An atheist psycho-neuroscience students take on religion.
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27-05-2010, 05:15 PM
An atheist psycho-neuroscience students take on religion.

I'm studying for my masters in Psychological Neurscience.
I'm also an atheist, and I'm new to this forum.
I'm also going to become the founder of the Norwegian National Atheist Foundation (This sounds better in Norwegian).

In cognitive studies of behaviour and thought patterns there are some differantial dispositions occuring (measurable) aswell in the ways of how deeply religious or deeply skeptical people think. This is correlation, and disposition, so when I say there's a difference, it doesn't mean every single person belonging to that group, this is science, we see some difference in the total of observable stimuli withing a populous.


I've been thinking about something while reading and participating in a neurological study of eye-hand placement co-ordination and learned patterns.

What if, religion, which I believe occured through evolution, helping people explain the unexplainable to stop wasting time with novel tasks such as being skeptic and rather reproduce and gather food.

If the cognitive patterns observable from non-skeptic people are basically an adaptation to a pre-scientific society (like many fat people are adapted to a "pre"-carbohydrate society), and their patterns of cognition are unchangable except through natural selection. Seeing as the earlier strong social pressures to conform to religion might've made skepticism to religion lie as a dormant trait, and our now secular culture has made this trait mushroom in correspondance with societies accepted expression of said trait.

What if religious thinking and "reasoning" is based on, not directly gene-related heritable and measurable traits, (there's no 'religious gene') but rather an adaptation to a thought pattern which conditioned by society can't be changed or opened up. (Similar to reproductive strategies that form from bornds to care-persons.)

This would ofcourse also affect the skeptic masses in the same way.

If this is understandable to you, then I have a question;

- Through which measures should/could one go to condition offspring to skeptic and reflective cognitive thought patterns (which might have other benefits/down-sides also), seeing as religious people are happier (ignorance is bliss, no worries of death etc). For me this is an ethical dilemma, not everyone is able to handle the truth (cliché), due to religion people with traits that are highly dependable on support have been able to imagive (without being deemed crazy) some form of support, they've survived because they've found something to prevent their genetic pre-dispositions from making them to anxious to function, the same way insuling makes diabetics not die.

At the same time religious groups contribute safe, easy and understandable group-related activities, as a social animal we've developed a 'need to belong', and if we'd wish to fulfill research goal 1, we must, ethically, ensure that the needs that will go unfulfilled (social groups, imagined-support, lack of fear of death etc) are suffuciently available/developed. Cognitive-therapy, mindfullness and other social groupings (like fanclubs for teams...) must be readily available to those who need them.

If this is unclear, please respond. But I do guess most people who'se studied at uni/college ++ level will understand the ethical principals underlying my dilemma.
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27-05-2010, 07:03 PM
RE: An atheist psycho-neuroscience students take on religion.
From what I am understanding, your question is, "is it ok to teach our children to be skeptics, and to think for themselves, even though there are potential downsides?" (I am not educated beyond high school, so forgive me for "dumbing it down").
Personally, I don't see any ethical dilemma at all. In fact, present society is becoming ever more accepting of atheism, and expects critical thinking more from our younger generations. By not teaching skepticism, I think we would simply be attempting to shelter them from dangers that we would not be able to protect them from once they have ventured out on their own. Sure, theres going to be times when they are unfairly judged by their beliefs, or lack thereof. Thats life though, and as a parent, it is our responsibility to prepare our kids for that, not shelter them from it by teaching them to be sheep. By not teaching skeptisism, we are doing our children a dis-service. In my opinion, even a theist should teach their kids to use critical thought, and determine their beliefs based on thought, not blind faith. (If that were to happen of course, religion would disappear in a single generation, but hey, a guys gotta have a dream, right?)
I suspect that those who cannot handle the truth, and spend their lives in a constant stae of worry and fear of death, are the very same people who were raised to believe what is safe, instead of believing what makes sense. There are plenty of resources that an atheist can find for support, without resorting to organized religion, and so the need for support to ease ones worries is a non-issue. The genetic pre-disposition that you refer to is a very interesting theory. I think it is true to a degree. I do think that people have a "need" to explain things. Religion was the way they did in the past, but science has reached a point at which I don't think religion is nescessary to keep the masses from "worrying to death".

Then again, maybe I'm way off. Who knows? Just one guys opinion.

And if I got your question wrong....oops. Guess thats what happens when someone with no "uni/college" education gets hold of the internet! LOL.

So many cats, so few good recipes.
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29-05-2010, 10:51 PM
RE: An atheist psycho-neuroscience students take on religion.

1) Protecting them from indoctrination is a pretty good way, teaching the scientific method well also helps I believe.

2) "seeing as religious people are happier" slow down there a second. How can you determine if someone is happier with religion if you can never test how happy they are without it?

Inevitable death, uncaring universe can be seen as depressing statements, not nearly depressing as spending eternity in torment within the depths of hell though.

I don't think there's a direct causation between religion in happiness, religion may define your lifestyle which could then make you happier or more depressed. Assuming religion makes people happier is an extraordinary claim backed up by little evidence.


This may sound strange, but if you really want to understand how religion works, learn about the evolutionary biology of a virus. The virus makes for a great, and astoundingly accurate metaphor for religion.

The person brain is but a host for the virus which is religion, it has been constantly evolving over the last 10, 000 years. The religions which don't invoke fear, guilt and need to belong have all died out. So we're left with religions very well adapted to their environment.

The religion does provide for the host body, it simply undergoes natural selection until it gets to a stage at which it propagates itself more readily.

You have to take my word on faith at this point however there are a few books out there on the mind virus which is religion.
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