facts.

A clearer picture of the scientific anchoring of ideas of God could emerge if it could be proven that religiosity - or at least spirituality - were biochemically inscribed in the body, so to speak. Because if the belief in a higher being represents a selection advantage for Homo sapiens, this ability to believe would have to be biologically anchored. Otherwise it could not be inherited. A few years ago, a book by the American molecular biologist Dean Hamer made headlines. In it he claimed to have found a kind of God gene, a gene variation whose carriers are particularly religious. But this was all too striking - and Hamer ultimately admitted that complex human characteristics such as belief in God are controlled by entire gene groups. Not to mention environmental influences that intervene in the complex biochemical process. Rüdiger Vaas, co-author of the book "God, Genes and Brain":

"There seem to be genes for spirituality, which is a kind of subset of religiosity. About 50 percent of that is hereditary: And there are even two candidate genes that are important in brain metabolism. Religiosity itself, however, does not appear to be hereditary, but rather a by-product of something else, namely belief in authority. And belief in authority, that is what twin studies say, has a heredity rate of 50 percent, which has to do with how people create and want to have order. "

So while one is on the one hand looking for some kind of genetic material for religious feelings, another group of natural scientists is working on the question of whether and where such feelings are reflected in the brain; For example, when people believe they hear divine revelations, or also in the so-called near death experiences: experiences of a passage, for example from darkness into light, reported by people who were on the verge of death and then were resuscitated.

"With the extraordinary experiences one can say that they are based on malfunctions of the brain processes. Near-death experiences arise as hallucinations under oxygen deficiency, that can also be produced by drugs or electrical stimulation. Or revelation experiences, which often have a lot to do with delusions, like it It is the case with schizophrenia. People hear voices because the brain no longer perceives its own thoughts as a thought, but as divine commands. And then there is temporal lobe epilepsy, which is associated with hyperreligion, so that these people are under religion all their lives ask and write and proselytize endlessly. "

The investigation of so-called temporal lobe personalities even led the Californian neuropsychologist Vilayanur Ramachandran to conclude that there is a God module in the brain; a religious center that becomes active with religious experiences and even hyperactive with some epileptics. However, this thesis is controversial, as is that of the Canadian neurologist Michael Persinger, that even atheists would have had deeply religious experiences with experimental stimulation of this brain region. And yet medical professionals consider that epileptic disorders could have been a trigger for religious revelation experiences; for example with Mohammed - about whom it was rumored early on that he suffered from epilepsy - and to whom Allah spoke about an angel; or with the French national heroine Joan of Arc, who commanded a divine voice to free France from the English. And the question is also whether the apostle Paul was also converted to Christianity by an epileptic attack on the way to Damascus.

"This goes back to many observations that one can attribute increased religiosity to many people who are classified as epilepsy patients in certain forms. They actually have perceptions of supernatural beings shortly before an epileptic seizure occurs, or shortly after or afterwards Such episodes. And that seems to occur preferentially when the focus of epilepsy is in the temporal lobe - namely in the right. "

But even ordinary religious states and experiences, such as those Buddhist monks make in meditation and Christian nuns when praying, have already been examined neuropsychologically. Wolfgang Walkowiak, zoologist at the University of Cologne, points out, however, that these investigations by no means give cause for unambiguous conclusions.

"There is not one place in the brain whose activity is changed. The monks found in the so-called parietal lobe that activity is reduced. While the meditation of the Franciscan Sisters led to completely different results: There, activity in the frontal lobe was increased at a certain point Found. So you can see that depending on which side you approach it, so to speak, you find very different aspects. "

So much is still unclear. But of course the research continues. Because the exploration of the human brain is booming; One is able to create an increasingly differentiated "map of the brain" by means of new imaging technologies. As part of this boom, the number of studies dealing with the seat of religious sentiment is also increasing. Rüdiger Vaas, who just wrote a cover story on neurotheology in "Bild der Wissenschaft", reports on two new American studies on the subject:

"There are quite a few brain-scanning experiments that have been carried out recently and they have shown that the brains of normal religious people do not work much differently than the brains of non-religious people. But it has been shown that, in contrast to other statements, brain regions are activated with religious statements that have to do with emotions, regardless of whether these statements are believed or whether they are rejected. Another study has shown that in the religious context precisely those neuronal processing pathways are active that are active in normal interpersonal areas in emotional processing and in the abstract thinking and imagination as well as communication work. That is, ordinary intentions and emotions are simply projected onto supernatural beings. "

But what can we conclude from all this? When all experience is processed in the brain, it is not surprising that religious experience is also represented there. And then the question arises: Is that why God is just a pipe dream? Or does the brain end up having an antenna into the supernatural?

There will be no answer to this question. Because, as the theologian and biologist Ulrich Lüke once remarked, experiments in brain research in search of God are about as useful as dismantling a television set in search of Ulrich Wickert.

"The crucial question is ultimately: Is God a pipe dream or is there a hotline to heaven? And that is a question that brain research or biology in general cannot answer conclusively. It can neither prove nor disprove God, but it is one philosophical question. "