In February 1971, Lunar Module pilot Edgar Mitchell was on his way back from the Moon when he had an epiphany. Staring out the window at the stars, he realized that everything is connected. The experience was so \”puzzling and powerful,\” he told me, that upon touchdown he launched a quest into what it was all about, seeking the wisdom of mystics and holy men around the world. He wasn\’t alone in his spiritual awakening; an analysis of astronauts\’ reports reveals that for many, the awesomeness of spaceflight increased their belief in God. New research may explain why.
This disorientation sets the stage for magical thinking. Humans tend to flee from uncertainty, and they respond to it by looking for patterns in the world. They sometimes see patterns where none exists, and those patterns sometimes involve supernatural phenomena. Jennifer Whitson and Adam Galinsky have reported that making subjects feel out of control leads them to see shapes in random noise, to see false correlations in financial reports, to see coincidences as conspiracies, and to rely on superstitious actions.
Awe, or any kind of uncertainty, appears to increase religious belief. This correlates with data showing that economic hardship also tends to increase religiosity, while economic security tends to decrease it. Sub-Saharan Africa, among the poorest regions on Earth, is probably also the most religious, while northern Europe, with one of the highest standards of living in the world, is the least religious.
Of course, a believer might argue that awe or hardship simply connects us better with reality, and that economic security leads to a false sense of security.
- Awe Increases Religious Belief (psychologytoday.com)
- Ethics for Atheists (fledglingphysicist.com)
- My opinion on questions that divide atheists (mojoey.blogspot.com)
- Faith or delusion? At the crossroads of religion and psychosis (lunaticoutpost.com)