Saturday, April 25, 2009

Not Me

 
Andy Thomson is a psychiatrist. He gave a talk at the Atheist Convention 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia (USA). PZ Myers thinks that Thomson's explanation of religious belief is just what he (PZ) believes.

Not me. The talk is far too adaptationist for my liking. The entire lecture is based on evolution by natural selection—the Darwinian explanation.
[Darwin's] idea gives us the only workable explanation we have for the design and architecture of the human mind.
No it isn't the only workable explanation. I believe that our present mind is also due, in part, to accidents of evolution some of which might have nothing to do with design. Some of them might even be maladaptations. The architecture of our brain is a product of evolution but not all of that evolution is adaptation by natural selection.

We have got to stop trying to explain everything as an adaptation or the consequences of an adaptation. Many, but not all, people are prone to superstitious beliefs. Much of that is due to culture and it can be changed. Our brains are not perfect. They can be tricked into believing all sorts of silly things and believing in God is just one of them. It does not deserve a special evolutionary explanation.

At some point in the near future, religion will be only a minor problem in most Western industrialized nations. Will we have psychiatrists giving lectures about how are brains are adapted to be atheists?

Of course not, just as today we don't have psychiatrists and psychologists giving lectures about how the human brain is adapted to prefer slavery or the inferiority of women. Perhaps they would have if they had lived 1000 years ago.



Watch the video starting at 27 minutes. You'll see Thomson praising research that locates thoughts like "God's Love" and "God's Anger" to specific parts of the brain. These are the same parts of the brain used in other thoughts. Presumably, they are the same parts of the brain used when thinking about being abducted by UFO's or believing in Santa Claus. That's not a big deal, is it?

So when Thomson says, that this data, "Supports theories that ground religious belief in evolved adaptive mechanisms," he could just as easily have said the same thing about UFO abductions ("The evidence support theories that ground belief in UFO abductions in evolved adaptive mechanisms.")

What is the alternative? Did anyone think that these thoughts would map to a special part of the brain that was used exclusively for thinking about God's Love?


7 comments :

  1. At some point in the near future, religion will be only a minor problem in most Western industrialized nations.I very much doubt this will happen, although I wish it would.

    The inertial moment of ignorance and superstition is so huge it will take an enormous educational effort to overturn it. Which requires a stable world in which science to progress and develop and takes the role it currently doesn't play in today's society.

    And this is not going to happen (the stable world) precisely because of the pervasive ignorance of the mass.

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  2. George Marinov says,

    I very much doubt this will happen, although I wish it would.

    The inertial moment of ignorance and superstition is so huge it will take an enormous educational effort to overturn it. Which requires a stable world in which science to progress and develop and takes the role it currently doesn't play in today's society.


    It's pretty much already happened. I think you are basing too much of your opinion on America.

    When I said "most" Western industrialized nations I was not including the United States of America.

    It may take a bit longer in that country.

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  3. I saw the video earlier this morning on Dawkins' site, and when he Thomson referred to adaptations I thought to myself "Dr. Moran is not going to agree with this."

    While it is easy to bash the U.S. on our religiosity, Canada and the UK are not immune to its control. We make an easy target, I know, but there are glass houses in the other English-speaking countries when it comes to creationism.

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  5. The "West" as you define it is a very small (and shrinking) part of the world, I guess you only include Western Europe + Japan and the likes (and maybe Canada).

    But that's about 10% of the world's population and the number of deluded, especially in the Christian parts of it is far from zero.

    The rest of the world includes Catholic Latin America, the Muslim World, India, the non-muslim, but definitely not rational either part of Africa, and of course, Jesusland. Those are hardly regions where religion is headed for extinction

    The reason why I don't consider China above is that the moment you stop providing high quality education to people, superstition takes over very quickly. I am from Eastern Europe and after 1989 the educational system in my country fell apart completely. Even after 45 years of atheism and high-quality math and science education being the official state policy, it took 15 short years for whatever was accomplished to be destroyed and now we have reality shows about psychics on national TV, the minister of education appears on those, not to mention the uncritical reports about miracles, healing icons, spring and everything else you can imagine.

    And I see all of that in the mere two or three weeks a year I go back home and it happens in a country that never had a strong religious tradition even before 1945.

    Obviously, I don't know where you go and who you talk with, but what I am afraid is that you and many other university professors have spent too many decades in the university talking with each other and other people considerably more intelligent than the average, and you have gotten at least somewhat out of touch with the rest of the world. I sometimes feel the same way and I've been in this environment for just a few years. This is by no means a criticism, I am just wondering about how real such a danger is

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  6. I think Larry gives too much credence even to western Europe. Look at the rise in neo-paganism there, for example.

    While the percentage of people who are actually atheist, or antitheist if you like Hitchens' term, is surely higher than in the U.S., I don't think it's THAT high.

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  7. In the fine borderline between science and wishful thinking, there is this discipline called 'psychology', where the border is much more blurred than in any other science.

    As to the demise of religion, I think not, sadly. Just look at the otherr garbage many are filling their time with. And it is obvious that many are participating, as fortunes are made from people's poor judgements.
    The separation between Oprah and any evangelical con artist isn't all that great.

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