In February of 1971, Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell was on his way back from the moon when he had an epiphany. Staring out the window at the stars, he realized that everything is connected. The experience was so “puzzling and powerful,” he told me, that upon touchdown he launched a quest into what it was all about, seeking the wisdom of mystics and holy men around the world. He wasn’t alone in his spiritual awakening; an analysis of astronauts’ reports reveals that for many, the awesomeness of spaceflight increased their belief in God. New research may explain why.
In recent years, psychologists have come to understand religion and paranormal belief as resulting, in most people, from simple errors in reasoning. You believe in God or astrology or a purpose in life because you apply ideas about people—that they have thoughts and intentions—to the natural world. Some display this tendency more than others, but it’s there in everyone, even atheistic heathens like me. What has not been clarified is exactly how the various cognitive biases interact to produce specific ideas about the supernatural—until now.
Your answer to this question will help me guess whether you believe in God.
It’s often said that there are no atheists in foxholes. While this isn’t technically true—a group called The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers even keeps a roster of them—new research suggests that inducing fear of death at least makes atheists a little less entrenched in their beliefs. Continue reading