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Psycasm

Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

ResearchBlogging.org

If you're new to Psycasm, feel free to skip the following preamble. It's mostly just background. I'd like to think it does have some interesting links to past works, however (both mine, and of others).

---

The following post is in response to a comment made by Michael Blume (who has previously graced LabSpaces with a Dangerous Experiments post), who, in repsonse to my post regarding the Cognitive Differences Between Christians and Atheists suggested I might be interested in work done by Ara Norenzayan (at the University of British Columbia).

Though it may seem I tend to fixate on religion, I assure you this is not the case. Prior to this post I have made approximately 2 1/2 posts on religion (the 1/2 was on Near-Death Experiences; which was more about bad science than it was about religion specifically) out of 60 posts (total, including this one). I have actually written more about shonky science and skepticism, Sexual Preferences, playing games (the virtual and real kinds) and my Podcast, than I have about religion. I start my post with this preamble because I suspect this post will get a lot of traffic, and generate a lot of interesting discussion, and I certainly don't want to become a Mini-PZ; anymore than I want to become the guy who writes about Sex all the time (try Robert Kurzban, with a very interesting Evo Psychology Blog), or about Skepticism (try Ben Goldacre's 'Bad Science' Blog).

Religion is a naturally fascinating topic, and though I don't particularly hold aspirations to research it myself (at the given moment), I am greatly interested in reading what has been said regarding it. Norenzayan's work was recommended to me, and I have found it interesting in and of itself; additionally, it (in part) ties into the next Psychobabble podcast, which is on the topic of Morality and Disgust.

---

Here, Ladies and Gentlemen, is eloquent product of evolution - defending the relationship between ['absolute'] morality and [secular] reason:

I have presented the Dawkins response as it’s relevant to the findings of Shariff et al (2008). I chose it because it is a well mannered response to religious claims. However, one doesn’t have to look too hard to find Dawkins mocking, in the most eloquent of terms, the beliefs of the Religious; particularly the out-spoken, policy-influencing types. I raise this point because criticisms levelled at Dawkins can easily take the form of ‘Oh, he’s not convincing. He just polarizing!’. Intuitively that feels right. How can one influence the opinion of the devout away from their base, and vice versa?

Well, it turns out Dawkins does influence the devout.

Participants responded to explicit items measuring their faith (e.g. I believe in God; I consider myself a religious person), and implicit items (as measure on an IAT between religious terms [God, Angel, Heaven, Hell, etc] and False, Untrue, Bogus and True, Genuine, Actual, etc.).

Participants (77 Christians (Catholics, Protestant), 7 Jews, 3 Buddhists, 1 Muslim, 1 Hindu, 17 ‘No Religion’) read an excerpt from The Nullifidian – in which Dawkins explains how and why natural selection is a sufficient process to form complex and sophisticated biological agents, contrary to the claims of the ‘Intelligent Design’ crowd. 61 Participants, in the control condition, wrote about their favourite food.

After being exposed to the anti-religion argument participants showed significant less religiosity in explicit and implicit measures.

What Shariff et al (2008) were looking at was the nature of belief as a trait factor in personality. That is, the immutability of faith. Does conviction vary over time (evidence suggests it does, but usually with big events, like divorce and marriage, etc), and if so, in response to what, and to what degree?

There was no indication of an ulterior ‘atheists vs. theist’ argument. And though social desirability was raised as a possibility among the explicit measures (university setting, lab setting, Dawkins as prime), the IAT is fairly robust against such things. They conclude that ‘the current results do demonstrate the effectiveness of pro-evolutionary, anti-religion arguments, as well as the existence of a certain fluidity in people’s religious convictions.’; which is not evidence of the ‘atheist vs. theist’ point of view, but a conclusion based upon the goals of folks like Dawkins.

It is disappointing, however, that the reverse was not measured (Atheists being ‘convinced’ by a charismatic, eloquent religious proponent). Additionally, the duration of the effect was not determined, as admitted by the authors - Are theists influenced for 10 minutes? An hour? A day? A month?

The second of the most interesting Norenzayan papers involves anthropomorphization.

If you had to make a decision, forced-choice, either/or kind of thing, which is the most human:

Volcano                                    or                                         Tree

The following paper relates to Terror Management Theory (TMT). Without knowing much about this area, I find the name a little misleading – draw your own conlusion. TMT ‘posits that we are motivated by a fear of death to construct meaningful cultural worldviews and maintain self–esteem. We create cultural structures that impart our lives with purpose and self–importance and which ultimately function to assuage death anxiety (Greenberg, Solomon, & Pyszczynski, 1997; Solomon, Greenberg, Schimel, Arndt, & Pyszczynski, 2004)., as cited in Norenzayan et al (2008).

They go on… While it is clear that humankind will never be able to escape physical death, we can evade death symbolically by becoming meaningful players in our cultural systems. If cultural worldview maintenance and self–esteem are effective buffers against death anxiety, then reminding people of death should strengthen both the desire to cling to their cultural values and the desire to live up to the standards of these values (i.e., self–esteem).

There is, apparently, a great deal of evidence to support this theory. I, however, do not know enough to comment.

Participants (52 Christian [Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox], 58 Nonreligious [Atheist, Agnostic] were assigned to a Death prime, a Dental Pain prime, or a control (neutral) prime.

In the Death prime participants were asked to write a paragraph on What will happen when you die. They were instructed to write in as much detail as possible, and to focus on what emotions were aroused within them. The Dental prime condition was the same, except they were asked to write about a painful dental experience (or imagine one, presumably).

Participants were then asked to rate pictures of a volcano and a tree on a number of adjectives, which included Wise, Angry, Self-confident, Conscious, Malicious, and Mindful on a scale of 1 – 9.

They found a couple of main effects* - Everyone anthropomorphized less when death was made salient, and everyone anthropomorphized the tree more than the volcano. They did find through ‘exploratory analysis’ that Christians tended to anthropomorphize less than the Nonreligious (r = -.27); though this ought to be taken with a grain of salt, as no other correlations of this kind were found. It is possible this is just a false positive, and that Christians, like everyone else, anthropomorphize to the same degree. Yet they claim in the Discussion that there is a theoretical underpinning for Christians to anthropomorphize less when threatened (due to the nature and history of their religion, apparently).  I’m unconvinced that such an effect would manifest true in general samples of these populations. Maybe, maybe, maybe you’d find it (if it exists) if you looked at extremely devout folk, but there’s no reason why you’d find the opposite in atheist. It seems to me that individual differences play a much bigger role on this one.

Overall I thought this paper had an interesting premise, but didn’t end with any strong or mind-blowing conclusions. It might have been interesting to see how anthropomorphizing occurred in non-human targets, and not just non-agentic targets. What about kittens, and puppies, and grass-hoppers? Just spinning my wheels here, but if one were more inclined to a vitalistic perspective (the idea that there is more to life than biology and chemistry; i.e. a soul, or a force of some sort) we might see systematic differences in anthropomorphization of those targets. The grass-hopper may be wise, and the puppy mischievous. Doesn’t that just sit a little better than a wise tree, or a conscious volcano?

Anthropomorphism is one thing; Fate is another.

Fate seems more intuitively associated with certain groups and certain people than is the way in which perceive the human-ness of a tree, or a volcano (or a cloud, or a boulder, or whatever...).

Norenzayan and Lee (2010) asked participants a few questions about John, a homeless man.

It was a freezing night and John, a penniless starving homeless person, was desperately searching for food in every garbage can. John had not eaten for three days. While searching he found a lottery ticket on the ground, which indeed was a winning ticket and John received two million dollars from it. The money changed John’s life entirely.

Target event: John found a lottery ticket that rewarded two million dollars.

a) To what extent was this event determined by fate?

Not at all determined by fate Entirely determined by fate
|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|
1     2     3     4      5     6     7     8     9

and...

b) To what extent was this event determined by John’s personal actions?

c) Even if John had not found the lottery ticket on the ground, two million dollars would have come into his hands in
some other way sooner or later.

Variations and control conditions were also presented, including ones with negative outcomes, and ones where another party was responsible for action (e.g. a soldier spraying bullets) vs. chance outcomes (as above).

The participants involved in the study were 171 students (134 women, 37 men). 35 were European Christians, 46 were European Nonreligious; 45 were East Asian Christians, and 45 were East Asian Nonreligious.

They found Christians made more fate attributions than Nonreligious, and that East Asians made more fate attributions than Europeans.

So, there was a main effect of Religion; and there was a main effect of cultural identity. These effects were mediated** by measures of one's devotion to God (in the first instance), and an understanding of causal complexity (in the second instance) (causal complexity is simply defined as an 'holistic' approach to understanding complex phenomenon). The relationship between fate attributions between Nonreligious and Religious was fully mediated by devotion to God.*** There was more, but it just gets more technical (This was Study 3, of a total 4).

This kind of stands to reason, really. It's almost unthinkable to consider a Christian God who doesn't intervene or involve himself in the affairs of his creations. Those who reject that premise, must also reject the fuzzy notion that something out there cares for, and involves itself, in our puny lives (sure, there's exceptions, there's spiritualism, etc). More research into this area would be illuminating.

Ultimately, the question that must be asked is, in what direction is causation? With all studies of this kind is it those who are highly sensitive to agency that conform to religion, and those that do not who leave? Or is it that those who conform to religion develop a greater sense of agency, than those who do not?

I think that this is the most important question in this field of work, but for obvious reasons, it's the most difficult question to assess. What would you do? Experimental deprive children of a cultural-religious upbringing? Experimental convert atheists into religious, or de-convert the religious into atheists? That seems like the kind of thing that an ethical board would frown upon (ironically, however, it would seem like the ethical course one ought to pursue from a position on either side of the fence...). Additionally, it seems like it would be a very, very hard thing to do; and a task which would be amazing difficult to control, and influenced by countless social, individual, and historical variables.

All these papers (referenced below) are available here to download (Ara Norenzayan).

---

*Main effects are when one factor influences scores across all cells.

**A Mediating variable is a variable by which the relationship observed is explained by an indirect mechanism. Such that A does not lead wholly to B, unless in the presence of C.

***A leads to B, ONLY in the presence of C

---

If you're of a Philosophical Persuasion, click here

---

Norenzayan, A., & Lee, A. (2010). It was meant to happen: Explaining cultural variations in fate attributions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98 (5), 702-720 DOI: 10.1037/a0019141

Shariff, A., Cohen, A., & Norenzayan, A. (2008). The Devil’s Advocate: Secular Arguments Diminish both Implicit and Explicit Religious Belief Journal of Cognition and Culture

Norenzayan, A., Hansen, I., & Cady, J. (2008). An Angry Volcano? Reminders of Death and Anthropomorphizing Nature Social Cognition, 26 (2), 190-197 DOI: 10.1521/soco.2008.26.2.190

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Blog Comments
Monado

Guest Comment

One suspects that atheists would be a bit more, um, skeptical.

 

It would also be interesting to take religous and non-religious folk and give them an unrelated argument, e.g. try to sell them a gadget and see what kind of arguments they found convincing, e.g. argument from authority, status, engineering details, energy-saving, etc.

Michael Blume

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I liked your post and thoughts! The scientific exploration of religiosity is a thriving field and deserves to be discussed in the blogosphere. I will gladly RT your link.

Please keep up the good work! :-)

Doutor Fleischman-Slump

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Fear to death and fear to changes is what characterice a religious (and conservative) person. And they are more because is an evolutionary advantage since in nature if you hear a little noise and feel fear because you think is a lion, you ran away; but the skeptical thinks "maybe was the wind, I'm going to check". If was the wind no problem at all, but if was a lion, the skeptical is death... To belive, to have fear, to have faith, is evolutionary favourable (even is boring and it brakes the social evolution and progress), and because of that the religion is so present in human beings...


yannisguerra
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My main issue with studies about religion and its interaction with other parts of human psyche is that it is very difficult to standarize it and operationalize the definition of "being religious". The Pope is equally religious by most of the study definitions as my cousin that goes to church twice a year. But I am sure that the underlying psychological mechanisms are different. And as you know Psycasm, whenever you have bad definitions for your population...you get a bad study (GIGO principle).

And I would disagree with your statement "It's almost unthinkable to consider a Christian God who doesn't intervene or involve himself in the affairs of his creations. Those who reject that premise, must also reject the fuzzy notion that something out there cares for, and involves itself, in our puny lives (sure, there's exceptions, there's spiritualism, etc)." Check out Deism (which several of the founding fathers were said to practice) and Unitarianism. There are perfectly well defined groups of christian believers that do not believe in supernatural intervention.  You are trying to use logic and rationality to bound the possibilities of a practice that does not need logic OR rationality. Therefore your conclusions will be wrong! Tongue out

Nice article. Not incendiary enough, though.


Psycasm
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@Monado - interesting point about the argument there - is it the appeal of the argument which is persuading, and not necessarily the message. I mean Dawkins oozes authority and confidence, and speaks in a very accessible way. If Dawkins was trying to sell canned beans, would he be just as good as selling atheism?

 

@Blume - thanks very much. I mainly notified you because you recommended his work, and I thought it was quite interesting. Thanks.

 

@yannis - not incendiary enough... there's no pleasing some people. Tongue out


Psycasm
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Doutor Fleischman-Slump said:

Fear to death and fear to changes is what characterice a religious (and conservative) person. And they are more because is an evolutionary advantage since in nature if you hear a little noise and feel fear because you think is a lion, you ran away; but the skeptical thinks "maybe was the wind, I'm going to check". If was the wind no problem at all, but if was a lion, the skeptical is death... To belive, to have fear, to have faith, is evolutionary favourable (even is boring and it brakes the social evolution and progress), and because of that the religion is so present in human beings...

 

... that's a 'just so' story. If your claim that religion provides a survival advantage due to 'increased fear of death' and so prevents over-inquirey into potential threats, I have just one question for you:

Why haven't chimps (any any other animal, for that matter) developed religion in order to prevent such unneccessary deaths?

Religion may provide many evolutionary advantages, but it's far more likely they are based around social concepts such as ingroup preferences (in mate selection, in trust, in economic matters), ingroup altruism, trust, mutual support, and conformity.

The point you made really annoys me, and Brian Dunning of Skeptoid, made a near identical argument in one of his recent podcasts. All animals are entirely capable of threat detection, and more likely in a very holistic manner. To assume that religion instil a fear of death and heightens one's instincts against threats is just post-hoc rationalizations and just-so story telling.

The only instance in which I can imagine an evolutionary pressure that involves religion, fear of death, lions and christians relates to ancient Rome... and even then that would serve to weed the christians out, not select in their favour...

 


Lesley Fellows
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Hello - I am new around here and really enjoyed your post. My response is here. My main concern is to reduce the level of warring that seems to abound and in particular the level of mockery...


Suzy
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Nice post Lesley. Good discussion.

I agree with your point that that Dawkins is challenging people to think, and teaching people. I think that is a good thing. For him to have an effect, the students would have to be open to receiving ideas of what may be true from various sources. They are thinking and deciding on their own. That's the way it should be.

This would be true if the opposite experiment were performed as well, most likely.

 

 


Psycasm
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Jade, I agree. I suspect there would be more religiousity / spiritual conformity if exposed to an equally charismatic religous figure.

 


Psycasm
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@lesley -  I read you post, and agree that testing a small university sample is probably not representative. And I dont' disagree in principle with any given argument you made in your post. I'm not really quite sure how (or even if) I should respond, though I do wonder what exactly your position is aiming to achieve.

It's not difficult to read between the lines of my post to determine my position on such things, but I really did try to keep the post on the science without concluding that we ought to exposing everyone to Dawkins. My main point - and I really do believe this to be the most important thing I could have done with this post - is to question the direction of causality.

I guess I would be interested on your thoughts of that - are the religious cognitively predisoposed to religion (and the atheists vice versa), or does becoming (remaining?) religious influence cognitive patterns.

 


Lesley Fellows
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Hi Jade and Psycasm - sorry about the delay - just found your comments in my spam box.

 

I think what my position is trying to achieve is to get more understanding and light rather than disagreement and heat. Likewise I didn't disagree with what you wrote. I suppose my biggest gripe is that I don't see faith as a linear thing - there are so many different types of faith,my faith being Liberal would answer the questions set very differently to someone who is Evangelical and different again to someone who may be Buddhist and atheist.

 

Yes you did question it - and rightly so. Part of the problem is faith isn't about knowing things by definition.. whereas Science is about knowing things, albeit in my research only finding a theory that fits slightly better with the data than the previous theory... Faith is more about experience, and hence I wonder whether rational argument argues anyone into faith.

 

Gosh that is a big question. I doubt it has a singlar answer. I obviously hang out with a lot of religious people and so do have some insight into this. Some people seem to be aware of God from as far back as they remember (excuse me using the term God in this way - I appreciate you may prefer to put in a term like "delusion of a god"), and that is true if they are brought up in atheist homes as well as religious. For me, I had absolutely no sense of God until I was 7 and then the idea seemed ridiculous until I was 14 when I became a Christian. Nonetheless, part of the reason for my conversion was that the worldview including God fitted better with my experience than my atheist worldview.

 

There is certainly something to the idea that once you embrace a worldview you keep seeing evidence to back it up (bit like when you buy a new car you suddenly see loads of them).

 

I believe there is evidence that those brought up in loving homes have a greater sense of a loving God as a child, even if the parents don't mention the concept of God..

 

It is a very interesting question. The other question, I guess is whether I would separate 'religion' from faith.. So.. there are people who don't believe in God as such, but they are deeply superstitious - touch wood and all that. They somehow feel that they can get greater control of their lives by reading horoscopes or sacrificing a virgin to the sea god or whatever. The thing that Freud calls 'the trauma of self consciousness', ie we could die today or our loved ones get cancer or an earthquake could strike or our crops could fail... and we have no control. Better to not believe this and invent a god or a superstition that means we will be ok if we do some ritual or other. This exists in Christianity too. But is that separate from 'faith' which I see as a relationship with the Living God? I would say yes. SO... does that go any way to answering your question?


Suzy
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Hi Lesley,

"Faith is more about experience, and hence I wonder whether rational argument argues anyone into faith."

This is a great point. So true.

"Some people seem to be aware of God from as far back as they remember"

This is me. I felt like I was born knowing. I can't remember a time when I didn't know God. Before I knew what church was and who Jesus was, I knew God.

"believe there is evidence that those brought up in loving homes have a greater sense of a loving God as a child, even if the parents don't mention the concept of God.."

This is interesting. Would be interesting to read more on this. I think God knew I was going to need extra help right from day one.


Psycasm
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@Lesley -

 

With regard to your final point, Did you address my question, to which I must respond - I'm afraid not. My question was 'are the differences observed between theists and atheists manifest such that they predispose one to religion, or become so after one becomes involved in religion'. And yes, I do admit there is likely miles of grey area between those two explanations, but even so, it can be explored. You do make a couple of points, which I'm afraid, do not address that question.

...and Just a minor point, I wouldn't prefer the term 'delusion of a god'. I can know God as I know Elmo, or the Easter Bunny. It's useful to acknowledge the reality of subjective experience in order to understand it. You're reality is real to you, as is mine.

You make a couple of points:

That there are many kinds of faith. That's like saying they're are many flavours of ice-cream. Ice-creams will always share certain characteristics of other ice-creams, as will having 'faith'. Faith, by definition, is knowing that which is unknowable based on something other than evidence. Whether my faith is in Allah, Christ, or Thor does matter, but ultimately the act is cognitively similar.

Faith, you claim, is about experience. Additionally, you claim that "part of the reason for my conversion was that the worldview including God fitted better with my experience than my atheist worldview."

No problem with that, so long as you're content that arguing from personal experience and for convenience is relevant only to yourself. Such argument appear distinctly leaky when one starts suggesting society, or policy, or organizations, should adopt such things.

By arguing from personal experience and for convenience it would be apt to say that Quantum Physics is a joke, because Newton explains everything that I (as an macro-level individual) need to know, additionally, Quantum Physics is hard, but Newton is easy. Now I might choose to reject Quantum Physics for those reasons, but it would be folly (even arrogant) for me to suggest that others should do the same.

Could you clarify?

I believe there is evidence that those brought up in loving homes have a greater sense of a loving God as a child, even if the parents don't mention the concept of God..

You make the claim of evidence? Do you have it? The statement, however, would stand alone just find if it was...

I believe there is evidence that those brought up in loving homes have a greater sense of a loving God as a child, even if the parents don't mention the concept of God..

Again, it's an argument from personal experience, convenience, and this time confirmation bias (as you mention regarding the new car). Additionally, it's a very strange argument. I was brought up in a loving home, and yet I did not know God. The counter, naturally, is to suggest that perhaps I wasn't bought up in a home that was loving (enough) for me to know God - which is inherently weak. And why God? Was that a semantic mistake, did you mean something more broad? Or specifically a Christian God? Good little Muslims and Hindi's clearly grow up learning about non-christian Gods, and so the specificity seems misplaced.

However, I digress. Being clear, using terms like God (which in my post I tried to specify which Gods are being referred to by including the participant data), and using terms like 'evidence' must be appropriate. This is a really, really, important point. If there is to be a dialogue, there needs to be a common set of rules.

Though my post was not explicitly one-way or the other, I used terms that science literate folk all agree on (not suggesting you do, or do not, belong to that camp). Evidence means something specific - it's invokation without support is merely handwaving, and unlikely to be conducive of dialogue. That's why my post has a list of references at the end, and is not just me going 'I have a hunch that Christians are different from atheists. I'm probably right'.

I hope this hasn't been too long winded, and I have in the past been accused of being overly blunt. I apologize if this is the case, since for the longest time, I was not aware of it in my writings. However, I do not believe you addressed the question (which isn't a major problem) because you're response (blog and this reply) was in itself interesting and worth reading. I did, however, feel that my position (and yours) did (do) need to be clarified.

 


Lesley Fellows
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My question was 'are the differences observed between theists and atheists manifest such that they predispose one to religion, or become so after one becomes involved in religion'.

Sorry – lets try to work towards answering you question, sounds interesting.

My first clarification I need is what do you think the differences are?

...ok glad you are happy with the term ‘God’.

Whether my faith is in Allah, Christ, or Thor does matter, but ultimately the act is cognitively similar.

- I think the issue for me is I see two types of faith, that which is driven by control and the desire to control, and that which is driven by love. I don’t think they are similar.

- Also, would you put Buddhism and Confuciusism in the same category as they don’t necessarily require you to believe in God, and nor does Quakerism or Unitarianism, for that matter.

- Perhaps there are two things – a belief in God and a spiritual discipline that people find helpful… the problem is that these things overlap significantly.

- Sorry if you feel I am being evasive – I’m not, I just don’t see the differences between atheists and theists as clearly as you.

Faith, you claim, is about experience. Additionally, you claim that "part of the reason for my conversion was that the worldview including God fitted better with my experience than my atheist worldview."

No problem with that, so long as you're content that arguing from personal experience and for convenience is relevant only to yourself. Such argument appear distinctly leaky when one starts suggesting society, or policy, or organizations, should adopt such things.

Absolutely clear that it is only personal experience and your personal experience is just as valid as mine and I have no interest in imposing one worldview over another in society – we need to work together to find laws that are just for all and promote equality of all people.

Could you clarify? I believe there is evidence that those brought up in loving homes have a greater sense of a loving God as a child, even if the parents don't mention the concept of God..

It was a paper that I read, I think when I was studying Bowlby’s attachment theory. I’ll see if I can find it again. Happy to use the word ‘evidence’ in the right context.


Psycasm
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So there is a faith motivated (mediated?) by love/compassion/inclusiveness (I may be taking some liberties with those terms) and a faith motivated (med.?) by control.

That sounds reasonable. That would be an interesting thing to look at.

As for Buddhism, etc, that's an interesting question too. It doesn't require faith is some being, but does require faith in a doctrine/philosophy. The bigger question, to my mind, is does that differ enough from both/either religious faith, and the adherence secular individuals have in same tacit, implicit natural philosophy or the law (or to whatever they subscribe, implicit, explicit, or otherwise). Seems easy enough to test, though. Just need a Buddhist sample (from Thailand, etc) and a control group.

So I agree, those are genuine questions worthy of enquirey. Addtionally, the love/control one is something that might be trait like, which might also predict religious involvement. I offer that direction of causality because, while it seems intuitive that religions *might* increase one's compassion, it would be distinctly creepy if it increased one's desire for control. I suspect both are trait-like (that is, relatively stable and unchanging) over an individuals life-span, and somewhat innate.

I'll see what I can find to be more informed regarding these questions.

Cheers


Lesley Fellows
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Re the loving/inclusive v controling/fearful, I think many of us feel this to be true. I also consider it to be trait-like. I think this TED video confirms it.

I think defining what you mean by religion would be quite helpful, and what the traits of the religious are. For instance, do Buddhists have greater faith in their philosophy than scientific materialists, who get very cross indeed if you call them religious.

I write a fairly weak post attempting to start that conversation here , religion having some mix of a belief in a supernatural agency, some description of appropriate morality, some spiritual rituals/exercises, some spiritual experiences, a community and some doctrine. However I think the only thing that new atheists consider as religious is the first of these things, which for me, as a religious person, is not that important... and indeed the same is true for many religions or religious groups. Take for instance AA...

I am really interested in what differences you are wanting to test for, because I suppose I see religion not as icecream, where you either have it or not albeit in different flavours, but more as dna - something complex with many aspects - so some people have white skin, others black and there are all different shades in between could be a metaphor for the belief in the supernatural, then some people have big noses and others small could be a metaphor for morality, and so on....


Psycasm
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For instance, do Buddhists have greater faith in their philosophy than scientific materialists, who get very cross indeed if you call them religious

There's a reason this is the case. 'Scientific materialists' change their mind. If you look at what buddhists (or anyone subscribing to a dogma) believed 100 years ago, and what scientists believed 100 years ago, you'll find there's a greater change with the 'scientific materialists' than with dogmatics.

(dogma used in the literal sense, not any judgemental sense)...

I think you're second point regarding the New Atheists attacking the spiritual side of things within organized religion, and igoring the [beneficial] social aspects, is because there's no beef with the social side of things. I'll be the first to admit that religion brings massive benefits to people through its inherent social aspects. From memory, religious folk live longer and are happier. AA, your comparison, isn't attacked on the same grounds because social organizations are usually good things. Now if AA was pushing some pseudo-science to cure alcoholism, I would be all over them like a rash. In fact, I'll endevour to look into it....

I think the DNA metaphor is a very interesting one, with a reasonable power to explain variation. And while evolution (pressure) acts on DNA and individual organisms, Religion seems to faction rather than adapt. I mean, look at the Vatican, look at the holy books... these things have retained much of their original form (if not intent, as well)... whereas those who disagree do not reform the existing body, but create a new 'superior' one, more true to the perceptions of the original intended 'form' of the old. Having said that, the DNA is a very provactive analogy, one which might be worth exploring further.


Lesley Fellows
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When I use the term ‘scientific materialists’ I am not referring to scientists, but the philosophical worldview that has been adopted by the New Atheists. I have seen no change at all in their dogma, whereas I can’t speak for Buddhists, but Christianity has certainly moved in the last 100 years.

I know no Christians that believe in pseudo science nor any that are pushing it. I think it is a minority thing in England.

If you take the DNA metaphor, what I am saying is that there is a spectrum of beliefs, practices etc. In terms of fracturing, yes that sometimes happens, but there is a lot of adapting too.


Psycasm
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Perhaps it came down to my ignorance there, what is a scientific materialist?


Lesley Fellows
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Sorry - it is an ill-defined term - used principally about the 'New Atheists' - see here for example.

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