A topic that's arisen here several times in the past is whether or not future robots, assuming they achieve a level consciousness and intelligence comparable to humans, would be capable of religious beliefs. A new study, The Neural Correlate of Religious and Nonreligious Belief (PDF format) used fMRI to compare the brains of fifteen Christians with fifteen nonbelievers, shedding some empirical light on brain differences in how they each evaluated the truth or falsity of religious and non-religious propositions.
For both groups, and in both categories of stimuli, belief (judgments of “true” vs judgments of “false”) was associated with greater signal in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area important for self-representation, emotional associations, reward, and goal-driven behavior. This region showed greater signal whether subjects believed statements about God, the Virgin Birth, etc. or statements about ordinary facts. A comparison of both stimulus categories suggests that religious thinking is more associated with brain regions that govern emotion, self-representation, and cognitive conflict, while thinking about ordinary facts is more reliant upon memory retrieval networks.
Applying their findings to intelligent robots, it seems that while consciousness and intelligence might be enough to practice religious rituals, that emotion is key to evaluating the underlying religious propositions. Emotion is already an important topic of research in robotics, so these new findings should keep the debate going over the eventual possibility of religious robots.