Item Details

Toxic Theisms? New Strategies for Prebunking Religious Belief-Behaviour Complexes

Issue: Vol 5 No. 1-2 (2018)

Journal: Journal of Cognitive Historiography

Subject Areas: Ancient History Cognitive Studies Archaeology

DOI: 10.1558/jch.38074


This article offers a brief epidemiological analysis and description of some of the main cognitive (and coalitional) biases that can facilitate the emergence and enable the maintenance of a broad category of toxic traditions, which will be referred to here as “religious” belief-behaviour complexes (BBCs) or “theisms”. I argue that such BBCs played an “adaptive” role in the Upper Paleolithic and have continued to “work” throughout most of human history by enhancing the species’ capacity for material production and promoting its biological reproduction. However, today the theist credulity and conformity biases that surreptitiously shape these kinds of social assemblages have now become maladaptive in most contexts in the Anthropocene. In order to help address the pressing global challenges our species faces, such as extreme climate change, excessive consumer capitalism, and escalating cultural conflict, I commend the use of “prebunking” and other debiasing strategies in our attempts to reduce the toxicity of theisms in the body politic.

Author: F. LeRon Shults

View Full Text

References :

Aczel, B., B. Bago, A. Szollosi, A. Foldes, and B. Lukacs. 2015. “Is It Time for Studying Real-Life Debiasing? Evaluation of the Effectiveness of an Analogical Intervention Technique.” Frontiers in Psychology 6: 1120.

Banas, John A., and Stephen A. Rains. 2010. “A Meta-Analysis of Research on Inoculation Theory.” Communication Monographs 77 (3): 281–311.

Beller, Johannes, and Christoph Kröger. 2017. “Religiosity, Religious Fundamentalism, and Perceived Threat as Predictors of Muslim Support for Extremist Violence.” Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.

Benabou, Roland, Davide Ticchi, and Andrea Vindigni. 2015. “Religion and innovation.(Author Abstract)” 105 (5): 346–351.

Blogowska, Joanna, Catherine Lambert, and Vassilis Saroglou. 2013. “Religious Prosociality and Aggression: It’s Real.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 52 (3): 524–536.

Bolsen, Toby--Druckman. 2015. “Counteracting the Politicization of Science.” Journal of Communication 65 (5): 745–769.

Breslin, Michael J., and Christopher A. Lewis. 2015. “Schizotypy and Religiosity: The Magic of Prayer.” Archive for the Psychology of Religion 37 (1): 84–97.

Bruneau, Emile, Nour Kteily, and Emily Falk. 2018. “Interventions Highlighting Hypocrisy Reduce Collective Blame of Muslims for Individual Acts of Violence and Assuage Anti-Muslim Hostility.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 44 (3): 430–448.

Campbell, Troy H., and Aaron C. Kay. 2014. “Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 107 (5): 809–824.

Chuah, Swee-Hoon, Robert Hoffmann, Bala Ramasamy, and Jonathan H. W. Tan. 2014. “Religion, Ethnicity and Cooperation: An Experimental Study.” Journal of Economic Psychology 45: 33–43.

Coccia, Mario. 2014. “Socio-Cultural Origins of the Patterns of Technological Innovation: What Is the Likely Interaction among Religious Culture, Religious Plurality and Innovationα Towards a Theory Ofsocio-Cultural Drivers of the Patterns of Technological Innovation.” Technology in Society 36 (1): 13–25.

Cohen, Geoffrey L., Joshua Aronson, and Claude M. Steele. 2000. “When Beliefs Yield to Evidence: Reducing Biased Evaluation by Affirming the Self.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 26 (9): 1151–1164.

Cohen, Geoffrey L., David K. Sherman, Anthony Bastardi, Lillian Hsu, Michelle Mcgoey, and Lee Ross. 2007. “Bridging the Partisan Divide: Self-Affirmation Reduces Ideological Closed-Mindedness and Inflexibility in Negotiation.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 93 (3): 415–430.

Cook, John. 2017a. “Countering Climate Science Denial and Communicating Scientific Consensus.” In , 1st ed. Oxford University Press.

———. 2017b. “Understanding and Countering Climate Science Denial.” Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 150 (465/466): 207–219.

Cook, John, Stephan Lewandowsky, and Ullrich K. H. Ecker. 2017. “Neutralizing Misinformation through Inoculation: Exposing Misleading Argumentation Techniques Reduces Their influence.” PLoS ONE 12 (5): e0175799.

Correll, Joshua, Steven J Spencer, and Mark P Zanna. 2004. “An Affirmed Self and an Open Mind: Self-Affirmation and Sensitivity to Argument Strength.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 40 (3): 350–56.

Croskerry, Pat. 2003. “Cognitive Forcing Strategies in Clinical Decisionmaking.” Annals of Emergency Medicine 41 (1): 110–120.

Croskerry, Pat, Geeta Singhal, and Sílvia Mamede. 2013a. “Cognitive Debiasing 1: Origins of Bias and Theory of Debiasing.” BMJ Quality & Safety 22 (Suppl 2): ii58-ii64.

Croskerry, Pat, Geeta Singhal, and Silvia Mamede. 2013b. “Cognitive Debiasing 2: Impediments to and Strategies for Change.” BMJ Quality & Safety 22 (10): ii65.

Davies, Martin F., Murray Griffin, and Sue Vice. 2001. “Affective Reactions to Auditory Hallucinations in Psychotic, Evangelical and Control Groups.” British Journal of Clinical Psychology 40 (4): 361–370.

De Cruz, Helen. 2018. “Etiological Challenges to Religious Practices.”

Der Tempel, Jan van, and James E. Alcock. 2015. “Relationships between Conspiracy Mentality, Hyperactive Agency Detection, and Schizotypy: Supernatural Forces at Work?” Personality and Individual Differences 82: 136–141.

Dunkel, Curtis S., and Edward Dutton. 2016. “Religiosity as a Predictor of in-Group Favoritism within and between Religious Groups.” Personality and Individual Differences 98: 311–314.

Ecker, Ullrich, Stephan Lewandowsky, and David Tang. 2010. “Explicit Warnings Reduce but Do Not Eliminate the Continued Influence of Misinformation.” Memory & Cognition 38 (8): 1087–1100.

Ellis, Lee, Anthony W. Hoskin, Edward Dutton, and Helmuth Nyborg. 2017. “The Future of Secularism: A Biologically Informed Theory Supplemented with Cross-Cultural Evidence.” Evolutionary Psychological Science, 1–19.

Eyghen, Hans van. 2016. “Two Types of ‘explaining Away’ Arguments in the Cognitive Science of Religion.” Zygon 51 (4): 966–982.

Griffiths, Paul E., and John S. Wilkins. 2015. “Crossing the Milvian Bridge: When Do Evolutionary Explanations of Belief Debunk Belief?” In Darwin in the Twenty-First Century: Nature, Humanity, God, edited by Philip R. Sloan, Gerald McKenny, and Kathleen Eggleson, 201–31. Notre Dame, IL: University of Notre Dame Press.

Hart, P. Sol, and Erik C. Nisbet. 2012. “Boomerang Effects in Science Communication: How Motivated Reasoning and Identity Cues Amplify Opinion Polarization About Climate Mitigation Policies.” Communication Research 39 (6): 701–723.

Hennes, E. P., H. H. Nam, C. Stern, and J. T. Jost. 2012. “Not All Ideologies Are Created Equal: Epistemic, Existential, and Relational Needs PREDICT System-Justifying Attitudes.” Social Cognition 30 (6): 669–688.

Jenkins, Melissa M., and Eric A. Youngstrom. 2016. “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Cognitive Debiasing Improves Assessment and Treatment Selection for Pediatric Bipolar Disorder.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 84 (4): 323–333.

Johnson, Dominic DP, Hillary L. Lenfesty, and Jeffrey P. Schloss. 2014. “The Elephant in the Room: Do Evolutionary Accounts of Religion Entail the Falsity of Religious Belief?” Philosophy, Theology and the Sciences 1 (2): 200–231.

Johnson, Megan K., Wade C. Rowatt, and Jordan Labouff. 2010. “Priming Christian Religious Concepts Increases Racial Prejudice.” Social Psychological and Personality Science 1 (2): 119–126.

Jong, Jonathan, and Aku Visala. 2014. “Evolutionary Debunking Arguments against Theism, Reconsidered.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 76 (3): 243–258.

Kenyon, Tim. 2014. “False Polarization: Debiasing as Applied Social Epistemology.” Synthese 191 (11): 2529–2547.

Kossowska, Małgorzata, Aneta Czernatowicz‐Kukuczka, and Maciej Sekerdej. 2017. “Many Faces of Dogmatism: Prejudice as a Way of Protecting Certainty against Value Violators among Dogmatic Believers and Atheists.” British Journal of Psychology 108 (1): 127–147.

Lewandowsky, S., and K. Oberauer. 2016. “Motivated Rejection of Science.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 25 (4): 217–222.

Lewandowsky, Stephan, Ullrich K. H. Ecker, and John Cook. 2017. “Beyond Misinformation: Understanding and Coping with the ‘Post-Truth’ Era.” Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition 6 (4): 353–369.

Lewandowsky, Stephan, Ullrich K. H. Ecker, Colleen M. Seifert, Norbert Schwarz, and John Cook. 2012. “Misinformation and Its Correction.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 13 (3): 106–131.

Lewandowsky, Stephan, Werner G. K. Stritzke, Alexandra M. Freund, Klaus Oberauer, and Joachim I. Krueger. 2013. “Misinformation, Disinformation, and Violent Conflict.” American Psychologist 68 (7): 487–501.

Lilienfeld, Scott O., Rachel Ammirati, and Kristin Landfield. 2009. “Giving Debiasing Away: Can Psychological Research on Correcting Cognitive Errors Promote Human Welfare?” Perspectives on Psychological Science 4 (4): 390–398.

Lindeman, Marjaana, Annika M. Svedholm-Häkkinen, and Jari Lipsanen. 2015. “Ontological Confusions but Not Mentalizing Abilities Predict Religious Belief, Paranormal Belief, and Belief in Supernatural Purpose.” Cognition 134: 63–76.

Mcgregor, Holly A., Joel D. Lieberman, Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, Jamie Arndt, Linda Simon, and Tom Pyszczynski. 1998. “Terror Management and Aggression: Evidence That Mortality Salience Motivates Aggression Against Worldview-Threatening Others.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74 (3): 590–605.

Morewedge, Carey K., Haewon Yoon, Irene Scopelliti, Carl W. Symborski, James H. Korris, and Karim S. Kassam. 2015. “Debiasing Decisions.” Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2 (1): 129–140.

Nola, Robert. 2013. “Do Naturalistic Explanations of Religious Beliefs Debunk Religion?” In A New Science of Religion, edited by Gregory W. Dawes and James Maclaurin, 162–88. London: Routledge.

Pennycook, Gordon, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek J. Koehler, and Jonathan A. Fugelsang. 2014. “Cognitive Style and Religiosity: The Role of Conflict Detection.” Memory and Cognition 42 (1): 1–10.

Routledge, Clay, Christina Roylance, and Andrew Abeyta. 2017. “Miraculous Meaning: Threatened Meaning Increases Belief in Miracles.” Journal of Religion and Health 56 (3): 776–783.

Schjoedt, Uffe, Jesper Sørensen, Kristoffer Laigaard Nielbo, Dimitris Xygalatas, Panagiotis Mitkidis, and Joseph Bulbulia. 2013. “Cognitive Resource Depletion in Religious Interactions.” Religion, Brain & Behavior 3 (1): 39–55.

Seifert, C. M. 2002. “The Continued Influence of Misinformation in Memory: What Makes a Correction Effective?” Psychology Of Learning And Motivation: Advances In Research And Theory 41: 265–292.

Sheikh, Hammad, Scott Atran, Jeremy Ginges, Lydia Wilson, Nadine Obeid, and Richard Davis. 2014. “The Devoted Actor as Parochial Altruist: Sectarian Morality, Identity Fusion, and Support for Costly Sacrifices.”

Shook, John R. 2015. “Philosophy of Religion and Two Types of Atheology.” International Journal of Philosophy and Theology, 1–19.

Shults, F. LeRon, Ross Gore, Wesley J. Wildman, Christopher Lynch, Justin E. Lane, and Monica Toft. 2018. “A Generative Model of the Mutual Escalation of Anxiety Between Religious Groups.” Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 21 (4): DOI: 10.18564/jasss.3840.

Turner, Jonathan H., Alexandra Maryanski, Anders Klostergaard Petersen, and Armin W. Geertz. 2017. The Emergence and Evolution of Religion: By Means of Natural Selection. 1 edition. Routledge.

Vail, Kenneth E., Jamie Arndt, and Abdolhossein Abdollahi. 2012. “Exploring the Existential Function of Religion and Supernatural Agent Beliefs among Christians, Muslims, Atheists, and Agnostics.” Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin 38 (10): 1288–1300.

Wichman, Aaron L. 2010. “Uncertainty and Religious Reactivity: Uncertainty Compensation, Repair, and Inoculation.” European Journal of Social Psychology 40 (1): 35–42.

Wlodarski, Rafael, and Eiluned Pearce. 2016. “The God Allusion: Individual Variation in Agency Detection, Mentalizing and Schizotypy and Their Association with Religious Beliefs and Behaviors.” Human Nature 27 (2): 160–172.