Over generations, religion shapes genetics

Connor Wood

In the United States, religion is usually said to be a personal affair – one’s own private decision about how and what to believe. But this remarkably private and individualistic approach is somewhat odd when compared with the vast majority of cultures and religions throughout history. Far more often, religion has been a public affiliation, determining cultural identities, affecting marriage and family choices, and defining groups in relation to each other. A fascinating recent study published in PLOS Genetics shows just how inextricable religion often is from culture, finding that religious identity has decisively shaped the genetic landscape of the Levant – so decisively, in fact, that Lebanese Muslims are more closely related to fellow Muslims from Morocco or Yemen than they are to their Christian or Jewish compatriots.

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Why the Templeton Foundation Is a Darn Good Thing

This week, an article at Slate has been making the rounds in which Sean Carroll, a Caltech physicist, proclaims loudly that he will never accept research funding from the Templeton Foundation. The Templeton Foundation is one of the largest non-governmental funders of scientific research in the world, and it distinguishes itself from other organizations through its interest in religion and its mandate to address the “big questions” like the meaning and purpose of life. Carroll and others believe that this religion-science collaboration stains of the purity of science, and I think this is great. It means there’s more Templeton research funding for me, my colleagues, and others who think that religion needs to be taken seriously.  [Read more…]

How the brain escapes the self

Connor Wood

Religious experiences get described in a lot of ways. People gushingly talk about a profound sense of oneness, about incredible bliss, joy, and ineffable meaning. One thing you almost never hear, however, is that a religious experience made someone more greedy and selfish. No one ever says, “Hey, you know what? I just experienced ultimate spiritual bliss, and boy, did it ever make me focus neurotically on my own struggles, financial problems, and dating insecurities!” Why this incompatibility between spirituality and self-absorption? A team of researchers from the University of Missouri thinks that the reason might be found in the brain, where reduced function in the region associated with self-awareness is correlated with greater spirituality.

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Psychology and the religion-science conflict: Part 2

Pensive scientist

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Having learned more about how everyday people handle the so-called “religion-science” conflict, psychologist Cristine Legare (University of Texas at Austin) and philosopher of religion Aku Visala (University of Oxford) now aim to use their data to critique and inform the standard philosophical approaches to this issue. Philosophers typically, at minimum, categorize religion-science approaches in three ways: conflict, independence, and reconciliation. Legare and Visala find that so few people actually adhere to the first two that only reconciliation plausibly coheres with human cognition.

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Psychology and the religion-science conflict: Part 1

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Man of Science with Religions

Talk of the “religion and science conflict” sets a trap: one quickly winds up pontificating about abstract objects as if they were real without any grounding in reality. “Religion” becomes a monolithic abstract entity, whose adherents all behave in the same way, and ditto for “science.” In hopes of looking at the religion-science conflict empirically, psychologists Cristine Legare (University of Texas at Austin) and Aku Visala (University of Oxford) take a psychological approach, concluding that scientific explanations do not replace religious ones. In Part 2 of this post, they critique the standard religion-science discussion.

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An evidence-based rethinking of the religion-science conflict

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Study group

All too often, people assume that Christians don’t know or don’t want to know science because science conflicts with their beliefs: Christianity acts as a force for science illiteracy. However, research by sociologist John Evans (University of California, San Diego) suggests otherwise. His findings conclude that (1) Christians know just as much science as the non-religious; (2) conservative Christians favor their religious beliefs over science when the two “conflict” but, from their perspective, the two in fact are not in conflict; and (3) conservative Protestants oppose scientists’ influence in political issues when the scientists disagree with their moral values.

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Interview: Michael Ruse on Evolution, Creationism, and Religion

Daniel Ansted

Creationism vs Evolution

Michael Ruse is a professor of philosophy at Florida State University and a worldwide expert on the relationship between religion and science. His work has focused especially on the convoluted relationship between the American public and Darwinian evolution; he famously testified in McLean vs. Arkansas in 1981 that creation science – a form of Christian creationism that claims to be scientifically valid – should not be allowed in public science classes, because it features virtually none of the characteristics of true science. Contributor Daniel Ansted studied under Ruse during his time at FSU, and recently asked his former mentor for an interview. Here is their (slightly abridged, and still fascinating) conversation.

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Why atheist scientists bring their children to church

Nicholas C. DiDonato

The formula seems simple: parents pass down what they believe to their children. Atheist parents don’t believe in God or go to church, therefore…. Yet, a surprisingly large number of atheist scientists from elite universities raise their children in a religious community such as a church. Sociologists Elaine Ecklund (Rice University) and Kristen Lee (University of Buffalo, SUNY) found that these atheist scientists do so because they want to give their children religious choice, have a religious spouse, or think that religious communities will give their children moral bearings and community.

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Patheos Book Discussion: Seven Glorious Days

Seven Glorious Days

Connor Wood

This post is part of a reflection series on the new book Seven Glorious Days, by Karl W. Giberson, at the Patheos Book Club.

In a famous essay entitled “The Effectiveness of Symbols,” the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss quietly made a claim that ought to be central to every thinking person’s understanding of religion. The claim was this: religious experience – in this case, an encounter with a South American shaman – fundamentally forces the experiencer into a confrontation with the parts of life that don’t work. Suffering, absurdity, a bloody breach birth: without the help of the spirits, we turn our heads away from these little catastrophes, and the result is that they proliferate around us like weeds. It takes the gods to jerk our heads back towards the troubles at hand, to confront them directly.

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Where does religious doubt come from? The forebrain

Doubt

Connor Wood

You wake up one morning to a phone call. On the other end, a friend’s voice excitedly tells you that he knows where to find a leprechaun’s pot of gold in a nearby park. Do you want to come help him dig for it? If you are a normal person, you will roll your eyes, hang up, and (hopefully) go back to sleep. But according to new research from the University of Iowa, if you have damage to a specific area of your neocortex related to doubt and skepticism, you might jump up and start looking around for your shovel. And guess what – if so, you’re also more likely to be a religious fundamentalist.

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