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.