Humans 'Predisposed' to Believe in Gods and the Afterlife, Says Research

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Humans 'Predisposed' to Believe in Gods and the Afterlife, Says Research

 

Humans 'Predisposed' to Believe in Gods and the Afterlife

ScienceDaily (July 14, 2011) — A three-year international research project, directed by two academics at the University of Oxford, finds that humans have natural tendencies to believe in gods and an afterlife.

The £1.9 million project involved 57 researchers who conducted over 40 separate studies in 20 countries representing a diverse range of cultures. The studies (both analytical and empirical) conclude that humans are predisposed to believe in gods and an afterlife, and that both theology and atheism are reasoned responses to what is a basic impulse of the human mind.

The researchers point out that the project was not setting out to prove the existence of god or otherwise, but sought to find out whether concepts such as gods and an afterlife appear to be entirely taught or basic expressions of human nature.

'The Cognition, Religion and Theology Project' led by Dr Justin Barrett, from the Centre for Anthropology and Mind at Oxford University, drew on research from a range of disciplines, including anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and theology. They directed an international body of researchers conducting studies in 20 different countries that represented both traditionally religious and atheist societies.

The findings are due to be published in two separate books by psychologist Dr Barrett in Cognitive Science, Religion and Theology and Born Believers: The Science of Childhood Religion.

Project Co-director Professor Roger Trigg, from the Ian Ramsey Centre in the Theology Faculty at Oxford University, has also written a forthcoming book, applying the wider implications of the research to issues about freedom of religion in Equality, Freedom and Religion (OUP).

Some findings of the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project:

* Studies by Emily Reed Burdett and Justin Barrett, from the University of Oxford, suggest that children below the age of five find it easier to believe in some superhuman properties than to understand similar human limitations. Children were asked whether their mother would know the contents of a box in which she could not see. Children aged three believed that their mother and God would always know the contents, but by the age of four, children start to understand that their mothers are not all-seeing and all knowing. However, children may continue to believe in all-seeing, all-knowing supernatural agents, such as a god or gods.

* Experiments involving adults, conducted by Jing Zhu from Tsinghua University (China), and Natalie Emmons and Jesse Bering from The Queen's University, Belfast, suggest that people across many different cultures instinctively believe that some part of their mind, soul or spirit lives on after-death. The studies demonstrate that people are natural 'dualists' finding it easy to conceive of the separation of the mind and the body.

Project Director Dr Justin Barrett, from the University of Oxford's Centre for Anthropology and Mind, said: 'This project does not set out to prove god or gods exist. Just because we find it easier to think in a particular way does not mean that it is true in fact. If we look at why religious beliefs and practices persist in societies across the world, we conclude that individuals bound by religious ties might be more likely to cooperate as societies. Interestingly, we found that religion is less likely to thrive in populations living in cities in developed nations where there is already a strong social support network.'

Project Co-Director Professor Roger Trigg, from the University of Oxford's Ian Ramsey Centre, said: 'This project suggests that religion is not just something for a peculiar few to do on Sundays instead of playing golf. We have gathered a body of evidence that suggests that religion is a common fact of human nature across different societies. This suggests that attempts to suppress religion are likely to be short-lived as human thought seems to be rooted to religious concepts, such as the existence of supernatural agents or gods, and the possibility of an afterlife or pre-life.'

 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110714103828.htm

 

 

"Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. The rest is poetry, imagination." Max Planck


Atheistextremist
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This line in particular

 

Atheistextremist wrote:

The studies (both analytical and empirical) conclude that humans are predisposed to believe in gods and an afterlife, and that both theology and atheism are reasoned responses to what is a basic impulse of the human mind.

 

struck me...

"Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. The rest is poetry, imagination." Max Planck


cj
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I have been reading On Being

I have been reading On Being Certain by Dr. Robert Burton.  He says much the same thing.

http://www.amazon.com/Being-Certain-Believing-Right-Youre/dp/031254152X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1310705403&sr=1-1

And he gives examples - from Dawkins no less - how even the most avowed atheist uses terms associated with faith and belief in things unseen.  Like the word "avowed".  

Which I thought was stretching things a bit.  I say things like for pete's sake, oh my god, and similar stuff frequently.  Doesn't mean I have any spiritual leanings, it means I have some lazy language habits from my younger days. 

The feeling is a feeling of being certain.  Of knowing.  Not just that you have memorized something, but the gut feeling of being right.  This feeling can be triggered using at least two different methods where the subjects had the feeling but had no frame of reference for the feeling.  So the current theory is that this feeling is one of the primary feelings - along with anger, fear, sadness, happiness, etc.

Example - you memorize the formula f=ma.  At first, you have no understanding of this formula.  You are not certain of the meaning or application.  And you work with it, doing various problems in physics class until one day - often with a feeling of immediacy - eureka!  You really understand what the formula means and how to use it.  

This feeling of knowing, of being certain, is often associated with religious experiences.  If a person is leaning in the direction of religion, they will attach a religious meaning to the feeling.  Sort of like Dr. Collins story of being in the Pacific Northwest and having the feeling of knowing while hiking in the Cascade Mountains.  He claims this is why he believes in god - I claim hiking in the same area convinces me god doesn't exist, but the weather and scenery around here is damn impressive and I get "a peaceful easy feeling" in the same circumstances.

Articles like this - and like Dr. Burton's take on it in his book - set my teeth on edge.  Okay, humans have a feeling of knowing, of certainty, of rightness.  And they are predisposed to desire having the feeling of being right.  But that doesn't necessarily mean we are inherently religious, it just means a bunch of us are damn gullible.   Including the authors of these studies.

 

-- I feel so much better since I stopped trying to believe.

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cj wrote:  Which I thought

cj wrote:

 

Which I thought was stretching things a bit.  I say things like for pete's sake, oh my god, and similar stuff frequently.  Doesn't mean I have any spiritual leanings, it means I have some lazy language habits from my younger days. 

 

 

I find myself saying 'Jesus F*cking Christ' on occasion. But it's usually after I've hit my thumb with a hammer, or stubbed my toe on the couch... And it is certainly used as a curse.


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Quote: Humans 'Predisposed'

Quote:

 

Humans 'Predisposed' to Believe in Gods and the Afterlife

ScienceDaily (July 14, 2011) — A three-year international research project, directed by two academics at the University of Oxford, finds that humans have natural tendencies to believe in gods and an afterlife.

Oh really?

Where did they find humans that were born and raised in a 'folklore' vacuum??

Atheistextremist wrote:
The £1.9 million project involved 57 researchers who conducted over 40 separate studies in 20 countries representing a diverse range of cultures.

Can you spell 'contaminated samples'?

Quote:
The studies (both analytical and empirical) conclude that humans are predisposed to believe in gods and an afterlife, and that both theology and atheism are reasoned responses to what is a basic impulse of the human mind.

No.

The 'studies' don't 'conclude' anything of the sort. The 'researchers' drew the conclusions.

What a fucking waste. A £1.9 million 'false positive' bit of propaganda bullshit.

Quote:
 Children were asked whether their mother would know the contents of a box in which she could not see. Children aged three believed that their mother and God would always know the contents...

Where would a concept of a god even enter a 3 yr old's mind, unless they picked it up from their environment?

Quote:
....but by the age of four, children start to understand that their mothers are not all-seeing and all knowing. However, children may continue to believe in all-seeing, all-knowing supernatural agents, such as a god or gods.

And tooth fairies, and think that Mickey and Minnie are real and live in Florida...

Quote:
If we look at why religious beliefs and practices persist in societies across the world, we conclude that individuals bound by religious ties might be more likely to cooperate as societies.

Like the Protestants and the Catholics? 

Quote:
Interestingly, we found that religion is less likely to thrive in populations living in cities in developed nations where there is already a strong social support network.'

They must be talking about Vegas!

Quote:
This suggests that attempts to suppress religion are likely to be short-lived...

Ummm....ever read a history book? Just how many theocracies do these fucking clowns think are left?

 

Thanks for the gags, AE.

I needed a good laugh to start my day...

 

 

 

I keep asking myself " Are they just playin' stupid, or are they just plain stupid?..."

"To explain the unknown by the known is a logical procedure; to explain the known by the unknown is a form of theological lunacy" : David Brooks

" Only on the subject of God can smart people still imagine that they reap the fruits of human intelligence even as they plow them under." : Sam Harris


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Atheistextremist

Atheistextremist wrote:

 

Atheistextremist wrote:

The studies (both analytical and empirical) conclude that humans are predisposed to believe in gods and an afterlife, and that both theology and atheism are reasoned responses to what is a basic impulse of the human mind.

 struck me...

Nice find, AE.

Either Science Daily (or whoever they got the press release from) is exaggerating, or the researchers themselves are exaggerating.

What these studies show is that humans have a natural tendency to conceive of other minds, not necessarily gods or the afterlife.

The tendency includes the pre-disposition to conceive of these minds as being dis-embodied, or detached from a body. This is an understandable flaw in human intuition.

But the interpretation that disembodied minds automatically imply gods and an afterlife is an injection into the research.

The idea that humans can form conceptions of other minds is called 'having a theory of mind'. In other words, when I'm writing this to you (all), I have a kind of generic theory of mind as to the audience I'm writing this for. This theory includes: What you probably know and don't know, how you might react upon reading this, what you might be interested in or not, how receptive you might be to information coming from me, etc.

Humans are not the only ones with theory of mind. Chimps and other apes clearly have them. It is an ability that has evolved, and in fact some theories of human origin consider the development of theory of mind as perhaps one of the most important factors in human origins, especially in our ability to hold so many theories of mind at once, e.g. each of your friends and family members, the various people you interact with on a daily basis, celebrities and authority figures, characters in books and other stories, etc. Not only apes, either, but also dolphins, elephants, I believe certain birds such as the grey parrot, I imagine probably dogs too actually (in fact I can't imagine that they wouldn't have some rudimentary theory of mind, even if it's not nearly as sophisticated as ours).

And the thought that such minds might be disembodied isn't so 'out there' either. When we imagine having some conversation with a friend in the future, our friend is not physically there, but we can still 'talk' to him or her in our imagination, and we can even anticipate many of their responses.

As a child, as soon as your mother leaves the room, you don't suddenly forget what she told you to do, or where she said she was going, or what she knows or doesn't know about (such as the cookie you stashed away), etc.

Just as children develop a theory of intuitive physics, and there are even concrete developmental stages at which certain concepts can be expected to appear, it seems reasonable (and has been researched a lot to confirm this) that they also develop a theory of intuitively understanding other minds.

Babies do not have a theory of physical permanence. If you cover an object briefly and then hide it away and pull back the cover, they are not surprised at all that the object is missing. It's just more wacky stuff happening in the world of experience; it's all new to them, so they don't have any expectations either way.

But at a certain age (like 2 or 3 or something, I forget), they come to expect that covered objects remain in place until they are uncovered again; i.e. that objects have a 'permanence' beyond our sight of them. At this age, these children will react with surprise when a briefly covered object appears to 'disappear', like magic (in fact, most magic/illusionism plays on these common but subtly flawed intuitive theories of physics that people have even as adults).

Similarly, a baby has no clue that the blob of colour that comes along with The Boob has thoughts and feelings and awareness and knowledge and all that. It's just another blob of colour. (Well, actually, there is a region of the brain which we are born with that is pre-adapted to recognize faces, so probably the blob of colour appears to be a 'different kind' of blob than other blobs, but there's no theory of mind associated with it yet.)

It takes time for theory of mind to develop, and I imagine it even keeps getting refined over our whole lifetime. I've learned lots about how others think and believe in the last few years, and I imagine others do too.

So, it's not surprising that one of the stages of theory of mind, just like the visual illusion of 'disappearing objects', is that of 'disembodied minds'.

And it's not even surprising that 'disembodied minds' can extend into adult-hood, just like many people are still surprised at basic magic tricks, though they might not quite believe in 'magic' (although strangely they probably believe in miracles; hmm, maybe that's not so strange).

Gods and the afterlife come after disembodied minds, and they require cultural knowledge, such as knowledge of death, and knowledge of myth. This research has nothing to do with such cultural influence, and so either the researchers are exaggerating (perhaps in their own press release, to generate public interest), or the news agency that picked this up is exaggerating.

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By the way, this article got

By the way, this article got me thinking that we need to come up with a word for 'the conception of another mind', so that we can distinguish this conception from the conception of 'spirits' for example.

By 'conception' of another mind, I mean the idea that you hold in your head (brain) about some real or imagined other mind (person or non-person such as animal).

Any ideas for a good word for this?

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I don't think the article is

I don't think the article is exaggerating or the researchers are off the mark. This has already been confirmed

 

http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~ara/Manuscripts/AtranNorenzayanBBS.pdf

 

 


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 redneF wrote:  

 

redneF wrote:

 

Quote:
Humans 'Predisposed' to Believe in Gods and the Afterlife

 

ScienceDaily (July 14, 2011) — A three-year international research project, directed by two academics at the University of Oxford, finds that humans have natural tendencies to believe in gods and an afterlife.

 

Oh really?

 

Where did they find humans that were born and raised in a 'folklore' vacuum??

 

The same place that they found an MP who though that it was reasonable to soak the British tax payer to the tune of four million dollars for this “genius” bit of “science”.

 

Trust me on this one: If humans weren't predisposed to such crap, it wouldn't exist.

 

Actually, that gives me an idea for a “research” grant. Here is the plan:

 

The government will give me four million dollars to “research” whether common sense is really common or not. If I actually get the cash then it ain't.

 

redneF wrote:

 

Quote:
Interestingly, we found that religion is less likely to thrive in populations living in cities in developed nations where there is already a strong social support network.'

 

They must be talking about Vegas!

 

Come on now! You know that what happen in Vegas stays in Vegas. Unless, of course, you are a famous gay guy who gets mauled by a tiger on stage but then there is an exception to every rule...

NoMoreCrazyPeople wrote:
Never ever did I say enything about free, I said "free."

=


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Cpt_pineapple wrote:I don't

Cpt_pineapple wrote:

I don't think the article is exaggerating or the researchers are off the mark. This has already been confirmed

 

http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~ara/Manuscripts/AtranNorenzayanBBS.pdf

 

58 pages, which in the abstract does not contradict anything I said. If you want to make a point, you're going to have to quote something. I'm not reading the whole thing.

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Answers in Gene Simmons

Answers in Gene Simmons wrote:

 

 

redneF wrote:

 

 

They must be talking about Vegas!

 

Come on now! You know that what happen in Vegas stays in Vegas. Unless, of course, you are a famous gay guy who gets mauled by a tiger on stage but then there is an exception to every rule...

Youtube Atheist ZomGITSCriss is heading to Vegas. Too bad that I am not going with her.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTF7FL8zwiU

 

 

“It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.”
― Giordano Bruno