Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Have we evolved to be religious?

An interesting idea that’s been put forward by Bruce Hood, Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol, claims that the human mind is adapted to reason intuitively, so that it can generate theories about how the world works even when mechanisms cannot be seen or easily deduced.

Professor Hood believes that this intuitive ability can sometimes make a misguided logical leap and assign supernatural causes to something which isn’t understood. He also believes it explains why people develop a sentimental attachment to an everyday object. Most importantly he challenges Richard Dawkins’ ultra-rationalist view that supernatural belief is caused by religions spreading beliefs among the gullible minds of the young and ignorant

Instead he thinks that: “Religions may simply capitalise on a natural bias to assume the existence of supernatural forces.”

He also tried an experiment to prove his theory: he asked a group of people if they were prepared to put on an old-fashioned blue cardigan in return for a cash reward. He had no shortage of volunteers. He then told the volunteers that the cardigan used to belong to Fred West, the mass murderer.

“Most hands went down,” he said. “When people did wear it people moved away from them. It’s not actually West’s jumper. But it’s the belief that it’s West’s jumper that has the effect.

“It is as if evil, a moral stance defined by culture, has become physically manifest inside the clothing.”

So, Professor Hood concludes that "Magical thinking" is hard-wired into our brains, which means that:

"It is pointless to get people to abandon their belief systems because they operate at such a fundamental level that no amount of rational evidence or counter-evidence is going to be taken on board to get people to abandon these ideas."
Which explains such a lot about some of the Christians I know…

As reported in the Times:
Evolution keeps us superstitious. Now that's lucky!

And in the Telegraph:
We're born with a belief in the supernatural, says scientist,

NB: Here’s a little exercise in journalistic fact-checking. In The Times, Professor Hood offers people a tenner to wear Fred West’s old cardie. In the Telegraph it’s twenty quid. Who’s right?

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, Cath can probably correct me, but didn't someone like Descartes say that if God didn't exist, the human would have had to have invented him anyway...?! So it seems that your Professor Hood is well behind the times.... by the way... is he related to Little Red Riding...???!?!