Saturday, May 14, 2011

Oxford University finds Religion is pervasive; social confirmation at work

Over at WEIT, Jerry has pointed out an Oxford University study that is getting lots of media attention.  The study is of how pervasive and common religious thinking is throughout the world, and since religion is common, it deserves a sense of credibility and respect. 
“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.
So, what they are saying is that large groups of humans are able to believe things that they have no evidence for over an extended period of time.  I am pretty sure this was covered in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.  Just because humans are able to share delusions doesn't make those delusions any more real.

I just finished reading the book, The Invisible Gorilla, and I highly recommend it if you are interested in cognitive processing.  It is "a book about six everyday illusions that profoundly influence our lives: the illusions of attention, memory, confidence, knowledge, cause and potential."  The authors describe through anecdotes and experiments how the human mind can easily and naturally fool itself into thinking it knows and remembers things that are just not true.  Given that it is quite natural for us humans to automatically delude ourselves in our everyday lives, it is not surprising that one of the areas of human cognition that is pervasive and common is to hold some religious belief; beliefs that are created with little or no evidence, and supported and encouraged exactly because they have so little proof or are fuzzily defined.

As for science vs religion, The Invisible Gorilla has a quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that is quite apt:
"The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something that you actually don’t."
This Templeton-funded study says that religion is common, and that is it. If there has not been an investigation into the truth of the beliefs, then this study’s purpose is really only to further belief in religion through the influence of a social proof; lots of people believe it, so it must be true. 

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