The brain is a stubborn organ. Once its primary set of beliefs has been established, the brain finds it difficult to integrate opposing ideas and beliefs. This has profound consequences for individuals and society, and helps to explain why some people cannot abandon destructive beliefs, be they religious, political, or psychological.
We are not born with a specific belief in God, or for that matter, any religious belief. Instead we learn to believe or disbelieve in God. As Richard Dawkins aptly puts it, children are not Jewish or Christian or Muslim. Rather, they are taught to believe in one set of ideas and they are taught to disbelieve in others. With enough repetition, these beliefs asd disbeliefs become neurologically embedded in memory, from which they influence future behaviors and thoughts. Thus the more time you devote to believing in God–or making money or waging war–the more those beliefs become an integral part of your reality.
Fortunately, the neural plasticity of our brains allows us to make subtle (and sometimes dramatic) alterations of our systems of belief. Thus, when we are exposed to new ideas, we have the biological ability to alter our earlier beliefs. But we rarely abandon them fully. For Francis Collins, author of the recent book The Language of God, Christianity held great meaning and value in his life, but his research as a geneticist required him to immerse himself in naturalistic explanations of the universe. The result was a transformation–an evolution of sorts–of his religious beliefs. Collins maintains his faith in God, but it is not the biblical God of his childhood.