Sunday, March 04, 2007


Magic Box

Can Darwin's theory of evolution explain the nature of religious belief? Scott Altran, an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, thinks belief thinks it can.

He asks research subjects to place objects -- a pencil, a driver's licence, their hand -- into a magic box.

“If you have negative sentiments toward religion,” he tells them, “the box will destroy whatever you put inside it.”

Many people, even non-believers, hesitate or refuse.

Is belief a helpful adaptation or an evolutionary accident? A long, fascinating piece in today's New York Times Magazine by Robin Marantz Henig reports on the current research into that question.


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