Science on Religion

Exploring the nexus of culture, mind & religion

Is a real love potion in our future?

It may not be the most appropriate topic of discussion with your significant other on Valentine’s Day but advances in neuroscience are taking some of the mystery out of love. In a recent essay in Nature, Larry J. Young reflects on some of these developments and their possible implications for our social and biological evolution. Among the prospects for the not-so-distant-future are pharmaceuticals that could actually influence our feelings of connection and love with one another.

Not-so-intelligent design

PeacockChalk up another setback for the intelligent design (ID) crowd. In a lengthy treatment of unfortunate sexual traits in Science News, writer Susan Milius explores the counterintuitive notion that evolution can sometimes produce characteristics that are, well, no good. The examples cited range from bemusing to downright gross: seed beetle genitalia that grievously injure females during the mating act, sexual apparatuses in ducks that are remarkably incompatible between males and females, and costly peacock tails that—contrary to decades of speculation about their role in mating advertisement—actually seem to do nothing to attract females.

Unconscious associations of science and religion

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology Cover 45_1 Many religious scientists and educated non-professionals claim to believe that the universe began with the Big Bang, and that this process is the result of divine action at the same time. However, is this kind of “dual belief system” actually possible? Can we maintain both of these ideas at once, or do we actually choose between them in different contexts? A recent study conducted by Jesse Preston of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago suggests that science and religion are unconsciously seen to be in conflict with each other.

What do we hope to learn?

If you are reading this you have found your way to ibcsr.org and presumably have some interest in one, or more likely, some combination of the topics near and dear to the Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion. But why? What should we make of the proliferation of scientific studies of religion in the academy and the popular press? What do we really hope to learn by engaging in this research?

Urban environment and brain function

Cities are exciting. There are the arts to stimulate the mind and countless opportunities for social interaction. Cities are also exhausting and frustrating places. Recent research suggests that the urban landscape contributes to significant impairment of mental functioning in several areas including memory, self-control, the ability to focus, and overall mood. We are more likely to be impulsive, have difficulty concentrating and be irritable in the city than we are in a natural environment with a variety of plant and animal life around us.

Religious belief and practice linked to self-control

Psychological Bulletin CoverFew would be surprised that religious people have greater self-control than others. With all those rules and highly choreographed social interactions (rituals) how could it be otherwise? According to a new study by psychologists Michael McCullough and Brain Willoughby at the University of Miami religious belief and piety does in fact promote self-discipline but not merely through external means of social control. Apparently, religious belief and practice contribute to “inner strength” which helps make believers less distracted and more able to focus on positive life tasks. McCullough and Willoughby “reviewed eight decades of research” in order to test six propositions related to religious belief, practice, and self-control. Even when controlling for self-selection bias, higher religiosity was found to be related to higher self-control.

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