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Scientists: Focus on religion

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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Two scientists have issued a challenge to their colleagues to focus more research on religion, according to ABC News. Religion plays such a large role in billions of people’s’ lives worldwide, so why not use science to help advance the understanding of religion?

“Science can help us understand religion just as much as it can help us understand the genome or the structure of the universe,” anthropologist Scott Atran, lead author of a study published in this week’s issue of the journal Science, told ABC News a telephone interview.

The study explored how religion is a force that not only promotes profound trust and cooperation between people, but also the source of bitter disagreements and conflicts as well. People not only are willing to devote their lives to teaching and promoting religious values, but are also willing to die and kill in the name of their faith.

“In fact, explicit religious issues have motivated only a small minority of recorded wars,” the researchers wrote in their study. “There is little religious cause for the internecine Russian and Chinese conflicts and world wars responsible for history’s most lethal century of intergroup conflict.”

Even suicide bombers aren’t even motivated purely by religion, Atran argues. They become infused with “sacred values”, including devotion to the state.

A study by political scientist Robert Pape said, “strong confirmation for the hypothesis that military occupation is the main factor driving suicide terrorism.” Military occupation and protecting the land drive them to sacrifice themselves.

“A study we did on Iranians shows that having a nuclear program has nothing to do with religion,” Atran said. “But it has become a religious subject for at least 13 percent of the population, and those 13 percent are closest to the regime. And so they now believe a nuclear program is bound up with the notion of national identity and with Islam itself.”

With such a complex and controversial topic like religion, why haven’t scientists been willing to look more into it? According to Atran, the reason scientists have been so unwilling to look into it is because so many scientists are non-religious.

“If you look at the National Academy of Sciences well over 90 percent are non-religious,” Atran said. He is particularly critical of a small group of scientists called “new atheists” who aim to discredit religion and argue that science can now answer the questions only religion could in the past.

“The idea that we can simply wish this (religion) away, or argue it away, is crazy,” Atran said. “Arguing that facts and reason will get rid of religion is crazy. We sprinkle some kind of magical reasoning dust around and everyone becomes reasonable?”

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