Sunday, February 8, 2009

Born Believers

An interesting article in New Scientist.

Highlights some scientists' claims that religion, rather than being selected by evolution as an individual and social boon, is actually a byproduct of how the brain works.

Of particular interest:

People are predisposed towards mind-body dualism:
"We very naturally accept you can leave your body in a dream, or in astral projection or some sort of magic," Bloom says. "These are universal views." There is plenty of evidence that thinking about disembodied minds comes naturally.

People readily form relationships with non-existent others: roughly half of all 4-year-olds have had an imaginary friend, and adults often form and maintain relationships with dead relatives, fictional characters and fantasy partners

Based on these and other experiments, Bering considers a belief in some form of life apart from that experienced in the body to be the default setting of the human brain.
Over-attribution of agency:
"You see bushes rustle, you assume there's somebody or something there," Bloom says.
Predisposed to teleological explanations:
Put under pressure to explain natural phenomena, adults often fall back on teleological arguments, such as "trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe" or "the sun is hot because warmth nurtures life".
Seeing patterns where there are none:
The subjects who sensed a loss of control were much more likely to see patterns where there were none. "We were surprised that the phenomenon is as widespread as it is," Whitson says.
The conclusion:
as Barratt points out, whether or not a belief is true is independent of why people believe it.

It does, however, suggests that god isn't going away, and that atheism will always be a hard sell. Religious belief is the "path of least resistance", says Boyer, while disbelief requires effort.

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