Why Religion Is Natural And Science Is Not

This week's  Point of Inquiry podcast presented an interview with Robert McCauley discussing his recent book entitled Why Religion is Natural and Science is NotIn this bloggers opinion, it was an excellent presentation of the cognitive differences between religion and science.  Following is a summary:

For the first several years of life, we only think intuitively, quickly and reflexively. During the first several month of life, we begin developing a Theory of Mind, which gives us the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different than one's own.  This causes belief in additional agents when you don't know the cause of something.  A dog barking at a moving curtain in the wind because of its irregular motion shows this phenomenon is not limited to humans.  It also leads to anthropomorphic thinking (ever talk to car when it doesn't start?).  Religion fits nicely into this level of thinking, which is sometimes called System One Thinking.

Science is not intuitive. It is more elaborate, slower, more reflective and cognitively unnatural (sometimes called System Two Thinking).  To show how unnatural it is, we still tend to think and say the sun rises and when looking at the night sky we tend to perceive the objects in the sky centered around us.  In fact, we can get dizzy is we focus on the truth!!!  Science is in fact counterintuitive many times.  We use our Pre-Frontal Cortex for this type of thinking, which involves conscious reasoning and learning;

System Two Thinking is flawed in humans because it requires mastery of skills and System One Thinking intrudes.

Science is a comparatively rare activity in society.  It is only carried out by a small minority of the population, even today.

Science will always be in a precarious state and may be lost to humanity.  There is no guarantee that it will continue!!  In fact, science was lost in the Western Christian world during the Dark Ages and was revived by connection with ancient Greek texts from the Arab world.  Science requires complex social arrangement to survive.

Religion will always be a part of humanity as a whole because it is natural.

Other interesting statements:
  • Some evidence suggests that genes play a role in acceptance of conservative religion.
  • If you don't have a Theory of Mind, you may be more prone to autism and non-religion.
  • Females are more empathetic as a whole, and are more religious.
  • Autism has been called hypermaleness.
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Further Comment

This blogger has recently read the following books discussing the science of belief and they are recommended for further insight into this subject:

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