Where angels no longer fear to tread

The Economist has an article which serves as an interesting summary of some of the recent work on the psychology and neuroscience of religious belief.

It’s a little bit clumsy in places. For example, it summarises some of the work on the role of the temporal lobes as saying that “religious visions are the result of epileptic seizures that affect this part of the brain”.

Certainly, temporal lobe seizures are associated with religious experiences. A recent review reported that about 0.5% to 3% of people with the condition experience them.

But this work suggests that this is only one factor and actually minor functional changes are probably more important in the general population [pdf].

It’s also important to note that this sort of neuroscience research typically looks at beliefs and experiences concerning the ‘supernatural’ elements of religion.

However, the Economist article also discusses some recent psychological research looking at the influence of religion on social reasoning and touches on the possible evolutionary explanations for the widespread and persistent nature of religious ideas.

Link to Economist article ‘Where angels no longer fear to tread’.

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