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Dr. Green Receives Templeton Award

September 11, 2014 – Professor Adam Green, in collaboration with Professor Fathali Moghaddam, will lead an investigation of causal relational cognition in the U.S. and Afghanistan. 

Do things happen for a reason? It is generally assumed that the answer to this question depends on belief in God. Instead, belief in God may depend on the answer to this question. Dr. Green’s findings suggest that belief in God may be embedded within “bottom-up” perception of and reasoning about causes? Individual differences in causal perception and causal relational reasoning were associated with differences in strength of belief, and pictorially conveyed relational schemas of God. In addition, people who tend to arrive at causal conclusions (via perception and relational reasoning) are more likely to develop stronger belief in God from childhood to adulthood, independent of early environment; likewise, people who do not show causality bias in their reasoning and perception are more likely to decrease in belief from childhood to adulthood. Thus, a “hard-wired” neurocognitive process may help explain how belief in God develops. Drs. Green and Moghaddam propose to confirm and greatly expand these findings in the US and Afghanistan, taking a rigorous psychometric approach to cognitive components of belief in God as a causal agent. They hypothesize that, although faiths differ, similar neurocognitive mechanisms contribute to belief. Thus, a potential high-impact outcome is to provide unifying evidence that believers across two disparate, and frequently opponent, religious and cultural contexts share a fundamental neurocognitive mechanism through which they come to see God in the events of their lives. Outputs include a capstone convening on cross-faith human universals of belief, high-impact publications, and attendant media coverage. The project aims achieve enduring impacts on two levels: cultural and scientific. At the cultural level, this project has the potential to help to establish cross-faith common ground based on universally human elements of belief. At the scientific level, this project seeks to develop the quantifiable phenotype of causality cognition as a scientifically accessible point of entry for future rigorous study of the biology of religious cognition, including via neuroimaging.