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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pop Neuroscience and spirituality: "Dear God, please don't exist, so I can get lucrative assignments, and maybe tenure, teaching easily digested rot .

Here's another gem from the treasure house of New Scientist (Andy Coghlan, "Dear God, please confirm what I already believe", 30 November 2009),
God may have created man in his image, but it seems we return the favour. Believers subconsciously endow God with their own beliefs on controversial issues.

"Intuiting God's beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber to validate and justify one's own beliefs," writes a team led by Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers started by asking volunteers who said they believe in God to give their own views on controversial topics, such as abortion and the death penalty. They also asked what the volunteers thought were the views of God, average Americans and public figures such as Bill Gates. Volunteers' own beliefs corresponded most strongly with those they attributed to God.
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So is the cart pulling the horse, or is the horse pulling the cart? The researchers claim that they have demonstrated that we "map" God's beliefs onto our own. The idea that we might adopt the beliefs that we think God wants us to have is not under consideration.

When the researchers asked different volunteers to prepare speeches in which they took the opposite view from their professed one, we are informed that the volunteer's views of God's beliefs changed.

Of course, that could not be because they had, for the first time, needed to grapple with opposing arguments, could it? Anyway, much neuroscience handwaving in evidence here.

Ryan Sager at TrueSlant goes along for the ride.

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