7 Reasons Why It's Easier for Humans to Believe in God Than Evolution7 Reasons Why It's Easier for Humans to Believe in God Than Evolution
What science can tell us about our not-so-scientific minds.
By Chris Mooney | Tue Nov. 26, 2013 12:31 PM EST
(..) Here's a list of cognitive traits, thinking styles, and psychological factors identified in recent research that seem to thwart evolution acceptance:
First, we seem to have a deep tendency to think about biology in a way that is "essentialist"(..) Fish have gills, birds have wings, fish make more fish, birds make more birds, and that's how it all works. Essentialist thinking has been demonstrated in young children. (..) Charles Darwin and his many scientific disciples have shown that essentialism is just plain wrong: Given enough time, biological kinds are not fixed but actually change. (..)
(..)"teleology," or the tendency to ascribe purposes to things and objects so as to assume they exist to serve some goal. Recent research suggests that 4 and 5 year old children are highly teleological in their thinking, (..) clouds are "for raining" and that the purpose of lions is "to go in the zoo." ..)
In other words, our brains developed for thinking about what people are thinking, and people have intentions and goals. If that's right, the playing field may be naturally tilted toward anti-evolutionist doctrines like "intelligent design," which postulates an intelligent agent (God) as the cause of the diversity of life on Earth, (..)
Overactive Agency Detection.
But how do you know the designer is "God"? That too may be the result of a default brain setting.
Another trait, closely related to teleological thinking, is our tendency to treat any number of inanimate objects as if they have minds and intentions. Examples of faulty agency detection, (..) range from seeing "faces in the clouds" to "getting really angry at your computer when it starts to malfunction." People engage in such "anthropomorphizing" all the time (..) "Supernatural agents are readily conjured up because natural selection has trip-wired cognitive schema for agency detection in the face of uncertainty," write Norenzayan and fellow origin of religion scholar Scott Atran.
Yet another apparent feature of our cognitive architecture is the tendency to think that minds (or the "self" and the "soul" are somehow separate from brains. (..) "Preschool children will claim that the brain is responsible for some aspects of mental life, typically those involving deliberative mental work (but) that the brain is not involved in a host of other activities, such as pretending to be a kangaroo, (..)
Dualistic thinking is closely related to belief in phenomena like spirits and ghosts. But in a recent study, it was also the cognitive factor most strongly associated with believing in God. As for evolutionary science? Dualism is pretty clearly implicated in resistance to the idea that human beings could have developed from purely natural processesfor if they did, how could there ever be a soul or self beyond the body, to say nothing of an afterlife?
Inability to Comprehend Vast Time Scales.
According to Norenzayan, there's one more basic cognitive factor that prevents us from easily understanding evolution. Evolution occurred due to the accumulation of many small changes over vast time periodswhich means that it is unlike anything we've experienced. So even thinking about it isn't very easy. "The only way you can appreciate the process of evolution is in an abstract way," says Norenzayan. "Over millions of years, small changes accumulate, but it's not intuitive. There's nothing in our brain that says that's true. We have to override our incredulity."
Group Morality and Tribalism.
(..) beyond these cognitive factors, there are also emotional reasons why a lot of people don't want to believe in evolution. When we see resistance to its teaching, after all, it is usually because a religious community fears that this body of science will undermine a belief system (..) deemed to serve as the foundation for shared values and understanding. In other words, evolution is resisted because it is perceived as a threat to the group.
(..) The upside is unity; the downside, Haidt continues, is "groupishness, tribalism, and nationalism." Ideas and beliefs that threaten the group or the beliefs that hold it togetherideas like evolutionare bound to fare badly in this context.
Fear and the Need for Certainty.
Finally, there appears to be something about fear and doubt that impels religiosity and dispels acceptance of evolution. "People seem to take more comfort from a stance that says, someone designed the world with good intentions, instead of that the world is just an intention-less, random place," says Norenzayan. "This is especially true when we feel a sense of threat, or a feeling of not being in control."
Indeed, in one amazing study, New Zealanders who had just suffered through a severe earthquake showed stronger religiosity, but only if they had been directly affected by the quake. Other research suggests that making people think about death increases their religiosity and also decreases evolution acceptance. (..)
Science completely ignores that whole "meaning of life" thing. Religion gives us a reason for us to exist and hope that things will eventually even out. Most of us will be screwed in this life, but there is something after that will work out OK-- the just will be rewarded and the wicked punished.
Call it bullshit, and it is, but the superbly creative minds that we have evolved can't help but take us in this direction.
Really, most people can't understand set theory, but they do know when they've been hurt.
But as it is a business of false hope, it's the opiate described by Marx.
Better to refocus on improving the hic et nunc
(and avoid religion induced warfare and gender oppression)
I rarely see religion as a specific instigator of war and oppression. I've seen it as usually the excuse used by people who want war and oppression.
And, yes, it would be preferable to improve the present life, but that hasn't been going too well, has it?
Well, scientific progress has far outstripped that of mentalities, so all is not well.
But there have also been great material (medical) and moral (slavery) advances.
Being an optimist, I'd bet on the human species for the time this planet stays life supporting.
when we get up to 10 billion, India still doesn't have toilets, and we have to drink seawater-- would life be worth living if you're not in one of those science fiction compounds?
My instinct tells me that #6 "Group Morality and Tribalism" dominates all the others.
Heard TV interviews where ex-Mormons in Salt Lake City said leaving the Mormon Church was to become an outcast.
Ditto for Islam in 'muslim' countries.
because I don't believe a single solitary word of it.
That doesn't bother me in the least.
Even predates the modern rebirth of the Church of the Flying Sppaghetti Monster by 15 years
"The earliest documented reference to the IPU was on July 7, 1990"
This is why it is important for people to see everywhere that they are not alone in abandoning ancient superstitions and that it is not the end of their lives.
This is why it is important to loudly call out religious lies and bunk.
I never found evolution hard to 'believe in'. The fossil record is there. But I grew up in the UK, where any public figure who said they are a creationist would get laughed at. No-one has ever tried to claim that understanding evolution is a moral problem.
Evolution deniers cultivate their own willful ignorance.
The first point to make is that doing good science is hard work, usually requiring some training and a definite interest in making progress towards the solution of certain rather specific problems
Most people have other interests and want to spend their time in other ways: they don't want to devote substantial effort to understand the issues, especially if they can't see how they themselves would benefit from it
This is especially true if the evidence is exceptionally complicated
Hardly anyone, for example, has ever reviewed in its entirety the "proof" of the classification of finite groups (which is estimated to have involved over 15000 pages of journal articles by a very large number of different mathematicians over the years) or the original "proof" of the four color theorem only a few years earlier, which involved extensive computer verifications that any planar graph contained at least one of a very large number of reducible configurations
The evidence for evolution becomes convincing in part because a variety of specialized approaches and techniques help make sense of the subject -- but this also means that the subject is now well beyond the ability of any one person to survey with much completeness. Unfortunately, this means that the lay opponent of evolution can probably with some justification say to almost any defender, Well, you don't know that much about it either
A second point to make is that evolutionary theory is really an interpretative program and a scheme for unifying our biological knowledge with biochemistry, physics, geology, and the fossil record. It seems to be an extraordinarily successful scheme; and the facts that such a grandiose program works as well as it does, there being at present no credible scientific alternative to it, provides us sound reason to continue following the program. But one never proves a scientific theory: rather, one merely explores the limits of its usefulness. The rhetorical benefits of this view are, however, quite limited for debating purposes; but perhaps the time is now past, when rhetoric could be thought to play any defensible role in scientific work
Third, it should be clear to anyone with any interest in scientific work that "god" is not a scientific term. There's no way, for example, to incorporate "god" into an equation of physics and expect to obtain reproducible experimental results from the equation. We have many ideas that are useful to us but are not really scientific ideas, such as "justice" (which is not an observable object but perhaps a value judgment) or "general orthogonal group" (which describes a certain collection of transformations of a euclidean space -- another "thing" that exists only in the realms of thought). So questions about whether one chooses to believes in god or in evolution seem to me garbled from the outset
That's just one sentence with two different meanings of the same verb.
Believing the Theory of Evolution means to have a reasonable level of confidence in the findings and modelization.
Believing in god is to want to have faith in something unprovable on the basis of old books of dubious backgrounds.
between the halves of that alternative, which seems to me one very good reason to suspect such questions are specious. I also think just about everybody here at this site agrees the old texts are not science books: since we don't look to them for guidance in electrical or chemical theory, it's hard to understand how anyone could think they offer any guidance in (say) astronomical or biological theory
Still, scientific theories are not the only topics that people find cause to contemplate; nor is there any justification for sneering at the people who came before us, especially since all our comforts and understandings are built on their long efforts
But we also must acknowledge they did the best they could with the hand they were dealt.
That included inventing gods to reassure themselves.
Let's celebrate their ingenuity, which allowed us to be alive today, by not mimicking their errors.
Plato and Aristotle, given our scientific knowledge, would ditch gods faster than their shadows.
I should say that I have some difficulty making much sense of what he writes:
Book XII ... Part 7 ... If, then, God is always in that good state in which we sometimes are, this compels our wonder; and if in a better this compels it yet more. And God is in a better state. And life also belongs to God; for the actuality of thought is life, and God is that actuality; and God's self-dependent actuality is life most good and eternal. We say therefore that God is a living being, eternal, most good, so that life and duration continuous and eternal belong to God; for this is God ... It is clear then from what has been said that there is a substance which is eternal and unmovable and separate from sensible things. It has been shown also that this substance cannot have any magnitude, but is without parts and indivisible (for it produces movement through infinite time, but nothing finite has infinite power; and, while every magnitude is either infinite or finite, it cannot, for the above reason, have finite magnitude, and it cannot have infinite magnitude because there is no infinite magnitude at all). But it has also been shown that it is impassive and unalterable; for all the other changes are posterior to change of place ...
Perhaps my difficulties here stem only from my lack of interest in metaphysics, or perhaps my difficulties here stem from my preconceptions or from my training in a different era with different logical presuppositions: I'm inclined towards some suspicion regarding what generalities can be established by purely philosophical analysis, other than some vagaries of our own thoughts; and I find myself somewhat concerned by the dangers of hypostatization. I also consider the reductionist view, which claims we cannot have any clear or useful ideas on anything other than scientific topics, rather sterile: there are all manner of interesting non-scientific matters, such as ethics or number theory, some of which concerned people in the past and which remain unsolved today
When considering an ancient collection of texts such as the Hebrew Tanakh, many distinct approaches are possible: it seems to me uninformative when biblical literalists claim such texts must be taken as word-for-word "true," since people have long argued profitably about the meanings of various short punchy stories in those texts
The notion that Genesis 1 is intended as a scientific text seems to me risible, since the whole book is full of stories whose purpose is obviously other than scientific: the flood story, for example, is evidently a re-telling of part of the Gilgamesh saga, but with certain changes that may have had a specific polemical value at the time. The context now being largely unavailable to us, we can only guess why (say) Genesis 1 tells of light being created even before the sky was created by separating of waters above and below, the sun being created only afterwards, or why the creation of light is described as good but the creation of the sky is not -- but one should naturally wonder whether some polemical values were also involved in that re-telling of earlier now-lost stories. Coming from a culture that made a point of rejecting idol worship, the Genesis 1 assertion in His image he created him, male and female invites a reading as an inversion of idolatry that may also function to explain the prohibition of idols, rather along these lines: if you need to see an image of the divine, gaze on your brothers and sisters and perhaps comparable to to the dictum of Protagoras ("Man is the measure of all things" , which dates from about the same era as the current compilation of the Torah. The Genesis 1 doctrine that the Creator rested on the seventh day is similarly interesting: it may serve as an ideological justification for refusing to work one day each week; but it also suggests that the work of creation is unfinished, leaving to humans the task of continuing the work; and since the Creator in Genesis 1 often works by speaking, the claim that humans were made in the divine image may also be read as a commentary on the creative potential of our speech in the world
Such readings seem to me more informative and interesting than a bland dismissal of Genesis 1 as a now-outdated attempt at a scientific explanation of the world
...I don't "God" (something we really can't measure, scientifically) and evolution as incompatible.
but it's also not doing much. And has nothing to say on morality.
So, in essence, it makes your behavior comparable to that of an atheist.
I think there are more things possible than humans have even dreamt about - let alone believed - based on their "religion". But, I don't have any inside knowledge.