Images used in study; Secular to the left, Religious to the right
The final talk at the God in the Lab event was by Dr. Miguel Farias discussing his research into how religious beliefs can effect individuals state of mind and, in particular, how they influence responses to pain. A Times article amusingly described his research as “People are to be tortured in laboratories at Oxford University in a United States-funded experiment to determine whether belief in God is effective in relieving pain.” Sounds promising, eh?
Dr. Farias’ presentation, and his research in general, present something of a paradox; on the one hand, they involve investigating religious belief from a very novel perspective and present interesting findings. But on the other hand, his findings aren’t that convincing and they are significantly hampered by glaring problems besetting the methodology used in his study.
The third talk in the God in the Lab event was by Dr. Justin Barrett, another researcher from the Oxford Institute of Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology, who was discussing the evidence for the theory that children are ‘born believers’, in that they possess a strong natural receptivity to religious beliefs.
Dr. Barrett, as befitting someone whose research involves developmental psychology with children, is an incredibly expressive speaker (with a strong American accent) and is particularly good at relaying how important intonation is when dealing with children (or at least I got that impression from his reconstructed dialogues). His talk started off with him identifying a number of recent researchers who have published books and articles detailing strong evidence that religion is a natural belief that the human mind is naturally receptive to, especially in childhood.
The second talk at the God in the Lab event was by the clinical pyschologist Dr. Mike Jackson (Mike seems to be a good choice too since hearing that you are going to discuss your mental problems with Michael Jackson might make some people uneasy).
His talk was on an interesting topic but after Dr. Cohen’s it came off a bit flat as it was basically an hour of non-stop facts and accounts, as such my attention was a bit frazzled so any omissions or errors are probably down to that. Moving on, the central theme of his talk was examining the relationship between pyschotic and religious experiences, particularly those that involve ‘hearing voices’.
Yesterday I spent an enjoyable morning and afternoon attending a series of four talks organised by the London Centre for Inquiry titled ‘God in the Lab‘ (for the event website take a look here). As the title of the event suggests the talks were each based around the theme of researchers exploring religion from scientific perspectives. Each of the talks covered a different area and they were all very interesting (though some, it must be said, were presented more interestingly than others) and I thought that a good way to commit the event to my long term memory would be to write a review of it. Since each talk was on a different topic and included a heap of interesting research, I also thought it would be a good idea to write a seperate post reviewing each talk individually, rather than a mega post covering all four at once. Below then is the first of a four part review of the event.