We Believe Things Happen for a Reason, But Should We?

We often extrapolate from coincidental events to say they "happen for a reason," suggesting that there is a greater meaning to them. Even atheists do it, but is it good for us or society?

Many coincidences happen in life and sometimes they are paired quite nicely: the weather is bad on a day we don't have to go out, we run into a friend just as we're thinking about them, etc. We often extrapolate from these events to say they "happen for a reason," suggesting that there is a greater meaning to them. Recent studies suggest this is not a phenomenon unique to those religiously inclined (as one would expect since it suggests a Grand Design or an Ordered Universe sensitive to our individual circumstances). 

Scientific studies completed in the US and UK have found that even atheists think in psychological terms about the material world, ascribing intentionality to a universe which they officially profess to be lacking in purpose and design. And in a study to be published this week in the journal Child Development, psychologists at Yale found that children think the same way, regardless of whether religious thought was a part of their home life.

Perhaps we continue to think this way because it is soothing, reassuring us that we are more than paint splatters on an abstract impressionist's canvas. But the Yale psychologists also argue that belief can have some ugly consequences:

"It tilts us toward the view that the world is a fundamentally fair place, where goodness is rewarded and badness punished. It can lead us to blame those who suffer from disease and who are victims of crimes, and it can motivate a reflexive bias in favor of the status quo — seeing poverty, inequality and oppression as reflecting the workings of a deep and meaningful plan."

In his Big Think interview, Dan Ariely argues that religious belief, while ultimately irrational, may benefit society because of its moral instruction:

Read more at the New York Times

Photo credit: Shutterstock

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Think you’re bad at math? You may suffer from ‘math trauma’

Even some teachers suffer from anxiety about math.

Image credit: Getty Images
Mind & Brain

I teach people how to teach math, and I've been working in this field for 30 years. Across those decades, I've met many people who suffer from varying degrees of math trauma – a form of debilitating mental shutdown when it comes to doing mathematics.

Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

How KGB founder Iron Felix justified terror and mass executions

The legacy of Felix Dzerzhinsky, who led Soviet secret police in the "Red Terror," still confounds Russia.

Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Felix Dzerzhinsky led the Cheka, Soviet Union's first secret police.
  • The Cheka was infamous for executing thousands during the Red Terror of 1918.
  • The Cheka later became the KGB, the spy organization where Russia's President Putin served for years.
Keep reading Show less