I mentioned in this post that one could teach Feuerbach’s projection theory by comparing people’s talk about gods with what they might say about inkblots: their answers probably tell us more about themselves than anything else.
Over at Predictably Irrational, I just read about a study that supports a projection theory. Researchers asked people about their own political views, the views of other people, and their god’s view. Not surprisingly, their own view and their god’s view often lined up.
But the study went even further:
But correlation doesn’t imply causation, so to shed light on the direction of causality, the researchers ran two follow-up experiments. This time, instead of just surveying participants for current views, they induced participants to change their personal views by randomly assigning them to give speeches for or against the issue (death penalty) in front of a camera. Because it was random assignment, some people ended up arguing for their personal view, while others argued against it (many past studies have shown that in this context, people tend to shift their own opinions in a direction consistent with the speech they delivered). So, what about the other views (God’s, Couric’s etc.) – would the participant revise those as well?
Yes and no. The only other view that changed was God’s. As participants’ own views changed, so did their estimates of God’s view. The participant who started out very much for the death penalty but took on a more moderate view after arguing against the death penalty on camera also ascribed a more moderate view to God. But his estimates of the others’ views remained unchanged.
Overall these results suggest that God is a blank slate onto which we project whatever we choose to. We join religious communities that argue for our viewpoint and we interpret religious readings to support our personal positions.