It’s all in your head

earIt turns out that it’s all in my head. The ringing in my ears, that is.

For several years now, I’ve been hearing a persistent tone, 3,950 Hz to be precise, the highest B on a piano keyboard. Tinnitus is usually caused by damage to the ears from loud noises or music. Maybe I listened to Pink Floyd too much as a teen?

Somewhere in my ear, damaged nerves are firing non-stop, which makes it seem like there’s a high-pitched squeal in the air. My brain “hears” the sound, but no one else does.

It doesn’t bother me. I find that I unconsciously tune it out when I’m reading or listening to music. There’s no “cure” for tinnitus, but you can learn to push the sound into the background by not paying attention to it.

From dreams to hallucinations to delusions to phantom limb pain, there are a host of experiences that seem completely real to us, only they turn out to be in our heads. Our brains sometimes play tricks on us.

Is it possible that God, too, is in our minds? Is it possible that belief comes from something organic rather than something revealed to us by an eternal Creator?

The University of Oxford has decided to spend $2 million pounds to discover why we believe in God. According to the London Times report, “[Researchers] will not attempt to solve the question of whether God exists but … whether belief in God conferred an evolutionary advantage to mankind. They will also consider the possibility that faith developed as a byproduct of other human characteristics, such as sociability.”

This is the science of evolutionary biology at work, looking for chemical answers to some of the deepest questions of life.

Science is in the business of explaining things, and belief in God or gods or supernatural forces is an ancient and universal human phenomenon. I understand the need to look for a material cause for faith; finding material causes is what science does. We are material beings. Our instruments of investigation are material creations. Science can’t examine God Himself, so it looks elsewhere at what it can examine: behavior, the brain, society.

And yet, the question Oxford wants to examine seems a bit like the puzzle of the chicken and the egg. If belief in God is found to give humanity an evolutionary advantage, does it necessarily follow that we invented belief to cope with evolutionary stress? It could just as easily be the case that a Designer created us for belief, perhaps to take our minds off ourselves and give us a curiosity about himself, and about the meaning and purpose of human existence.

It seems pretty certain that if Oxford comes up with a useful theory connecting faith and evolution, it will be taken as evidence that belief is just a quirk of nature handed to us through our genes.

But does that really tell the story?

Suppose the ancient Wonbogmees doubted gravity, and the neighboring Bogwonmees believed very sincerely in gravity. Both tribes’ only food source fell from very high, very dangerous trees. The Bogwonmees reasoned that shaking the trees and catching the fruit that fell to the ground would be the safest way to feed themselves. The Wonbogmees impatiently scorned such a cautious approach and climbed the trees to harvest the fruit, reasoning that if they fell they would simply float to the ground unharmed.

The Wonbogmees would not have lived long enough to pass along their genes. Naturally-speaking, we always do best as a species when our beliefs are congruent with the way the world really is.

So it makes sense that if there is a God, human effort will thrive when we live in a manner that accepts rather than denies that reality.

No matter what the results of these studies, they leave us with the same dilemma we have always had: if God is immaterial, if we have no tools that can spy on him and examine him, how, if at all, can we “know” God?

Christianity offers several answers. First, we can know God if he reaches out to us and reveals himself. The Apostle Paul suggest that the Holy Spirit, third member of the Trinity, does exactly that:

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.” But it was to us that God revealed these things by His Spirit. For His Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. — 1 Corinthians 2:9-10, NLT (the Apostle Paul speaking).

But the Holy Spirit is himself immaterial. Paul goes on to claim that Jesus Christ was God “incarnate,” God arriving in human skin, living a normal human life. Again we have God revealing himself to us, but this time in a fully material way:

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, — Colossians 1:15, NLT (the Apostle Paul speaking).

The writer of Hebrews goes on to claim that it was Jesus’ divine nature that has made him such an astonishing figure in human history. Jesus lived beyond normal, healing incurable disease, raising the dead from the grave, teaching with uncommon insight, and defeating death after he was executed and buried:

[Christ Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, — Hebrews 1:3, ESV

In the life and words of Jesus Christ we have a means for discovering the immaterial God of the Bible.

Faith may be imprinted on our minds. There may well be some sense in which the capability for belief gives us a competitive advantage in life. But that’s a far cry from saying, as some do, that this God stuff is all in our heads.

Because that leaves unanswered the question of Jesus. Who was he? Why did he have such a profound effect on history? Was he actually the eternal God, or just an ordinary soup of organic chemicals that long ago died and turned to dust?

Photo credit: Mel Gibson’s ear, courtesy of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Many critics have called Mr. Gibson’s earlobes the finest ever to grace the silver screen.

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  1. I had a question on a seminary exam that said, “If there were video cameras at the time, could we have filmed the Resurrection.”

    I said, “No.” I don’t believe God will allow himself to be captured in such a way.

    I find it futile and a waste of money to attempt to prove something about God through scientific methods. But, I guess, if it leads even one person to faith, why not give it a try?

  2. I have tinnitus too. My doctor told me I have a “hearing loss” at that high pitch. But I beg to differ. I have a hearing addition that drowns out other sounds of the same pitch.

    The materialists, like the scientists at Oxford, don’t lack faith. They have a faith in the tangible, in evolution, that drowns out their chance for faith in God.

  3. Long time no read. Welcome back. I keep checking the blog to see if anything is new. It was worth the wait, Charlie. Good article.

    I agree with SkyePuppy’s comment. Those believing in evolution will do everything they can to prove their theories or die trying.

  4. Yes indeed, thank you for the article. But on to Mel’s ear… I don’t particularly like it. It’s not “ear shaped” enough. The outer edge needs more curve to it–more like 1/2 a light bulb. His edge is almost ruler straight!

  5. This post seems to address my comment on your next post. Interesting, because I was asking how you can blame a person for their inability to believe in God. I doubt it is genetic, but it would be interesting to find out if the scientists discover a commonality among the brains of believers.

    Some people want to believe worse than anything, but just can’t make themselves. What will God do with them?

  6. I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this very question during my life. It’s a sort of chicken and egg kind of question.

    I think this is why the author of Hebrews defined faith as “… being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” It seems fairly nebulous and uncertain. If we could be certain, then we’d have another word for it. In some sense, there has to be a mystery about our faith, it has to be in our head and not able to be pinned down. If we could be sure and certain, then … it just wouldn’t be faith … it would be something less wonderful altogether. Does that make sense?

  7. Bruce Hollenbach says

    I think I see what you mean, Charlie. It’s like those people who believe in the existence of 18-wheelers. When they see anything that suggests the imminent arrival of an 18-wheeler, they respond by attempting to absent themselves from the path that the perceived 18-wheeler appears to be taking. Science could probably investigate the possibility that this gives such people a distinct evolutionary advantage over the people who don’t believe in the existence of 18-wheelers. When these latter see anything in the vicinity that appears to resemble an 18-wheeler, they, doubting the existence of the thing in the first place, respond not at all. Who know? This may reduce their overall chances of survival. At least this kind of investigation would fit properly within the domain of science. Some might even see the scientific results as confirming the evolutionary hypothesis, that believers in 18-wheelers tend to produce greater numbers of offspring which will also contain whatever it is in them that yields this belief, hence demonstrating the evolutionary advantage of this belief. It would be questionable science, to say the least, to attempt to demonstrate the actual existence of 18-wheelers, since it’s so hard to know for sure that anything exists.

  8. Agreed: just because something conveys an advantage does not mean that natural selection put it there. Even in biological evolution circles many now doubt that natural selection alone can account for the development history we see. Even atheists are beginning to see the flaws and circular reasoning in Darwinism.

    If the evidence I have seen for evolution is correct (and it’s fairly convincing that men did not appear 6000 years ago) and we really did evolve from molecules to man then it’s quite simply the biggest bloody miracle EVER! Halleluja!

  9. Try saying the Lord’s prayer, then reading some NT scripture and then listen to see if you can detect a change in the frequency.

    If it suddenly gets louder or seems to draw nearer to you, then it’s not tinnitus, but the vibration of the Holy spirit which you are detecting.

  10. God is never just a result of logic or a figment of our imagination. it’s existence is proven not via scientific methods but by every life that serves as testimonies. Lives at present. my life would testify that he’s true and alive. i don’t care about what science says.

    Your Daily Word

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