`God Module' Discovered in the Brain - Not!
by David Noelle
A presentation to the Society for Neuroscience gained international attention last
October for its claim that scientific evidence had been found for a brain system dedicated
to religious belief. This report of a neurological "God module," boldly titled
"The Neural Basis of Religious Experience" by the neuropsychologist V. S.
Ramachandran and his colleagues, swept through the news media, appearing in the Los
Angeles Times and Britain's Sunday Times and on NBC Nightly News with
Tom Brokaw. Some took this discovery as proof of divine influence.
A careful examination of this work, however, shows that it provides no solid support
for this position. The goal of this research was to show that some people with a
particular brain disorder, called temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), exhibited emotional
arousal particularly tuned to religious concepts. For many years, clinicians have reported
hyper-religiosity in a fraction of the TLE patient population, but some researchers
believed that this was just a sign of general emotional sensitivity. The study announced
in October suggested that these people did indeed experience more emotional arousal when
reading religious words than when reading words involving sex or violence. In comparison,
healthy control subjects responded most vigorously, on average, to sexual words. These
results, however, should be considered preliminary since only three TLE patients were
What's more, it would be premature to argue that this experiment reveals the existence
of an innate "religion module" in the temporal lobe of the brain, which is
unusually active in TLE patients. Actually, this study provided no real evidence that this
sensitivity to religious notions is "hard-wired" in the brain. Instead, it may
be the case that the emotion-mediating systems in the temporal lobe learn - from life
experience or cultural indoctrination - to respond selectively to religion in the same way
that the brain's visual system can learn to recognize a crucifix. While this research,
along with other work on religion and the brain (e.g., that of Michael Persinger; see Free Inquiry, Winter 1996/97), may
come to show that certain brain circuits are regularly recruited to process mystical
ideas, this does not imply that these circuits evolved for that purpose.
In short, the degree to which our genetic heritage influences our religiosity, or our
lack thereof, is still very much an open question. To date, claims of a "religion
instinct" are simply a leap of faith.
Christian Coalition May Reinvent Itself
by Matt Cherry
Do you think the Christian Coalition has too much
power in U.S. politics? You ain't seen nothin' yet. According to inside sources, the
Coalition has set out to reinvent itself as a more powerful political pressure group, but
it may have to give up its tax-exempt status and become a Political Action Committee (PAC)
to do so.
The planned changes are not entirely voluntary. The program for renewal has been forced
on the Coalition by a sharp decline in membership and donations, and by damaging
revelations of its illicit political dealings.
The plans to increase the Coalition's political power were first revealed at its
"Road to Victory" conference last fall. At a closed-door meeting, Coalition
founder and chairman Pat Robertson outlined a precinct-based political strategy for
electing federal, state, and local officials. Robertson's talk was secretly taped and made
public by watchdog group Americans United for Separation of
Church and State. Robertson's remarks seriously damage his claims that the Christian
Coalition is a nonpolitical religious organization.
Comparing the Coalition to other infamous political machines, he said, "If we have
that basic core and we have identified people, this is the power of every machine that has
ever been in politics." Robertson also bragged, "I told [Coalition President]
Don Hodel when he joined us, `My dear friend, I want to hold out to you the possibility of
selecting the next president of the United States, because I think that's what we have in
this organization.'" During the speech he called separation of church and state
"a distortion of what the framers of the Constitution intended."
Since its foundation in 1989, the Christian Coalition has operated under 501(c)4
tax-exempt status. This status confers many financial benefits to an organization, but
also bars it from endorsing candidates or engaging in political campaigning as its main
activity. The Christian Coalition has long been accused of contravening its charitable
status. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has refused to make the Coalition's tax-exempt
status permanent, and the Federal Election Commission has sued the Coalition for
coordinating its campaigns with Republican candidates in 1990, 1992, and 1994.
While the Christian Coalition would probably survive a change in its tax status, a more
serious threat is on the horizon. The IRS is reportedly concerned by the role of churches
in distributing voter guides. The Christian Coalition uses the guides to advise
church-goers of candidates' policy positions. If the IRS was to judge distribution of
voter guides as a violation of the tax-exempt status of churches, the Christian
Coalition's power would be gravely undermined. However, with the tax agency under fierce
attack in the Christian Coalition controlled Congress, the IRS might hesitate to make such
a politically charged decision.
Surgeon General Nominee Survives Political Fracas
by Andrea Szalanski
By a 63-35 vote the Senate has voted to confirm Dr. David Satcher as United States
Surgeon General. His appointment comes over the opposition of conservatives, whose
lobbying has kept the post vacant for three years.
Satcher, who has headed the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention since 1993, was nominated in the fall of 1997 and encountered little
resistance in Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee hearings. The Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition enlisted presidential hopeful Senator
John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) to be the architect of Satcher's defeat, in part because Satcher
supported President Bill Clinton's stand against legislation that would ban so-called
The 56-year-old physician and former president of Meharry Medical College is highly
regarded for boosting childhood immunization rates by almost 50%, creating an early
warning system for detecting food-borne diseases, and improving the Centers' response to
infectious diseases. His nomination was supported by the American Medical Association and
the American Academy of Family Physicians. As Surgeon General, and Assistant Secretary for
Health, he planned to promote healthy diet and exercise and campaign against smoking and
In recent months, media all over the United States have received prepared public
service announcements that offer Scientology's "Study Technology" as a solution
to adult and child illiteracy. Other press releases criticize the prescription of the
stimulant drug Ritalin for children with Attention Deficit Disorder, again plugging study
technology as the solution.
Most immediately, millions of American school children stand to be exposed to
Scientology due to its work developing materials for public schools. Bridge Publishing, the Church of Scientology's
publishing arm, has produced a five-volume series of books and submitted them for approval
as supplemental classroom texts to the California Department of Education. The books use
"study technology," which Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard has described as
"the bedrock on the subject of learning a subject."
Things were fine in the early 1900s, according to writer Rosemary Duncan, when everyone
who attended school was literate. But Dewey changed all that, she writes, with his
"progressive" ideas that "a child's social development was paramount."
Never mind that in the early 1900s only a small percentage of the American population
attended school, as opposed to today when nearly all children do. The rate of success is
bound to drop.
The texts now being considered in California have run into opposition, but not mainly
on religious grounds. They are being judged on less stringent content grounds than are
textbooks, but have still failed to meet the state's standard for depicting characters
that reflect California's diverse population.
A citizen's review panel specifically objected to the portrayal of people with
disabilities and people of color. The Church of Scientology is reworking the texts.
If the texts are accepted, they will be listed in a Department of Education Catalogue,
from which schools are allowed to buy with state funds.