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Thursday, August 10, 2006

This just in from evolutionary psychology: Hardwired to believe in God - part zillion and three

According to the Dallas Morning News, a recent experiment in the British University of Newcastle psychology department tells us great stuff about how we come to believe in God.

"I had been looking after the coffee and tea in our department for ages," she said.
A sign set the prices for tea, coffee and a bit of milk – 30, 50 and 10 pence.

In January, without telling anyone, Dr. Bateson and her colleagues added one feature to the payment sign: They put up a picture of eyes for five weeks, alternating with a picture of flowers for five weeks.

When the eyes were posted, payments averaged 2.76 times larger than the weeks with the flowers.

The experiment confirmed two earlier studies, including one run by Dr. Fessler and a colleague, that used eyes or faces on computer screens. In all three experiments, people faced by even a hint of a face tended to act nicer.

So, putting the links together:

Our ancestors were hard-wired to pay attention to faces and to change behaviors if they were being watched. They were also inclined to believe in supernatural beings.

And they seem to have been programmed to subconsciously respond to the concept of an immaterial supernatural observer as if it were another person – which is what the break room experiment demonstrated.

Note that marvelous expression, "putting the links together ... " Somewhat the way the consiprazoid puts the links together and discovers that no celebrity from Marilyn Monroe onward died of causes other than murder...

Having decided at the outset that belief in spiritual occurrences must be the result of a psychological disposition and not the result of experience, the evo psycho Melissa Bates goes on to build a whole theory out of, essentially thin air. In fact, even Jeffrey Weiss, who is in her camp, admits
A few last-minute caveats: Every link in this chain is controversial. Behaviorists, psychologists and biologists have alternate theories about why humans cooperate and practice religion. Even those who agree on the broad outlines disagree about important details.

I'll bet. As a matter of fact, the best explanation for the improved collection record has nothing to do with belief in the supernatural at all, but with the - well-justified - suspicion that the picture of the eyes meant that one's petty pilfering had come to the notice of the coffee convenor ...

It never seems to occur to evo psychos and similar folk that, given that they are most unlikely to have a genuine spiritual experience, they are actually in a much poorer position than most people are to understand or comment lucidly on such experiences. They stand in about the same relation to spiritual experiences as the blind do to art or the deaf to music. Thus they are suckers for any fool theory that comes along. And some journalists are no better.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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