Believing Mind vs. Religious Mind

I have used the expression “Religious Mind” in many of my posts.  It is a bad choice.  Type ‘religious mind’ in my search widget will yield many such posts.  After listening to a Thinking Atheist interview of Michael Shermer (a skeptic I greatly enjoy), I heard Shermer use the expression “The Believing Mind” and realized that such an expression captures my intent behind my use of  “Religious Mind” far better without all the other wrong implications.  For all of us have a “Believing Mind” — and we have it for adaptive reasons.

Believing without evidence is our default mode. Well, I shouldn’t call it “without evidence” because believing something because someone in authority said it or because it intuitively makes sense to us, is indeed a sort of evidence — though it is a very low level of evidence.

Acquiring lots of evidence and striving for higher-level evidence is resource consuming: require much time, effort and expense. And for most decisions in life, we don’t have such luxuries. So rightfully so, our brains have built cheaper heuristics.

The problem sometimes comes when our brains compromise efficiency for accuracy and harm us.  It is at such times, and hopefully before, that disciplined evidence gathering, testing and weighing are essential.  Such methods developed well before we had the word “science” and they continue to improve despite the limits of institutionalized science.

From here on, I will try to use the phrase “believing mind” instead of “religious mind” to focus on ecumenical efforts to exposing convenient self-deception.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

21 responses to “Believing Mind vs. Religious Mind

  1. Glad you are back and blogging again!

  2. Good distinction. I once again am considering myself a religious person, and so I guess you could say that I have a religious mind, but belief has virtually nothing to do with my approach to religion.

    Wondering because of David Chapman’s comment, did you take a blogging hiatus? I did, didn’t blog or follow other blogs for about a year. I’m back at it now, catching up with old blogging friends and making new ones. Good to be reading your stuff again, Sabio!

  3. @ David,
    Thanx. Not sure how much I am back. I was blogging on my poetry site — but that is very different, of course. It has been an interesting anthropological, psychological experience over there. But dialogue was pathetic — they are all feel good sites.

    @ Leah,
    I can’t believe that “the believing mind” has nothing to do with your religion — my guess is that it has a huge part to do with your new religious identity, practices, preferences and all that stuff. But I guess I’d have to explain more what I mean about “The Believing Mind” to give that claim any credibility. 🙂

    For I am not talking about “faith” but why we choose to embrace what we do — how we protect, nurture and question. Basically, how the mind works.

    Thanks for commenting. Glad to have you blogging again — see my note to David.

  4. Atheistic_Theist

    I like that you are showing a difference between the two. Many atheists will believe anything, just not in a religious sense, like diet pills without exercising. Others who are religious can have a high evidence belief for everything.

    Although I would think, that that definition of believing mind does not cover all theists.

  5. I wonder if any distinction is needed. It seems to me that there is an assumption made when people perceive that others believe something they do not and the ‘evidence’ for that belief cannot be ‘seen.’
    In my observation people don’t believe without evidence – there is always a reason for why we think what we think, do what we do, believe what we believe – in essence, we always have our own evidence it is just that it may not count as evidence for others.
    There are many things in which human beings have absolute belief, love being a classic example, and yet which are impossible to prove to others, particularly those who have chosen to not believe, in any sort of empirical or quantitative way. In truth, love, perhaps like religion and spiritual belief falls into the same category as the scientific attitude to gravity: we know they exist because we can observe their effects but we cannot prove exactly what they are or how they work.
    ‘Evidence’ like so many things is in the eye of the beholder and just because we cannot see or understand what others call evidence does not mean it does not exist in a real and substantial way.

  6. rautakyy

    @Sabio, I think it is very important to notice, that all people believe only stuff that they find plausible. In conversations with religious people I have again and again run into this notion, that they claim I do not believe in any of their supernatural claims, because I choose not to. But it is not a concious choise as such to me. Why would I choose not to believe Allah or Vishnu, when those simply are not plausible suggestions to me. However, I find the idea of choosing your beliefs interresting, because it is as if they thought that a person can actually choose what they prefer to believe. Well, perhaps it is possible to choose what you find believable, but is that not simply deluding one self? But any belief in stuff, that has very slim evidence value, just because it is what they want to believe.

    @rosross, yes different people take different stuff as evidence. However, some people take as evidence bad stuff and often just because they would want it to be sufficient to support their belief. Most apologetics fall under this gategory, perhaps all of it. In effect, evidence, that has been invented with the very intent to give evidence to stuff, that was originally expected to be taken simply by faith.

    We can explain love and religiousity. These are not mysteries. There are obvious evolutionary and as a result sociological and psychological reasons, that are their causes. Reasons for the “religious mind” require no more god(s) than love requires cupid to explain.

  7. @rautakky,

    I agree that ‘reasons for the religious mind require no more god(s) than love requires cupid to explain’ but I believe it is more complex than that. Love is not explained by cupid and in fact Love cannot be explained in any empirical sense beyond the growing knowledge that ‘connecting’ with others, helping others, being kind to others, impacts our physiology in a positive way. Love is the ultimate form of connection to my mind so we are hard-wired if you like to ‘connect’ on many levels and across a spectrum.
    There is also no doubt that human beings have a spiritual ‘nature’, present and developed more in some than others, and this is expressed in a variety of ways, on many levels and across a spectrum, ranging I would say from something like gardening to deep spirituality which may be expressed through religion or may not.
    The interesting question is Why and that is something science cannot answer. It can observe the effects, as it can with gravity, but it does not know why or even how.
    Because of this ignorance science is the worst and last arbiter of anything which cannot be reduced to the simply material. In truth I wonder if anything can be reduced to the simply material but that is a truth I am sure we will re-discover in time.

  8. rautakyy

    @ rosross, yes there are many things science can not explain, at least yet. Love and spirituality are not unexplainable at least to a certain satisfactory degree. Of course, what is explained much depends on what we are trying to define with those words. Love for example, in wider spectrum is a sort of survival model, resulting from the strength forming a community gives to a certain species among wich humans are certainly not the only ones. That sort of love is explained by empathy. Wich allows us to form communities, to protect our own offspring and those of others of our own species, but also all the other individuals of our species, and indeed to make unions with individuals of other species as well. Love as an emotion is very strong especially when we are talking about the sexual attraction, wich, if anything, is necessary for the evolutionary process. It messes up our hormonal balance and even causes us to think differently, than we would have otherwise. There are many “invisible” factors in this game like pheromones, the effect of wich would seem almost magical, or supernatural, if we did not know of them as we today do.

    Spirituality is far more ambigious concept, because people give it even more different meanings than to love. However, the emotions and behaviour of people, that they interprete as “spiritual” are infact not just observable phenomenons, but explainable. Threre is no room here to go through all the different explanations of love and spirituality, but they both fall under human condition, wich is very much dictated by the evolution of our ancestors and species before us. Some forms of spirituality are simply psychological responses, to inner conflicts within our neural system and capacity to understand our environment. For example, superstitions are a great part of such “spirituality”. To explain something through personification of inanimate objects, or imagining andropocentric purpose to natural events we have no controll over.

    Human mind is a wonderfull construct in that it tries to resolve some form of balance. Fear of the unknown leads us to seek balance by naming the unknown, as if we actually knew it, or by simply using different techniques to calm down (like gardening or meditation). Science is the best way we have to learn what is actually true, or at the very least, come as close to the objective truth of any claim.

    What is not material? How can we observe anything immaterial, or make any conclusions of anything such? Even our very thoughts are material. They are electrical impulses within biological neural systems. Today we can observe them. We communicate them through our material mouths to make material of the air (or computer network) to transmit them from one neural system to the other.

  9. @rautakky,

    I can relate to a lot that you say but we see the world in different ways because I don’t believe ‘science is the best way to learn what is actually true, or at the very least, come as close to the objective truth of any claim’.
    I believe science has invaluable skills when dealing with those things which fit into the materialist/mechanistic paradigm of the current scientific mindset but it is not much use on other counts because its view is so narrow. That however is not to seek to diminish the advances it has made – merely to recognise the damage it sometimes does and the advances it does not make because of it.
    Interestingly of course many of our greatest scientists did not have such a narrow view and perhaps many of the greatest discoveries of science would not have been made if they had.
    Our thoughts are not material or they could be replicated. Research into brain stimulation shows this is not the case – neither is it effective with memory but there is no doubt that research in neuroscience will be helpful in terms of gaining greater understanding of how our brains work at a material level.

  10. rautakyy

    @rosross, yes, I agree that there are limitations to science. Replicating anything has nothing to do with it being material, or not. The sun is material, but we certainly can not replicate it. Simple thought processes can be simulated by computers. Thoughts do not happen beyond the material universe. They require material neural (or mechanized), chemical and electrical synapses to happen. It is possible that there is something beyond the material universe, but as long as we can not observe it, how can we assume it is there? Especially since, every incident people have thought something to be immaterial, it has either been revealed to be material (like thoughts), or we have not yet reached a verified information what it is, that has been observed. Or is there a method of observing something immaterial?

  11. @rautakyy

    I think the mystics would say there is a method of observing the immaterial or what we call the immaterial, as would shamans.
    Are dreams material? We certainly observe in dreams and some of us do so consciously. But my understanding of dream research is that while brain function can be monitored and recorded there is no way of knowing just what constitutes the dream, nor does the same brain function necessarily create the same dream experience in an individual let alone a group of individuals. And yet dreams feel very, very real.
    The research into remote viewing is also interesting. If all is material then which part of the material is involved in someone ‘seeing’ something material at a distance? Which part of the material mind transcends time and space? And then there is clairvoyance and ESP which do exist but cannot be reduced to a purely material existence. No doubt we shall find the answers in time and science will play a part.

  12. rautakyy

    @ rosross. All the shamans I have met (a couple of them I call personal friends) make very strange claims about the immaterial, but none of them has ever verified anything remotely convincing. Our cultural indoctrination may make us susceptible to such claims, but when rationally evaluated, they hold no evidence value. Infact, their fallacies reveal how such ideas of the immaterial are formed within the physical human mind and often also why.

    Yes, dreams are material constructs of the material brain. They are thought processes within the flesh of the brain of an individual, wether that is human, or animal. No dream has ever appeared outside any physical mind as far as we are able to tell. We even know the reason why dreams appear. They are a cognitive process of balancing the memory banks of any animal for the brain to cope with information influx and behavioral models, to resolve internal conflicts and to relax the mind.They are a natural phenomenon within the natural physical existance. A natural physical product of a natural physical world. We can explain the existance of dreams without asserting supernatural, spirits or anything immaterial into the equation.

    If we can not yet explain all properties of dreams, or any other brainfunctions, it seems artificial to insert any idea of “spirits” or anything immaterial to those gaps. This is because we know that in every ever researched case, claims of the immaterial have been revealed as notions, that are indeed the result of humans making up explanations to such phenomenons of the material universe they have not understood, or simply as hoaxes. Most of them have allready been explained by the natural universe. Such as germs, not demons, causing disease. The friction of athmospheric substances, not Thor, or Zeus, causing lightning. The tectonic movement of the crust of the earth causing earthquakes, not wrath of any god(s).

    You see, though there is a possibility, that something supernatural, or immaterial may affect us in some way, it has been reduced to such a remote chance (by simple deduction of these claims by science), that for us to accept it as anything but a wild guess or another part of folklore, we should require extraordinary level of evidence. But not even the ordinary, or minimal level of evidence is ever met.

    And we also understand (through the scientific method) why people invent such supernatural, or spiritual claims to andropomorphise the sometimes random powers of nature.

    Perhaps you have some new information about remote viewing, that you would share with us? My understanding is, that after the US military researched this possibility during the cold war, the program was cancelled, because it simply did not work. Remote viewing, clairvoyance and ESP are infact interresting in that to evaluate wether such actually exist, we can use the scientific method. There have been quite a bit of effort to try this out. Without any success, I am told. If someone could legitimitcally provide actual evidence, that these ideas of the immaterial do work, that ground braking research would indeed be worth the Nobel prize, but untill such has been established by the scientific community, I see no reason why you, or I would believe any of it really works. Why should we?

  13. @rautakky,

    What I said was that shamans would say there was a method of observing the immaterial not that they could ‘prove’ it in ways which fitted the scientific paradigm. Quite the opposite. The fact that it cannot be proven through a particular methodology does not negate it’s potential validity. It just means we do not yet have the means to understand it properly, locked as we are, in the main, into a materialistic view of the world.
    And I don’t believe people are necessarily susceptible to such claims – quite the opposite – but I do believe their existence and the demonstrable evidence of their affects (it works with gravity so why not with other things) requires at least an open mind in regard to its existence and possible meaning.
    If dreams were material constructs within the brain they would not only be repeatable they would not be predictive. When people dream of literal events which have not yet happened, as many have done, including myself – how can this be a material construct of the brain? Trust me, even someone open-minded to such things can be shocked when a dream situation appears in reality exactly as dreamt! And never more so than when the dream has occurred more than a year earlier and requires presence in a country which, at the time of the dream, was neither expected nor ‘dreamt of.’ If they were purely a cognitive method for ‘balancing the memory banks’ this would not and could not happen.
    I do understand the mechanistic explanation for dreams but the evidence for dreams to be far more than this is overwhelming, however much some may wish it to be other.
    And I would not suggest that spirits, the supernatural or that which science would call immaterial are involved in dreaming either.
    Neither would I insert ‘spirits’ into that which cannot be explained in a materialist science sense. They are quite unnecessary, but not for the reasons you suggest.
    A great deal of research has been done into dreams, far more than I could or would list here, and it is simply untrue to say that in every researched case claims have been revealed as ‘notions,’ or ‘hoaxes.’
    Neither does it fall into the realm of beliefs about demons causing illness as opposed to bacteria. Much of the earliest knowledge and understanding of illness and wellness was destroyed when medicine was taken over by men and the women healers were demonised if not burned. Ancient healing methodologies which still exist were far too sophisticated to see the cause of illness as ‘demons’ although this explanation was and can be found in primitive societies to some degree. Although even there, those who study healing practises have also come to realise it is not that simple. The simplicity has arisen from the biased and limited perspective of the Western observer.
    The instances of belief you cite are drawn from the most primitive and simplistic and human belief about the cosmos, themselves and the planet have more often been far more sophisticated than Western minds would allow.
    And we don’t understand through the scientific method why people think as they do because the scientific method is limited to the material and the mechanistic and while it can excel from that perspective, it is simply incapable of understanding, interpreting or comprehending the greater complexity of human beings, human nature and the world in which we live. That will however change as science comes to admit it has built high walls around itself. Those walls have been valuable in terms of narrowing focus and allowing understanding of aspects of life but they have, to resort to the vernacular, a ‘use-by date’ if humanity is to advance. To see the world in purely materialistic terms is as limited a vision as to see the world in terms of demons, spirits and Gods on Olympus.
    The interesting thing about remote viewing was the demonstration that human beings, some better at it than others, could actually ‘see’ things beyond time and space.
    The US military did a lot of research and did, supposedly, give it up for its own reasons but research continues. It is easy enough to find if you are interested. The Russians have led the way in terms of researching such things and in fact the US military got involved for this very reason. The Russians were researching prior to the revolution and it all came to a halt under Stalin, who was very superstitious, but has since been revived. Again, it is easy to find information on work done and being done by Russia in this regard.
    Well, I can understand that you and others who take the same position would not countenance anything which has not been established by what you call the ‘scientific community’ but that criteria does not apply to everyone, thankfully, including some scientists. There is no reason why you should believe any of it really works, but, equally, given the ignorance there is also no reason why you or anyone should believe it does not or cannot. Keeping an open mind is a skill which has been lost in the past couple of centuries by materialist science. I look forward to it being restored. The Chinese as well as the Russians are doing serious research into what is called the paranormal and no doubt, as they make advances, the West will seek to catch up and science will be forced to ‘open its mind.’ All to the good.
    scientific community, I see no reason why you, or I would believe any of it really works. Why should we?

  14. @rautakky,

    Let’s agree to disagree. I think we have covered this in terms of our different approaches. Sabio does not like long posts but sometimes they are hard to avoid if one is to be fair to the poster.

  15. And I was carefully reading and working through your post rautakky and forgot to delete the last two lines which of course are yours, not mine – so ignore:

    scientific community, I see no reason why you, or I would believe any of it really works. Why should we?

  16. Sabio,

    This is a great clarification. I am still prone to make all the same mistakes in logic now that I did when I was a Xian. It’s something I have to remind myself of constantly. I just believe one less thing that I formerly believed for the wrong reasons. That’s all. I’m not somehow above reproach or making errors in judgement.

  17. @rautakyy,

    Thanks for this line of reasoning. As luck would have it, I am debating on another site with someone who claims that God is real because materialism can’t explain everything. (It’s as frustrating as it sounds.) I may be borrowing some of these arguments if that’s ok. You present them so well.

  18. @MichaelB,
    Thanks. I agree that all the same cognitive habit and mistakes persist after leaving a religion. But I would emphasize that religion is more than a simple belief in a god — depending on the individual, it could also comes with commitment to tradition, using sanctity to manipulate, exclusive-tribalism and much more. So for many, it is a huge change — much more than just giving up one wrong belief. And usually, it is the other things in the package that was hard for them to give up.

  19. rautakyy

    @rosross. Yes, let us agree on disagreeing. Your experience is naturally enough to convince you, while to me it is just a nother part of anecdotal “evidence”. I do not claim you lie, It might be that your “believing mind” has led you to conclude, that your dreams have actually predicted future. Just as well they might be real predictions, but I have no way of knowing, because my dreams have never predicted anything. Allthough, I might add that I could have interpreted some of my dreams as predictions, if my “believing mind” would have affected my approach to them as such.

    @MichaelB, thank you. I am flattered. You are wellcome to use any of my arguments, to prospone our common views. Just as well as anyone disagreeing with me is wellcome to use my arguments to counter them, as long as they are honest about what I presented.

    @Sabio Lanz, my apologies, if my comments were long winded, or if they were somewhat off topic.

  20. @rautakky,
    Fair enough. We all live and know our own truth and can only offer it to others where it may be of use or not. My dream experience was quite literal and there was no interpretation required. Neither was there any need for belief. The dream mirrored the real-life experience. Such things are not common but they are not rare either. I guess when one experiences such things it does change perspective.

  21. @Sabio,

    I agree that it’s more complex than I painted it. I guess what I meant about believing one less thing is that dropping my religious belief doesn’t mean I am now a master of logic, free from the pitfalls of the Believing Mind. I still fall victim to logical fallacies, etc., although hopefully my deconversion process has made me a little more aware of them.

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