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(Un)wired For God - Comments

robotaholic's Avatar Comment 1 by robotaholic

Before I get to the pesky new data, it's worth emphasizing that there are intriguing neurobiological findings suggesting that the brain may indeed be wired for God.

which one£ Thor£ Zeus£

Maybe the brain is wired for Yoda.

Sat, 29 Aug 2009 19:48:00 UTC | #392870

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 2 by Jos Gibbons

I was disappointed that the Newsweek article presented little in the way of evidence either for or against theism being hard-wired. The only attempt I noticed was the author conceding the possible argument for it being hard-wired, based on the sense of where the body ends malfunctioning in prayer - which is not so much evidence that anything is hard wired as that it has certain detrimental effects on that which is. The fact that the other side doesn't appear to have been defended at all is odd, given that it's her side. It's also sad for me, given that it's mine too!

The PDF was much better, if completely irrelevant since it doesn't discuss this topic either. Its topic is how well societies get on without religion. I loved the article for being so incredibly detailed, including telling you how statistically significant correlation coefficients were. (Occasionally it looked like religion had won one, until I noticed the number wasn't underlined, so whether positive or negative it didn't actually prove anything.)

The fact that it basically agreed with what I already think was fun too, but it goes without saying that's only a bonus. This looks like the kind of data Sam Harris sometimes references. I recommend it to everyone here. You'll just love the title: "The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions". That's an awesome insult!

Sat, 29 Aug 2009 20:12:00 UTC | #392874

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 3 by phil rimmer

The PDF is indeed brill.

Graphs 25 and 33 were my faves (You'll need to check the key at graph 1).

Aggregated successful society measure is clearly inversely proportional to absolute belief in God. The US, most believing, really flunks out.....

Graph 16 is sobering though.

....But the US are not unhappy about it. Clearly clappy happy makes up for the other losses (and the list is f**king long). In the land where all men are created equal, the greatest inequalities result. Together this points to religion being the most effective sop ever.

Keep 'em schmoozed rich folk! And don't forget the socialist threat (nee liberalism, nee communism) (As each bogeyman term loses its sting you move on...)

Sat, 29 Aug 2009 20:56:00 UTC | #392883

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 4 by Mr DArcy

phil rimmer has a point. If too much reason affects the social position of our leaders and those they represent, then woo woo will suddenly be encouraged again, as indeed happened in England after the French Revolution. Whatever else, don't let the dog see the rabbit!

Sat, 29 Aug 2009 21:27:00 UTC | #392886

prolibertas's Avatar Comment 5 by prolibertas

'I'll leave to braver souls the question of whether religiosity leads to social dysfunction, as the new breed of public atheists contends'.

The argument from those statistics is only that they show atheism is compatible with the moral aspirations of a civil society. At least, that was how Sam Harris presented it in Letter to a Christian Nation.

Sat, 29 Aug 2009 21:32:00 UTC | #392888

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 6 by rod-the-farmer

Can't get the PDF to load.

Sat, 29 Aug 2009 21:44:00 UTC | #392891

Michael Gray's Avatar Comment 7 by Michael Gray

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

Sat, 29 Aug 2009 21:59:00 UTC | #392892

Peter Clemerson's Avatar Comment 8 by Peter Clemerson

This might be the right place to give a plug to "Society without God" by Phil Zuckerman, who interviewed Danes and Swedes in some detail. It is cited by Gregory Paul and is an easy read.

Sat, 29 Aug 2009 22:29:00 UTC | #392903

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 9 by phil rimmer


emailed you a copy, in case that works.

Sat, 29 Aug 2009 22:37:00 UTC | #392905

Harvatos's Avatar Comment 10 by Harvatos

In a paper last month in the online journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gregory Paul finds that countries with the lowest rates of social dysfunction—based on 25 measures, including rates of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, unemployment, and poverty—have become the most secular. Those with the most dysfunction, such as Portugal and the U.S., are the most religious, as measured by self-professed belief, church attendance, habits of prayer, and the like.

I'll leave to braver souls the question of whether religiosity leads to social dysfunction, as the new breed of public atheists contends.

Well, I have for principle to always listen to empiricals evidences. Statistique are showing something here.

Sun, 30 Aug 2009 01:51:00 UTC | #392950

DalaiDrivel's Avatar Comment 11 by DalaiDrivel

"The ease with which large populations abandon serious theism when conditions are sufficiently benign . . . refute[s] hypotheses that religious belief and practice are the normal, deeply set human mental state."

Very interesting. I hadn't considered that before... a reversal of the "7 billion* people can't be wrong" argument of one Uri Geller in a recently posted article.

Also, the brief mentioning of the parietal lobe caught my attention in one of the initial paragraphs.

(*Note: It may not have been "7 billion," but I really don't care)

Sun, 30 Aug 2009 05:03:00 UTC | #392978

Carl Sai Baba's Avatar Comment 12 by Carl Sai Baba

The "Evolutionary Psychology" paper averages the entire US as a single country, compared to European countries individually, many of which are no bigger than an average US state.

It would make more sense to look for more homogeneous demographic areas to compare. Oklahoma vs. Sweden, not Sweden vs. the average of the entire US.

Sun, 30 Aug 2009 05:37:00 UTC | #392981

PERSON's Avatar Comment 13 by PERSON

"The ease with which large populations abandon serious theism when conditions are sufficiently benign . . . refute[s] hypotheses that religious belief and practice are the normal, deeply set human mental state."
This is true, but neglects the consequences of varying conditions. e.g. imagine Norway or Sweden is affected so severely by global warming induced flooding that the government is overwhelemed. Or perhaps its neighbours are and there start to be large numbers of refugees. Or there's an economic crisis. Can we say that none of these will impact religiosity? If they do, isn't that strong evidence for it being a hardwired set of mechanisms, like e.g. fear, only activated under certain circumstances?
Will be interested to read the articles in fuller detail.

Sun, 30 Aug 2009 05:49:00 UTC | #392986

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 14 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #410838 by thomas guihen

That is rubbish. The fact that Communists were guilty while irreligious of the same things of which many religious people, including Fascists (I hate to remind you they were Catholics!), were guilty is because belief held on insufficient evidence is what these groups had in common. Do NOT keep the belief system; given that all tyrannical acts were based on baseless beliefs, start requiring beliefs to have bases! Inflexible or otherwise, all religion fails to actually ... you know, prove its point? Even "harmless" baseless beliefs cannot be trusted. Until modern contraception, the belief in the homunculus was "harmless", but now it's making the AIDS epidemic impossible to seriously combat in Catholic areas. Besides which, as long as beliefs can only survive when evidence is not analysed, how much flexibility do you expect to see?

Sun, 30 Aug 2009 08:16:00 UTC | #393008

Carl Sai Baba's Avatar Comment 15 by Carl Sai Baba

thomas guihen on August 30, 2009 at 7:39 am
Right - Country should be compared to country irrespective of size.

There is no reason why "country" should be the unit of study. The subject appears to be religion, not political borders.

Sun, 30 Aug 2009 10:11:00 UTC | #393024

the great teapot's Avatar Comment 16 by the great teapot

Is religion the default position of the brain?
I don't know, my mums dog has never gone to church. Does that help answer the question.

Sun, 30 Aug 2009 10:18:00 UTC | #393025

Border Collie's Avatar Comment 17 by Border Collie

I've never understood why so many behaviors and or thought patterns are considered hard-wired simply because they are learned very early. I think that because the vast majority of the world's population is so poorly educated that religion provides simple spoon-fed answers to parents who subsequently spoon-feed their children same when the children begin to ask questions to which the parents have no sensible answers. Multiply that by billions and it's not so hard to understand why religion is so pervasive. At least that seems true in my case. I remember being fascinated with nature, stars, fossils, etc. when I was a very small child, but I have no memories of believing in any sort of supernatural thingy ... until my parents started cramming it down my throat when I asked questions. Little did I know that they hardly knew anything about anything. Goddidit is a really good sit-down-and-shut-up answer for ignorant parents.

Sun, 30 Aug 2009 12:44:00 UTC | #393054

pipsy's Avatar Comment 18 by pipsy

Religion may not be "the problem" it is just one of the biggest.

Sun, 30 Aug 2009 13:00:00 UTC | #393057

John Desclin's Avatar Comment 19 by John Desclin

I would not discuss the PDF file, which has little bearing on the posted article, as Jos Gibbons already pointed out.
What surprises me is that no one seems to remember what has already been stressed again and again on this site: religious people are believers as a result of the endoctrination they received from their parents during infancy and childhood. IMHO this hardly can be called hardwired belief in gawd!
The opposite aspect of this is the fact that children who were allowed to make their own beliefs much more frequently turn out to become agnostics or, as a reaction to deists and theists who bully them, they even became atheists.
I would not call this "hardwired", I would call it "imprinted"!
Why do people always forget that numerous cerebral cortical areas develop their "specific" connections only if they receive the "right" stimuli at the right time? (This is also valid for the development of vision and the acquisition of language!)
Thus, why not think that some areas of the cortex (the temporal lobe, for example) could either develop to "believe" in the value of critical thinking, or , on the contrary, in the value of believing in anything else - gawd, prayer or whatever - according to the early stimuli the brain would have been submitted to?
What's the need to postulate "hardwiring"?
I see Border Collie beat me to it ;^)

Sun, 30 Aug 2009 13:02:00 UTC | #393058

heresay's Avatar Comment 20 by heresay

Comment #410910 by John Desclin

I would not call this "hardwired", I would call it "imprinted"!

Completely agree regards imprinting and this seems to me to be where the dog shaped hole fits in.

Surely parents play godlike roles to their children during a child's early childhood as a natural consequence of their relationship. The child grows up, but the subconscious memory and comfort of a time when there were seemingly omnipotent beings capable of gratifying its' needs and desires remains.

Religion in many ways, is the security blanket from the crib still clung to in adult life.

Edit for clarity

Sun, 30 Aug 2009 13:43:00 UTC | #393065

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 21 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #410879 by thomas guihen

That you call Das Kapital/Mein Kampf evidence, while fitting in well with the tendency of theists to pretend their own text is evidence, is nonetheless wrong. So is your contention that the problem is fundamentalist and dogmatic belief, and not belief held on insufficient evidence.

To begin with, the latter is exactly what "dogmatic" means, unless you define a belief as dogmatic only when it's also firmly held in the presence of contrary evidence. But, by that logic, there was nothing "dogmatic" about the victims of the Jonestown massacre. How does anyone know those people didn't really benefit from said event in the way they were convinced they would? In the Russell's teapot sense.

Secondly, a "fundamentalist" belief differs from other irrational beliefs only in taking a text literally. If you wish to maintain that this is what it takes for a belief to be dangerous, please provide evidence. I can provide counter-evidence: the Catholic church, despite avoiding that approach, still managed to cause the homunculus danger I mentioned before.

No-one here denies that the things we hate about religion aren't unique to it. We only care whether religion has them, since that's the criterion for complaining about it. What often annoys us is religion being treated with double standards in the form of kid gloves. We do not treat it with double standards, of that variety or any other. Please, no straw men.

Sun, 30 Aug 2009 13:49:00 UTC | #393067

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 22 by Mr DArcy

If belief in God and the resulting religion is hardwired then I wonder what is wrong with my *wiring* and that of my offspring, wife, parents and numerous friends and associates. I seem to function perfectly well without such *wiring*.

If dogmatic means mindless adherence to dogma, then that is exactly what our political leaders would love, which is why Hitler and Stalin developed the leadership cult to such an extent. Stalin was almost a god in Russia according to his own propaganda machine. It didn't stop the Russian Church from assisting Stalin during WW2.

Thomas thinks Das Kapital is dogmatic. In the preface to the first German edition Marx says: "I pre-suppose of course, a reader who is willing to learn something new and therefore to think for himself". That doesn't strike me as a dogmatic attitude, but then of course Lenin and Stalin cherry picked from Marx to suit their own political ambitions. Russia was never "communist" in the sense that Marx meant, i.e. a world" without buying and selling".

Sun, 30 Aug 2009 17:40:00 UTC | #393112

velcar's Avatar Comment 23 by velcar

Comment #410910 by John Desclin

I would not call this "hardwired", I would call it "imprinted"!

I also agree with this statement. We may be hardwired for lots of things. It's the learning process which fills the hardwired aspects with explanations, and helps us deal with the world around us. A lot gets imprinted at a young age that by the time we are adults they apear very much "hardwired".

Mon, 31 Aug 2009 02:48:00 UTC | #393268

EBAUDOUX's Avatar Comment 24 by EBAUDOUX

Paper from Evolutionary Psychology is worth the reading Stats are great.
What a diagnosis. USA (or at least large parts of the US) needs massive secular moral support but maybe they don't want to be cured.

keep on with wonderful work at!

Mon, 31 Aug 2009 06:50:00 UTC | #393301

Roland_F's Avatar Comment 25 by Roland_F

PDF page 5: It appears that all 2nd and 3rd world countries where the balance between religion and disbelief are largely organic are strongly religious, reducing their usefulness for comparative analysis

By excluding poverty stricken, corrupt, low education-level countries, the whole outcome would be even more obvious. Of course some religiots might deny cause and effect or like to twist it - but countries with backward superstitious belief systems are also economical and educational backward in some kind of re-enforcing downward spiral or progress prevention stuck in the status quo.

Another interesting topic not mentioned here in this statistic evaluation is the comparison within the USA, the more religious Bible-Belt states are much worse off, than the more secular states of the USA. So the comparison is watered down in a big average mix which would be like take the EU as one average and throw in secular Scandinavia with Catholic Mediterranean countries.

Mon, 31 Aug 2009 08:17:00 UTC | #393308

sara g's Avatar Comment 26 by sara g

Those statistics can be looked at two ways, depending on your actual goal. If you believe the most important thing is to improve the lives of the citizens then the evidence clearly shows that religion stands squarely in the way of this and needs to go. If you believe that faith is the most important thing, the evidence equally clearly shows that social programs kill god and must be avoided at all costs.
Nothing like a religious nut to see a benefit in human misery.

Mon, 31 Aug 2009 14:56:00 UTC | #393388

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 27 by rod-the-farmer

Wow. I am reading through the PDF file (thanks Phil) and I can't believe how many grammatical and typo errors there are by page 10 of 44. Odd words stuck in the middle of a sentence really make it an even more difficult read than it already is, due to extreme sentence length.

However, I will grit my teeth and continue reading...

Tue, 01 Sep 2009 08:58:00 UTC | #393581

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 28 by SaganTheCat

so... if we're not hardwired to believe, therefore did not have belief given to us by god (and therefore proving his existance), we can only assume that those who believe discovered god independantly, without the need for special brain wiring, which must sureley prove his existance!

Tue, 01 Sep 2009 09:22:00 UTC | #393583

Roland_F's Avatar Comment 29 by Roland_F

Comment #411490 by rod-the-farmer : I am reading through the PDF file (thanks Phil) and I can't believe how many grammatical and typo errors there are by page 10 of 44.

Is there any grammar and a proper sentence in the first 30 pages £ Mainly some fragments of own text between source quotations. The interesting staff is mentioned on the last few pages which relates to the topic of this tread :
1) The USA is an odd example for high wealth and high religiosity.
2) The religiosity is not hard wired e.g. genetically inherited but learned from the parents and kept into adulthood if the environment stays instable and unsecure. The insecurity in first world countries is based on high income and wealth distribution inequality, in poorer countries high religiosity is also based on insecurity living in an environment with widespread poverty.

And like children looking for protection from their parents, the religious (adult) people are searching the protection from a higher deity or dead ancestor or other form of spirituality. Advanced secular societies with more equal wealth distribution and better protection from social welfare programs etc. have not much need for this search for supernatural protection and religiosity declines.

Or to condense the 44 pages PDF into a single sentence: High religiosity is the sign of a failed society with highly insecure people who are afraid of their future and are searching for protection even from an imaginary higher being.

Tue, 01 Sep 2009 10:53:00 UTC | #393589

John Desclin's Avatar Comment 30 by John Desclin

What I meant by "imprinting rather than hardwiring" is that a basic, fundamental wiring is there from the beginning: it is inherited and depends mostly on the genes. But you could compare it with some kind of shelves (or scaffolding) which are so to speak naked (or almost so) at birth. What the shelves are then stocked with depends on what the children are told, and how they are taught to "believe" it.
If they are allowed to make up their beliefs on their own, they may grow up eventually holding no beliefs in the supernatural or, conversely, any - all more or less crazy beliefs which don't necessarily have any relation with a god, but may be ghosts, fairies, leprechauns, etc., according to what stories they were told by their parents or by other adults in authority.
That's the same when then the general answer to the children's questions is goddidit, which is what prevails in quite a large part of the population in many countries.
The problem is to clean up the BS from the shelves (the latter stay there, they are part of the "fixtures") early enough; it has a tendency to obdurately cling there , especially so if it has been put there very early in life by people who do not incite you to develop a critical mind.
In summary, I think that the underpinning "wiring" is there to stay, and it is the same whether you are gullible /and/or religious, or you are to become a skeptic able of critical thinking. All depends on what kind of "ideas" you put on the "shelves" at the outset.
My two cent, of course.
(edited for grammar and for clarity)

Tue, 01 Sep 2009 12:00:00 UTC | #393594