Friday, May 13, 2011

Fresh Saga of Apologists for Religion Falling Over Backwards

The Religious and the Faithful across the world are quite diligent in trying to spread their beliefs around. Clearly, their intellectual laziness (inherent in their stance embracing 'goddidit' as a single unifying explanation of all natural phenomena) does not dull their proselytizing fervor. As a result, every so often, studies spring up purporting to show how deep and inherent religious belief is to the human nature. Whichever way these studies are constructed, the conclusions - always delivered with a hint of smugness - often seem to be the same:
(1) Religion and religious belief are deep-rooted and universal,
(2) They ain't goin' away nowhere,
(3) Atheists, just deal with it.

A new study from Oxford University under the aegis of the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project (funded by none other than the John Templeton Foundation - of course!), brings forth more of the same.

As reported on CNN today, this 3-year project, under Professor Roger Trig,

...incorporated more than 40 different studies by dozens of researchers looking at countries from China to Poland and the United States to Micronesia... Studies around the world came up with similar findings, including widespread belief in some kind of afterlife and an instinctive tendency to suggest that natural phenomena happen for a purpose.

Professor Trig provided his insights on the study outcome by holding forth on the thesis that human beings instinctively align themselves with religious beliefs. He commented:

We tend to see purpose in the world... We see agency. We think that something is there even if you can't see it... All this tends to build up to a religious way of thinking.

Yes, Professor, but just because human beings tend to see agency - in your opinion - doesn't mean that there is one. Do remember that the human brain is capable of a lot of things - hallucination, amongst them. In fact, hallucination induced by Psilocybin, the psychoactive metabolite from certain mushrooms, is often indistinguishable from profound religious experiences.

Therefore, Professor, please don't presume to speak for the entire human race. The Religious and you may want to think there is something, a higher power, a supernatural entity - even in stunning absence of any evidence, but there are a lot of us who prefer to stick to rationality and empiricism, thank you very much.

The good Professor also put forth other observations:

Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways," such as believing in God's omniscience, said Trigg. But adults also jumped first for explanations that implied an unseen agent at work in the world, the study found.

Ah, think of the children. Well, children also believe in ghosts, fairies, leprechauns, unicorns, magic pixie dust, and the Sasquatch. So, do we now start taking all these as, you know, FACTS?

Actually, I am kinda glad that Professor Trig brought up the beliefs of children. You see, that's what religion does. It encourages a regression to infantility, where even physically adult human beings would be incapable of making rational decisions (there is a prayer for that) and taking responsibilities for their actions (god's work, absolution through confession, and all that jazz). It shuts down their brains by means of indoctrination - emphasizing that there is a sky-daddy to hold their hands through life. Such a loathsome disservice to the collective intellectual faculties of the human race!

The other co-director of the study, Dr. Justin Barrett (of Oxford University's Centre for Anthropology and Mind), takes a more rational approach, saying:

This project does not set out to prove God or gods exist. Just because we find it easier to think in a particular way does not mean that it is true in fact. [Emphasis mine]

I somehow doubt that his co-director, Professor Trig, gets that point at all, because he has already bloviated on possible 'implications' of this study - contending that:

it has profound implications for religious freedom... If you've got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfil their basic interests.

Sorry, Professor, my basic interests (and those of many others) lie elsewhere, in more constructive and rational exercises, not in fantasizing about non-existent entities.

Professor Trig is not content to have the religious keep their private beliefs to themselves. He must find it everywhere.

"There is quite a drive to think that religion is private," he said, arguing that such a belief is wrong. "It isn't just a quirky interest of a few, it's basic human nature... This shows that it's much more universal, prevalent, and deep-rooted. It's got to be reckoned with. You can't just pretend it isn't there."

Atheists, particularly those fighting forces of irrationality on a daily basis, wouldn't have any truck with that particular strawman. But a study, where participating "adults also jumped first for explanations that implied an unseen agent at work in the world", must face a lot of tough questions about the intellectual abilities of the said participants. As is said, "Garbage in, garbage out."

But then, what else can you expect from a study funded by the Templeton Foundation? I leave you to draw your own conclusions with a recent, informative article by Jerry Coyne published in the Guardian on the principles and practices of that hallowed organization of piety.


  1. Good one.

    There are too many important covariates to be ignored in here. E.g. they certainly should've noted the easily collectible info such as their parents' educational and economical levels, and their own education. Any rough estimate of IQ would be useful too. And of course, the country!

    If % of belief is regressed on these factors, I think many predictable trends will show up. But c'mon, this is being funded by Templeton!

  2. I'm waiting for the actual study report to be made available. Then we'll know more.

  3. There was a short piiece on BBC Radio 4's "Sunday" programme today, featuring Dr. Justin Barrett. The way I interpret his comments is that as people become more educated they find alternatives to religion, i.e. science-based explanations.

    I've put the audio up on YouTube,

  4. Web link changed from my previous comment: