by Kelly Clark at Big Questions Online:___
We know well atheistic attempts to explain religion away. Marx, for example, claims that religion is the opiate of the people. Religion, Nietzsche contends, is weakness lying itself into power. According to Freud religion is a defensive illusion created in the face of "the crushingly superior force of nature." As influential as these ideas are, they are little more than guesses based on utter speculation.
Times have changed.
From the Agency Detection Device (ADD) to Theory of Mind (ToM), the cognitive faculties involved in the production and sustenance of religious belief are now well known. ADD and ToM, when taken together, are sometimes called "the god-faculty." The god-faculty produces belief in kin, predators, mates, and enemies, and it produces manifestly false beliefs in such things as ghosts, goblins, and even gods. According to philosopher Daniel Dennett, the god-faculty is a "fiction generating contraption."
The new science of religious belief inclines some scientists to put on their philosopher caps and opine. Psychologist Paul Bloom contends that religious belief is "an incidental by-product of cognitive functioning gone awry." Biologist Richard Dawkins claims that "the irrationality of religion is a by-product of a particular built-in irrationality mechanism in the brain." The psychological impulses that drive belief in God, according to Dennett and Dawkins, reveal God to be an illusion or a delusion.
Atheism, however, has not received much attention. I suspect this is due to the following: the vast majority of those who work on these topics are atheists or agnostics who view religious belief as false and even bizarre. Given this assumption, the project of psychological explanations of religion is to explain how otherwise rational people could hold obviously false beliefs. Unlike religious belief, their own beliefs (agnosticism or atheism), so the narrative goes, are products of coolly rational reflection-- the triumph of reason over superstition. The project then is to seek out the malfunction that produces religious belief; atheism gets a free pass.
But if there are primal urges, neuronal impulses, or psychological drives that influence and even cause belief in God, couldn't there be similar causes of unbelief? Or are only theists neurotic?
The entire post can be read here.