Before I get to the pesky new data, it’s worth emphasizing that there are intriguing neurobiological findings suggesting that the brain may indeed be wired for God. In addition to the habits of thought that lead us to see the supernatural in the natural and the extraordinary in the ordinary, neuroimaging studies suggest that we come preloaded with the software for belief. For instance, the brain has a region, the parietal lobe, that detects where our body physically ends and the larger world begins. But this circuitry can be silenced by intense prayer or meditation, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg has found, producing a sense of oneness with the cosmos or God.
In a paper last month in the online journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gregory Paul finds that countries with the lowest rates of social dysfunction—based on 25 measures, including rates of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, unemployment, and poverty—have become the most secular. Those with the most dysfunction, such as Portugal and the U.S., are the most religious, as measured by self-professed belief, church attendance, habits of prayer, and the like.