Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Religion Exploits Credulous & Irrational Minds

Such is the conclusion of Bruce Hood, Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol.

In his address to the British Association Festival of Science in Norwich yesterday, Professor Hood said, "The human mind is adapted to reason intuitively, so that it can generate theories about how the world works even when mechanisms cannot be seen or easily deduced. While this is ultimately responsible for scientific thinking, as in the discovery of invisible forces such as gravity, it also leaves people prone to making irrational errors. But because intuitive theories are based on unobservable properties, such theories leave open the possibility of misconceptions. I believe these misconceptions of naive intuitive theories provide the basis of many later adult magical beliefs about the paranormal.”

Hood suggests that credulous minds may have evolved for several reasons, and that superstition may also give people a sense of control that can reduce stress. He said, “I don’t think we’re going to evolve a rational mind because there are benefits to being irrational. Superstitious behaviour — the idea that certain rituals and practices protect you — is adaptive."

He concluded his address, “I want to challenge recent claims by Richard Dawkins, among others, that supernaturalism is primarily attributable to religions spreading beliefs among the gullible minds of the young. Rather, religions may simply capitalise on a natural bias to assume the existence of supernatural forces.”

Tell us something we don't know, Prof!

Those who are interested can read a report on his speech here.