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New Approach to Explain Religious Behavior


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#1 Overdog

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Posted 09 September 2008 - 10:41 AM

I came across this article today and thought it was very interesting, especially since it seemed to lend some support to the idea that religion (and religious behavior) is something that is inherent in our nature as human beings.

Without a way to measure religious beliefs, anthropologists have had difficulty studying religion. Now, two anthropologists from the University of Missouri and Arizona State University have developed a new approach to study religion by focusing on verbal communication, an identifiable behavior, instead of speculating about alleged beliefs in the supernatural that cannot actually be identified.

"Instead of studying religion by trying to measure unidentifiable beliefs in the supernatural, we looked at identifiable and observable behavior - the behavior of people communicating acceptance of supernatural claims," said Craig T. Palmer, associate professor of anthropology in the MU College of Arts and Science. "We noticed that communicating acceptance of a supernatural claim tends to promote cooperative social relationships. This communication demonstrates a willingness to accept, without skepticism, the influence of the speaker in a way similar to a child's acceptance of the influence of a parent."

Palmer and Lyle B. Steadman, emeritus professor of human evolution and social change at Arizona State University, explored the supernatural claims in different forms of religion, including ancestor worship; totemism, the claim of kinship between people and a species or other object that serves as the emblem of a common ancestor; and shamanism, the claim that traditional religious leaders in kinship-based societies could communicate with their dead ancestors. They found that the clearest identifiable effect of religious behavior is the promotion of cooperative family-like social relationships, which include parent/child-like relationships between the individuals making and accepting the supernatural claims and sibling-like relationships among co-acceptors of those claims.

"Almost every religion in the world, including all tribal religions, use family kinship terms such as father, mother, brother, sister and child for fellow members," Steadman said. "They do this to encourage the kind of behavior found normally in families - where the most intense social relationships occur. Once people realize that observing the behavior of people communicating acceptance of supernatural claims is how we actually identify religious behavior and religion, we can then propose explanations and hypotheses to account for why people have engaged in religious behavior in all known cultures."

Palmer and Steadman published their research in The Supernatural and Natural Selection: The Evolution of Religion. The book was published by Paradigm Publishers.

MU Anthropologist Develops New Approach to Explain Religious Behavior | MU News Bureau

#2 HydrogenBond

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 09:04 AM

If you look at supernatural, in practical terms, it implies something that is higher than human and therefore placed on a pedestal. The child often does the same thing with respect to the older siblings or the parents. The net affect is the individual keeps the inner child alive. As a child of god, or whatever, you can relate to others with the openness that children possess. Children also have a higher natural learning potential. They have more imagination. They are less petty about small superficial differences including race and color. They are less perverse. Less snobby and less able to lie and con. They are closer to natural instincts. It appears to be a win-win situation.

#3 ChunTzu

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 05:58 PM

Just a couple of quotes that came to mind...

A child's mind is nothing at all; it is zero mind. It's like a clear mirror. Red comes, red; white comes, white. Only reflected action: when a child is hungry, it eats; when it is tired, it only sleeps.

-Zen Master Seung Sahn

Religion- whether we choose to name the experience thus or not- is to be lured by the transitory that reveals the transcendent, to be captured by the aesthetic that that discloses the divine word, and it is to mingle those categories so that, ultimately, an integrative play cancels discrimination and makes obsolete or meaningless divisions between sacred and profane...The world is no longer divided then, into those inconvenient categories of subject and object, and the world becomes religiously apprehended...Religion, like the meaning of life or a good joke, defies definition or explanation. But like these two, heightening awareness enriches the experiences...

- Lynda Sexson from Ordinarily Sacred

#4 Abort- Retry- Fail

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Posted 09 April 2009 - 11:41 AM

I don't see how religion could be anything other than inherent in us, given its universality across all cultures and times. In terms of its function, the most obvious I would suggest is to alleviate feelings of powerlessness and guilt by ascribing misfortune to powers beyond our understanding.

#5 Theory5

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 11:35 AM

I see religion as man's inability to grasp nothingness, and to explain away fears and phenomena that don't fit into our understanding.

#6 InfiniteNow

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Posted 25 April 2009 - 01:03 AM

Let's try to bear in mind, folks, that this is a thread in the Psychology forum, not philosophy or speculations.

Andy Thomson, a practicing psychiatrist, uses his knowledge of the human mind and countless neuropsychological research studies to make the case of how religion and belief in god are by-products of our evolved neural architecture. Below is his talk titled 'Why We Believe in Gods' which he presented at the American Atheist 2009 convention in Atlanta, Georgia.


I think it pertains closely to the OP. Press play. Use full screen.

YouTube - Why We Believe in Gods - Andy Thomson - American Atheists 09



Let us know what you think.

#7 HydrogenBond

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Posted 25 April 2009 - 07:29 AM

Natural selection is not only based on the random changes and drift of the DNA, but it is also defined in the context of the natural environment. For example, if one animal develops the gene for thicker fur and the other develops the gene for thinner fur, if the environment is hot, the second animal will have natural selection. If the environment is cold, the first will have natural selection. If one animal develops a longer neck and the other a shorter neck, if the trees in their environment grow tall, the first will have natural selection. If the trees get shorter the second will have natural selection.

Since humans can control the environment, we can make the environment cold and breed only tall trees. This controlled environment will selectively give "natural selection", to tall animals with thick fur.

In the natural world (without human intervention), the environment changes. For example, the earth goes through cooling and warming cycles, allowing thick fur and thin fur critters a turn at natural selection. Humans can control the environment and pick one part of the sine wave and define natural selection. In nature, natural selection is defined in the context of an environment that is changing naturally. With human intervention we can alter the environment any way we want, thereby defining which genes will define natural selection.

In the early days of civilization, religion controlled the human environment and therefore set the environment that would decide natural selection. Those with this genetic propensity for the environmental requirements of religions, would best adapt to that controlled environment. In modern times, science's controls the environment, shifting natural selection to those with similar genetic propensity.

Science can control the environment more extensively than religion because of technology. That means the natural environment has less impact when it comes to defining natural selection. Science needs to define a new term to better differentiate natural selection and controlled selection. Natural selection could mean natural genetic change in the context of a natural environment. Natural genetic change in the context of a synthetic environment, could be called assisted natural selection to reflect human assisted direction.

Relative to religious behavior, if you look at belief in supernatural, this might disconnect one from the cause and effect of the natural world. This could make it harder to control the physical environment in a synthetic way. This could result in less assisted selective advantage.

#8 InfiniteNow

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Posted 25 April 2009 - 08:58 AM

Well, that unsupported conjectural rubbish above certainly has Jack, and also his other brother ****, to do with the thread.

#9 InfiniteNow

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Posted 26 April 2009 - 07:19 AM

Andy Thomson, a practicing psychiatrist, uses his knowledge of the human mind and countless neuropsychological research studies to make the case of how religion and belief in god are by-products of our evolved neural architecture. Below is his talk titled 'Why We Believe in Gods' which he presented at the American Atheist 2009 convention in Atlanta, Georgia.


I think it pertains closely to the OP. Press play. Use full screen.

YouTube - Why We Believe in Gods - Andy Thomson - American Atheists 09



Let us know what you think.



More on Andy's talk, and some of his comments:

If you understand the psychology of [why we crave] the Big Mac meal, you understand the psychology of religion. We evolved adaptations for things that were crucial and rare... the sugars of ripe fruit... fat of lean game meat... for salt... those were crucial adaptations in our past. And now the modern world creates a novel form of it that comes from those adaptations, but hijacks them with super-normal stimuli... not ripe fruit, but a coca-cola... not lean game meat, but fat hamburger and french fries soaked in meat juice... and it creates these super-normal stimuli, but they're based on ancient adaptations.

Let me take you on a bit of a tour of a few of these cognitive mechanisms.

The first is Decoupled Cognition...
<more at the video linked above>



He argues how our complex social interactions with unseen others (think visualization and mental rehearsal) are just one step away from communicating with a dead ancestor and one step further to communicating to a god or gods. He also illuminates our susceptibility to optical and other illusions, and how these same "gap filling" tendencies in the brain lend a giant opening for supernatural figures. It's called intuitive reasoning, and it underlines the essence of religious ideas, which he describes as minimally counterintuitive worlds.