Recently, researchers at the UCLA evaluated brain activity in 15 devout Christians and 15 nonbelievers as they assessed the truth or falsity of religious and non religious statements.
To someone like me, a de-mythologist, the results are horrifying, explaining why it is so difficult for us to discern the irrelevancy of ancient religious thinking to our current daily life.
Here's why. Any statement-religious or not-causes activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, one of the areas of the brain associated with emotions, rewards, and self-representation. Here's what this means: our ability to evaluate truth or falsity is independent of the content of the statement.
Basically, if we can conceive it, we BELIEVE it. Evaluative thinking is nearly impossible for us, rationality even more remote.
Which brings us to the subject of monogamy. This week, in her article for The Guardian, Polly Vernon asks the question, are we less monogamous than we were before? Essentially, are the ideas of the past regarding relationships, remotely relevant to the life that we are living now?
A Little History
The essential ideas of cheating, fidelity, and faithfulness were ancient people's attempts to solve a very serious problem of the time; the insurance of paternity. Who's the baby's daddy really?
Before language, stories, religion, and myths, there was sex. And there was nothing to discuss. We had sex, babies were being born, and paternity wasn't really an issue - that is until ideas of property, ownership, and blood line took hold.
If we don't own anything, there's nothing to pass down. Sexual morality, rules and laws, controlling of female reproduction, and the invention of the ill tempered, all seeing, all knowing invisible man took hold as early culture took hold. To own anything immediately creates a need to protect and control.
With the beginning of cultural stability - farming, cultivation of land - we became concerned about "blood line". This is the ancient equivalent of our modern DNA testing. Once there is concern about lineage, there is concern about paternity. All of this is interwoven into religion, which is obsessed with lineage.
Even now, every religious group concerns itself with some version of the question, "are you a member of our group, or are you going to rot in hell?" Essentially, what is your spiritual blood line.
Now if we could think rationally, and if there really was a god, there could only be one blood line - because, de facto - we would all come from the same religious father - regardless of what we believe - which would render all of our religious bickering irrelevant. But as the UCLA study points out, there can be no rationality within our brain. It didn't evolve to be rational.
Clearly, irrationality has helped us to survive up to this point.