The God Fossil

Most Americans who accept evolution think God created it. These scientists think they can prove the opposite.

"I would never say anything that simplistic or that stupid," Bering says. "That's an entirely different line of work."

Some scientists, Bering explains, looking for a so-called "God gene" study individuals to see if people more prone to religiosity share certain genes — in other words, if chemistry in the brain might be associated with people who feel more "spiritual." Bering and Bjorklund are looking at something more universal, a mental "programming" that makes humans around the globe more likely to believe in gods and heavens.

But Bering is lucky if his audience even cares enough to misunderstand him. Most people simply tune out. He remembers one student's response to a lecture: "He told me, 'It's all good in theory, and maybe it does explain religion, but I can't see what it has to do with my belief in God,'" Bering says.

Even the anti-science crowd hasn't noticed Bjorklund and Bering, despite some of the grenades the latter has been throwing their way. In Spiked, an online publication published in London, Bering wrote: "Skepticism is not going to remain in the privileged chapels of scientists and other scholars. It is going to dry up even the most verdant suburban landscapes, and leave spiritual leaders with their tongues out, dying for a drop of faith."

So far, to Bering's chagrin, this is wishful thinking. Bjorklund, who is reluctant to enter the God-versus-science culture wars, is not surprised. "I don't see the work we're doing to be necessarily at odds with religious or theistic interpretations," he says. "It doesn't say that there is a god or there isn't a god or that there's any one particular type of god — merely that children develop these ways of seeing the world."

Evolutionist Kenneth Miller, a main advocate of the God-and-science-can-live-together, anti-intelligent-design movement, explains religion's lack of response another way.

"They're not upset because they think evolution is a bunch of crap anyway," he says.

He's right; South Florida's local creationists are only amused at the suggestion that an FAU science experiment could prove that God was an accident of Darwinian dimensions.

Tom DeRosa, executive director and founder of the Creation Studies Institute, is the most visible face of Fort Lauderdale creationism. He shrugs off Bering and Bjorklund's study. "I deal with science," DeRosa says, "and we're getting into psychology. But I think that the bottom line is that when you look at the complexity of a cell, there's an obvious conclusion that there's a creator, an intelligent designer."

Dr. Kent Hovind, head of Creation Science Evangelism in Pensacola, Florida's most bombastic anti-evolutionist organization, isn't fazed either. "Good observations, wrong conclusion," he booms in a preacher's chocolatey baritone. "To note that every culture has an afterlife and innate belief in a higher power is a good observation but that we created the god is the wrong conclusion to conclude. I would say God designed it into us."

Although he's disappointed that no men of the cloth are taking the bait, Bering isn't surprised — creationists have credited God for scientific phenomena since the dawn of Darwinism. "You can never get around God designing our mind to believe these things," Bering says. Just as some creationists believe that God purposely buried dinosaur fossils so that we would find them, so too it's easy for such a mind to think that God would bury a fossil representing himself in our brains.

But that concept can also be turned on its head. Just as some creationists believe that scientists are deluding themselves about the bones they dig up that seemingly confirm evolution, Bjorklund and Bering believe that their work shows that creationists are operating under their own delusions.

They can't help believing in creationism. After all, evolution made them that way.

Bjorklund calls creationism the "species default." "The notion of creationism is intellectually easier to understand," he says. "It's been only very recently that we get to understand how things emerge without a creator, and it's hard to really live that way. Our minds did not evolve for this."

As famous biologist Richard Dawkins suggests, "It is almost as if the human brain were specifically designed to misunderstand Darwinism and to find it hard to believe."

Bering agrees. "It is clear that when it comes to the big questions in life, our brains have evolved so that science eludes us but religion comes naturally," he writes in American Scientist.

And Bering is the first to admit that this is true even for scientists. "Even for me, it's inescapable. Life may very well be purposeless. All the evidence at this point suggests that these are cognitive illusions."

The irony is, Bjorklund and Bering know that even if they are right, we are all hardwired to disbelieve their results. "There will never be a day when God does not speak for the majority," Bering wrote recently. "As scientists, we must toil and labor and toil again to silence God, but ultimately this is like cutting off our ears to hear more clearly. God too is a biological appendage."

Sort of like the appendix, apparently. But even if it's hopeless, Bering says he'll continue to experiment and to write about his dangerous idea: that evolution created God, and not the other way around. It's a struggle he plans to fight to the end, by God.

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