You have to admire it when scientists do cool things, and they DO do COOL things. TheRawStory.com version of this bit of news links to ‘Can picking the right religion relieve anxiety‘ news and to a little NCBI paper about evolutionary threat assessment systems in the brain. You know I have an interest in the human brain, so I had to read.
Some guy (Marymount Manhattan College Assistant Psychology Professor Nava Silton) decided to look into whether god belief was related to anger in some way. Not just any particular way, but in _some_ way. So he went and got some data (like you do) from 2010 Baylor Religion Survey of US Adults to see if there is any kind of link or correlation between mental illness and god belief.
Hang on, I know what you’re thinking OMG, proof!
Not quite. What he did conclude though is pretty … well, here, you figure it out:
People who believe in an angry, punishing God are much more likely to suffer from a variety of mental illnesses, a scientific study published in the April edition ofJournal of Religion & Health finds.
God and Anger. BFF?
The study seems to conclude that the data doesn’t show a causal link but it does show that there are a lot of mentally ill folk who like to think of god as an angry vengeful type god, throw in some genocide and a bit of destroyer of worlds and you get the idea. As might be concluded, this also helps confirm that those who are not mentally unbalanced tend to view god as all nice and fluffy and white and loving – like Timothy Leary in a really cool toga.
The theory of mind that I’m working with here states that we use rules to create a simulation of the world around us in our minds and that simulation is in fact how we experience the world. It follows (somewhat logically) that if the machinery that is used to create this simulation is faulty, the simulation would in fact also be faulty. I didn’t say the logic was perfect so bear with me here.
Some folk see things in black and white, no grey. Some see only the rainbow (damn you skittles). Some see things without a particular reliance on one limited set of crayons. If a person’s rule set gives more weight to black and white clear cut values we can imagine how this would favor vengeance rather than tolerance, absolutes values rather than subjective values and so on. This would not require full childhood onset dementia, rather it would only require enough of a skewing to set the weighting wrong on the rules sets for the simulation in order to make that simulation favor a vengeful god of objective moral values etc. This then would be a method of explaining the varying levels and strengths of belief across the populace. Further it explains why some are willing to choose tolerance on many issues but still keep to objective values. The problem is not like light switch, it’s a range of values.
Looking at the number of ‘nones’ and newly de-converted atheists we can hypothesize that this failure can be induced by environment and corrected over time by adjustment of the rules – either by slow nudging of values or dramatic fast paced realignment of a person’s rules. It is also possible that the rules can’t be fixed due to physical damage or incorrect functioning that prevents some part of the brain from getting the weight that it needs for the rules to fully adjust to ‘normal’ as we tend to see it.
The take away is that observation seems to support the theory that small physical problems can cause behavioral anomalies. Anomalies such as many of us view religious belief.
Think about the aberrational behavior patterns we see in people strongly related to the church. Maybe you’ll get the same understanding that I have.