The Phantom God: What Neuroscience Reveals about the Compulsion to Believe
In The Phantom God, John Wathey continues his exploration and investigation of the biological and social roots of religious impulse and experience. A neuroscientist by training, Wathey draws on scientific studies in neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology to connect the innate infantile longing for a mother with the adult yearning for the presence of an all-knowing, merciful, and loving God. Through various research studies, Wathey illustrates how the infant-mother attachment, religious experience, and adult pair bonding share the exact mechanisms in the brain
The Phantom God is an enlightening read for anyone who seeks to understand what is known in the scientific community to explain the religious experience. Because Wathey draws from various disciplines to validate his hypotheses, the connections and explication can take a bit to make sense. The examples of religious experience may be recognizable to people who follow Abrahamic faiths but could have little pertinence for other spiritual traditions.
This is an essential book in the age of religious groupthink and fundamentalism when discriminatory beliefs are weaponized for political polarization. Wathey sheds light on the phenomenon of a cult following and shows parallels between the neural functions affected by supernatural occurrences and substance addiction. By understanding the neuroscience underlying religious phenomena, we can cultivate a sense of empathy for those with illusory experiences of the divine.
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