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October 16, 2005 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Baron Winston of Hammersmith in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham: Why do we believe in God?
posted by thirteenkiller (26 comments total)

 
very interesting. i think the more extreme religious practices serve as a release valve of sorts too (in terms of that study mentioned where they found that there was less mental illness in conventional congregations).

I love that part about the "morality module" in the brain. I wonder if psycho- and sociopaths don't have it?
posted by amberglow at 2:41 PM on October 16, 2005


If one identical twin showed evidence of religious thinking or behaviour, it was much more likely that his or her twin would answer similarly.

wait til the calvinists hear about this ...
seriously, i think the article would have been better if it hadn't started with snake handlers ... or described baptists and pentecostals as fringe groups ... maybe they are in england ... but not here
posted by pyramid termite at 2:57 PM on October 16, 2005


They are globally.
posted by thirteenkiller at 2:59 PM on October 16, 2005


Is it just me, or are the Brits excessively eager these days to explain everything with an evolutionary-psychology just so story?
posted by clockzero at 3:07 PM on October 16, 2005


It's just you. Every area of sociology is a product of history and of the mind - and hence is a product of evolutionary psychology.
posted by thirteenkiller at 3:13 PM on October 16, 2005


So are you saying that sociology is a product of EP? How does that work?
posted by clockzero at 3:34 PM on October 16, 2005


Sociology is the study of our behavior in the context of our interactions with others, and evolutionary psychology is the study of how the object that causes our behavior, the brain, came to be, largely in terms of that same context. They complement each other; one looks at causes, the other looks at effects. I don't see that as being very controversial, scientifically speaking.
posted by thirteenkiller at 4:46 PM on October 16, 2005


thirteenkiller : "I don't see that as being very controversial, scientifically speaking."

Some food for thought.
posted by Gyan at 4:57 PM on October 16, 2005


> Is it just me, or are the Brits excessively eager these days
> to explain everything with an evolutionary-psychology just
> so story?

I think it is just you, but not for the reasons that thirteenkiller thinks it is.

In actuality, I think Evolutionary Psychology is more popular in the USA than it is here in the UK -- though interest is clearly on the increase.

> Every area of sociology is a product of history and of the
> mind - and hence is a product of evolutionary psychology.

Sorry, but this just isn't true. If you really believe this to be the case, then I suspect you haven't studied much sociology.

Vast areas of sociology are concerned with the way that various social structures -- things like the class system, the economic system, the system of laws operate. Attempting to reduce such explanations to the workings of individual psychology is precisely the opposite of the task that sociology sets itself. Of course, things like our genes and our need to reproduce sets certain parameters, but part of the reason that we have sociology in the first place is because there are lots of social phenomena that just arent reducible to or explicable by individual psychology.

In short, these phenomena aren't simply 'psychological effects' as you seem to believe, but have 'social' explanations insofar as they emerge out of the fact that humans are social beings.

If you want to know what sociologists believe sociology is, then you might want to and read Durkheim on the Rules of Sociological Method.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:17 PM on October 16, 2005


It is possible that strong levels of belief in God, gods, spirits or the supernatural might have given our ancestors considerable comforts and advantages. ... explaining misfortune or illness, for example, as the consequences of an angry God, or reassuring us that we live on after death. Rituals would have given us a comforting, albeit illusory, sense that we can control what is in fact ultimately beyond our control - the weather, illness, attacks by predators or other human groups.

It's an interesting question, psychologically speaking - although by saying that I don't mean to snipe in any way.

Setting the existence / evolution questions and snarkfests aside, why do people believe in god? More correctly, why do they engage in deistic religion of any kind?

My late uncle, who was a methodist minister, once said something to us atheist family members over dinner. It was something like "I suppose we all choose to believe because it comforts us. Ultimately we don't have anything to fear."

I'd be interested to know if that chimes with many believers here.
posted by paperpete at 6:15 PM on October 16, 2005


Durkheim on the Rules of Sociological Method.

A sociologist who tells other sociologists what sociologists believe. Sweet.
posted by longsleeves at 6:45 PM on October 16, 2005


it comforts me, paper, and i don't believe in an active or interventionist God at all.
posted by amberglow at 6:59 PM on October 16, 2005


Every area of sociology is a product of history and of the mind - and hence is a product of evolutionary psychology.

LOL! Funny how that works out...
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:05 PM on October 16, 2005


I suppose there's nothing wrong with high self-esteem, particularly in the absence of an all-powerful deity, but the author's portrait usually goes on the back, or somewhere inside. Unless you're Ann Coulter.
posted by longsleeves at 7:15 PM on October 16, 2005


Religionists are smarter than we. They are betting on a sure thing. Believe in a god and a comfortable afterlife.
They live their lives assured of the future and they don't have to deal with the questions non believers contend with. Hell, if there is no after life or any of that stuff it's not like they will suddenly find out they were hoodwinked by the priests and shamans.
They will have died happy.
Above I used the word 'smarter'. Not to be confused with 'more inelligent'.
posted by notreally at 7:20 PM on October 16, 2005


Sometimes I think about how much EASIER it would be to have enough faith to 'Let go and Let God' take care of things.

But then I think about how my Mystical Warrior Chang would kick the ass of any supposed omnipotent 'God'.

Then I think about how the little green man 'Mescalito' tells me to burn things, and I forget about whatever it was that was perplexing me, and grab a lighter.
posted by Balisong at 7:46 PM on October 16, 2005


I disagree with the basic assumption of this article.
It is not neccessary for religion to confer an evolutionary advantage to be widespread.
If, for example, religion is a parasitic by-product of having a complex brain able to form and hold abstract thoughts, then the only thing religion needs to be successful is to have a way of being copied from mind to mind. There is no need for it to confer a survival or reproduction advantage, it can even be detrimental to host reproduction and survival without halting its own.
posted by spazzm at 7:56 PM on October 16, 2005


Why does anyone need someone else to tell them that?
posted by HTuttle at 10:45 PM on October 16, 2005


I believe in God?

News to me.
posted by Citizen Premier at 11:07 PM on October 16, 2005


"While others see the dawn coming over the hill , i see the sons of god shouting for joy" - William Blake
posted by sgt.serenity at 1:47 AM on October 17, 2005


A rather better argued approach to the same problem was discussed here. I'm glad (if puzzled) that everyone thinks religious belief is comforting, I find it rather alarming to consider that death might just be the beginning of my troubles.
posted by grahamwell at 3:39 AM on October 17, 2005


His picture is on the front of his book because in Britain he's not Robert Winston, he's that-fella-on-the-TV-with-the-tache.

I've never read him before (but often seen and enjoyed him on the TV). He doesn't come across as well in print as he does when he's reassuringly whispering at you from the corner of your living room.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 6:02 AM on October 17, 2005


They are betting on a sure thing. Believe in a god and a comfortable afterlife.

For some of us, it's not about afterlife at all. We don't even believe in an afterlife--life is what counts.
posted by amberglow at 6:08 AM on October 17, 2005


"If, for example, religion is a parasitic by-product of having a complex brain able to form and hold abstract thoughts, then the only thing religion needs to be successful is to have a way of being copied from mind to mind. There is no need for it to confer a survival or reproduction advantage, it can even be detrimental to host reproduction and survival without halting its own.
posted by spazzm at 7:56 PM PST on October 16 [!]"


Not trying to jump all over you this early on a Monday, spazzm, but surely all you're saying is that "some popular thoughts are useless"?
Next theory, please.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:17 AM on October 17, 2005


but surely all you're saying is that "some popular thoughts are useless"?

I think that's the point - often evolutionary psych theories seem to need to prove that x has been useful or productive for the species, because otherwise it would have died out, but they oversimplify things. I think that was the birth of the whole "meme" thing, though that analogy was flawed because it makes it sound as if the idea itself had an interest in survival.
posted by mdn at 7:28 AM on October 17, 2005


From Gyan's first link:

Buller doesn't reject evolutionary studies of the mind per se. Rather, he contends that "Evolutionary Psychology," a set of assumptions about the nature and evolution of the human mind, has largely crowded out the possibility of a more pluralistic "evolutionary psychology."

Sure, I'm down with that, and I didn't intend to say otherwise.

PeterMcDermott says: In short, these phenomena aren't simply 'psychological effects' as you seem to believe, but have 'social' explanations insofar as they emerge out of the fact that humans are social beings.

Certainly, but you appear to be saying that the field of evolutionary psychology is incapable of dealing with the psychology of groups, that is, the psychology of many individuals acting together, the basis of all society. I don't see why that should be the case, even if it is harder to achieve than dealing with lone individuals. Evolution is as much about interaction with other members of ones species as it is about external influences. I'm no expert though.

If we were talking about the society of ants, where the individual has very little self-interest indeed, would you say that evolutionary psychology was useless?

It seems like a few incorrect sweeping statements by some evolutionary psychologists have soured the whole field for some people. I don't see any problem with studying how the building blocks of society, individual minds, came to be, in the context of interactions with other people.
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:38 AM on October 17, 2005


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