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New study claims to reduce belief about God with magnets

Updated on September 1, 2016

The Mind And God

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Here's How the Science Works

Electromagnetic energy has long been associated with altered consciousness in humans. Scientists have suggested a link between exposure to electromagnetic fields and a person’s thinking they have seen a ghost, and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) has long been used in the treatment of certain nervous disorders – most notably, depression.

This same procedure – which uses magnetic fields to stimulate or dampen certain nerve cells in the brain – was recently employed by Dr. Keise Izuma and a team from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in an experiment which has been grabbing headlines lately for its provocative findings.

Dr. Izuma and her team decided to tamper with certain beliefs held by people with more traditional views. They did this by using TMS to dampen a part of the brain which people use to detect problems and then find solutions to those problems. The two beliefs the scientists chose to focus upon were religious beliefs and feelings related to immigrants.The team started by screening the applicants to the experiment to make certain the crowd they chose held the beliefs that they were targeting. Such screening processes generally involve questionnaires with dozens of redundant questions about the subject matter. The redundancy in these tests is to make certain that the person answering is genuine by making certain that they answer the questions consistently.

Since this particular experiment was measuring beliefs related to God and to immigrants, the questions would likely have been on a scale so that the team could get a percentage of the intensity of the beliefs the people in question held.

First, the team separated the subjects into the control group, who received a “sham” treatment which really didn’t do anything to them, and the actual treatment group who were subjected to the TMS. Next, since the area of the brain being effected dealt with: a.) Detecting problems and b.) Seeking solutions, the team needed to produce some kind of trigger which these participants would see as a problem and resort to a solution. As it related to religion, the team chose “death” as the worthy trigger. As predicted, when asked to contemplate death, the subjects from the control group did tend to fall heavily on their religious beliefs as the solution, whereas the subjects from the treatment group reported, as the press release states, “…32.8% less belief in God, angels, or heaven.”

These two groups were then allowed to read several essays about the United States, one of which was very critical, and told that these were written by immigrants. The subject group did not find this essay as threatening as did the control group. People have certain ideologies which they look to for comfort when they feel threatened. In this experiment, they were affected with a magnet, and then presented with particular threats, these threats being “death” and “immigrants who speak out against your patriotic idealism.” Under normal circumstances, these particular people would have fallen back upon their religious beliefs for comfort in the face of death, and upon their patriotic and political ideology in the face of alien infringement. However, after having their brains thus effected, they were less likely to feel threatened by such things, and therefore, to reach for these ideological comfort blankets. This would make sense in light of the fact that these same methods are used to treat anxiety and depression. Thus, when a person enters the study, and is prompted with a questionnaire which asks them such things as “In light of your impending death, how much do you lean on your belief in God for comfort on a scale of 1 through 5” and they answer 5, and then leaving the study, they answer “2” to the same question, the scientist concludes that they have experienced a significant decrease in their beliefs “About God.” However, as one pundit has observed,

“Scientists in some fields have convinced themselves they can quantify the unquantifiable. They believe hideously complex human emotions can be adequately represented on scales of 1 to 5 (or some other bounds). For instance, on a scale of -4 to 4, how much do you agree with the statement, ‘There exists an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving God’? Before you answer, consider. Is the distance in belief from 3 to 4 the same as it is from 2 to 3, and from 1 to 2, and so on? Are these distances exactly the same in all people? What happens if the scale were to be changed from -4 to 4 to one from 1 to 9, which is the same length? Would the results be the same? Does everybody agree on the precise definitions of ‘all-powerful,’ ‘all-knowing’ and so on?”

Many articles related to this study carry titles such as “Directing Magnetic Energy Into The Brain Can Reduce Belief In God, Prejudice Toward Immigrants”, “Scientists reduce belief in God by shutting down the brain’s medial frontal cortex,” and the far more on-the-nose “Scientists Claim Zapping Brains with Magnets Can Treat Belief in God”.

All of this may leave the reader with the general impression that the subjects were temporarily converted into atheists by the treatment. However, if one looks at the methodology, this is not at all what happened. People either believe in God or they do not. If the study read "33% of the subjects reported no longer believing in God," this would be a fairly astounding change to occur in one "treatment." But in most articles reporting on this finding, the wording reads "subjects reported a 33% decrease in their beliefs in God." This type of rhetoric has a tendency to be misleading. Since the heart of the test was related to detecting problems and seeking solutions, presumably dampening this section of the brain would have made anyone feel less threatened by things that otherwise made them uncomfortable. Under the same treatment, atheist extremists would have felt less threatened by religious fundamentalists, and arachnophobes would have felt less inclined to reach for the bug spray when an eight-legged critter manifested itself.

Ultimately, though, whether or not one can come up with some sort of treatment which can artificially rid people of their beliefs in God, this does not become an argument against the existence of that same God. Nor does it imply that such a treatment ought to be used against people.


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    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 22 months ago from Australia

      Paladin

      you are resenting my argument here that using magnets to get rid of god is utterly ridiculous. That is my argument and I stick by it. It's obvious the hub author doesn't think much of magnetic God eradication.

      I am not accusing anyone of being a flaming troll just because they disagree with me!!

      If people don't like comments they delete them. Period. Hub rules.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 22 months ago from Michigan, USA

      Oz/Troll, I'm sure Joel can judge for himself the nature of your behavior here. And I'm certain he prefers actual discourse to me sniping with some immature child, so I'm not going to bog down his hub with any more of this.

      So unless someone wishes discuss points actually RELEVANT to this hub, these will be my final words here:

      Assuming you're not lying, I'll be more than happy to cooperate with the HubPages administrators if they decide to follow up on your silly accusations. Perhaps, once I've shown them your history of behavior over the last few months, we'll finally be rid of you once and for all!

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 22 months ago from Australia

      Paladin

      you are deliberate trying to prejudice the minds of hubbers. It is against hub rules to use hate speech and personal attacks and has now been reported and will continue to be reported as it occurs.

      My arguments are sound and scientific at all times. They merely contradict wrong information.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 22 months ago from Michigan, USA

      Oz/Troll, this is EXACTLY why I call you a troll, and why I routinely warn others about your immature behavior.

      You visit every atheist or agnostic hub leaving obnoxious and bellicose comments. Then, when someone disagrees with you or calls you out on your behavior, you threaten to "report" them to the moderators. You've done this more times than I can count, to more people than I can remember.

      Perhaps we should all get together and file a report to the HubPages moderators about YOU! (though I suspect such silliness is beneath most of the people you've threatened).

      In the end, you can certainly dish it out, but if you can't take it, perhaps HubPages isn't the place for you. Be gone, troll!

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 22 months ago from Australia

      Paladin

      I am preparing a report for the HP moderators about you regarding your continual hate speech against me and continual false accusations of "trolling" here and in your own hubs. You show no conscience or ethics at

      all about this and are failing to observe hub rules.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 22 months ago from Michigan, USA

      At first, I was tempted to agree with Oz/Troll -- for the first time ever -- until I actually read about the experiment. Unfortunately, one can't read the article at your link without a membership, though there are other stories on it, like this one:

      http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/10/14/t...

      What the experimenters did wasn't your typical New Age quackery with solid magnets. Rather, they used a machine to send powerful magnetic pulses into specific regions of the brain -- the posterior medial frontal cortex. Researchers have been doing this sort of thing for years in different regions of the brain (for example, in treating depression), with amazing results.

      To be fair, the study draws no absolute conclusions regarding the effect of the cortex stimulation. It may be cause and affect, or it may only be correlation, demonstrating some other relationship we don't yet understand. But it is a fascinating experiment!

      Incidentally, Joel -- this is a minor complaint -- you really SHOULD put paragraphs in your hub. It's a bit of a chore reading one solid, massive paragraph. I must admit, I skimmed over parts of it.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 22 months ago from Australia

      Magnetic therapies were once branded by scientists as idiotic new age quackery but as usual science is now embracing magnets for all kinds of healing! What gigantic hypocrisy. Now we are supposed to believe that this alleged ex quackery of the new age healers is going to kill off god. Give me a break!! How utterly ridiculous.

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 22 months ago

      This is like erasing your family from your memory

      A vital link to your existence. Who wants to erase your conection to your Father , Mother, brothers and sisters.

      If you love your family then you would love who created them . Maybe this procedure could exist

      But it would not be to the best interest of humans.