The headline writer says, "Unconscious learning fosters belief in God, study finds", but that's wrong in a very significant way. The study only demonstrates a correlation between a belief in God and an ability to predict complex patterns.

People who unconsciously predict complex patterns are more likely to hold a strong belief in God -- a god who creates order in an otherwise chaotic universe -- according to research published Wednesday.

"Belief in a god or gods who intervene in the world to create order is a core element of global religions," Adam Green, an associate professor of psychology at Georgetown University, said in a news release.

"This is not a study about whether God exists, this is a study about why and how brains come to believe in gods," said Green, who also serves as the director of the Georgetown Laboratory for Relational Cognition. "Our hypothesis is that people whose brains are good at subconsciously discerning patterns in their environment may ascribe those patterns to the hand of a higher power."

From what I can see, the fault lies with the writer of the headline, not the study authors. Any of these four possibilities could be true:

  1. Belief in God leads to the ability to make better predictions
  2. The ability to make better predictions leads to believe in God
  3. Both belief in God and the ability to make better predictions are caused by some third unidentified factor
  4. The correlation discovered by the study is anomalous

The first three possibilities are all interesting.

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