Is religion an instinct?

Bronislaw Malinowski with the Trobriand Islanders. Photo: Public Domain

A Northern Irish and a Dutch scientist try to explain why atheists score better on intelligence tests

Edward Dutton and Dimitri Van der Linden, psychologists at the Ulster Institute for Social Research and the University of Rotterdam, have published a hypothesis in the Personality and Social Psychology Review to explain why atheists perform better on average on intelligence tests than participants who affiliate themselves with a religion. The scientists take the latter from the results of 63 studies they evaluated.

Not part of a conscious problem solving

The hypothesis is based on seeing religion – although it often takes on very complex manifestations – not as part of a conscious problem-solving process, but rather as a "Instinct", that humans have developed over the course of their evolutionary history because it has proven to be a survival and/or reproductive advantage in earlier situations. People and their ancestors could use it to solve recurring problems quickly and without a lot of thinking.

The two scientists, on the other hand, see intelligence as the ability to overcome instinct-driven action and to respond to challenges both analytically-reflexively and creatively. That is why it is potentially more useful to people living today in an environment that is changing rapidly technologically, economically and socially than in a savannah that confronts hunter-gatherers with the same situations for many generations.

That religion in the 21st century. Dutton and Van der Linden explain the fact that the natural behavior of the nineteenth century nevertheless plays a rough role with stress situations, in which it appears as well as other innate behaviors such as flight or aggression.

Magic, religion, science

Although the two psychologists themselves cite London evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa as their theoretical foundation, they also draw on the research findings and considerations of a scientist outside their field: In his study Magic, Science and Religion1 published in 1925, the ethnologist Bronislaw Malinowski demonstrated, on the basis of material he had collected in the Sud Sea, that societies are not – as had been believed until then – exclusively determined by magical, religious or scientific thinking in an evolutionary order of precedence, but that all three forms occur in all societies. "Scientifically" always those areas are treated, which man can influence technically, "magic" those who are beyond its power of action.

Malinowski defined magic as a supernatural, impersonal power in the imaginary world of man, which moves and controls everything that is both important and uncontrollable for him.2 Magic is performed with reverence and timidity, secured with prohibitions and elaborate rules of etiquette.3 It is fed by tradition, while science is the result of experience, accompanied by reason and corrected by observation. Magic, on the other hand, is impenetrable to both. And while around magic secrets are made which are passed on by initiation, science is open to all, a public good.4 Where science, according to Malinowski, is based on experience, effort, and reason, magic comes from faith "which did not carry hope and the wish could never be in vain".5

Entities not controllable by the individual

While the inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands studied by Malinowski practiced safe lagoon fishing without magical rituals and treated minor aches and pains with massages, steam and medicinal herbs, magic was used for serious illnesses and for unsafe deep-sea fishing.6 The forces of nature on the high seas were just as uncontrollable for the Trobrianders as cancer or a stroke. For this reason they used magic here.

Fields for magical thinking are also opened by man-made but still by the individual uncontrollable entities like the "market" in general and "Labor Market" in particular. Walter Benjamin7, Christoph Deutschmann8 and Thomas Frank9 pointed out the perception of economic concepts as supernatural powers. Hesiod had this effect already in the 7. He recognized this in the sixth century B.C. and spoke to.B. from the fact that also a smell is a "God" can be (cf. The magic of the application).

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