Religious beliefs are a kind of play

Songkran festival - Religious beliefs are playOne of the most important questions in the cognitive science of religion is, “Why do people believe in God or gods?” It seems to boggle the mind: how on earth can people seriously believe propositions that lack any concrete evidence? After all, we believe in chairs and dachshunds because those things obviously exist. We can see them, touch them, hear them. There’s no equivalent evidence for the resurrected Christ or an all-powerful God. But one philosopher of cognition, Neil Van Leeuwen, argues that this difference actually means that religious beliefs are different from normal beliefs. In fact, they’re a lot more like play. [Read more…]

A computer model of atheism?

Connor Wood

Robot laptop

Since earning my PhD last year, I’ve been working as a postdoc on the Modeling Religion Project at the Center for Mind and Culture in Boston. We use computer simulations to refine and compare theories of religion, cognition, and culture, trying to understand, say, the causal relationships between ritual behavior and social and psychological outcomes. And people are starting to pay attention. Recently, the science magazine Nautilus published a feature-length article on our project. The author, Michael Fitzgerald, highlighted our team’s attempts to understand the role that religion has played in large-scale cultural transformations, like the switch from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled agriculture – or the rise of secularism in the modern West. [Read more…]

Education’s effect on religion

Nicholas C. DiDonato

College

Since the beginning of the Enlightenment, academics assumed that as education increases, religion would decrease. Yet, in the late 19th century, the world witnessed the birth of fundamentalism, Biblical inerrancy, and papal infallibility. Despite the great increase in education beginning in the 18th century, religion has not only grown but has become more conservative. Interested in higher education’s real effect on religion, sociologist Jonathan Hill (Calvin College) found that it mildly increases skepticism toward super-empirical beliefs, decreases adherence to exclusivism, and increases preference for institutionalized religion.

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