The religious brain and atheism

As much of the world settles into the spectacle and cozy embrace of culturally reinforced magical thinking, New Scientist has several interesting recent articles about the evolved intuitive nature of religious thinking as a cognitive by-product (of the value of assuming agency in environmental phenomena, for example) and delving into how atheism is and is not like religious thinking. I find the point interesting that religion and atheism (or any ism), as social constructs, cannot be studied and compared in the same ways that objectively real objects and phenomena can, but we can learn much from systematic approaches to investigating the underlying neurological functions and their probable evolutionary value.

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About Mark H

Information technologist, knowledge management expert, and writer. Academic background in knowledge management, social and natural sciences, information technologies, learning, educational technologies, and philosophy. Married with one adult child who's married and has a teenage daughter.

2 thoughts on “The religious brain and atheism

  1. Will this be the focus of our next meeting? Are we meeting Monday Jan. 1st or 8th?

    This topic is one of my specialties. Keep in mind that most evolutionary psychologists who think of innate religiosity ( = learning instincts for religiosity) as consisting of indirectly selected traits or “cognitive byproducts” are usually limiting their analysis to the evolutionary ORIGINS of these traits. There are many such by-products, so many that it would take an act of God to render us not prone to being religious.

    But, some of us EP’s go on to consider what selection would have acted on these by-products to alter and integrate them, after their origins, into directly selected evolutionary adaptations. Analysis of ANY trait’s evolutionary origins and analysis of subsequent evolutionary adaptation processes involving that trait are two separate evolutionary “levels of analysis,” both more or less simultaneously invented by Darwin. Complete understanding of the “structure” of any trait, including cognitive traits / mental mechanisms, requires discreet consideration of both levels of analysis.

    That said, many evolutionary psychologists like to avoid the 2nd level of analysis, just consider origins, and ignore subsequent processes leading to genuine adaptations. IMO, often this is because they are biased against the idea that religiosity and religion is useful. Possibly as or more useful to humans than a web is to a spider… PJW

    1. Great point. Thanks for the comment.

      I bought your course texts but won’t be able to sign up this time. I hope to take it in the future. It’s a very rich topic.

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