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Large Templeton-funded study at Oxford - Comments

Kit's Avatar Comment 1 by Kit

What the authors of this study include under the banner of religion is simply the questioning of our existence and search for purpose; it doesn't mean that belief in a particular religious tradition is innate or true.

Also, spot the ever-important line: "Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways."

Sat, 14 May 2011 09:52:00 UTC | #626691

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 2 by rod-the-farmer

people of faith could argue that the universality of religious sentiment serves God's purpose

OK, now you have TWO assumptions, the second of which requires the first to be true. How far out on this limb do you go before you reconsider the first one, and stop before you even go that far ?

Sat, 14 May 2011 09:53:37 UTC | #626693

AsylumWarden's Avatar Comment 3 by AsylumWarden

What a joke. The idea that religion can never die because one will always spring up? Even if that were true it would still not make them correct!!! Why do these theologists fail to grasp that incredibly simply concept?

Sat, 14 May 2011 09:54:38 UTC | #626695

Xor's Avatar Comment 4 by Xor

"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways," such as believing in God's omniscience, said Trigg.

Well, that seems obvious. Children will always find very easy to think like their parents. That's what we call indoctrination, and it also works for moral thinking.

Sat, 14 May 2011 09:56:06 UTC | #626696

Deako's Avatar Comment 5 by Deako

"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways,"

Is this why I've always seen religion in adults as a childish hang-over?

Sat, 14 May 2011 10:08:26 UTC | #626699

jel's Avatar Comment 6 by jel

"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways,"

Adults are supposed to have grown out of childish ways of thinking, what a great pity that so many haven't.

Sat, 14 May 2011 10:08:35 UTC | #626700

ANTIcarrot's Avatar Comment 7 by ANTIcarrot

Humans also come naturally to optical illusions. That doesn't make the illusions true.

They also come naturally to broken bones, premature death, and infections from viruses and bacteria. Those are real, but their universality doesn't make them desirable.

I wish people would stop using wishy washy statements like, "Some people might choose to believe our results show..." and use more blunt, precise, and simple comparisons like the above.

Sat, 14 May 2011 10:13:36 UTC | #626702

Hendrix is my gOD's Avatar Comment 8 by Hendrix is my gOD

If you've got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests.

I agree. So why don't you religionists stop thwarting other people's sexual behavior?

"We tend to see purpose in the world," Oxford University professor Roger Trigg said Thursday. "We see agency. We think that something is there even if you can't see it. ... All this tends to build up to a religious way of thinking."

As for the "deep-rooted" religious tendencies, Trigg is getting a little too excited in claiming it as human nature. Reading all these examples of how "most" people think, I found every one of them the exact opposite of how I think and has been my deep-rooted nature as long as I can remember. So am I not human? All this built up to a skeptical way of thinking: that I've been handed lies since the day I was born. Lies that claim the opposite of the world I've always observed.

Sat, 14 May 2011 10:32:10 UTC | #626708

Hendrix is my gOD's Avatar Comment 9 by Hendrix is my gOD

Famed secularist Richard "Dawkins would accept our findings and say we've got to grow out of it," Trigg argued.

How about asking Dawkins if he accepts the findings? Then you wouldn't have to argue about what he would say.

Sat, 14 May 2011 10:38:59 UTC | #626709

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 10 by Cartomancer

Doing another study to find out more about the varieties of religious experience in the world seems legitimate, but from the sound of it this project has discovered almost nothing new or interesting. As far back as 45BC Cicero noted that nature herself has imprinted on the minds of all the idea of god. Anthropologists and historians have uncovered details of religious practise the world over confirming such a notion. What does this study add to that thesis that we didn't know already?

Oh yes, how silly of me. It adds vacuous Templeton puff:

If you've got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests," Trigg said.

Au contraire. There are propensities for violence, territoriality, blind obedience, sexual jealousy, cruelty and large numbers of other highly destructive behaviours in human nature, and thwarting these is fundamental in fulfilling the basic interests of humanity. Basic interests such as health, safety, harmony, cooperation and progress. Indeed, it would not be going too far to say that the very project of civilization itself is to curb and thwart these instincts, and the deeper rooted they are the more strongly we are obliged to thwart them.

"There is quite a drive to think that religion is private," he said, arguing that such a belief is wrong. "It isn't just a quirky interest of a few, it's basic human nature."

Last time I checked masturbation wasn't just a quirky interest of a few, but basic human nature. Funnily enough we manage to think that is private and don't make room for it in the public sphere.

And the Oxford study, known as the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project, strongly implies that religion will not wither away, he said.

"The secularization thesis of the 1960s - I think that was hopeless," Trigg concluded

Except that, in most of Europe and in Australia and Japan it HAS withered away and secularism has prevailed. And it is withering more and more with each passing day. Even in America and mainland Asia secularism is on the march and religion is losing ground. Besides which "secular" doesn't necessarily imply "atheist" (though atheism too has been massively increasing over the last centuries). It is perfectly possible for religious people to be entirely secular too. If someone doing a cultural study on the ubiquity of religion in the world doesn't understand what a basic term like "secularism" means then I am deeply concerned about his ability to do anything useful with his piles of Templeton blood money.

The problem here is that the study doesn't penetrate any deeper than the surface. It treats "religion" as an irreducible whole, rather than seeing it as certain cultural manifestations under particular conditions of underlying psychological tendencies. In short, it buys into the old canard that "religion" is somehow a special category of mental behaviour unrelated to the rest of what goes on in our brains, regulated entirely by discrete systems that contribute nothing to other mental processes. This is utter nonsense.

Sat, 14 May 2011 10:40:44 UTC | #626711

FomalhautB's Avatar Comment 11 by FomalhautB

"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways,"

I am not too sure about that. Give a child an empty box for their birthday, and say there is a supernatural skateboard inside. Wonder what the reaction would be...

Sat, 14 May 2011 10:47:40 UTC | #626713

kantastisk's Avatar Comment 12 by kantastisk

“If you’ve got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests,” Trigg said.

The "instinct" that is seeing purpose in the world is not necessarily a religious one. Religion may have sprung from it and other impulses but that doesn't mean religion lies at the heart of it.

Also, so what if assigning purpose to the world is "deep-rooted in human nature"? Violence, deceit, racism and other nasty things are in there as well. Trigg is confusing "natural" with "desirable".

Sat, 14 May 2011 10:54:56 UTC | #626714

The Plc's Avatar Comment 13 by The Plc

Em, what's new and insightful about this?

Sat, 14 May 2011 11:09:45 UTC | #626717

CFM's Avatar Comment 14 by CFM

In-group preference and out-group discrimination comes naturally, even instinctively, to human beings, all available studies in social psychology suggest.

We tend to divide our world into clear-cut categories, to self-categorize as members of certain social groups (often, especially when mega-groups are concerned, discursively constructed ones), to distinguish between us and them and to stress the homogeneity of the perceived in-group as well as the differences between the in-group and the out-group...

The universality of this tendency is the basis for xenophobia, tribalism and nationalism - for all kinds of ever more elaborate "imagined communities".

Now, many accept these findings, but agree that humankind needs to grow out of these tendencies in order to enable us to peacefully coexist. They stress that while they are "universal, prevalent, and deep-rooted" and, of course, "got to be reckoned with", and that we certainly "can't just pretend (they are´nt) there", we are able to rationally think about them and overcome them.

Nobody would argue that we should not "thwart" xenophobia or nationalism, because that would mean to "in some sense not" to "enabl(e) humans to fulfill their basic interests".

I cannot see the difference between nationalism (in the broader sense) and religion, I just can´t. They both are socially constructed "ideologies" which build on certain tendencies seemingly shared by all humans (whether these are due to "biological" or "cultural" reasons, or a mix, is, IMHO, irrelevant in this context).

And: Nobody would argue that those who criticise tribalism and nationalism for their violent, often genocidal consequences, are just not taking into account that this kind of thinking also provides the basis for the identities of many humans (same as religion) and many kinds of perfectly harmless, or even, at least for the individuals and communities concerned, helpful expressions and consquences of these tendencies...

Sat, 14 May 2011 11:39:46 UTC | #626721

sbooder's Avatar Comment 15 by sbooder

"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways," such as believing in God's omniscience, said Trigg.

No shit Sherlock...and why do you think that is? Because children know less of the world and all its complexities and Scientific answers.

Which also bolsters the idea that, it was in our infancy as a species that we looked to the gods! Although it is quite obvious that, some adults are still in an evolutionary infancy.

Sat, 14 May 2011 12:06:53 UTC | #626724

josephor's Avatar Comment 16 by josephor

Famed secularist Richard "Dawkins would accept our findings and say we've got to grow out of it," Trigg argued.

What an arrogant thing to say. I don't know what Richard will say about this but my two cents worth is we have grown out of this we are just waiting for you people again.

Sat, 14 May 2011 12:16:57 UTC | #626726

Marc Country's Avatar Comment 17 by Marc Country

"Both atheists and religious people could use the study to argue their sides, Trigg told CNN."

Actually, I can't think of how anyone would USE such a study, at all. It's not much of a study, you see: more like a survey of things we already know.

I suppose if that's what Templeton wants to spend money on, that's their business, but I don't see much point, really.

"“If you’ve got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests,” Trigg said."

Critics of Sam Harris take note: the above is an actual example of fallaciously deriving an 'ought' from an 'is'. Now you can all stop falsely accusing Harris of this.

Sat, 14 May 2011 13:39:38 UTC | #626740

TobySaunders's Avatar Comment 18 by TobySaunders

"Secularization is flawed because religion is innate": that is utterly perverse. 'By the same token' slavery is innate, rape is innate, murder & thievery is innate: those things are as natural as religion and they are overcome by a respect for ethics. This "it's natural, so we should embrace it" idea is horrific.

Sat, 14 May 2011 13:40:24 UTC | #626741

Capt. Bloodeye's Avatar Comment 19 by Capt. Bloodeye

"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways,"

Praise Santa!

Sat, 14 May 2011 13:40:46 UTC | #626742

debaser71's Avatar Comment 20 by debaser71

As if religion today is anything like ancient human mysticism.

What is so hard to understand about religion? People want answers. People want a sense of control. People anthropomorphize. People assign agency. What is "religious" about this? I do it! I yell at my PC! I talk about how the storm was out to get me, etc.

Sat, 14 May 2011 13:41:16 UTC | #626744

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 21 by Alan4discussion

I think looking for purpose is deeply ingrained in our ancestors' evolution and in children's development.

We all look for potential purposeful uses of resources we see around us. When facing a problem the ability to ATTRIBUTE a purpose and improvise a solution has beneficial and survival value. In emergency situations this is an invaluable skill.

This does not mean that everything has an underlying purpose. It means we can, by understanding the science and practicalities of a situation, find resources to meet our own purposes from those available.

The religious application of these skills is usually about unity of purpose in expanding that particular meme and herding sheeples, with any natural phenomenon providing opportunities to build on this by deception. (God sent the disaster because....... .. did not listen to our preaching!)

Sat, 14 May 2011 13:43:41 UTC | #626746

El Bastardo's Avatar Comment 22 by El Bastardo

I could think of many better ways to spend 1.9 million.

Sat, 14 May 2011 13:47:07 UTC | #626749

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 23 by Stevehill

"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways," such as believing in God's omniscience, said Trigg.

Yes. My two year old believes in both Father Xmas and fairies. My 4 year old has of her own volition matured to the point of telling me that there's no such thing as fairies.

My concern is that anyone over, say, six still entertains religions even halfway seriously, unless indoctrinated.

Sat, 14 May 2011 14:05:51 UTC | #626757

skiles1's Avatar Comment 24 by skiles1

Exactly which sort of sectarian theocracy does Trigg recommend?

Sat, 14 May 2011 14:11:07 UTC | #626760

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 25 by Steve Zara

The problem here is that the study doesn't penetrate any deeper than the surface. It treats "religion" as an irreducible whole, rather than seeing it as certain cultural manifestations under particular conditions of underlying psychological tendencies. In short, it buys into the old canard that "religion" is somehow a special category of mental behaviour unrelated to the rest of what goes on in our brains, regulated entirely by discrete systems that contribute nothing to other mental processes. This is utter nonsense.

Yes, exactly. It simply makes no sense to insist that religion is "a thing", when it clearly isn't. Religion is not a consistent set of beliefs, and not a consistent set of approaches to belief. The best that can be said is that religion is cultural beliefs about reality.

Sat, 14 May 2011 14:16:54 UTC | #626764

jameshogg's Avatar Comment 26 by jameshogg

Yes, religious tendencies are innate. But it is without doubt that the ability to learn new information and change opinions is also innate.

Karl Marx:

" ... Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. "

(I'm pretty sure that's accurate)

It would ultimately rely on the method of criticism itself when determining if it will have any effect on the believer. And THAT is what needs more research. I can ultimately see this study as being motive-driven and just giving Templeton some already-known knowledge for a hopeless cause. The money could have better been used towards a) effective ways of criticising and giving the believer some genuine pause for which they don't have an immediate answer, and b) how ex-believers came to lose their faith. If there are any vital stages in helping the species evolve away from the religious tendencies and towards the tendencies of reason, those would no-doubt be a million times more important.

You don't help the cause of reason by fueling the religious tendencies as a result of compromising the skeptical nature of science in the name of some useless accomodationism movement. How is tip-toeing around telling people that they are wrong better than giving them the tools to be rational? They are going to have to be told sometime as long as they get involved with science, so I don't see the point in prolonging it.

Sat, 14 May 2011 14:33:01 UTC | #626771

JuJu's Avatar Comment 27 by JuJu

What the hell is all this "new research" coming out claiming to have discovered a new way of understanding how people become religious. This information has been thoroughly discussed in many books including Richards. Next thing you know they'll be saying they figured out how the different religions may have evolved in different directions over time by small changes in the ancient stories as the stories spread across the globe. And then suggest that Dawkins would agree with them. Well no shit Sherlock. Have any of these Templeton accommodationist/ new discovery wannabe's ever read any of the new atheist books.

Edit: You know, now that I think about it, I think I'll contact Templeton and tell them I have a new mechanism for how ideas changes over time, I'll just omit any reference to the widely all ready understood concept of memes. I'll tell them I discovered the concept myself, maybe they'll send me a big fat check.

Sat, 14 May 2011 15:12:00 UTC | #626778

theOperative's Avatar Comment 28 by theOperative

fence traverser

The study doesn't say anything about whether God, gods or an afterlife exist, said Justin Barrett, the project's other co-director .. Both atheists and religious people could use the study to argue their sides, Trigg told CNN.

Then you haven't been earning your salary. If we replaced the word religion with maleria, could such a study be used both by biologists and shaman as supporting their differing world views as to the causes, eg an evil spirit or a virus.

Sat, 14 May 2011 15:14:12 UTC | #626779

rjohn19's Avatar Comment 29 by rjohn19

I have got to side with the group here. Sounds like money down a rat-hole to me. Might as well send me the money to see if I can figure out who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Only possible motivation I can see for their side is getting people to use "Oxford" and "Templeton" in the same sentence to lend a bit of credibility to their other efforts.

Sat, 14 May 2011 16:33:23 UTC | #626801

the great teapot's Avatar Comment 30 by the great teapot

This project does not set out to prove god or an after life exists.

No that would be silly.

Sat, 14 May 2011 17:00:32 UTC | #626811