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God didn't make man; man made gods

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  • medit8ionsociety
    God didn t make man; man made gods Op-Ed NY Times 7/18/11 Science and religion: In recent years scientists specializing in the mind have begun to unravel
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 5, 2011
      God didn't make man; man made gods
      Op-Ed NY Times 7/18/11 Science and religion:
      In recent years scientists specializing in the
      mind have begun to unravel religion's "DNA."
      By J. Anderson Thomson and Clare Aukofer

      Before John Lennon imagined "living life in peace,"
      he conjured "no heaven … / no hell below us …/ and
      no religion too."

      No religion: What was Lennon summoning? For starters,
      a world without "divine" messengers, like Osama
      bin Laden, sparking violence. A world where mistakes,
      like the avoidable loss of life in Hurricane Katrina,
      would be rectified rather than chalked up to
      "God's will." Where politicians no longer compete
      to prove who believes more strongly in the irrational
      and untenable. Where critical thinking is an ideal.
      In short, a world that makes sense.

      In recent years scientists specializing in the
      mind have begun to unravel religion's "DNA." They
      have produced robust theories, backed by empirical
      evidence (including "imaging" studies of the brain
      at work), that support the conclusion that it was
      humans who created God, not the other way around.
      And the better we understand the science, the closer
      we can come to "no heaven … no hell … and no religion too."

      Like our physiological DNA, the psychological
      mechanisms behind faith evolved over the eons
      through natural selection. They helped our ancestors
      work effectively in small groups and survive and
      reproduce, traits developed long before recorded
      history, from foundations deep in our mammalian,
      primate and African hunter-gatherer past.

      For example, we are born with a powerful need
      for attachment, identified as long ago as the 1940s
      by psychiatrist John Bowlby and expanded on by
      psychologist Mary Ainsworth. Individual survival
      was enhanced by protectors, beginning with our
      mothers. Attachment is reinforced physiologically
      through brain chemistry, and we evolved and retain
      neural networks completely dedicated to it. We
      easily expand that inborn need for protectors to
      authority figures of any sort, including religious
      leaders and, more saliently, gods. God becomes a
      super parent, able to protect us and care for us
      even when our more corporeal support systems disappear,
      through death or distance.

      Scientists have so far identified about 20
      hard-wired, evolved "adaptations" as the building
      blocks of religion. Like attachment, they are
      mechanisms that underlie human interactions:
      Brain-imaging studies at the National Institutes
      of Health showed that when test subjects were
      read statements about religion and asked to agree
      or disagree, the same brain networks that process
      human social behavior — our ability to negotiate
      relationships with others — were engaged.

      Among the psychological adaptations related to
      religion are our need for reciprocity, our tendency
      to attribute unknown events to human agency, our
      capacity for romantic love, our fierce "out-group"
      hatreds and just as fierce loyalties to the in
      groups of kin and allies. Religion hijacks these
      traits. The rivalry between Sunni and Shiite Muslims,
      for example, or the doctrinal battles between
      Protestant and Catholic reflect our "groupish" tendencies.

      In addition to these adaptations, humans have
      developed the remarkable ability to think about
      what goes on in other people's minds and create and
      rehearse complex interactions with an unseen other.
      In our minds we can de-couple cognition from time,
      place and circumstance. We consider what someone
      else might do in our place; we project future scenarios;
      we replay past events. It's an easy jump to say,
      conversing with the dead or to conjuring gods and
      praying to them.

      Morality, which some see as imposed by gods or
      religion on savage humans, science sees as yet
      another adaptive strategy handed down to us by
      natural selection.

      Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom notes that
      "it is often beneficial for humans to work together …
      which means it would have been adaptive to evaluate
      the niceness and nastiness of other individuals."
      In groundbreaking research, he and his team found
      that infants in their first year of life demonstrate
      aspects of an innate sense of right and wrong, good
      and bad, even fair and unfair. When shown a puppet
      climbing a mountain, either helped or hindered by
      a second puppet, the babies oriented toward the
      helpful puppet. They were able to make an evaluative
      social judgment, in a sense a moral response.

      Michael Tomasello, a developmental psychologist
      who co-directs the Max Planck Institute for
      Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany,
      has also done work related to morality and very
      young children. He and his colleagues have produced
      a wealth of research that demonstrates children's
      capacities for altruism. He argues that we are
      born altruists who then have to learn strategic self-interest.
      This article is being shared for non-commercial purposes
      only and for educational purposes. Thus its use falls under
      the Fair Use statutes.
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