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Research Article

The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief

  • Sam Harris equal contributor,

    equal contributor Contributed equally to this work with: Sam Harris, Jonas T. Kaplan

    Affiliations: UCLA Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, The Brain Research Institute, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, The Reason Project, Santa Monica, California, United States of America

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  • Jonas T. Kaplan equal contributor,

    equal contributor Contributed equally to this work with: Sam Harris, Jonas T. Kaplan

    Affiliation: Brain and Creativity Institute and Department of Psychology, University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, California, United States of America

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  • Ashley Curiel,

    Affiliation: Department of Clinical Psychology, Pepperdine University, Los Angeles, California, United States of America

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  • Susan Y. Bookheimer,

    Affiliations: Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Departments of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, The Brain Research Institute, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Department of Psychology, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America

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  • Marco Iacoboni,

    Affiliations: UCLA Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Departments of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, The Brain Research Institute, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America

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  • Mark S. Cohen mail

    mscohen@ucla.edu

    Affiliations: Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Departments of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, The Brain Research Institute, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Departments of Neurology, Radiological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, and Biomedical Physics, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Department of Psychology, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America

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  • Published: October 01, 2009
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007272

Reader Comments (11)

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Minimal technical standards unmet

Posted by RuchiraDatta on 18 Apr 2010 at 15:26 GMT

The article purports to discuss "religious" belief, yet the subjects studied were all Christian. Christians are a minority of those holding religious beliefs. I realize the peer review process at PLoS One is unusual--I have participated as a reviewer--but such an egregious sampling bias does not meet the most minimal of technical standards. I am sincerely surprised that the reviewers let this through in its current form. I'm afraid this must reflect that the reviewers share some assumptions with the authors. Look at it logically: try to imagine that a paper made claims about "the difference between prokaryotes and eukaryotes", yet when you looked in the body of the paper the only eukaryote studied was the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. Would you let this paper through?

No competing interests declared.

RE: Minimal technical standards unmet

abledanger replied to RuchiraDatta on 02 May 2010 at 07:31 GMT

Harris is a millionare bestseller. That is your answer. How do you think this study was funded and now has a big fat competing interest qualifier on it? I'm glad to see that the editorial board overuled Harris's adviser who said there is no competing interest when there cleary was. This was sloppy from start to finish and void of scientific rigor.

No competing interests declared.

RE: RE: Minimal technical standards unmet

feydrautha01 replied to abledanger on 18 Mar 2013 at 12:30 GMT

James Lane/abledanger,

Claiming the work is void of scientific rigor is a rather broad claim, do you have any specifics?

And should any person honestly be surprised that the human brain has different responses for fact-based claims and claims based upon religious indoctrination without empirical evidence?

I await your response-I'm sure you are busy hounding the publishers of William Lane Craig's papers for not listing the various apologetics groups as a conflict of interest with the insinuation that Craig has a fiscal interest in portraying non-believers as being bereft of logic.

No competing interests declared.

RE: Minimal technical standards unmet

feydrautha01 replied to RuchiraDatta on 17 Mar 2013 at 08:28 GMT


If I were reviewing a paper comparing the mechanisms by which Entamoeba histolytica acted as a pathogen in the guts of mammals while Entamoeba dispar was (generally) a commensal species, I would NOT reject the paper out of hand if it did suggest that similar mechanisms may be at play for other host-associated eukaryotes. Perhaps I would ask that the language be toned down, but I wouldn't come back with an assertion that Microsporidia and yeast haven't explained by this study, and therefore there is nothing worthy of note in the paper.

A more comprehensive study would include other religious groups (particular ones like Buddhism with vasty different perceptions of the supernatural than those subscribed to in the Abrahamic faiths, but I think Harris has done some studies on these...) and perhaps different education/cognitive abilities. But a result showing a difference between Christians and agnostics/atheists (with otherwise similar education/culture) is worthy of examination and shouldn't be dismissed outright.

No competing interests declared.