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.
The Puritans often serve as a punch line—the kind of people who would outlaw dancing—but their history is complex, and as Americans we may carry their candle to a larger degree than you think. In Sunday’s New York Times I wrote about their influence on our modern culture and morality, but there’s more to the story than could fit in the final article: Continue reading
In most religions—and arguably anything worth being called a religion—God is not just an impersonal force or creator. He has a mind that humans can relate to. Maybe you’re not gossiping on the phone with him late at night, but he has personality traits, thoughts, moods, and ways of communicating with you. If you didn’t know what a mind was or how it worked, not only would you not understand people, you would not understand God, and you would not be religious. Continue reading
In the United States, religion and politics have always been (fitful) bed buddies. But whether faith drives people left or right (or neither) is not obvious. On one hand, there is the Christian Right, a demographic epitomized by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that values tradition and authority and opposes gay rights and teaching of evolution. On the other hand, we owe many of our advancements in civil rights—a predominantly left-wing cause—to religious leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. One way to make sense of the relationship between faith and political orientation is to recognize the difference between religiousness and spirituality. Continue reading
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