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Anatomy of Internalized Beliefs

The Anatomy of Internalized
Like a Rock
Quote from Darwin:
“Nor should we overlook the probability of the
constant inculcation of a belief in God on the
minds of children producing so strong and perhaps
inherited effect on their brains not fully
developed, that it would be as difficult for them to
throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to
throw off its instinctive fear of snakes.”
Is Darwin suggesting we have a “God gene”?
Probably not. For openers, genes had not yet been
Is he suggesting that we have inherited an inclination
to believe in God? In modern terms, that would mean
that ancient men and women who believed in God
were more “fit” than disbelievers. They survived and
thereby passed on predispositions to believe.
But he also spoke of “brains not fully developed” and
part of the mission of this course is to delve into the
issue of how brains not fully developed become fully
Instinctive vs. Learned Behaviors
Hard-wired, Instinctive Behaviors
• eyeblink
• startle reaction
• sucking reflex
Learned Behaviors
• electrical outlet
• sunscreen
• language
• belief in Santa Claus
• belief in God
Other than being born with some instincts, babies
are born…..
Similarities between Santa Claus and God
• are adult males
• are bearded
• know everything about you
• are omnipresent
But they differ in terms of omnipotence (power)
A new iPod from Santa for being good vs. life ever
after in a very nice place courtesy of God for
being good.
Based on God’s observations,
knowledge, and wisdom, He or one of
His emissaries will determine the
eternal, everlasting fate of your soul.
We’re talking survival.
Stories like this, if taught and reinforced
early enough, become internalized, notto-be-questioned, conscious and
unconscious, fixed beliefs.
But there is another story in town
•Theory of Evolution or Descent by Modification
•Natural variation of traits
•Natural selection based on adaptability to
environmental pressures
Why is so difficult to replace one story,
supernatural creation story, with another story,
the one that features descent by modification?
Efforts to debunk religions
Sam Harris
• “Children are instructed to disregard the facts of this
world out of deference to the God who lurks in his
mother’s and father’s imaginations.”
Richard Dawkins
• “There will be a selective advantage to child brains
that possess the rule of thumb: believe, without
question, whatever grown-ups tell you. Obey your
parents; obey the tribal elders, especially when they
adopt a solemn, minatory tone. Trust your elders
without question.”
Efforts to debunk religions (continued)
Daniel Dennett
• “But how, in the face of so much striking confirmation and
massive scientific evidence, could so many Americans
disbelieve in evolution? It is simple: they have been
solemnly told that the theory of evolution is false by people
they trust more than they trust scientists.”
Christopher Hitchens
• “The person who is certain and who claims divine warrant
for his certainty belongs now to the infancy of our species.”
• “Religion comes from the period of human history where
nobody had the smallest idea what was going on.”
The brain constitutes a very important
part of the central nervous system
(CNS), but it’s not the only part. Let’s
not forget the peripheral nervous
system that connects the brain to the
rest of the body. Nerves ferry
impulses from the brain to the body
and from the body to the brain. Brain
and body are also interconnected
chemically by substances such as
hormones and peptides which are
carried back and forth by the
bloodstream or by molecules that can
penetrate the brain/body barrier.
And lest we forget, there is an internal milieu and
psychological survival to talk about
• Damasio – “We are feeling machines that think.”
• Happenings in the external world can disturb the internal
milieu of the body. AND thinking can disturb the internal
milieu of the body. Recall “I don’t want to be a thing that
dies” example.
• But note that ideas can also calm the internal milieu. “Don’t
worry, God will take care of you if you take good care of your
• Something associated with calming the internal milieu (with
easing our anxiety) is a strong candidate for becoming an
internalized belief.
• Challenging an internalized belief is tantamount to
challenging psychological survival
Soul Belief
Protected by feelings
Internalized beliefs are protected by feelings.
Attacking a person’s beliefs is tantamount to
attacking their feelings and disturbing the internal
milieu of the body.
Like a large boulder lying just beneath the surface of
a stream that directs the flow of water around it, a
solidly grounded internalized belief automatically
and effortlessly determines the acceptability and
unacceptability of ideas coming its way in terms of
whether or not that information represents a threat
to continued existence of the self
The new atheists are not only attacking religion,
they are attacking the rock and the feelings that
protect it.
By promoting the Darwin’s ideas about
evolution, new atheists are promoting the idea
that there is death after life.
That draws a strong dividing line between
proponents of scientific atheism and religions
that promise life after death.