(From the Daily Telegraph, London, by Richard Alleyne, 7 September 2009)

Humans may have evolved to believe in god and superstitions because it helps them to co-ordinate group action better, scientists claimed.
Religion became a survival instinct, according to researchers who studied the way brains develop from childhood and behave during spiritual experiences.

Groups of humans with religious tendencies benefitted from their beliefs, perhaps because they co-operated and had a greater chance of survival.
They thrived compared to their atheist relatives and, after many years, the instinct was passed on in their genes.

The findings challenge campaigners against organised religion, such as Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. He has argued that religious beliefs result from poor education and childhood “indoctrination.”

Prof. Bruce Hood, a psychologist at Bristol University, has suggested that religion is similar to children’s belief in imaginary friends. He said: “Our research shows children have a natural, intuitive way of reasoning that leads them to all kinds of supernatural beliefs about how the world works. As they grow up, they overlay these beliefs with more rational approaches but the tendency to illogical supernatural beliefs remains as religion.”

Prof. Hood, who will present his findings at the British Association’s annual meeting this week, sees organised religion as just one of many supernatural beliefs. In one study, he found that even atheists balked at the idea of accepting an organ transplant from a murderer, because of a superstitious belief that an individual’s personality could be stored in their genes. “This shows how superstition is hard-wired into our brains”, he said.

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I must say that what some people on this forum thought Hood was saying did not gel with my, possibly biased, understanding of what a well-educated psychologist would be saying in print.

You are naturally excluded here. Me, too, of course. :-) A shared educational bias, I assume.
The memes are not caused by the genes, but the genes favour the reception of the memes into our brains.

This is the point that Hood is making.
"Religion aids "bonding" (within a group) but hinders "bridging" (between groups)."

That's a nice way or putting it.
I notice one undeniable fact here and that is that "Prof." Hood does not present any facts or name any of these so called scientists who did the "study" and made the findings. Everyone knows we are all born atheist and that it takes strenuous indoctrination and coercion to produce religion in a person.

I wonder who these so called scientists were who did this so called "study". You notice Mr. Hood doesn't present any facts only innuendo and no names only supposition?
I'll be surprised if the man isn't laughed out of the auditorium with this crap.

Perhaps you could familiarize yourself a little with Prof. Hood's work before ridiculing it?

From the man himself:

September 8, 2009
I never said…..
Well, what did I expect? A fair representation in the press and a balanced view from commentators? Come off it. Whenever, religion comes up, people lose all sense of reason and impartiality. This is why I wanted to construct a theory that addresses secular supernatural beliefs to avoid the problems of focusing just on religion. However, bloggers and commentators have completely misunderstood my position and the ideas I am proposing about the origins and prevalence of supernatural beliefs because of the recent press articles.

A couple of things. First, most of the articles in the press are based on the original article in The Sunday Times by Jonathan Leake and Andrew Sniderman. Jonathan did have the courtesy to phone me on Friday afternoon to talk about the piece. He had not read the book but had a copy of SuperSense sent to him. I thought I made my position relatively clear as we discussed the evidence and studies that indicate that we are born with brains to seek out patterns and infer hidden mechanisms, forces and entities. That does not make me either religious or a religious apologist. For example, if there is a gene for psychopathic killers that does not make it morally acceptable.

I talked about the early emergence of mind body dualism and how it relates to the notion of an after-life and my particular research interest, psychological essentialism. I said that I thought many supernatural beliefs had a natural origin in the way children reason about the world and that while story-telling was one way of transmitting beliefs, in many instances cultural stories reflected notions that were intuitively plausible to children. In fact, I categorically said that religions were cultural constructs as Richard Dawkins had proposed. Where I differ from Dawkins (and again this is very clear in the book) is the likelihood of removing supernatural beliefs through education but this is an empirical question that is not yet resolved. I also think that we need to understand individuals differences. Belief formation is not simply hard-wired or indoctrination. To use Ben Goldacre’s dictum, “I think you’ll find it more complicated than that”

Jonathan thanked me and said that he would run the piece past me on Saturday for my approval. He didn’t.

As Saturday night passed, I thought that they had probably decided to drop the piece as it did not fit with the simple “Born to Believe in God” angle that he wanted to push when we initially spoke. So imagine my horror to read the title of the piece in the Sunday Times. In fact, when you read the actual piece it does have me saying that beliefs are much more complex than either nature of nurture (to use that completely unsatisfactory dichotomy that is the mark of naive reasoning so favoured by journalists). And there were factual errors. I have not done a study on atheism and moral contamination beliefs about hypothetical organ transplantation though I daresay that all people irrespective of their religious persuasion would show the same effects that we found in groups of students. Still it was printed as a study on atheism.

The problem was compounded the following day with pieces in “The Daily Mail” and “The Daily Telegraph” regurgitating new versions of the story with added insertions. And so on…. like Chinese whispers the story has become distorted with individuals adding their own interpretations and agendas.

So before you start putting words in my mouth, judging me or the ideas I am putting forward, then please read the book. I think that it is relatively clear what I am saying.


I'm not surprised when believers twist a study to make it say what they want it to but it's disheartening to see how many so-called freethinkers have attacked Hood's work as some sort of fundie-funded apologist campaign without pausing to read it more carefully. He compares believers to children with imaginary friends. Hardly sounds to me like a friend of religion. But because you don't understand what he's saying you choose to piss on him?

Any more undeniable facts?
"Everyone knows we are all born atheist"

Actually, no. We are all born a-religious. We were born with no opinion on the subject and no reason why they should care about it one way or another. The atheism that most (if not all) of us subscribe to is a thought out position, not a null-position. We came here by considering the religious viewpoints we had been indoctrinated with. We found them to be absurb or, at the very least, lacking reasonable proof.

It is important to make this distinction because of the increasing tendency of Christian apologists to claim that they were once "atheists". What they usually mean is that they were once a-religious, in which case, the response should be: "So? What makes you think you had anything in common with today's so-called "new" atheists? Why would you understand how they think?"
Still haven't read what Hood actually said?

It's really not that long of a read, is it? For an anthropologist?

You've quoted the author of an article based upon another article to support your attack, not Prof. Hood.

If you would invest the seconds required to read Hood's reaction to the articles- articles based upon the Leake/Sniderman article- you'd find that “Born to Believe in God” was the predetermined slant of the authors. Hood's work was distorted to appear to support their angle.

When neither the authors of the original article(in The Sunday Times) nor the many "journalists" spinning it have bothered to actually read and comprehend Hood's work can they be depended upon to clearly represent his views?
@JstN Earthling:
You should read what Hood said he actually said, not what some misguided journalist said that he said.
@JstN Earthling

Once again, no, we are not born "atheists"; we are born with no interest in religion which makes us a-religionists, not a-theists. It is a common mis-perception which is especially useful for Christian apologists. Please avoid disseminating it.
That is true by definition. What we need, then, is a definition which describes who we are compared with someone who is religiously niave. It seems to me that the term a-religious better describes someone who is born without a religion (all of us) but who may later develop one or reject one (or more) as improbable, silly, unconvincing, irrelevant, boring, etc.

In the light of George Smith's statement I will accept your assertion that the term "atheist" can be, and is, used very broadly to mean anyone who has no belief in a god regardless of whether that is a default position or a thought-out one. In that case I will accept that it was wrong to label this use of the term a "misperception" and to ask that it not be disseminated.

However, you undermine your position by defining atheism as a non-default position when you say: "Atheism is a characteristic of a rational, naturalistic outlook or attitude toward reality. "
That does not describe the outlook of a baby or young child.

So we have confusion built into the term which theists love to exploit.

If atheism is a default position then I have returned to atheism after a spell of being a Christian. However, my state of thinking now is magnitudes different from what is was when I was a young child and essentially ignorant of religion. I continue to maintain the two conditions are very different and should be labeled differently.

It is my experience that Christians who maintain that they were once atheists have never ever in a position where they rejected the idea of religion for rational reasons. What they describe are states of indifference or rebellion against something they still believe in at some level.

If the term "atheist" is so encompassing then we should invent a new term to describe those who have come to reject the idea of the existence of supernatural divinities by considered thought. Are we "rational atheists"? "skeptical atheists"? "informed atheists"? "convinced atheists"? something else?




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