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What Can Science Learn from Religion?

Steven Pinker on Religious Beliefs and Rituals

ON SUNDAY FEBRUARY 3 THE NEW YORK TIMES RAN an Opinion Editorial by David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, Boston who “studies the ways in which emotions guide decisions and behaviors fundamental to social living.” The essay (https://nyti.ms/2HUN2CQ) argues that scientists have much to learn from religious traditions because they “offer a rich store of ideas about what human beings are like and how they can satisfy their deepest moral and social needs.” Referencing Richard Dawkins, DeSteno quotes him out of context, writing: “a vocal critic of religion has said that in listening to and debating theologians, he has ‘never heard them say anything of the smallest use.’ Yet it is hubristic to assume that religious thinkers who have grappled for centuries with the workings of the human mind have never discovered anything of interest to scientists studying human behavior.” DeSteno continues: Just as ancient doesn’t always mean wise, it doesn’t always mean foolish. The only way to determine which is the case is to put an idea—a hypothesis—to an empirical test. In my own work, I have repeatedly done so. I have found that religious ideas about human behavior and how to influence it, though never worthy of blind embrace, are sometimes vindicated by scientific examination.

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About Skeptic

THE EXISTENCE OF EVIL AND GOD COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Laser Therapy: Hope or Hype and Hokum?, by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: The Sisyphean Challenges of Skepticism or, Start by Disbelieving, by Carol Tavris ARTICLES Pterosaur Thunderbird: The Origin of a Fake Native American Legend with an Anti- Evolution Agenda • Conversations with My Dead Mother: Why We See Signs and Omens in Everyday Events • Is Cousin Marriage Dangerous? • Therapeutic Touch Redux Twenty Years After the “Emily Event”: Energy Therapies Live on Through Bad Science • What Can Science Learn from Religion? Steven Pinker on Religious Beliefs and Rituals • Becoming Fantastic: Why People Embellish Already Accomplished Lives with Incredible Tales of UFOs and Other Phenomena • 1984 in 2019: The New Privacy Threat from China’s Social Credit Surveillance System SPECIAL DEBATE SECTION Michael Shermer v. Brian Huffling: Is the Reality of Evil Good Evidence Against the Christian God? REVIEW Graham Hancock’s “America Before: The Key to Earth’s Lost Civilization” reviewed by Jason Colavito JUNIOR SKEPTIC The Colossal Case of the Cardiff Giant: One of America’s Greatest Hoaxes