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Templeton Foundation Funds Oxford Faith-in-God Study

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Description: Or, 'Putting the Carp before the Source'
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Mefiante
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« on: February 22, 2008, 12:40:42 PM »

The John Templeton Foundation is to fund a three-year £2 million study by Oxford into why mankind believes in god(s).  No doubt, the researchers will keep at least half of one (presumably irreducibly complex) eye on the Templeton Prize, a basic principle of which prize is that its value must always exceed that of any of the Nobel Prizes, and of which Richard Dawkins has said that it is “a very large sum of money given … usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion.”

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bluegray
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« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2008, 23:48:20 PM »

Quote
He said anthropological and philosophical research suggests that faith in God is a universal human impulse found in most cultures around the world, even though it has been waning in Britain and western Europe. "One implication that comes from this is that religion is the default position, and atheism is perhaps more in need of explanation," he said.
This quote from the article is a bit vague out of context. He might refer to religion or atheism as a phenomenon, in which case it certainly seems that belief in some higher power is the default position. It still doesn't say anything of the existence of any higher power, and he didn't say so in the article.
As for atheism needing explanation, any atheist will tell him there is little mystery to a conclusion arrived at after careful consideration of the available facts.

I think research in this area could be useful in determining why people feel the need to believe in something they have no evidence for. However, I share your cynicism, and it will probably just turn out to be just some scientist saying something nice about religion...
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Wandapec
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« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2008, 12:16:02 PM »

Imagine what you could do to help the many destitute and less fortunate people in South Africa with ZAR30,129,776.60.

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I think research in this area could be useful in determining why people feel the need to believe in something they have no evidence for.


I read Dr. Michael Shermer's book - Why People Believe Weird Things? http://www.michaelshermer.com/weird-things/ in December 2007. It was brilliant. Having read a book like that all I can think is "what a waste of money". I concur with the bluegray V and Anacoluthon64 - someone's going to make some money out of this!

One benefit, I guess, would be if they find something in the brain or body somewhere that can be switched off!
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ArgumentumAdHominem
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« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2008, 22:45:19 PM »

One benefit, I guess, would be if they find something in the brain or body somewhere that can be switched off!

It's a nice thought for atheists to entertain ... but if we think about it more seriously, is it feasible?

It does kind of sounds like a nice idea; designing a procedure which will clear the way for rational thought, but before long we're into the realm of Walter Freeman's cure-all practice of the frontal lobotomy by swizzle-stick (a.k.a. the "white cut") or ice-pick-through-the-eye (a.k.a. "transorbital lobotomy").  "Corrective" neurosurgery for non-fatal conditions should be avoided at all costs, no matter how well we think we know the brain.  It's interesting that we all have a similar "floorplan" to our brains, but the wiring within similar "rooms" is unique between individuals.  It is also interesting that if areas of the brain are underutilised for their "normal" purpose, they can be drafted-in to help in other brain functioning.  A person, blind since birth, will still have a functioning -but small- visual cortex but it may be used to enhance olfactory or auditory processing for example.  By analogy, consider adjusting the floorplan we discussed earlier to replace the conservatory with a small study and extending the kitchen (or more aptly; a utility cupboard).

Like my usual ramblings, I am carrying on a bit long but be reassured; I'm getting to my point ...

So even if we know where to "switch it off" would we want to?  How sure are we that we know the effect on all other normal processing in the brain?  There are a few studies on the kind of "all around the brain" development that is required to make a fully functional human being.  From the study of feral children we now know that if lingual development is prevented until the age of 8, after this point it is impossible to completely learn how to use language.  An inability to process grammar, being key to our social abilities as humans, prevents understanding much of our world and by our standards, such a person is retarded or has a very low IQ.

All of this was by way of introducing that a recent study has discovered the area of the brain which is used to experience the presence of god/the holy spirit/the glow of the glorious one.  The BBC documentary which covered this discovery sent Professor Dawkins to "try it out" and see what it feels like to experience god.  He didn't report any profound experience.  There are two ways to look at this result; perhaps, being told in advance what to expect, he was expecting more than he got or perhaps in his floorplan he has found the need for a library rather than a sunroom to feel The Glow. Wink

I find it interesting to find the need in believers to make adjustments to their beliefs to fit the new evidence ...

Quote from: Professor Ramachandran of the University of California, God on the Brain, BBC 2003
Just because there are circuits in your brain that predispose you to religious belief does not in any way negate the value of a religious belief. Now it may be god's way of putting an antenna in your brain to make you more receptive to god.


Quote from: Bishop Stephen Sykes of the University of Durham, God on the Brain, BBC 2003
It would be very surprising if we didn't discover more about the physics and chemistry of those parts of our bodies which are a process, the various bits of enjoyment we receive from religious belief. I think Christians and maybe other religious believers have absolutely nothing to fear from further investigation, indeed should be keen on it and canny when it comes to the interpretation of it.

Like Dawkins, can we all try to remove the sunroom and redesign our brains?  A cognative psychologist would say that it isn't only possible to do this, it is natural, that we should "let it happen". 

Less seriously ... I personally haven't been to a church service in probably 14 years so the last time I used my "aerial" was many years ago.  Right now I'm trying to expand the library and cram-in some trigonometry, after all it has been explained to me as a "beautiful" subset of mathematics ... I've just never felt that way about it.  I'll keep you posted if I feel the imaginary coefficient of the cosine of theta revealing universal truth to me.  Tongue
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Mefiante
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« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2008, 09:46:26 AM »

Quote from: Bishop Stephen Sykes of the University of Durham, God on the Brain, BBC 2003
I think … religious believers … should be keen on [further investigations into the processes of religious belief] and canny when it comes to the interpretation of it.
To my mind, this statement epitomises just about everything that is and ever was wrong with religious belief: no matter the evidence, we can and will always distort it with semantic trickery to fit our infantile worldview and thereby avert ever having to entertain any doubts or engage in any kind of deep introspection.  The adjective “canny” is, of course, the giveaway and has, among others, the unintended synonyms “crafty,” “shrewd” and “sly” – as in “Believers are entitled to lie to preserve their faith.”  Dostoyevsky once wrote, “If God doesn’t exist, everything is allowed.”  Sykes’ smug politicking clearly contradicts this motto because he uses his belief in god to obfuscate the most abominable varieties of intellectual cowardice and moral decrepitude.

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bluegray
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« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2008, 09:02:44 AM »

So even if we know where to "switch it off" would we want to?  How sure are we that we know the effect on all other normal processing in the brain?  There are a few studies on the kind of "all around the brain" development that is required to make a fully functional human being.  From the study of feral children we now know that if lingual development is prevented until the age of 8, after this point it is impossible to completely learn how to use language.  An inability to process grammar, being key to our social abilities as humans, prevents understanding much of our world and by our standards, such a person is retarded or has a very low IQ.
Good point, which is why serious further study would be helpful. Not necessarily to find a "switch to turn off undesirable parts of the brain, but to understand the full impact it will have on a person.
Like Dawkins, can we all try to remove the sunroom and redesign our brains?  A cognative psychologist would say that it isn't only possible to do this, it is natural, that we should "let it happen".
I would say it's more a case of learning to understand and interpret certain feelings (which of course changes your brain indirectly Wink ). Like most human feelings, it is how we act on them and interpret it that is important. If you understand those feelings for what they are, perhaps you won't find the need to rely on it anymore, and as you said, redesign unused religious parts of our brain for something more useful. This can only be done by proper education and a willingness to learn.
Less seriously ... I personally haven't been to a church service in probably 14 years so the last time I used my "aerial" was many years ago.  Right now I'm trying to expand the library and cram-in some trigonometry, after all it has been explained to me as a "beautiful" subset of mathematics ... I've just never felt that way about it.  I'll keep you posted if I feel the imaginary coefficient of the cosine of theta revealing universal truth to me.  Tongue
I don't know about that, I think I still use my "aerial" all the time. It's just not pointed skywards anymore, but to all the reasons for those same feelings here on earth. Grin
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« Reply #6 on: February 29, 2008, 20:39:20 PM »

I think I still use my "aerial" all the time. It's just not pointed skywards anymore, but to all the reasons for those same feelings here on earth. Grin
I must be honest, I have never felt that type of feeling outside of prayer or a church service.  It was something I only experienced briefly and not very many times - a feeling of a big presence, a holy touch I concluded.  It goes beyond the feeling of community or the "happy-clappy" feeling which would happen weekly and is unique, I have thought, from all other feelings experienced in groups.  Very different from watching sports events or participating in paintball teams.  I suppose it could be seen as being slightly similar to the sense that there is something (ghost, etcetera) lurking in the dark outside your house, but I think that the uniqueness of it is well defined in the documentary transcript.

Quote from: God on the Brain, BBC 2003
NARRATOR: Don had experienced one of the most common and bizarre effects in the chamber, a feeling that someone else was in there with him. Dr Persinger called this feeling the "sensed presence".

PERSINGER: The fundamental experience is the sensed presence, and our data indicate that the sensed presence, the feeling of another entity of something beyond yourself, perhaps bigger than yourself, bigger in space and bigger in time, can be stimulated by simply activating the right hemisphere, particularly the temple lobe.
I find it hard to imagine how this feeling can come-up in everyday life Huh?. I am sure that due to under-utilisation my aerial is slowly being discarded with every passing day and maybe I should be feeling it more often?
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