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Humans hard-wired to be religious—especially in hard times
Posted: 11 February 2009 06:22 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Apparently our brains have “a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times.” This does not bode
well for advancing the interests of reason and science in the continuing economic crisis—especially if you believe, as
I do, that what we’re seeing now is just the beginning.


Born Believers: How Your Brain Creates God
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126941.700-born-believers-how-your-brain-creates-god.html?full=true
WHILE many institutions collapsed during the Great Depression that began in 1929, one kind did rather well. During
this leanest of times, the strictest, most authoritarian churches saw a surge in attendance.

This anomaly was documented in the early 1970s, but only now is science beginning to tell us why. It turns out that
human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times. Our brains effortlessly conjure
up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters, and the more insecure we feel, the harder it is to resist the pull of
this supernatural world. It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods.


See also:
The Credit Crunch Could Be A Boon For Irrational Belief
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126943.600-the-credit-crunch-could-be-a-boon-for-irrational-belief.html

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Posted: 11 February 2009 08:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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If any CFI discussion-forum member in the U.S. wants a free copy of the paperback Born to Believe: God, Science, and the Origin of Ordinary and Extraordinary Beliefs (formerly titled “Why We Believe What We Believe”), PM me.
9780743274982.jpg

Atheist.about.com review of the hardcover: http://atheism.about.com/od/bookreviews/fr/WhyWeBelieve.htm

[ Edited: 11 February 2009 10:09 AM by josh_karpf ]
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Posted: 11 February 2009 09:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I wish this message could become more mainstream.

My wife is a believer. I used to be. She can’t imagine not being a believer. The biological disconnect is obvious.

If more people could begin to understand that belief is subjective based on brain chemistry, we could then engage in a dialog of perhaps more toleration.

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Posted: 11 February 2009 10:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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My gf’s a nontheist yet loves religious ritual and culture, both of which usually irritate me.  But she expects me to like them too.

Ironically, they didn’t bother me before I met her because I wasn’t being exposed to them.  No one else has been inviting me to religious services, concerts, plays, and museums.  I can talk well with her religious friends because I’m aware of most of the religious current events and issues.  But only half of them know I’m a freethinker; the others assume that I too have been drinking their Kool-Aid.  (Skeptic note: the Jonestown poisoned drink was actually Flavor Aid.)

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Posted: 11 February 2009 10:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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if religious belief is biologically driven then we need to explain atheism.

i think the truth might lie more in that religious belief has proven to be a successful meme.

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“Unsustainable systems can’t be sustained.” ~ Robert Jensen

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Posted: 11 February 2009 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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truthaddict - 11 February 2009 10:08 AM

if religious belief is biologically driven then we need to explain atheism.

Yeah, that does challenge a lot of their position, for sure. If we’re hard-wired to believe, then are those of us who
don’t believe somehow “brain-damaged”? And assuming this hard-wired belief thing is some useful evolutionary
adaptation, then does that make atheism a bad mutation or whatever the science types call things that are not
evolutionarily useful?

I don’t know the answer to this one, but I do find it intriguing.

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Posted: 11 February 2009 10:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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It makes sense.  When you don’t understand something, whether it is a natural or man made disaster, you make up reasons why.  Since it is coming more or less for your external locus of control you think that the major player of the external locus (god) is the only way out.

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Posted: 11 February 2009 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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if religious belief is biologically driven then we need to explain atheism.

Whoa, fellas! Genetic predisposition is VERY different from genetic determinism. Human males have a genetic predisposition towards aggressive behavior, but somehow those males have managed to push down the murder rate. Sure, there are plenty of people who follow their predispositions—but under the influence of civilization and reason, people can suppress their baser instincts.

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Posted: 11 February 2009 10:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I don’t see how humans could be “hard-wired to be religious” in any serious sense of the term “religious”. I imagine what they’re talking about is a hard-wired tendency to find agency where it is not; spirits, ancestors, and yes gods; but there is nothing necessarily religious about this. How could we be hard-wired to be religious if religions basically didn’t exist until five or ten thousand years ago? They are a relatively modern phenomenon, as much sociopolitical as anything.

Perhaps the thought is that our hard-wiring tends to make people receptive to religious ideas in the present environment. But that’s sort of a vague claim, and not clearly true either, especially when the same hard-wiring could easily lead someone into non-religious New Agey ideas. A large portion of the present acceptance of religion has to do with temporary factors of culture and family background (one tends to slide into the same religion that one’s parents hold).

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Posted: 11 February 2009 10:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I doubt that religiosity can be explained biologically. The Czech Republic is one of the most atheistic countries in the world, but the neighbouring Slovakia shows a significantly higher number of believers, similar to those of the surrounding countries. The genetic difference between the Czechs and the Slovaks must be almost non-existent. Since both countries pretty much share their history of “hard times,” I find the the claim in the OP (It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times.) invalid.

[ Edited: 11 February 2009 10:34 AM by George ]
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Posted: 11 February 2009 10:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Again, George, genetic predisposition is not the same thing as genetic determinism. The foundation for behavior is genetic, but cultural and personal factors play a larger overall role than genetic factors.

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Posted: 11 February 2009 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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dougsmith - 11 February 2009 10:22 AM

I don’t see how humans could be “hard-wired to be religious” in any serious sense of the term “religious”. I imagine what they’re talking about is a hard-wired tendency to find agency where it is not; spirits, ancestors, and yes gods; but there is nothing necessarily religious about this. How could we be hard-wired to be religious if religions basically didn’t exist until five or ten thousand years ago? They are a relatively modern phenomenon, as much sociopolitical as anything.

We have brain receptors that are perfectly suited for getting buzzed from opiates, and from nicotine. The technology to extract pharmacologically significant quantities of those things is very recent.

That being said, I pretty much agree with the distinction: predisposition makes more sense, given the observed facts (namely, the fact that all of us hellbound non-believers exist, for one thing wink

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Posted: 11 February 2009 11:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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George - 11 February 2009 10:32 AM

I doubt that religiosity can be explained biologically. The Czech Republic is one of the most atheistic countries in the world, but the neighbouring Slovakia shows a significantly higher number of believers, similar to those of the surrounding countries. The genetic difference between the Czechs and the Slovaks must be almost non-existent. Since both countries pretty much share their history of “hard times,” I find the the claim in the OP (It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times.) invalid.

The claim is actually in the article I cited, not in the OP. Just being pedantic and precise, dontcha know. wink

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Posted: 11 February 2009 11:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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steveg144 - 11 February 2009 10:59 AM

We have brain receptors that are perfectly suited for getting buzzed from opiates, and from nicotine. The technology to extract pharmacologically significant quantities of those things is very recent.

Right, that’s sort of more like the claim that we are hardwired to respond positively to the sort of religious stimuli we find in the present environment. But that same hardwiring would also lead to positive response for non-religious New Age notions; perhaps even atheistic spiritualist notions of the sort that Sagan provides.

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Posted: 11 February 2009 11:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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dougsmith - 11 February 2009 11:09 AM
steveg144 - 11 February 2009 10:59 AM

We have brain receptors that are perfectly suited for getting buzzed from opiates, and from nicotine. The technology to extract pharmacologically significant quantities of those things is very recent.

Right, that’s sort of more like the claim that we are hardwired to respond positively to the sort of religious stimuli we find in the present environment. But that same hardwiring would also lead to positive response for non-religious New Age notions; perhaps even atheistic spiritualist notions of the sort that Sagan provides.

OK, that sounds like it works. Maybe a “receptor that causes humans to be awed by the numinous in nature” would be a description (though an unwieldy one wink  that would cover what’s being described. Case in point. We live out in the country. When we have a clear night, it is clear. When I look up into that vast endless bowl of night sky at all those stars, I have no problem understanding how people could feel they were “in the presence of God” in such circumstances, because I can feel some receptor in my brain responding in the same way I imagine their brains would respond. Except I’m able to remove God from the interpretation of what I’m experiencing.

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Posted: 11 February 2009 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Chris Crawford - 11 February 2009 10:47 AM

Again, George, genetic predisposition is not the same thing as genetic determinism. The foundation for behavior is genetic, but cultural and personal factors play a larger overall role than genetic factors.

Yes, I understand that. That’s why I said I don’t understand why it is that these two peoples who share the same genes and almost identical environment (cultural, geographical and political) differ immensely in their religious denomination. And the difference is enormous. I am beginning to suspect that we know next to nothing about the human nature. I, personally, can’t make any sense of it.

[ Edited: 11 February 2009 11:27 AM by George ]
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