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Religion and the architecture of the brain

06 November 2015


From the Revd Professor David Martin

Sir, — A book by Roger Trigg and others (Books, 9 October) postulates a religion-shaped hole in “the architecture of our brains” as revealed by cognitive science, to the supposed dismay of sociologists emphasising history and socialisation. Presumably this book discusses just why this hole varies in size from maximal to non-existent, takes completely contradictory forms, and virtually disappears on the Western side of the Oder-Neisse, while being massive on the Eastern side.

How could Charles Taylor be so indifferent to the constant architecture of the brain as to identify the hole as universal in 1500 while identifying secularity as the default position in 2000? Why are sociologists so poorly equipped with the universal hole? Why are Ghanaians so plentifully equipped with it?

What arguments negate an approach, based on infinite variety, in favour of a constant? Why, for example, is the hole so shallow in Estonia and so deep in Lithuania? What has happened to the hole in Britain that it gets shallower with successive generations? Why can my lovely grandson speak and know what sex is, without having this further universal feature, religion?

The answer is that neither his mother nor his school taught him, and his friends think religion is weird. In this respect, the “architecture” of his brain does not have a chance. It is that vague and latent, rather as it is with 42.5 per cent of the people of Norwich, but only 21.6 per cent of the people of Chester.

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