Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

“We’re all born believers”

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The way the mind works—assuming an agent is responsible to initiate movement, and readily accepting that agents can be invisible, plus an assumption that because we do things for a purpose, everything we see is similarly done for a purpose—predisposes us to religious belief. (This does not, of course, speaking the the factual truth of religious belief: that is, those who believe in a religion will view the mind’s structure as God helping us along toward finding Him, while those who disbelieve in religion will see religion as an outgrowth of a quirk of the mind developed via evolution—much as our minds push us toward common errors in decision-making. These quirks of our mind were studied intensely by Daniel Kahneman got a Nobel prize for the work he did with Amos Tversky (who had died by the time the prize was awarded) and gave rise to the new field of behavioral economics.

The common errors can be corrected, but knowing the tendency is useful in avoiding the errors. Winning Decisions, by Russo and Schoemaker, is an excellent guide to avoiding the most common errors to which evolution has directed our minds. Well worth study. An earlier version of the book, titled Decision Traps: The Ten Barriers to Decision-Making and How to Overcome Them, is readily available (link is to used editions for $1). It’s really an excellent book: the process of making a decision consists of 4 steps, and the book discusses the two most common errors made at each step, plus the most common error in even approaching the decision, and the common (and critical) error following the decision. Highly recommended. $1. Think about it.

To continue: Because our minds have a tendency to operate in a particular way does NOT (a) mean that we’re stuck with the automatic process/assumptions, nor (b) that the automatic process gives the best answers. Now that we can think, we can improve over the natural tendencies (just as we have improved our natural condition in nature by developing language, which led to the accumulation of human culture: the knowledge expressed through our daily activities of making and using things and ideas—at first just from observation but, as we developed our ability to reason (beyond mere rationalization) and to create carefully structured experience (experiments) as a way to learn specific things).

At any rate, scientists are beginning to discover why religion is such a common response to the phenomenon of existence, even though even the religious will agree that our evolved tendency to be religious leads most of us astray. That is, most people believe in false religions, a statement with which even the religious will agree. (Regardless of the religion that Person A believes, s/he’ll find that most of the world does not accept that religion but believes instead in a false religion (i.e., for Person A, a religion other than A’s own) or don’t believe in religion at all.

So what are these tendencies? Justin Barrett describes them in an article in New Scientist:

By the time he was 5 years old, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could play the clavier and had begun to compose his own music. Mozart was a “born musician”; he had strong natural talents and required only minimal exposure to music to become fluent.

Few of us are quite so lucky. Music usually has to be drummed into us by teaching, repetition and practice. And yet in other domains, such as language or walking, virtually everyone is a natural; we are all “born speakers” and “born walkers”.

So what about religion? Is it more like music or language?

Drawing upon research in developmental psychology, cognitive anthropology and particularly the cognitive science of religion, I argue that religion comes nearly as naturally to us as language. The vast majority of humans are “born believers”, naturally inclined to find religious claims and explanations attractive and easily acquired, and to attain fluency in using them. This attraction to religion is an evolutionary by-product of our ordinary cognitive equipment, and while it tells us nothing about the truth or otherwise of religious claims it does help us see religion in an interesting new light.

As soon as they are born, babies start to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2012 at 9:57 am

Posted in Religion, Science

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