Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Is Religion A Conspirancy?

[First a Welcome: I am pleased to welcome Mr. Anjanna to the Blog. He raised some interesting questions on the Post "Nothing is Ever Born." I have given my response in the Comments section and look forward to his continued contribution. 
(The length of my repsonse is over 1170 words long and can almost be treated as Advaita 101).]


Dr. M. Shermer wrote a brief article on "Why People Believe in Conspiracies" in the September issue of Scientific American. One of the readers observed that religion was perhaps the oldest conspiracy.
Consciousness is a word captured by philosophers and monopolized by the religious lot to the extent that scientists remained for a long time reluctant even to touch any thing that has to do with consciousness. Science is now teasing out consciousness slowly and hesitantly because of the baggage the word has accumulated in history.

The two words Consciousness and Conspiracy are in fact derived from the same root as explained in detail by Dr. A. Zeman.

Dr. Pascal Boyer published a book, "Religion Explained" a few years ago. It had the subtitle: The Evolutionary Foundations of Religious Belief. Of late many universities are carrying out research on the Evoluion of Religion.

The points raised by Dr. Shermer with regard to conspiaracy are quite relevant in the context of religious evolution too. An extract from his article is given below:

"Why do people believe in highly improbable conspiracies? In previous columns I have provided partial answers, citing patternicity (the tendency to find meaningful patterns in random noise) and agenticity (the bent to believe the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents). Conspiracy theories connect the dots of random events into meaningful patterns and then infuse those patterns with intentional agency. Add to those propensities the confirmation bias (which seeks and finds confirmatory evidence for what we already believe) and the hindsight bias (which tailors after-the-fact explanations to what we already know happened), and we have the foundation for conspiratorial cognition."

To the above I will add "Endowment Effect" which was initially proposed by Chicago economists. I think it has a powerful psychological role in sustaining religious belief. Man does not like to give up anything he has (perhaps including his memetic infections) and hence continues with unfalsifiable belief structures in the name of religion.

Added on 08 Oct 2011:
Cognitive and neural foundations of religious belief, in PNAS, Mar 09, 2009:
"We propose an integrative cognitive neuroscience framework for understanding the cognitive and neural foundations of religious belief. Our analysis reveals 3 psychological dimensions of religious belief (God's perceived level of involvement, God's perceived emotion, and doctrinal/experiential religious knowledge), which functional MRI localizes within networks processing Theory of Mind regarding intent and emotion, abstract semantics, and imagery. Our results are unique in demonstrating that specific components of religious belief are mediated by well-known brain networks, and support contemporary psychological theories that ground religious belief within evolutionary adaptive cognitive functions."

Added on 15 May 2012:
Why religion exists:

"The primary purpose of religious belief is to enhance the basic cognitive process of self-control which in turn promotes any number of valuable social behaviors. Volunteers were primed in four experiments to think about religious matters. Those volunteers showed more discipline than controls, and more ability to delay gratification."

No comments: