What’s Love Got To Do With It?

love_exists_4_by_marissavoo-d2zd21nA comment made on my last post was rather interesting and is the inspiration for this one. In the last part of the comment she said:

But if i was going to compare God to something else invisible to prove a point it would be love, you can not see love, touch it, or prove it, but you know that its there.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this argument made by a religious person.

However, when we look at it critically, God isn’t anything like love. Scientifically, we understand the biological processes behind those feelings fairly well.

For example:

Although people experience love differently, the chemistry behind the initial rush of attraction shows us that there are biological explanations to feeling giddy, for example, during those blissful early weeks.

To start with, dopamine, which is created in the brain and adrenal glands, enhances the release of testosterone. Dopamine affects various organs, including the genitals, the sweat glands, and also the senses. Have you ever noticed that when you are in the early stages of lust or love, you sweat more? Or that the sky seems bluer? Dopamine, in this context of arousal, is partly responsibly. As a consequence of dopamine being released, mood and emotions are also influenced, leading to feelings of excitement and happiness. Meanwhile, testosterone increases sexual desire, but also increases aggressive behaviour and behaviourally, may push someone to pursue the one who is fueling this intense response.

After this step, the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and PEA (phenylethylamine) lead to focused attention. Individuals start to ‘zero-in’ on the person they desire, and at the same time, often have a feeling of euphoria. Norepinephrine is a stimulant, so it also causes individuals to feel alert, potentially unable to sleep, and enables them to notice and remember even the smallest of details about their partners. PEA is responsible for the feelings of giddiness, and may cause the loss of appetite. If the relationship doesn’t last, and PEA levels fall and are partly responsible for the feelings of depression that can be experienced.

I know…it seems a lot less romantic when broken down scientifically, but the point remains the same – love isn’t a supernatural entity in the sky or a supernatural realm laid out for believers after they die. There are biological reasons for those feelings.

As clinical psychologist Sue Johnson points out in a recent article:

“I think it’s absolutely disastrous for us to keep defining love as a big mystery,” Johnson says. “We need to know about it, we need to know how to shape it. It’s now the basis of our families. Really, the family stands or falls on feelings of affection. … We are all longing for it, and it’s just kind of not so poetic and fun anymore to define it as slightly out of reach and sort of only magical.”

Sound familiar?

Even though we have a fairly good understanding of love from a biological perspective, we still try to label it as something magical and mysterious…kind of like our favorite myths about God.

In another article:

If you’ve ever been in love, you’ve probably at least considered classifying the feeling as an addiction. And guess what: You were right. As it turns out, scientists are discovering that the same chemical process that takes place with addiction takes place when we fall in love.

So unlike God, you can show evidence that it exists and you can test for it scientifically. It’s part of our natural world and has nothing to do with magic or the supernatural.

If you really want to look for a fair comparison between Allah, Yahweh, Jesus or Vishnu, you can find it in Odin, Zeus and Mithra.

In other words, the rest of the Gods you probably don’t believe in, which have been thrown in the dustbin of mythological history.

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35 Comments

  1. Like I said you can not see love, can you look at my picture and see that I am in love, no. But anyway it was just the first thing that came to mind in the point I was trying to make, which is just because you cant see something doesnt mean its not real. I have never seen a million dollars but that doesnt mean its not real.

        • Perhaps. It would depend on what your definition of a miracle would be. It’s probably different than mine.

          For example, I saw my grandmother wake up when the doctors said she would die after my father had her removed from life support. She had told me previously that she wouldn’t pass away till after Christmas. True to her word, she woke up and said ‘It’s not Christmas yet’.

          She made it through Christmas and passed away shortly after.

          Some people might consider that a miracle. I don’t. I consider it explainable using natural explanations.

          For something to be classified as a miracle to me, it would have to defy natural explanation.

          But I suppose it could happen.

          • With my son there were 13 different doctors that said there was no medical explanation for his recovery. Im curious if several doctors told you there was a reason you had a condition but they could not prove the reason except through their experience, would you believe them? If so why would you not believe it when they say there is no medical explanation?

            • I’m not sure I understand the question.

              However, even if I did grant it was a miracle (and it had happened to me) I would still not see the leap from miracle – to God – to your specific God. It could be any number of other things, including partially, the care your son received from medical professionals who probably did a great deal to keep him alive. Without such medical intervention, do you think this miracle would still have taken place?

              Having seen the pictures, it looked like your son was surrounded by medical devices.

              Also, why your specific deity and not one of the thousands of others? Why a deity when it could be chance or even something such as a soul or biological processes?

              Many things happen that medical science doesn’t quite understand yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatically a deities doing. Nor does it mean such a miracle was supernaturally based. It could have been a perfectly natural recovery.

              For example, when the brain is injured, sometimes it reroutes functions over time. Is this a deities doing or a natural phenomenon?

              For some people, their brain is unable to do this or it just doesn’t. Are they then being punished by your deity?

              I would think the natural explanation is more likely than the supernatural one.

  2. Lets not forget that there are many different forms of love…
    Not all love stems only from that scientific, chemical reaction that happens when one is ‘in’ love, romantically. I do understand your point though in response to your commenter’s example about it being invisible and comparing that to God.
    I’d like to add that there are still many seemingly ‘invisible’ things in our universe that we have yet to explore, and science is discovering new things every day, so don’t’ write off finding ‘proof’ that God exists just yet. 😉 😀

    • True about the different forms of love, but they also have biological causes. I just didn’t want to make the post too long. I’m nutty that way.

      I don’t write finding proof off though. But I’m working on gathering my thoughts on an article about how I don’t see God concepts as coherent or meaningful. To show something exists, I think a concept has to be coherent first.

      But that’s a tale for another day.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.

  3. Thanks for another great post. I love the debates you always seem to spark too. They are almost, but not quite as interesting to read as your original post. Thanks for always being twice as readable as some of the other blogs!

  4. Science aside, love is an abstract concept. You can’t say it doesn’t exist because no one really claims that it -does- exist. It’s a word we give to feelings we have.

    God, on the other hand, is considered by many religious to be a tangible force in the universe. Certain religious claim god is a thing that directly changes the universe. There is nothing abstract about god in this sense.

    People may say “love can change the world” but they’re talking about people changing their feelings, not like “god can change the world” where they imply an outside force will make a direct impact.

    That’s the difference for me.

  5. GC,
    Very interesting post and lively comments. This topic one is we explored in my youth. My take on it then and now is I’m good with it, and i believe it can be positive, to a point.
    I have little doubt that god and faith are experienced similarly to love by some. It may even be the norm for believers, and would offer an interesting explanation (to me, at least) for why there is an attachment to the supernatural by otherwise rational intelligent people. Love can certainly underlie parallel behaviors in a relationship.
    The line I draw is the externalization of god. Once such a god, however positive for the individual, is externalized into a belief system, it becomes a supernatural fallacy. At that point, well, look around, and behind.

  6. Ah yes…love is merely the chemical interaction of dopamine and norepi. If that is what you want to believe, so be it. The same thing holds true for any of your thoughts as well. I would “love” for you to tell me how these chemical neurotransmitters “think”. Are all thoughts reducible to these interactions? How is thought possible given this definition?

    In other words, are you comfortable with the mind being reducible to brain?

        • Do you believe your body is inhabited by an incorporeal ghost that’s cursed because your ancestor talked to a talking snake and was fooled into eating a magic apple, and so you needed an ancient Jewish carpenters blood sacrifice to cleanse your ghostly self of taint so you can spend eternity in a supernatural heavenly realm?

          I thought I provided the scientific evidence in the post.

          • Your beginning to sound just like Ark! I asked you a specific question about the philosophy of mind and your reply is a caricature of Christian beliefs? Nice straw-man.

            And you believe that laws of logic are material, that all of your thoughts and beliefs come from the interaction of neurotransmitters in a 3lb blob of fat between one’s ears. You believe this and yet when pressed this belief cannot be accounted for on physicalist terms [that the mind reduces to the brain] and yet the only response is to lampoon my beliefs? I

  7. You know, by looking at ‘my’ avatar, you’d never know I was a human. 🙂 but, of course, we don’t base all our judgements and realization on one photo. You also shouldn’t make any judgements based on feelings, IMO. I’ve made bad decisions based on how I “felt” about a person, but those decisions could be equated to that of a person on drugs.
    Personally, I think the scientific/less romantic explanation is more fascinating and knowing that these things are going on in me when I see my kids makes it more amazing.
    Thanks for the great read!

  8. Another complication of this proposed analogy [belief in God vs belief in Love] is that the word “Love” (like “God”) carries many different meanings and flavors. Each of us holding them in different ways. Thus to equate the feeling of love with one set of neurotransmitter concentrations is faulty since even that mix, mixes with different neuro-networks (trained by experience), OR different mixes may be labeled differently by folks.
    Likewise, when folks say “God”, one person may be envisioning Jesus hugging a lamb, another Yahweh in his thrown, another apple pie and family get togethers, another America and guns, another apocalyptic horror.
    We can’t assume the same mental phenomena is going on at all behind such abstractions, eh?

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