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[evol-psych] Re: Survey of Unbelievers Update

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  • andy_morley@hotmail.com
    I think that one way or another, we are in agreement
    Message 1 of 61 , Sep 1, 2010
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      <<The central core of God belief is the feeling that believers have when they think about such issues>>

      I think that one way or another, we are in agreement that there is probably an evolved component in the God concept. If that is so, then it has to be physically apparent somehow in the brain. The 'feeling' you describe probably has some basis in neuropsychology.

      There was a fascinating TV documentary broadcast at Easter-time 1998 or possibly 1997, showing how the area of the brain (I seem to remember it was the pre-frontal temporal lobe, but may be wrong on that) behaved in a special way in certain people when they were shown religious images but in other individuals it was sexual images that caused similar patterns of firing in that area. I wish I could remember the precise details.

      The same TV programme drew a link between epilepsy and religious belief. It quoted the example of a girl who was the founding prophet of some cult - possibly the 7th Day Adventists - who developed religious visions after another child threw a brick in her face, supposedly causing brain damage.

      But the whole of this conversation demonstrates that there is a very real phenomenon around the concept people call God. The only debate is about the nature of God - the existence of God would seem to be pretty much an established fact.

      Most of the objections you raise Robert stem from various ideas you have in your own mind, derived from our human culture, as to what the concept of God 'ought' to mean. In order to understand God, we somehow have to unlearn all of that and to step as far as is possible outside our own culture and frame of reference, and try to look at the thing as if we were considering another species.

      Andy Morley

      --- In evolutionary-psychology@yahoogroups.com, "Robert Karl Stonjek" <stonjek@...> wrote:
      > ----- Original Message -----
      > From: andy_morley@...
      > To: evolutionary-psychology@yahoogroups.com
      > Sent: Wednesday, September 01, 2010 6:26 AM
      > Subject: [evol-psych] Re: Survey of Unbelievers Update
      > <snip>
      > Moving on to God, as Donald Rumsfeld famously put it:
      > "there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones"
      > So, we tend to anthropomorphise all that, and we lump it under the 'God' heading. But the concept is more complex than that. We anthropomorphise a whole bundle of uncertainties, insecurities and other factors and we do it fairly consistently and call it 'God', or other similar names.
      > That's all I have to say on the matter for now as the evening draws on here in England and cider and logic make uneasy bedfellows.
      > Andy Morley
      > RKS:
      > The central concept of God is the supreme being that exists outside biology. The other elements associated with god, such as mysteries and unknowns etc are regional and even individual and not universal. For instance Hindu mythology breaks up the God concept into multiple Gods all having some particular aspect of the phenomena that others attribute to one God eg the creation of life, the bringer of death and so on.
      > The Hindu pantheon largely evolved from the collecting of the many regional gods into one belief system, though Hinduism has six main schools. In the west, Christian belief is interpreted via traditional regional religions eg in South America the Virgin is worshiped echoing the mother spirit worshiped before Christianity took over and Jesus is worshiped as a living incarnation of God echoing the earlier Roman belief that the Emperor is the living incarnation of God and so on.
      > 'God' is not simply a proxy for 'unknown'. The evolution of God belief started with creator animal spirits, ancestors, God as incarnated into the king, animal-human hybrids and later human ethereal gods (see, for instance, 'The Golden Bough' by James Frazier or 'The Masks of God' by Joseph Campbell).
      > 'God of the gaps' is just one function of God belief and does not explain God belief. It is, literally, just one function and not universal. For instance many of the properties associated with God separated off, in the Catholic tradition, to be associated with Saints instead. Thus luck or birth or whatever attracted prayers to the appropriate saint.
      > The central core of God belief is the feeling that believers have when they think about such issues. That is where it starts for humans. That feeling has a function in pre-human species. The most probable candidate is the desire of adolescent animals to explore for new territory. The unseen and unknown territory they are about to explore is attractive and offers answers (to the questions of food, dominion over territory and mating opportunities).
      > When humans inherited this rather mundane cognitive faculty it became associated with the human ability to model remote future and past, remote territory and events and became a far more powerful and general feeling/motivation. With these two innocent cognitive faculties combined, religion is inevitable and God belief will eventually follow on from that.
      > Robert
    • Fred Britton
      ED, A preamble which tries to cover that more or less is on the entry page to the survey. I ll try to put it more briefly here: The purpose of the survey is to
      Message 61 of 61 , Sep 5, 2010
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        A preamble which tries to cover that more or less is on the entry page to the survey.

        I'll try to put it more briefly here:

        The purpose of the survey is to find out about some of the social, political, philosophical and religious attitudes and demographic characteristics of various kinds of unbelievers (as determined by the labels they accept, atheist, agnostic, humanist, skeptic, etc.), in particular how they are different from and how they are similar to people who see themselves as belonging to or believing the tenets of a religion. So far we have found both similarities and differences, so that goal has been achieved. In one sense, the aims are not a whole lot different than they would be if the target population was people who voted for a particular political party in an election, or those in a particular occupational niche, or those who self-identify as belonging to a particular ethnic group.

        This phase of the project is an exploratory effort to fine tune later approaches.

        A major motivation was based in the fact that there have been a huge number of studies of people who belong to various religions, but hardly any similar studies of people who do not. I wouldn't be surprised if studies of the religious outnumber those of the nonreligious by hundreds to one. We wanted to make a small effort to address this imbalance.

        Fred Britton

        On Sun, Sep 5, 2010 at 11:02 AM, ED <seacrofter001@...> wrote:


        Fred Britton, IMHO, this interminable verbiage and confusion over the poll might be obviated if the mission/objectives/goals of the poll were simply, clearly and precisely stated and understood by the polsters and by the participants.    --ED


        --- In evolutionary-psychology@yahoogroups.com, Fred Britton <fwblists@...> wrote:


        You raise an interesting point about the self-labels.  In a later version we will likely have both self-labels and and statements which try to tap the underlying beliefs and attitudes. There are several interesting questions around differences which have been found in response rates between these two approaches. For example, in some countries, if you present the self-label "atheist," 2% tick the box. But if you ask "Do you believe there's a supreme being" and variants of that, you may get 10% answering, "no." Now, those saying "no" also include a number of people who would self-label agnostic. But even when the two groups are added together, it's usually the case that there are "no-sayers" who accept neither label, as you point out. Unfortunately, most surveys which have been done don't cover all the bases, mostly I suspect, because they're usually asking questions about religious belief and the lack thereof as part of a much broader survey of attitudes, and therefore the granularity is low. There are likely a number of different reasons (other than that they just don't fit) for people not endorsing certain self-labels. Atheism has a negative connotation for many, more in some counties than in others. A number of people are not sure what agnosticism means etc.

        The GSS (General Social Survey) in the U.S. does not use labels at all in measuring religious attitudes. In fact, large professional survey and opinion polling organizations generally prefer statements, and they also avoid Likert scales (5 or 7 points of agreement or disagreement), preferring to offer respondents a choice of a number of statements to fit to their views.

        For agnosticism, this approach has statements such as:

        I'm not sure whether there's a God. (sometimes called weak agnosticism, because the claim may just mean, "I haven't made up my mind.")

        I'm not sure whether there's a God, and there's no way to find out. (sometimes called strong agnosticism, because the claim is, "I don't know and nobody else does either")

        These statements are in list of choices with a preamble indicating the general topic of the item, and asking respondents to check the statement(s) coming closest to their views. This is thought to work better if there are a lot of people without college backgrounds in the survey population.

        In the nonreligious items on our survey we've discovered what we think is a problem with one item. It appears that many respondents, especially outside the U.S., may not be familiar with the typical meaning for the term "libertarian" in the U.S. The broader the target group for a survey, the greater the difficulty there is in constructing good items.

        In a number of ways, this survey was meant to be a first foray into this area to learn how to do it better next time, and we're learning quite a bit already.

        A final comment about self-labels. If it turns out that particular self-labels are too confusing, meaning too many different things to too many respondents, then no clear-cut systematic correlations between these choices and other items tapping different attitude domains will appear. So far, we're getting very clear and systematic differences across a large number of other attitudes, so the labels do appear to have some meaning beyond just the respondents' willingness to endorse them.

        BTW, We will, for the present, not be analyzing responses which come in after today, as we now have the numbers we were seeking in the various categories. 

        Thanks again, for any participation or suggestions which came by way of this list.

        Fred Britton
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