Monday, July 18, 2011

Religious feelings: hard wired?

Here's a penetrating article on the neuroscience of belief: "Science and religion: God didn't make man; man made gods" (L.A. Times, July 18, 2011)

It begins by quoting the song "Imagine" by John Lennon: ""no heaven … / no hell below us …/ and no religion too." But the article continues with a discussion of why our brains can't do that. Some of the obstacles:
Scientists have so far identified about 20 hard-wired, evolved "adaptations" as the building blocks of religion. Like attachment, they are mechanisms that underlie human interactions: Brain-imaging studies at the National Institutes of Health showed that when test subjects were read statements about religion and asked to agree or disagree, the same brain networks that process human social behavior — our ability to negotiate relationships with others — were engaged.

Among the psychological adaptations related to religion are our need for reciprocity, our tendency to attribute unknown events to human agency, our capacity for romantic love, our fierce "out-group" hatreds and just as fierce loyalties to the in groups of kin and allies. Religion hijacks these traits. The rivalry between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, for example, or the doctrinal battles between Protestant and Catholic reflect our "groupish" tendencies.

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