An essential feature of religious experience across many cultures is the intuitive feeling of God's presence. More than any rituals or doctrines, it is this experience that anchors religious faith, yet it has been largely ignored in the scientific literature on religion.
"... [Dr. Wathey's] book delves into the biological origins of this compelling feeling, attributing it to innate neural circuitry that evolved to promote the mother-child bond...[He] argues that evolution has programmed the infant brain to expect the presence of a loving being who responds to the child's needs. As the infant grows into adulthood, this innate feeling is eventually transferred to the realm of religion, where it is reactivated through the symbols, imagery, and rituals of worship. The author interprets our various conceptions of God in biological terms as illusory supernormal stimuli that fill an emotional and cognitive vacuum left over from infancy.
These insights shed new light on some of the most vexing puzzles of religion, like:
Attributing any particular instance of this sort of error to either a cognitive or ethical shortcoming is difficult. Plato doesn’t depict Meno as an incorrigible snob; he actually behaves much better than another character in the dialogue, Anytus, who becomes enraged with Socrates and threatens him. But imagine a spectrum of susceptibility to fancy yet vapid language. While intelligence might provide some protection against the seductions of such words, a lack of pretentiousness would also be an asset. Like overconfidence, pretentiousness has a moral valence. Avoiding it is not only a matter of debugging some glitch in our mental software, it’s a moral achievement.