This is your brain on religion: Uncovering the science of belief – Salon.com

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From Pope Francis to Phil Robertson: Why are some people of faith generous — while others are nuts?

As far as I’m concerned, the most interesting question about religion isn’t whether God exists but why so many people are religious. There are around 10,000 different religions, each of which is convinced that there’s only one Truth and that they alone possess it. Hating people with a different faith seems to be part of belief. Around the year 1500, the church reformer Martin Luther described Jews as a “brood of vipers.” Over the centuries the Christian hatred of the Jews led to pogroms and ultimately made the Holocaust possible. In 1947, over a million people were slaughtered when British India was partitioned into India for the Hindus and Pakistan for the Muslims. Nor has interfaith hatred diminished since then. Since the year 2000, 43 percent of civil wars have been of a religious nature.

Almost 64 percent of the world’s population is Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, or Hindu. And faith is extremely tenacious. For many years, Communism was the only permitted belief in China and religion was banned, being regarded, in the tradition of Karl Marx, as the opium of the masses. But in 2007, one-third of Chinese people over the age of 16 said that they were religious. Since that figure comes from a state-controlled newspaper, the China Daily, the true number of believers is likely at least that high. Around 95 percent of Americans say that they believe in God, 90 percent pray, 82 percent believe that God can perform miracles, and over 70 percent believe in life after death. It’s striking that only 50 percent believe in hell, which shows a certain lack of consistency. In the Netherlands, a much more secular country, the percentages are lower. A study carried out in April 2007 showed that in the space of 40 years, secularization had increased from 33 to 61 percent. Over half of the Dutch people doubt the existence of a higher power and are either agnostic or believe in an unspecified “something.” Only 14 percent are atheists, the same percentage as Protestants. There are slightly more Catholics (16 percent).

In 2006, during a symposium in Istanbul, Herman van Praag, a professor of biological psychiatry, taking his lead from the 95 percent of believers in the United States, tried to convince me that atheism was an “anomaly.” “That depends on who you compare yourself to,” I replied. In 1996 a poll of American scientists revealed that only 39 percent were believers, a much smaller percentage than the national average. Only 7 percent of the country’s top scientists (defined for this poll as the members of the National Academy of Sciences) professed a belief in God, while almost no Nobel laureates are religious. A mere 3 percent of the eminent scientists who are members of Britain’s Royal Society are religious. Moreover, meta-analysis has shown a correlation among atheism, education, and IQ. So there are striking differences within populations, and it’s clear that degree of atheism is linked to intelligence, education, academic achievement, and a positive interest in natural science. Scientists also differ per discipline: Biologists are less prone to believe in God and the hereafter than physicists. So it isn’t surprising that the vast majority (78 percent) of eminent evolutionary biologists polled called themselves materialists (meaning that they believe physical matter to be the only reality). Almost three quarters (72 percent) of them regarded religion as a social phenomenon that had evolved along with Homo sapiens. They saw it as part of evolution, rather than conflicting with it.

Written By: D.F. Swaab
continue to source article at salon.com

10 COMMENTS

  1. To hell with all religions. They are all total nutcase concepts and all invented by men/humans as control mechanisms.

    I respect none of them, despite how many times I hear “You must respect the beliefs of others”. Why should I? Why should I have respect for those who preach and teach nonsense that produces a heap of fucked up clones who believe in woo woo and think that however ghastly this life is they’ll have paradise when they die? If people believed that this is the only life they get then they would fight for their rights in this life and not accept the crap they are dealt today in exchange for what they will receive after they die. Pathetic!

    • In reply to #1 by ArloNo:

      To hell with all religions. They are all total nutcase concepts and all invented by men/humans as control mechanisms.

      I respect none of them, despite how many times I hear “You must respect the beliefs of others”. Why should I? Why should I have respect for those who preach and teach nonsense that…

      Exactly. I often wonder where human society would be now if it weren’t for the impediment of religion. Far fewer wars and bloody conflicts, true equality for women and all ethnic groups around the world, greater productivity and less poverty, far less environmental destruction of our planet, even more fantastic scientific advances and space travel. If only we had not wasted so much time, energy, brainpower, blood and money on primitive fantasy. If only.

  2. The diversity of religious belief itself pushes religious belief so far into the preposterous that anyone with religious belief has a serious job holding onto it in the face of reason. This is the cue for them to bring up free will. I will say that if doG allows this by fiat then it is no longer meaningful to talk of right and wrong or good and evil. doG can’t even work out 10 decent commandments. Create a universe??

  3. “In this context, brain disorders are also instructive. Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, is linked to the progressive loss of religious interest. The more slowly it progresses, the less religiousness and spirituality are affected. “

    Aaaaccckkk. I became an atheist when I was old enough to think. Around 11 or so. Does this mean I developed Alzheimers when I was nine ?

    Wait a minute. I don’t recall seeing any articles claiming that atheists lose more memory than religious types, as they age. Anyone ? Should we chip in and fund some research ?

    • *In reply to #3 by rod-the-farmer:

      Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, is linked to the progressive loss of religious interest. The more slowly it progresses, the less religiousness

      I’ve observed this first-hand. My father was put in a nursing home for dementia suffers in the last months of his life. There were no believers in this establishment! Some would mindlessly intone “Hail Mary” but they had absolutely no knowledge of what they were saying. The staff didn’t even bother to whip up enthusiasm, in contrast to the nursing home mother attended, where well-intentioned carers really pushed the notion of a heaven.

  4. I complained to a fellow passenger on a plane last year about the rigmarole with security, and his response was that it’s because of extremists; I told him I thought he was mistaken, and that it was because of religion per se.

    I said that if you want to trace the source of a river you must go to the spring whence it rises, and all this nonsense stems out of superstition; after that he was not quite as friendly as he had been.

    I should have adopted the Socratic approach, and from now on I’ll always attempt to do so, because otherwise, in my experience, people just dig in their heals.

    • In reply to #5 by Stafford Gordon:

      I should have adopted the Socratic approach, and from now on I’ll always attempt to do so, because otherwise, in my experience, people just dig in their heals.

      You mean “heels” right? Anyway, I agree. When they feel that their beliefs are being attacked, religious people take it personal and usually react very badly. The more “points” you score with them, the more desperately they hang on to their beliefs. A bit like a child who won’t let go of his “security blanket” or abandon thumbsucking.

      I haven’t read Peter Boghossian’s book yet but I suspect it would make no difference as far as I’m concerned. I simply have no patience for people who can’t argue honestly and concede anything… or worse yet, resort to making you look/feel bad when they’re out of valid points and realize they’re cornered.

      People like that will also get nothing from reading great authors like Dawkins or Hitchens or Harris or John Stuart Mill or Bertrand Russell, etc… because of their profound intellectual dishonesty. Present them with the greatest masterpiece of logical reasoning, knowledge and literary elegance and they’ll piss on it or simply ignore it – Pearls before swine.

      Even if I could live to be a thousand years old, 5 minutes spent arguing with someone like that is already too precious an amount of time to waste. So now, I simply avoid any mention of religion and belief to people I don’t know.

    • In reply to #5 by Stafford Gordon:

      I complained to a fellow passenger on a plane last year about the rigmarole with security, and his response was that it’s because of extremists; I told him I thought he was mistaken, and that it was because of religion per se.

      I said that if you want to trace the source of a river you must go to th…

      That’s interesting. I’ve always considered Socrates to be the best ‘western’ proponent of a truly scientific approach to religion, that is, the attempt to know one’s self subjectively.

  5. As the saying goes, you can’t reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into. What is the education level of the typical human? How many other religions were they exposed to as children? Religion is an expression of cultural identity, which more often than not trumps critical thinking.

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