Man and cloudy sky
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Are human beings set up to believe in a higher power? Some scientists say yes, based on either a "faith gene" or certain areas of the brain that light up on an MRI when people pray or think about God. But this is a highly destructive "yes," because it reduces spirituality to a mechanical function like heart rate or the secretion of growth hormone. The same evidence fuels the arguments of atheists, who claim that if God is just a chemical reaction, it's time we quit believing in a deity. At the very least, they say, we should stop glorifying God, now that he (or she) has been demoted far below the exalted status one finds in the Bible and the rest of world scriptures.

I think atheists are getting a lot of mileage out of a facile argument. In 1896, long before brain imaging and the discovery of DNA, the famous Harvard philosopher and psychologist William James published a lecture called "The Will to Believe." It contains one idea that is a revelation. James found a way for science to lead to God instead of defeating God. Let me give the revelation a context. James thought people had a right, perhaps even a drive, to say that God existed, and even though they couldn't offer evidence for their religious beliefs, it sustained them with comfort, hope and so on.

Atheists scoff at this rationale, claiming it's childish to fall back on fairy tales about God just because they make you feel better. Far better to grow up and see what's before your eyes: the material world operating through random chance without the slightest sign of a higher intelligence, moral authority, afterlife and all the other trappings of religion. But James was ahead of this argument.

What, he asked, if believing in God actually makes new evidence appear? That was the revelation, because while believing in ghosts or Cinderella won't make either one appear (so far as we know), God is an aspect of our own consciousness. The deity is continuous with the human mind. When Jesus said, "Seek the kingdom of Heaven within," he was pointing to this very continuity. I am paraphrasing James and to some extent going beyond his lecture. But what fascinates me is that he hit upon a familiar notion among seekers today: "You will only see it if you believe it."

Why it is time to keep believing in God