This ambitious, interdisciplinary book seeks to explain the origins of religion using our knowledge of the evolution of cognition. A cognitive anthropologist and psychologist, Scott Atran argues that religion is a by-product of human evolution just as the cognitive intervention, cultural selection, and historical survival of religion is an accommodation of certain existential and moral elements that have evolved in the human condition.
Inspired by a debate between Noam Chomsky and Jean Piaget, this work traces the development of natural history from Aristotle to Darwin, and demonstrates how the science of plants and animals has emerged from the common conceptions of folkbiology.
Religion is not an evolutionary adaptation per se, but a recurring by-product of the complex evolutionary landscape that sets cognitive, emotional and material conditions for ordinary human interactions. Religion involves extraordinary use of ordinary cognitive processes to passionately display costly devotion to counterintuitive worlds governed by supernatural agents. The conceptual foundations of religion are intuitively given by task-specific panhuman cognitive domains, including folkmechanics, folkbiology, folkpsychology. Core religious beliefs minimally violate ordinary notions about how the world is, with all of its (...) inescapable problems, thus enabling people to imagine minimally impossible supernatural worlds that solve existential problems, including death and deception. Here the focus is on folkpsychology and agency. A key feature of the supernatural agent concepts common to all religions is the triggering of an "Innate Releasing Mechanism," or “agency detector,” whose proper domain encompasses animate objects relevant to hominid survival - such as predators, protectors and prey - but which actually extends to moving dots on computer screens, voices in wind, faces on clouds. Folkpsychology also crucially involves metarepresentation, which makes deception possible and threatens any social order; however, these same metacognitive capacities provide the hope and promise of open-ended solutions through representations of counterfactual supernatural worlds that cannot be logically or empirically verified or falsified. Because religious beliefs cannot be deductively or inductively validated, validation occurs only by ritually addressing the very emotions motivating religion. Cross-cultural experimental evidence encourages these claims. (shrink)
This essay in the "anthropology of science" is about how cognition constrains culture in producing science. The example is folk biology, whose cultural recurrence issues from the very same domain-specific cognitive universals that provide the historical backbone of systematic biology. Humans everywhere think about plants and animals in highly structured ways. People have similar folk-biological taxonomies composed of essence-based species-like groups and the ranking of species into lower- and higher-order groups. Such taxonomies are not as arbitrary in structure and content, (...) nor as variable across cultures, as the assembly of entities into cosmologies, materials or social groups. (shrink)
Understanding religion requires explaining why supernatural beliefs, devotions, and rituals are both universal and variable across cultures, and why religion is so often associated with both large-scale cooperation and enduring group conflict. Emerging lines of research suggest that these oppositions result from the convergence of three processes. First, the interaction of certain reliably developing cognitive processes, such as our ability to infer the presence of intentional agents, favors—as an evolutionary by-product—the spread of certain kinds of counterintuitive concepts. Second, participation in (...) rituals and devotions involving costly displays exploits various aspects of our evolved psychology to deepen people's commitment to both supernatural agents and religious communities. Third, competition among societies and organizations with different faith-based beliefs and practices has increasingly connected religion with both within-group prosociality and between-group enmity. This connection has strengthened dramatically in recent millennia, as part of the evolution of complex societies, and is important to understanding cooperation and conflict in today's world. (shrink)
. This paper describes a cross-cultural and developmental research project on naïve or folk biology, that is, the study of how people conceptualize nature. The combination of domain specificity and cross-cultural comparison brings a new perspective to theories of categorization and reasoning and undermines the tendency to focus on “standard populations.” From the standpoint of mainstream cognitive psychology, we find that results gathered from standard populations in industrialized societies often fail to generalize to humanity at large. For example, similarity-driven typicality (...) and diversity effects and basic level phenomena either are not found or pattern differently when we move beyond undergraduates. From the perspective of domain-specificity, standard populations may yield misleading results, because such populations represent examples of especially impoverished experience with respect to nature. Conceptions of humans as biological kinds vary with cultural milieu and input conditions. We also show certain phenomena that are robust across populations, consistent with notions of domain-specificity. (shrink)
For much of their history, the relationship between anthropology and psychology has been well captured by Robert Frost's poem, “Mending Wall,” which ends with the ironic line, “good fences make good neighbors.” The congenial fence was that anthropology studied what people think and psychology studied how people think. Recent research, however, shows that content and process cannot be neatly segregated, because cultural differences in what people think affect how people think. To achieve a deeper understanding of the relation between process (...) and content, research must integrate the methodological insights from both anthropology and psychology. We review previous research and describe new studies in the domain of folk biology which examine the cognitive consequences of different conceptualizations of nature and the place of humans within it. The focus is on cultural differences in framework theories among Native Americans and European American children and adults living in close proximity in rural Wisconsin. Our results show that epistemological orientations affect memory organization, ecological reasoning, and the perceived role of humans in nature. This research also demonstrates that cultural differences in framework theories have implications for understanding intergroup conflict over natural resources and are relevant to efforts to improve science learning, especially among Native American children. (shrink)
Memes are hypothetical cultural units passed on by imitation; although nonbiological, they undergo Darwinian selection like genes. Cognitive study of multimodular human minds undermines memetics: unlike in genetic replication, high-fidelity transmission of cultural information is the exception, not the rule. Constant, rapid 'mutation' of information during communication generates endlessly varied creations that nevertheless adhere to modular input conditions. The sort of cultural information most susceptible to modular processing is that most readily acquired by children, most easily transmitted across individuals, most (...) apt to survive within a culture, most likely to recur in different cultures, and most disposed to cultural variation and elaboration. (shrink)
Carey's book on conceptual change and the accompanying argument that children's biology initially is organized in terms of naïve psychology has sparked a great detail of research and debate. This body of research on children's biology has, however, been almost exclusively been based on urban, majority culture children in the US or in other industrialized nations. The development of folkbiological knowledge may depend on cultural and experiential background. If this is the case, then urban majority culture children may prove to (...) be the exception rather than the rule, because plants and animals do not play a significant role in their everyday life. Urban majority culture children, rural majority culture children, and rural Native American children were given a property projection task based on Carey's original paradigm. Each group produced a unique profile of development. Only urban children showed evidence for early anthropocentrism, suggesting that the co-mingling of psychology and biology may be a product of an impoverished experience with nature. In comparison to urban majority culture children even the youngest rural children generalized in terms of biological affinity. In addition, all ages of Native American children and the older rural majority culture children gave clear evidence of ecological reasoning. These results show that both culture and expertise play a role in the development of folkbiological thought. (shrink)
Contemporary suicide terrorists from the Middle East are publicly deemed crazed cowards bent on senseless destruction who thrive in poverty and ignorance. Recent research indicates they have no appreciable psychopathology and are as educated and economically well-off as surrounding populations. A first line of defense is to get the communities from which suicide attackers stem to stop the attacks by learning how to minimize the receptivity of mostly ordinary people to recruiting organizations.
Many psychological studies of categorization and reasoning use undergraduates to make claims about human conceptualization. Generalizability of findings to other populations is often assumed but rarely tested. Even when comparative studies are conducted, it may be challenging to interpret differences. As a partial remedy, in the present studies we adopt a 'triangulation strategy' to evaluate the ways expertise and culturally different belief systems can lead to different ways of conceptualizing the biological world. We use three groups (US bird experts, US (...) undergraduates, and ordinary Itza' Maya) and two sets of birds (North American and Central American). Categorization tasks show considerable similarity among the three groups' taxonomic sorts, but also systematic differences. Notably, US expert categorization is more similar to Itza' than to US novice categorization. The differences are magnified on inductive reasoning tasks where only undergraduates show patterns of judgment that are largely consistent with current models of category-based taxonomic inference. The Maya commonly employ causal and ecological reasoning rather than taxonomic reasoning. Experts use a mixture of strategies (including causal and ecological reasoning), only some of which current models explain. US and Itza' informants differed markedly when reasoning about passerines (songbirds), reflecting the somewhat different role that songbirds play in the two cultures. The results call into question the importance of similarity-based notions of typicality and central tendency in natural categorization and reasoning. These findings also show that relative expertise leads to a convergence of thought that transcends cultural boundaries and shared experiences. (shrink)
We report a series of experiments carried out with Palestinian and Israeli participants showing that violent opposition to compromise over issues considered sacred is increased by offering material incentives to compromise but decreased when the adversary makes symbolic compromises over their own sacred values. These results demonstrate some of the unique properties of reasoning and decision-making over sacred values. We show that the use of material incentives to promote the peaceful resolution of political and cultural conflicts may backfire when adversaries (...) treat contested issues as sacred values. (shrink)
Sacred values differ from material or instrumental values in that they incorporate moral beliefs that drive action in ways dissociated from prospects for success. Across the world, people believe that devotion to essential or core values – such as the welfare of their family and country, or their commitment to religion, honor, and justice – are, or ought to be, absolute and inviolable. Counterintuitively, understanding an opponent's sacred values, we believe, offers surprising opportunities for breakthroughs to peace. Because of the (...) emotional unwillingness of those in conflict situations to negotiate sacred values, conventional wisdom suggests that negotiators should either leave sacred values for last in political negotiations or try to bypass them with sufficient material incentives. Our empirical findings and historical analysis suggest that conventional wisdom is wrong. In fact, offering to provide material benefits in exchange for giving up a sacred value actually makes settlement more difficult because people see the offering as an insult rather than a compromise. But we also found that making symbolic concessions of no apparent material benefit might open the way to resolving seemingly irresolvable conflicts. We offer suggestions for how negotiators can reframe their position by demonstrating respect, and/or by apologizing for what they sincerely regret. We also offer suggestions for how to overcome sacred barriers by refining sacred values to exclude outmoded claims, exploiting the inevitable ambiguity of sacred values, shifting the context, provisionally prioritizing values, and reframing responsibility. (shrink)
This paper describes a cross-cultural research project on the relation between how people conceptualize nature and how they act in it. Mental models of nature differ dramatically among and within populations living in the same area and engaged in more or less the same activities. This has novel implications for environmental decision making and management, including dealing with commons problems. Our research also offers a distinct perspective on models of culture, and a unified approach to the study of culture and (...) cognition. We argue that cultural transmission and formation does not consist primarily in shared rules or norms, but in complex distributions of causally-connected representations across minds in interaction with the environment. The cultural stability and diversity of these representations often derives from rich, biologically-prepared mental mechanisms that limit variation to readily transmissible psychological forms. This framework addresses a series of methodological issues, such as the limitations of conceiving culture to be a well-defined system or bounded entity, an independent variable, or an internalized component of minds. (shrink)
Anthropological inquiry suggests that all societies classify animals and plants in similar ways. Paradoxically, in the same cultures that have seen large advances in biological science, citizenry's practical knowledge of nature has dramatically diminished. Here we describe historical, cross-cultural and developmental research on how people ordinarily conceptualize organic nature, concentrating on cognitive consequences associated with knowledge devolution. We show that results on psychological studies of categorization and reasoning from “standard populations” fail to generalize to humanity at large. Usual populations have (...) impoverished experience with nature, which yields misleading results about knowledge acquisition and the ontogenetic relationship between folkbiology and folkpsychology. We also show that groups living in the same habitat can manifest strikingly distinct behaviors, cognitions and social relations relative to it. This has novel implications for environmental decision making and management, including commons problems. (shrink)
Strong adaptationists explore complex organic design as taskspecific adaptations to ancestral environments. This strategy seems best when there is evidence of homology. Weak adaptationists don't assume that complex organic (including cognitive and linguistic) functioning necessarily or primarily represents taskspecific adaptation. This approach to cognition resembles physicists' attempts to deductively explain the most facts with fewest hypotheses. For certain domainspecific competencies (folkbiology) strong adaptationism is useful but not necessary to research. With grouplevel belief systems (religion) strong adaptationism degenerates into spurious notions (...) of social function and cultural selection. In other cases (language, especially universal grammar) weak adaptationism's 'minimalist' approach seems productive. (shrink)
What follows is a discussion of three sets of experimental results that deal with various aspects of universal biological understanding among American and Maya children and adults. The first set of experiments shows that by the age of four-to-five years urban American and Yukatek Maya children employ a concept of innate species potential, or underlying essence, as an inferential framework for understanding the affiliation of an organism to a biological species, and for projecting known and unknown biological properties to organisms (...) in the face of uncertainty. The second set of experiments shows that the youngest Maya children do not have an anthropocentric understanding of the biological world. Children do not initially need to reason about non-human living kinds by analogy to human kinds. The third set of results show that the same taxonomic rank is cognitively preferred for biological induction in two diverse populations: people raised in the Mid-western USA and Itza' Maya of the Lowland Meso-american rainforest. This is the generic species the level of oak and robin. These findings cannot be explained by domain-general models of similarity because such models cannot account for why both cultures prefer species-like groups in making inferences about the biological world, although Americans have relatively little actual knowledge or experience at this level. The implication from these experiments is that folk biology may well represent an evolutionary design: universal taxonomic structures, centred on essence-based generic species, are arguably routine products of our ‘habits of mind,' which may be in part naturally selected to grasp relevant and recurrent ‘habits of the world.' The science of biology is built upon these domain-specific cognitive universals: folk biology sets initial cognitive constraints on the development of any possible macro-biological theory, including the initial development of evolutionary theory. Nevertheless, the conditions of relevance under which science operates diverge from those pertinent to folk biology. For natural science, the motivating idea is to understand nature as it is ‘in itself,' independently of the human observer. From this standpoint, the species-concept, like taxonomy and teleology, may arguably be allowed to survive in science as a regulative principle that enables the mind to readily establish stable contact with the surrounding environment, rather than as an epistemic concept that guides the search for truth. (shrink)
Suicide attack is the most virulent and horrifying form of terrorism in the world today. The mere rumor of an impending suicide attack can throw thousands of people into panic. This occurred during a Shi‘a procession in Iraq in late August 2005, causing hundreds of deaths. Although suicide attacks account for a minority of all terrorist acts, they are responsible for a majority of all terrorism-related casualties, and the rate of attacks is rising rapidly across the globe. During 2000–2004, there (...) were 472 suicide attacks in 22 countries, killing more than 7,000 and wounding tens of thousands. Most have been carried out by Islamist groups claiming religious motivation, also known as jihadis. Rand Corp. vice president and terrorism analyst Bruce Hoffman has found that 80 percent of suicide attacks since 1968 occurred after the September 11 attacks, with jihadis representing 31 of the 35 responsible groups. More suicide attacks occurred in 2004 than in any previous year, and 2005 has proven even more deadly, with attacks in Iraq alone averaging more than one per day, according to data gathered by the U.S. military. The July 2005 London and Sinai bombings, a second round of bombings at tourist destinations in Bali in October, coordinated hotel bombings in Jordan in November, the arrival of suicide bombings in Bangladesh in December, a record year of attacks in Afghanistan, and daily bombings in Iraq have spurred renewed interest in suicide terrorism, with recent analyses stressing the strategic logic, organizational structure, and rational calculation involved. Whereas they once primarily consisted of organized campaigns by militarily weak forces aiming to end the perceived occupation of their homeland, as argued by University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape in Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, suicide attacks today serve as banner actions for a thoroughly modern, global diaspora inspired by religion and claiming the role of vanguard for a massive, media-driven transnational political awakening. Living mostly in the diaspora and undeterred by the threat of retaliation against original home populations, jihadis, who are frequently middle-class, secularly well educated, but often “born-again” radical Islamists, including converts from Christianity, embrace apocalyptic visions for humanity's violent salvation. In Muslim countries and across western Europe, bright and idealistic Muslim youth, even more than the marginalized and dispossessed, internalize the jihadi story, illustrated on satellite television and the Internet with the ubiquitous images of social injustice and political repression with which much of the Muslim world's bulging immigrant and youth populations intimately identifies. From the suburbs of Paris to the jungles of Indonesia, I have interviewed culturally uprooted and politically restless youth who echo a stunningly simplified and decontextualized message of martyrdom for the sake of global jihad as life's noblest cause. They are increasingly as willing and even eager to die as they are to kill. The policy implications of this change in the motivation, organization, and calculation of suicide terrorism may be as novel as hitherto neglected. Many analysts continue to claim that jihadism caters to the destitute and depraved, the craven and criminal, or those who “hate freedom.” Politicians and pundits have asserted that jihadism is nihilistic and immoral, with no real program or humanity. Yet, jihadism is none of these things. Do we really understand the causes of today's suicide terrorism? Do suicide attacks stem mainly from a political cause, such as military occupation? Do they need a strong organization, such as Al Qaeda? What else could be done to turn the rising tide of martyrdom? (shrink)
Lankford overgeneralizes individual psychology from limited, fragmentary and doubtful materials, and underplays strategic, ideological, and group dynamical factors. His speculative claims manifest a form of fundamental attribution error: the tendency – especially evident in popular attachment to moral presumptions of individual responsibility and volition – to overestimate effects of personality and underestimate situational effects in explaining social behavior. The book's appeal may owe more to ideological preference than to interests of science or national security.
This essay explores the universal cognitive bases of biological taxonomy and taxonomic inference using cross-cultural experimental work with urbanized Americans and forest-dwelling Maya Indians. A universal, essentialist appreciation of generic species appears as the causal foundation for the taxonomic arrangement of biodiversity, and for inference about the distribution of causally-related properties that underlie biodiversity. Universal folkbiological taxonomy is domain-specific: its structure does not spontaneously or invariably arise in other cognitive domains, like substances, artifacts or persons. It is plausibly an innately-determined (...) evolutionary adaptation to relevant and recurrent aspects of ancestral hominid environments, such as the need to recognize, locate, react to, and profit from many ambient species. Folkbiological concepts are special players in cultural evolution, whose native stability attaches to more variable and difficult-to-learn representational forms, thus enhancing the latter's prospects for regularity and recurrence in transmission within and across cultures. This includes knowledge that cumulatively enriches (folk expertise), overrides (religious belief) or otherwise transcends (science) the commonsense ontology prescribed by folkbiology. Finally, the studies summarized here indicate that results gathered from “standard populations” in regard to biological categorization and reasoning more often than not fail to generalize in straightforward ways to humanity at large. This suggests the need for much more serious attention to cross-cultural research on basic cognitive processes. (shrink)
People usually fail the Wason selection task, choosing P and Q cases, when attempting to validate descriptive rules having the form “If P, then Q.” Yet they solve it, selecting P and not-Q cases, when validating deontic rules of the form “If P, then must Q.” The field of evolutionary psychology has overwhelmingly interpreted deontic versions of the selection task in terms of a naturally-selected, domain-specific social-contract or cheating algorithm. This work has done much to promote evolutionary psychology as an (...) alternative to a mindblind sociobiology that ignores the computational structure of cognitive mechanisms in producing people's behaviors. Nevertheless, evolution-minded researchers outside cognitive psychology know little of the ample literature challenging this interpretation and uncritically cite the “cheater-detection module” as a key insight into human cognition. Although a priori arguments for a specially evolved cheater-detection module are plausible, the selection task provides no direct evidence for such a module. (shrink)
The target article contains a number of distinct but interrelated claims about the cognitive nature of folk biology based in part on cross-cultural work with urbanized Americans and forest-dwelling Maya Indians. Folk biology consists universally of a ranked taxonomy centered on essence-based generic species. This taxonomy is domain-specific, perhaps an innately determined evolutionary adaptation. Folk biology also plays a special role in cultural evolution in general, and in the development of Western biological science in particular. Even in our culture, however, (...) it retains an autonomy from other domains of thought and from science. These claims are questioned and clarified. (shrink)
Sacred values are different from secular values in that they are often associated with violations of the cost-benefit logic of rational choice models. Previous work on sacred values has been largely limited to religious or territorial conflicts deeply embedded in historical contexts. In this work we find that the Iranian nuclear program, a relatively recent development, is treated as sacred by some Iranians, leading to a greater disapproval of deals which involve monetary incentives to end the program. Our results suggest (...) that depending on the prevalence of such values, incentive-focused negotiations may backfire. (shrink)
In standard models of decision making, participation in violent political action is understood as the product of instrumentally rational reasoning. According to this line of thinking, instrumentally rational individuals will participate in violent political action only if there are selective incentives that are limited to participants. We argue in favor of an alternate model of political violence where participants are motivated by moral commitments to collective sacred values. Correlative and experimental empirical evidence in the context of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict strongly (...) supports this alternate view. (shrink)
AS diplomats stitch together a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, the most depressing feature of the conflict is the sense that future fighting is inevitable. Rational calculation suggests that neither side can win these wars. The thousands of lives and billions of dollars sacrificed in fighting demonstrate the advantages of peace and coexistence; yet still both sides opt to fight. This small territory is the world's great symbolic knot. “Palestine is the mother of all problems” is a common refrain among (...) people we have interviewed across the Muslim world: from Middle Eastern leaders to fighters in the remote island jungles of Indonesia; from Islamist senators in Pakistan to volunteers for martyrdom on the move from Morocco to Iraq. Some analysts see this as a testament to the essentially religious nature of the conflict. But research we recently undertook suggests a way to go beyond that. For there is a moral logic to seemingly intractable religious and cultural disputes. These conflicts cannot be reduced to secular calculations of interest but must be dealt with on their own terms, a logic very different from the marketplace or realpolitik. (shrink)
The "surrogate colonization" of Palestine had a foreign power giving to a nonnative group rights over land occupied by an indigenous people. It thus brought into play the complementary and conflicting agendas of three culturally distinguishable parties: British, Jews and Arabs. Each party had both "externalist" [those with no sustained practical experience of day to day life in Palestine] and "internalist" representatives. The surrogate idea was based on a "strategic consensus" involving each party's externalist camp: the British ruling elite, the (...) leadership of the World Zionist Organization and the Hashemite Dynasty of Arabia. The collapse of this triangular consensus, which put an end to the policy but not the process of surrogate colonization, resulted from irreconcilable antagonisms within and between the major currents of each internalist camp. A focus on the land problem in Palestine highlights contradictions in each party's internalist agenda, which forestalled a rift between the Jewish and British sides of the consensus long enough for the Zionist settlement in Palestine to acquire territory and to develop a largely self-sufficient economic, cultural, political and military infrastructure. (shrink)
Strong adaptationists would explain complex organic designs as specific adaptations to particular ancestral environments. Weak adaptationists don't assume that complex organic functioning represents evolutionary design in the sense of niche-specific adaptation. For some domain-specific competencies (folkbiology) strong adaptationism is useful, not necessary. With group-level belief systems (religion), strong adaptationism can become spurious pseudo-adaptationism. In other cases (language), weak adaptationism proves productive.
The evolutionary landscape that canalizes human thought and behavior into religious beliefs and practices includes naturally selected emotions, cognitive modules, and constraints on social interactions. Evolutionary by-products, including metacognitive awareness of death and possibilities for deception, further channel people into religious paths. Religion represents a community's costly commitment to a counterintuitive world of supernatural agents who manage people's existential anxieties. Religious devotion, though not an adaptation, informs all cultures and most people.
There have been many criticisms of “nativism” in “Cartesian linguistics,” attacking positions that neither Chomsky nor any well-known generative grammarian has ever thought to defend. Shanker's polemic is no exception. It involves two spurious claims: Cartesian linguistics vitiates understanding language structure and use; nativism permits linguistic anthropology only to “validate” and “apply” generative principles. Briefly, Chomsky's outlines a language system, LS, of the human brain. LS reflexively discriminates and categorizes parts of the flux of human experience as “language,” and develops (...) complex abilities to infer and interpret this highly structured, and structurally peculiar, type of human production. There is nothing intrinsically different about LS – concerning innateness, evolution or universality – than the visual system, immune system, respiratory system, or any other complex biological system. Much polemic is driven by distaste for “innateness,” “genes,” and “evolution.” Historical and ideological reasons explain this aversion - some well-justified. None bear on universal grammar. Biologists believe all life consists of universal, highly structured codings of biological information. Still, biologists go on to explore diversity at many different levels. Similarly, linguistic anthropology can use generative grammar to better comprehend the diversity of languages and the cultural worlds they describe. This includes the very issues about proper names that Shanker highlights. (shrink)
We investigated the influence of humiliation on inter-group conflict in three studies of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. We demonstrate that experienced humiliation produces an inertia effect; a tendency towards inaction that suppresses rebellious or violent action but which paradoxically also suppresses support for acts of inter-group compromise. In Study 1, Palestinians who felt more humiliated by the Israeli occupation were less likely to support suicide attacks against Israelis. In Study 2, priming Palestinians with a humiliating experience (...) caused fewer expressions of joy when subsequently hearing about suicide attacks. In Study 3, Palestinians who felt more humiliated by peace deals were less likely to support those deals, while Israeli symbolic compromises that decreased feelings of humiliation increased support for the same deals. While the experience of humiliation does not seem to contribute to political violence, it does seem to suppress support for conflict resolution. (shrink)
If religion is a special form of causal belief—immune to logic and evidence—about how things are in the world, then it is true that “science is basically in conflict with religion.” But if religion is primarily about what ought to be, including moral framing that convinces people to commit to others beyond the logic and evidence for advancing self-interest, then conflict is not inevitable. Understanding and manipulating causality, though key to science, is only one integral component of religion and other (...) aspects of human brain development, knowledge, and belief that bind us to one another and the world. (shrink)
NOT all groups that the United States government classifies as terrorist organizations are equally bad or dangerous, and not all information conveyed to them that is based on political, academic or scientific expertise risks harming our national security. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court, which last week upheld a law banning the provision of “material support” to foreign terrorist groups, doesn't seem to consider those facts relevant.... The two of us are social scientists who study and interact with violent groups in order (...) to find ways out of intractable conflicts. In the course of this work and in our discussions with decision makers in the Middle East and elsewhere we have seen how informal meetings and exchanges of knowledge have borne fruit. It's not that religious, academic or scientific credentials automatically convey trust, but when combined with a personal commitment to peace, they often carry weight beyond mere opinion or desire.... In our own work on groups categorized as terrorist organizations, we have detected significant differences in their attitudes and actions. For example, in our recent interactions with the leader of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad Ramadan Shallah, we were faced with an adamant refusal to ever recognize Israel or move toward a two-state solution. Yet when we talked to Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas, he said that his movement could imagine a two-state “peace”. In our time with Mr. Meshal's group, we were also able to confirm something that Saudi and Israeli intelligence officers had told us: Hamas has fought to keep Al Qaeda out of its field of influence, and has no demonstrated interest in global jihad. Whether or not the differences among Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other violent groups are fundamental, rather than temporary or tactical, is something only further exploration will reveal. But to assume that it is invariably wrong to engage any of these groups is a grave mistake.... (shrink)