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Evan Balkcom

Evan Balkcom is originally from the US and currently a PhD candidate in psychology and science communication at the University of Otago. His main area of focus is the cognitive science of religion. Specifically, researching the differences between religious and non-religious people and the way that unbelief develops and is maintained in light of religious intuitions and unexplainable experiences. Evan is also interested in irrational decision making, especially the sort that is driven by essentialist beliefs and moral contagion.



Religious Intuitions and the Nature of “Belief”

Issue: 8:3 (the thirty first issue)
Scientific interest in religion often focusses on the "puzzle of belief": how people develop and maintain religious beliefs despite a lack of evidence and the significant costs that those beliefs incur. A number of researchers have suggested that humans are predisposed towards supernatural thinking, with innate cognitive biases engendering, for example, the misattribution of intentional agency. Indeed, a number of studies have shown that nonbelievers often act "as if" they believe. For example, atheists are reluctant to sell the very souls they deny having, or to angrily provoke the God they explicitly state does not exist. In our own recent work, participants who claimed not to believe in the afterlife nevertheless demonstrated a physiological fear response when informed that there was a ghost in the room. Such findings are often interpreted as evidence for an "implicit" belief in the supernatural that operates alongside (and even in contradiction to) an individual's conscious ("explicit") religious belief. In this article, we investigate these arguably tenuous constructs more deeply and suggest some possible empirical directions for further disentangling implicit and explicit reasoning.