(From the Daily Telegraph, London, by Richard Alleyne, 7 September 2009)

Humans may have evolved to believe in god and superstitions because it helps them to co-ordinate group action better, scientists claimed.
Religion became a survival instinct, according to researchers who studied the way brains develop from childhood and behave during spiritual experiences.

Groups of humans with religious tendencies benefitted from their beliefs, perhaps because they co-operated and had a greater chance of survival.
They thrived compared to their atheist relatives and, after many years, the instinct was passed on in their genes.

The findings challenge campaigners against organised religion, such as Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. He has argued that religious beliefs result from poor education and childhood “indoctrination.”

Prof. Bruce Hood, a psychologist at Bristol University, has suggested that religion is similar to children’s belief in imaginary friends. He said: “Our research shows children have a natural, intuitive way of reasoning that leads them to all kinds of supernatural beliefs about how the world works. As they grow up, they overlay these beliefs with more rational approaches but the tendency to illogical supernatural beliefs remains as religion.”

Prof. Hood, who will present his findings at the British Association’s annual meeting this week, sees organised religion as just one of many supernatural beliefs. In one study, he found that even atheists balked at the idea of accepting an organ transplant from a murderer, because of a superstitious belief that an individual’s personality could be stored in their genes. “This shows how superstition is hard-wired into our brains”, he said.

Tags: imaginary friend, religion, supernatural, superstition, survival instinct

Views: 239

Replies to This Discussion

@Jason.

I think that Dawkins believes that education is all that is required to prevent the continued spread of religion. I think Hood believes that education is an important factor but that it is a little more complicated than that. I am with Hood on that one.
Religion is a memetic virus that encourages belief in certain false patterns. It's successful because people have an innate tendency to see false patterns as real. It goes without saying that the hosts of the disease are equipped with the necessary biology to support it. But I don't think even Dawkins suggests that we can eradicate the innate desire and tendency to connect dots, even when they don't have anything to do with each other. I think Dawkins is just saying that only education can provide the correct connections and eliminate the incorrect connections. I doubt that education can ever be 100% successful in that, basically because some people are so detached from reality, but it is the only possible tool to attempt to do so, and I see no reason to believe religion could not be gutted by education. It happened in Scandinavia, it's happening in Europe generally, and it's even happening in the US, though we got a late start and are encountering stiff resistance.

Religion is clearly culturally transmitted, and as such, subject to the possibility that culture will decide to transmit something else instead. Like scientific knowledge. Atheist genes are not different from theist genes, after all.

Then again, maybe atheists are an emerging species, call it homo skepticus. Maybe we have a sufficiently different brain structure that cognitive dissonance causes us intolerable pain. But judging by my own occasional gullibility, I doubt it. Still, if we are an emerging species, we're already setting up barriers to interbreeding.
@Don

'Born again athiests". LOL Good one, Don.
Does that mean that we ex-sheep are now BAA lambs?
"Born again" is a common reference. Notice the Greek mysteries, where initiates were "reborn" in an artificial womb (cave); modern fraternities; most secret societies. The Christians probably stole the concept from the Greeks, and fraternities (I don't know about sororities, but suspect similar in initiation rites) possbily from Celtic practices. "Born again," refers to enlightenment, or acceptance of a particular social discipline. One might think that could apply to Libertarians, n'est-ce-pas?

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