Thursday, August 18, 2011

Eye of God

If God were a cyclopean creature, then his huge eye might look like this:

This artificially-colored NASA image of the Helix nebula combines photos taken from both the Hubble telescope and an observatory in Arizona. No sooner was it published by the NASA in 2003 than imaginative viewers labeled it the "Eye of God". What's more, certain believers claimed that the intense contemplation of this image could indeed give rise to miracles. So, with a bit of chance, the present blog post might cause the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk and—who knows?—the dead to rise! [Please send me feedback.]

Andy Thomson is a practicing psychiatrist in Virginia. With the help of a medical writer, Clare Aukofer, he has just brought out a "concise guide to the science of faith" entitled Why We Believe in God(s), which is less than a centimeter thick (144 pages, readable in an hour). And they've put a copy of the "Eye of God" on the cover. Besides, there's an enthusiastic foreward by an Englishman named Richard Dawkins. Clearly, these two fellows are on the same wavelength. Furthermore, they both write brilliantly.

It's amazing that so many novel ideas can be packed into such a small book, and expressed so convincingly. Thomson's basic thesis is that, since the dawn of humanity, gods have been made-made entities. Like music and, more recently, fast food. And it's often far from easy for ordinary humans to turn their back on their gods… just as it's hard, for many individuals, to resist the temptation of gorging oneself on hamburgers and sweets.

In this delightful little book, I was happy to discover Andy Thomson's constant evocations of the great Charles Darwin. Towards the end of his book, Thomson introduces the fascinating subject of mirror neurons, which have become a preoccupation of my old Australian friend Michael Arbib, a distinguished professor at the University of Southern California. I was most interested in Thomson's descriptions of fabulous neurochemical products—serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, oxytocin and the endorphins—which seem to play a far more significant role in religious experiences than any of the alleged holy texts. Indeed, one has the impression that, accompanied by the appropriate neurochemical cocktail, even a phone directory could appear to be a sacred text of profound spirituality.

Let's suppose that you're the sort of run-of-the-mill believer who has grown up considering that God created the Cosmos and Mankind. And all you need to know now is: Who created God? If you happen to be in that kind of situation, then this is the book you need!


  1. Thank you very much for the kind review of our book. We are delighted you found it, read it, and posted on it.

    All the best,
    Andy Thomson

  2. I was delighted to receive this prompt thank-you comment from Dr Thomson himself. On rereading my blog post, I realize that a couple of elements of my typical blog style may have appeared dubious to an outsider such as Andy Thomson. I started out by talking about the "Eye of God" in a way that might suggest, if my words were to be read in a first-degree fashion, that I actually believed in nonsense such as a galactic vision of a divine eye in the Cosmos. Then I mentioned "an Englishman named Richard Dawkins" (who, like Andy Williams, "writes brilliantly"), as if I had just dropped down in the last shower of science-writing rain.

    I'm often aware that a new reader who happened to browse through a short series of my blog posts could well receive a curious mixed-up impression. Who is this weird guy in the south of France, who says he's Australian, who talks a lot about his dogs (while also mentioning an alcoholic cat), who says nasty things about a nice Christian gentleman named Rick Perry, etc… ?