Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What is Religion?

My personal observation is that religion is ‘the terrible feeling that someone somewhere is happy’.

But the experts in the field of psychology called the Cognitive Science of Religion,, such as Pascal Boyer, David Sloan Wilson, Justine Barrette, Jesse Baring, Scott Atran, Stewart Guthrie, and many more are debating the whether religion is either: -

An evolutionary adaptation ~ vs. ~ A byproduct or ‘spandrel’

However, people such as Richard Dawkins, (Evolutionary Biologist), Daniel Dennett, (Philosopher and Evolutionist), and J. Anderson Thompson, (Psychiatrist), and Darrel Ray, (Psychiatrist), believe that religion is a cultural parasite that has hijacked normal cognitive mechanisms for it’s own ends, which, like any viral infection is to survive and multiply. To me, this sounds just like religion, so I’m going with it.

As purely an academic exercise, it made me think of trying to group the human thought processes that contribute to religious belief into the adaptation or byproduct categories. Even though the religious mental pathogen infects all of them, this is what I came up with.

Religion’s Cognitive Mechanisms that are primarily an adaptation:

Minimally Counter Intuitive (MCI)

Hyperactive Agency Detection Device (HADD)

Theory of Mind

Decoupled Cognition

Cognitive Dissidence


Reciprocal Altruism

Altruistic Punishment

Childhood Credulity

Deference to Authority

Attachment Systems



Relationship Transference

Kin Psychology


Mirror Neurons







Religion’s Cognitive Mechanisms that are primarily a byproduct:


Dealing with Death

Dualism (Soul)

Intuitive Reasoning

Motivated Reasoning


Confirmation Bias

Familiarity Bias

Memetic Replication (Transfer)

Memetic Allelopathy

Contagion Interference Systems

Flawed Recollection

Perception of Design

Quest for Purpose

Need for Explanation

Causal Determinacy

Intuitive Reasoning

Motivated Reasoning

Confirmation Bias


Belief in Belief

Attitude Inoculation

Reactance Theory

Elaboration Likelihood Model (Peripheral route)

Costly Signals of Commitment

Mere Messenger Strategy

Naïve Group Psychology

In Group/Out Group Psychology

What do you think?

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