December 1, 2009 at 1:00 pm #32750
note: interesting study, and it supports what I wrote in my Beijing conference piece on the nature of the scientific and religious imagination. What is key is not the science, but the imagination. Alchemy is fusion of the two types of imagination. – Michael
DEAR GOD, PLEASE CONFIRM WHAT I ALREADY BELIEVE
By Andy Coghlan
November 30, 2009
God may have created man in his image, but it seems we return the favour.
Believers subconsciously endow God with their own beliefs on controversial
“Intuiting God’s beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent
guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber to validate and justify
one’s own beliefs,” writes a team led by Nicholas Epley of the University of
Chicago in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers started by asking volunteers who said they believe in God to
give their own views on controversial topics, such as abortion and the death
penalty. They also asked what the volunteers thought were the views of God,
average Americans and public figures such as Bill Gates. Volunteers’ own
beliefs corresponded most strongly with those they attributed to God.
Next, the team asked another group of volunteers to undertake tasks designed
to soften their existing views, such as preparing speeches on the death
penalty in which they had to take the opposite view to their own. They found
that this led to shifts in the beliefs attributed to God, but not in those
attributed to other people.
“People may use religious agents as a moral compass, forming impressions and
making decisions based on what they presume God as the ultimate moral
authority would believe or want,” the team write. “The central feature of a
compass, however, is that it points north no matter what direction a person
is facing. This research suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences
about God’s beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction
they are already facing.”
“The experiments in which we manipulate people’s own beliefs are the most
compelling evidence we have to show that people’s own beliefs influence what
they think God believes more substantially than it influences what they
think other people believe,” says Epley.
Finally, the team used fMRI to scan the brains of volunteers while they
contemplated the beliefs of themselves, God or “average Americans”. In all
the experiments the volunteers professed beliefs in an Abrahamic God. The
majority were Christian.
In the first two cases, similar parts of the brain were active. When asked
to contemplate other Americans’ beliefs, however, an area of the brain used
for inferring other people’s mental states was active. This implies that
people map God’s beliefs onto their own.
Other researchers say the findings reinforce earlier studies suggesting that
thinking about God is intimately linked to the imagination.
These experiments “support previous findings that representations of God
seem intimately related to the self, also in terms of brain function”, says
Uffe Schjødt of Aarhus University in Denmark, whose research published
earlier this year showed that praying uses similar brain regions as talking
to a friend.
“These findings help explain why supernatural religious agents are often
attributed a physical form and issue edicts that resemble the social
practices of the culture from which they emerge,” says Jordan Grafman of the
US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda,
Maryland, whose team earlier this year linked emergence of religion with the
development of “theory of mind”, the capacity to recognise that other living
things have independent thought and intentions.December 1, 2009 at 1:57 pm #32751
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.