Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Is religious belief innate?

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Last Saturday I attended a day of talks based around the theme "God in the Lab", hosted by the Centre for Inquiry UK. One of the talks was by Dr Justin Barrett from the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, who discussed the idea that children are biologically disposed to believe in God.

Barrett was on this morning's Today programming, discussing the idea with biologist (and New Humanist contributor) Professor Lewis Wolpert. You can listen again to that online.

The blogger from the blog No Double Standards was actually at the CFI event producing live updates, so you can catch up with information on all four talks by visiting that site.

3 comments:

Jean-Louis Piraux said...

Interesting chat (in particular the last comment by Barrett). The attentive reader of "God Delusion" will be familiar with such concepts (see section "Psychology prime for religion" in chapter 5).

No doubt theists will jump on this as prooving the religious nature of human beings, and therefore, the existence of God. Which of course is non-sensical: our brain also naturally generates optical illusions, and this does not prove optical illusion are right or have any meaningful value.

faithlessgod said...

Hi Paul

Thanks for the link and good to put a face to a name, it was you I sat next to for a few minutes?

Martin

Anonymous said...

The evolutionary advantage of a predictive capability [survival] has left us humans with neural equipment to seek understanding of our environment. It has also left us with a reward system, feelings of joy or awe when successful, which ensures that we keep looking for explanations.

Unfortunately, when we can see no mechanism for an important phenomenon we are tempted to fall back on mind as an explanation. A capricious mind in charge of, say, the river that floods at the wrong time has explanatory if not predictive power. The absence of a detectable body for this mind leads directly to the concept of a god.

Our reward system kicks in whether understanding comes from discovery or through revelation and we feel the same joy, awe and conviction. In the absence of a rational mechanism we are indeed primed to 'believe in god'.

No child should be exposed to the religious 'explanation' first because they will thus be trained to reject rather than examine alternative explanations.