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March 3, 2007 11:49 PM   Subscribe

Darwin's God. "A scientific exploration of how we have come to believe in God." This article tracks the possibility that belief in a higher power is the product of evolution.
posted by inconsequentialist (50 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh please. Belief in a higher power is a sign of the failure of evolution!
posted by newfers at 12:05 AM on March 4, 2007


If they don’t believe in God, what exactly are they afraid of?

A prankster with a rigged box?
posted by IronLizard at 12:15 AM on March 4, 2007


Sounds like the ultimate putdown to believers: "The only reason you believe is because you were evolved to believe."
posted by wendell at 12:16 AM on March 4, 2007


Wendell and all that.

After 150 posts this will net out to belief that either:

a) science contains God (result of evolution or some psychological explanation)

or

b) God contains science (we're using our God-given brains to study and appreciate His creation)

Neither side will be convinced of the others view regardless of how many posts are made offering illumination.
posted by scheptech at 12:26 AM on March 4, 2007


huh. i just happened to pick up the dennett book the other day. love the guy from a "previous philosophical work" kind of standpoint.
posted by phaedon at 12:31 AM on March 4, 2007


Put your pencil into the magic box, he tells them, and the nonbelievers do so blithely. Put in your driver’s license, he says, and most do, but only after significant hesitation. And when he tells them to put in their hands, few will.

I'm comfortable with that. So comfortable, in fact, that I'll put my dick in that box.
posted by exlotuseater at 12:33 AM on March 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


A scientific exploration of how we have come to believe in God

We have come to believe in God? Why wasn't I told?
posted by lumensimus at 12:33 AM on March 4, 2007


A hypothetical gene for tending towards religion doesn't have to be beneficial to the species, just to itself. Not that the article makes much of a case for there actually being a genetic basis for belief. (Why not explain religion with memes instead of genes?)
posted by parudox at 1:04 AM on March 4, 2007


Is there really a human predisposition to believe in God, I wonder? A large part of the world's population has been materialist atheist for decades now, and another large part has followed religions without God in them for a very long time. Would children brought up without any reference to religion naturally develop a belief in God spontaneously? I doubt it, and the care taken to drum belief into children suggests that the various religious authorities doubt it, too.
posted by Phanx at 1:14 AM on March 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think one crucial step is "a theory of mind" - other people have minds and you have to think about what you think they are thinking about.

This theory can generalize to "wolves have minds", "trees have minds", "the sun has a mind", etc.

This explains why all early/tribal-group religions are basically anamatism - it is ok to look for intentional explanations behind all events because if you can construct an intent then maybe you can learn something about how to avoid bad actions in the future - even if you decide that a tree dropped a limb near you not because it was angry at you but because it had gotten old and rotten and senile and had very little control over it's limb dropping actions.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 1:16 AM on March 4, 2007


Personally I'm of the opinion that belief in God is beneficial in a society where there hasn't been sufficient scientific progress to explain the vast majority of objects and events and questions of origin that one is confronted with on a daily basis. God is a useful short-circuit to inquiries that can result in the useless expenditure of resource. "Why is X?" "Because God made it so, get back to work that your children may eat and live."

If, as I believe, atheism is indeed the truth, then that truth is a luxury built on the broken backs of tens of thousands of prior generations.
posted by Ryvar at 1:47 AM on March 4, 2007


there seems an inherent human drive to believe in something transcendent, unfathomable and otherworldly, something beyond the reach or understanding of science.

Or at least some people seem to believe this. Other people ... not so much.

This article makes a lot of baseless assumptions. Things like this: Why do we cross our fingers during turbulence, even the most atheistic among us? I mean, that's simply stupid. Not only do a lot of people not cross their fingers, a lot of people are not even bothered by turbulence.

And this regarding his "magic box" experiment, speculating on why students won't put their hands into a box: If they don’t believe in God, what exactly are they afraid of? Uh, perhaps malicious intent on the part of the experimenter?

I mean, hell, that's just in the first three paragraphs. The rest is worse. What a terrible piece.
posted by moonbiter at 2:02 AM on March 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Please.....

People believe in an all-knowing and all-loving deity because it makes them feel they are worth something, and that life is not pointless. It generates endorphins. It is addictive behaviour. That's all.

Whether it is an evolutionary advantage or a curse, is probably not the primary reason for its continued popularity. Given our complex modern society, religion is probably a bad thing on balance, because it attracts crackpot messiahs and power-mongers. They use it as a tool to control people--and make ugly messes.
posted by metasonix at 2:08 AM on March 4, 2007


Your belief in God proves that there is no God.
posted by flarbuse at 3:07 AM on March 4, 2007


(Why not explain religion with memes instead of genes?)

Because we have no models for studying memes, while we have the tools to study innate cognitive functions (e.g. FOXP2 and language) which have a genetic component.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:50 AM on March 4, 2007


your disbelief in god proves you're an evolutionary dead-end
posted by pyramid termite at 4:35 AM on March 4, 2007


Blazecock makes a good point. However, memes too evolve and if we look at religious beliefs over the centuries we see belief evolving and ridding itself of many gods to one god, and angels on pinheads to some intelligent designer etc so that belief is at any given time a matter of fashion and culture. But a great advantage of religion is that churches get tax breaks and churche leaders have dandy careers and can help out at the execution of condemned men and urge on the military during war. As Dawkins noted: you can be a
conscientious objector if you have a known religion but not one, it seems, if you are an atheist. Eliminate religion and look at all the holidays we lose .
posted by Postroad at 5:07 AM on March 4, 2007


I think there's an unfortunate tendancy to look for genetic explanations for purely cultural things. There can be no arguing that genetics plays a role in society, but simultaniously it seems preposterous to think that all social behavior is genetically rooted.

This one seems like one of the preposterous ones. Its relatively easy to see how a gene (or gene complex) could be a factor in alcholism, or homosexuality, or possibly even patriarchy [1]. But how could any gene lead to such an abstract belief as "god"?

Furthermore, how does atheism enter into this? Not only do atheists exist, in cultures where atheism is the norm (ie: Japan) they're the majority. Do the authors propose that somehow the god gene got dropped from Japan?

[1] Though I think trying to find a genetic basis for patriarchy is a streatch.
posted by sotonohito at 5:33 AM on March 4, 2007


This article tracks the possibility that belief in a higher power is the product of evolution.

actually it tracks the possibility that belief in a higher power is a byproduct of evolution.
posted by brevator at 7:00 AM on March 4, 2007


Furthermore, how does atheism enter into this?

Within atheist circles, there is no one definition of atheism. Then there the problem of an atheist identifying him or herself as atheist, while holding some theist or supernatural beliefs ("God is the universe", "God is the universe's natural laws", etc.).

The religion aspect of this research to me is not as interesting as looking into a genetic component for irrational behavior, in some direct or indirect way providing some increase in reproductive fitness.

For example, a cognitive function of irrational behavior in animals might figure into mating, where plumage or other seemingly unnecessary (and potentially dangerous) displays are translated into a measure of competitive fitness. In turn, such irrational behavior, if genetic in nature, can propagate.

Atran's comments in this link are quite interesting, definitely worth a read.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:25 AM on March 4, 2007


sontohito,

I am not defending eveything the article says, but I have to disagree with your comments. First, the notion that a 'gene leads to an abstract belief in god' is not accurate. It is more accurately described as an allele of a gene that predisposes one to the belief in god. Also, if you think that belief in god is rooted somewhere in the brain, it is not hard to come up with explanations of how genetic variants could influence that. What if the allele was a variant of a gene that cause the production of more neurotransmitter. And that this neurotransmitter is used in the region of the brain that controls higher belief functions.

It is the same for your Japan argument. You assume that genetic traits are not influenced by enviroment (in this case culture). Just because one carries a given genetic complement does not mean they will express the associated trait. In many cases it causes a predisposition to the expression of the trait. If you believe there is a genetic basis to homosexuality, then why has there been a increase in the number of people who identify themselves as gay over the last 50 years. It is due to cultural acceptance.
Belief that genotype always equals phenotype is the notion eugenics is rooted in.

The Japan exaple might not be fitting for another reason. The genotype of the Japanese people is largely influenced by the 'founder effect', in which a small number of individuals (i.e. limited genetic diversity) establish a population that interbreeds. This can alter allele frequency in populations drastically. Perhaps leading to a lowered frquency of the 'god allele(s)'.

Note: I do not neccissarily buy the whole 'god gene' thing, but I do not think we should dismiss it either.
posted by batou_ at 7:47 AM on March 4, 2007


http://tinyurl.com/3xte3n
a religious surge, unexpected, in China
posted by Postroad at 7:51 AM on March 4, 2007


only a magnificent creator God could have conceived such towering arrogance as is displayed in threads such as these.
posted by quonsar at 7:57 AM on March 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Douglas Adams explores a similar idea in an extemporaneous monologue contained in The Salmon of Doubt. The premise in his speech, though, is that religious thought & superstition are outgrowths of early intelligence... his analogy to illustrate the point is that of an intelligent puddle of water:

... imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

This is my favorite analogy of all time.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 8:02 AM on March 4, 2007 [7 favorites]


The article uses "God" "religion" and "belief" somewhat interchangeably, which obscures the actual debates they are discussing. They also make the misleading claim that:

"According to anthropologists, religions... share certain supernatural features — belief in a noncorporeal God or gods..."

which is not actually true. While there are sets of beliefs that anthropologists label as "religion" in virtually every human society on earth, many of them do not contain beings that would translate well as "gods".

It is without a doubt true that humans everywhere exhibit beliefs in things that are not explainable by the rules of the physical world. This is true with atheists as well as religious people. Modern North American society tends to polarize an organized set of faith-based beliefs against the rejection of such a set as belief verses non-belief, but this vastly over-simplifies the kinds of leaps of faith and categorical-but-unfounded beliefs (not to mention the bears in the corners of our eyes) that we all engage in over the course of our lives.

Rational thinking is a wonderful component of human adaptation: it allows us to use logic to solve problems. Non-rational thinking is also a wonderful component of human adaptation: it allows us to use intuitive leaps and imaginary outcomes to solve problems.

The question of whether "belief" is an adaptive form of non-rational thinking or a side effect of it is a fascinating one. The belief that religion is out-moded, irrational (in the derogatory sense), unnecessary, and weak-minded is primarily a political-cultural one, which is certainly not supported by the evidence of human behaviour.
posted by carmen at 8:02 AM on March 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's an interesting point, carmen, but can't the benefits of irrational thought & imaginative problem-solving be divorced from religion? Maybe I am thinking too granularly, but I personally have no problem with imagination, despite the fact that I don't believe in God; your point may be more about societies than individuals, though.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 8:16 AM on March 4, 2007


Initial reaction:

I don't think it's a genetic disposition to believe in gods or to be superstitious, I think it's a genetic disposition to overlay a sense of order atop observations. A rational sense of order is not required. Add to that the fact that memory is processed with emotional components founded in being a social animal and you get a great formula for fabricating myths of cosmological hierarchies, prescriptions, and plans. In this sense, we aren't hard-wired to believe in gods, we're hard-wired to parse for order.

The compelling reason why humans examine this question (of the supernatural) is the simple fact that we have long term memories, which gives rise to a sense of the future. Evolution makes us ultimately selfish, "I must survive." Our genetic imperative to find answers to everything forces us to examine how we might "survive" death.

I think it should also be noted that, as far we know, monotheism was introduced somewhat late to the party. And the general belief in an all-knowing, all-loving, singular god came even later.

I also like what carmen said.

Now to read the rest of the article and hope my comment is silly in light of the other ten pages.
posted by effwerd at 9:01 AM on March 4, 2007


ugh... isn't... isn't silly
posted by effwerd at 9:02 AM on March 4, 2007


The thing about "religion," is that in order to see it as a universal trait, the category has to be pretty wide. So, the universal trait of "belief", glossed with the term "religion," is much harder to distinguish from non-rational thought than a specific instance of religion, say Christianity, is.

This is actually an interesting problem with the study of universal social traits that I rarely see addressed in the media: the definitions are often so broad that the words used to describe them become misleading. The article is quite comfortable talking about "religion" knowing that the audience's strongest associations with the word are probably Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and perhaps some other major organized religions. However, when the people who are actually debating religion as an evolutionary trait are talking about it, the definition is way broader, and can include assemblages of belief that are barely or not at all related and which may include fairly passive explanations of natural events as well as the sorts of active (requiring prayer, ritual, faith) beliefs that we associate with Christianity and other major religions.

So, the question that I find fascinating is whether something that is recognizable in the common sense of the term "religion" (which I would classify as an active belief system: one which engaged in faith-based activities and expected certain outcomes) emerges as a by-product of generally helpful non-rational thinking or whether it is adaptive in its own right.
posted by carmen at 9:08 AM on March 4, 2007


monotheism was introduced somewhat late to the party. And the general belief in an all-knowing, all-loving, singular god came even later.

well, duh! it was after He revealed Himself to the Jews.
posted by quonsar at 9:18 AM on March 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think it's a genetic disposition to overlay a sense of order atop observations

Have you ever worked with Schizophrenics. I volunteered in Eastern Washington once at this clinic that had a huge outpatient Psych ward. It was very interesting. I was talking to this one guy, a very bright MD who was patient there. And his description of the disorder was essentially what your saying. That his brain was mis-firing and feeding him incorrect amounts of certain chemicals - but the human mind is driven, by biology, to organize and order even that which has no basis in reality at all.... thus providing him with delusions and hallucinations. It was a way for the brains software to make sense of what it's broken hardware was doing. He said it's like seeing human faces in clouds or wall paper patterns but they don't go back to being clouds or wallpaper just becuase you know that is what they are.
posted by tkchrist at 9:19 AM on March 4, 2007


The thing about "religion," is that in order to see it as a universal trait, the category has to be pretty wide. So, the universal trait of "belief", glossed with the term "religion," is much harder to distinguish from non-rational thought than a specific instance of religion, say Christianity, is.

Okay, now I understand exactly what you were saying.

(This is me talking out of my ass now) On the subject of religion being adaptive, I would suggest that religion was probably the first ordered abstraction of reality that human beings had, and as such was immensely beneficial. It's also a very effective self-perpetuating idea, so that, whether it's a good thing for the person believing it or not, it tends to propagate, or at least stick around.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 9:22 AM on March 4, 2007


Oh, this is so ridiculous. The idea that a person could predisposed to a specific philosophical view based on genetics is idiotic. I mean obviously some parts of our mind are genetic, such as our innate ideas about space and time. But the belief in god is the result of cultural evolution and refined thinking over time (ultimately refining away god into deism in the enlightenment, and non-religion).

The first "religions" did not believe in gods the way we think of them, but rather personification of various forces in nature. Humans knew nothing, nothing of mechanics. everything that people saw move was the result of intelligences except for maybe water or the occasional falling rock, and so they came to believe that everything that moved had a mind. They personified these things and gradually these stories became god. It might be reasonable to suggest that monotheism imparted a cultural advantage, or that might be an accident of history.

But as we learned more and more about the world, the need for explanations decreased, and so god became less a part of nature and farther and farther removed from explanations of the world. Today, a person can go their whole life without ever seeing anything lacking a scientific explanation (other then other people, who's behavior can only be predicted with moderate success)

Religions persist because of traditions. If anything the existence of religion illustrates human desire to comprehend the world, so much so that in the absence of reasonable explanations, they'll just make stuff up.
posted by delmoi at 9:33 AM on March 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Delmoi, RTFA. Its clear they're talking about more than just belief in God. The article makes the mistake of using"God" to mean "a belief in the supernatural" in some parts, but the point of the article is to review the idea that perhaps religious belief is somehow rooted in our biology. Not that a belief in x religion is genetic.

(though if it is, I wonder if they used the same "jesus" dna to find it.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:17 AM on March 4, 2007


“What can be made of atheists, then? If the evolutionary view of religion is true, they have to work hard at being atheists, to resist slipping into intrinsic habits of mind that make it easier to believe than not to believe.”

I don't have to work hard at all at being an athiest. It's the default position for anyone who hasn't been indoctrinated into a belief system. At least I don't have to do all kinds of mental gymnastics to reconcile a loving God in a world with birth defects, viruses, disease, volcanoes, earthquakes, lions, tigers and bears.
posted by disgruntled at 10:23 AM on March 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


[icnh]: The point I'm making is that for most of human history people didn't even understand the distinction between nature and supernature. Only recently have we even be able to see the "boundaries" of nature.
posted by delmoi at 10:53 AM on March 4, 2007


Who would ever have thought such a brilliant career could be made of overstating the obvious before Dan Dennett did it?
posted by jamjam at 11:53 AM on March 4, 2007


jamjam, care to elaborate?
posted by Anything at 12:42 PM on March 4, 2007


delmoi: The point I'm making is that for most of human history people didn't even understand the distinction between nature and supernature. Only recently have we even be able to see the "boundaries" of nature.

I agree with this and also what you said in your earlier comment.

John Searle has expressed similar sentiments in a section titled "Beyond Atheism" in his book Mind, Language, and Society. Here is another brief excerpt from the longer section. The entire section can be read here from page 33-37.
posted by inconsequentialist at 1:14 PM on March 4, 2007


Anything, I like your approach to that rotation illusion.

For more forceful criticism of Dennett than any I could mount, from an actual scientist, as opposed to a jumped up camp-follower, try this essay by Stephen Jay Gould.
posted by jamjam at 1:16 PM on March 4, 2007


tkchrist,

>I think it's a genetic disposition to overlay a sense of order atop observations

Have you ever worked with Schizophrenics.


No, but I have worked in the design and print industries for 15 years. (Heh.*) I've learned a lot about how the eyes see. From halftones to banding to moire to color, there's a lot more going on than just reflected light hitting the eyes. We do a lot of post-processing in our heads. We see things that aren't actually there. It's so easy to trick a human into seeing patterns that you have to be careful to avoid it.

Obviously this isn't proof that this is what's going on as far as spiritual thought but it definitely could be seen as alluding to it. The auditory realm is rather similar - our sense of what makes a good melody or harmony. We have expectations of input - what we want to see and what we want to hear.

* I chuckle because many of the people I worked with in design agencies were quite loony.
posted by effwerd at 1:59 PM on March 4, 2007


I liked this because it points to what I think is key to why we treat the subject so importantly:

An emotional component is often needed, too, if belief is to take hold. [...] And religions gain strength during the natural heightening of emotions that occurs in times of personal crisis [...]

I think we attach an emotional rating, so to speak, to every memory, so it's not just the emotion but the intensity, which is mentioned immediately after. Religion has a lot of opportunity to reinforce social behaviors with its charged emotional context. Religion is a primeval social bonding agent. I think the same thing about the intense social bonds formed and reinforced by sex, drugs, and war. Our sociability is what makes us so dominant and it would make sense that those early human cultures that survived best, survived by way of stronger social bonds.

This is the essential flaw in logic, as far as culture goes, it has no emotionally compelling social bonding activity associated with it. Logic is emotionless and without culture. It obviously brings lots of other benefits, so the pressure to adopt it is strong, but it won't always trump our more primal aspects.
posted by effwerd at 2:34 PM on March 4, 2007


what sotonohito said. Complex behavior like religious practice emerge from incredibly complex systems which i don't believe genetics can entirely account for.

many cultures the world over have pants. where is the pants gene?
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 2:36 PM on March 4, 2007


* I chuckle because many of the people I worked with in design agencies were quite loony.

You and me both, bro.

where is the pants gene?

In my pants.
posted by tkchrist at 3:07 PM on March 4, 2007


hey, where's my fish?
posted by quonsar at 4:05 PM on March 4, 2007


Nice John Searle quote inconsequentialist. :)

My thesis advisor liked this experiment:

You have two identical buttons which can either shock you or give a treat. Button A gives treats 70% of the time, and shocks 30% of the time. But button B has these chances reversed.

Rats quickly discover the winning strategy: always use button A. But humans keep looking for a pattern, never achieving the winning strategy.

So, yes, humans are hard wired for religion, i.e. seeing false patterns.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:34 PM on March 4, 2007


where is the pants gene?

Oh, this is so ridiculous. The idea that a person could predisposed to a specific philosophical view based on genetics is idiotic. . . the belief in god is the result of cultural evolution

I think there's an unfortunate tendancy {sic} to look for genetic explanations for purely cultural things. . . This one seems like one of the preposterous ones.

I do not neccissarily {sic} buy the whole 'god gene' thing, but I do not think we should dismiss it either.

Do the authors propose that somehow the god gene got dropped from Japan?


Did any of you actually read the article? Nary a mention of the 'god gene' {sic}. This is the latest research from cognitive science; it's not talking about an allele, but the way the human mind thinks. Theory of mind, agency detection, and cause and effect reasoning are three basic default properties of normal human cognition, and these lead humans to make supernatural theories. These aren't unique in or absent from any culture.

This isn't saying that everybody believes in "God" - a big, omnipotent man with a white beard - but rather that people easily attribute natural phenomenon to invisible human-like agents. (of which God can go with Zeus, animal/tree/rain spirits, ghosts, etc) Animism is universal.

The average modern "atheist" Japanese or European is no less immune to these modes of thinking than are Americans or tribal villagers. (see also the recent NYT article on 'magic thinking')

People believe in an all-knowing and all-loving deity because it makes them feel they are worth something. . . That's all.

Metafilter: QED.


Would children brought up without any reference to religion naturally develop a belief in God spontaneously? I doubt it,

I don't have to work hard at all at being an athiest {sic}. It's the default position for anyone who hasn't been indoctrinated into a belief system.


Research with children does not support this:

. . . when asked about the origin of animals and people, children tend to prefer explanations that involve an intentional creator, even if the adults raising them do not.

Both articles also note that children spontaneously believe in life after death. It's just common sense that scientific atheist materialism is not the natural state of thinking, but developed gradually over many years of historical thought; and even today only a select few (probably somewhat genetically/cognitively) unusual people in each culture are divorced from supernatural thinking. Religious thinking is not 'cultural' anymore than having sex is 'cultural'; sure some never do it, but they are unusual, and the grand mass of people move towards it spontaneously, without need for indoctrination or socialization.

Atheists who believe in 'a world without religion' aren't very different from conservatives who think people will wait until their 30 to have sex. Both clearly don't "get" humans.
posted by dgaicun at 5:02 AM on March 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


their 30 {sic}

. . . oh well.
posted by dgaicun at 5:10 AM on March 5, 2007


“Rational thinking is a wonderful component of human adaptation: it allows us to use logic to solve problems. Non-rational thinking is also a wonderful component of human adaptation: it allows us to use intuitive leaps and imaginary outcomes to solve problems.”

Well said.

I think they’re right about the cognitive tricks. The mind is so complex that it attempts to extrapolate what it knows onto the unknown. At certain levels this is very helpful and extraordinarily accurate, it’s what enables us to hit pitched baseballs, anticipate movement, sentences, thoughts. It’s the basis for all communication and higher thought - checking internal reality with experience and vice versa. Sometimes experience breaks down - whether through drugs or lack of data or transcendent cross-connection (intuitive leaps) and so forth, so we have to rely on internal cognition to fill in those blanks and explain it. This is how we derive everything from certain maths to logic to quantum theory. If our internal reality breaks down - that is, can not match, anticipate or extrapolate from experience, that’s mental illness.
Where the line gets blurred is where internal reality supersedes experience.
Certain truths cannot be externally experienced, demonstrated or verified except through representative expression (which is sometimes falsifible, but sometimes not, and sometimes not communicatable).
Similarly, certain empirical experiences cannot be denied without risking a certain kind of mental illness (Galileo comes to mind) which is not biologically based. (In Galileo’s case the demand that Aristotle, faith, etc. etc. supersede direct observation).
This kind of irrational behavior - that is - behavior that does not pair with what can be known experientially should be subject to scrutiny.
However, without this faculty we would not have concepts more complext than our senses allow.
The problem then comes in deciding which are useful concepts and which are not.
And the ultimate problem then becomes - who decides?
Certainly where internal reality matches empirical experience is a more accurate picture of the world and should take precedence. But there are places where it does not. There is no human on earth - no matter what philosophy they ascribe themselves to - that does not have some kind of internal reality.

This piece seems to rest on the idea that all internal realities beg the supernatural question (with the by-product being the superiority of the ‘rational’ to the ‘spiritual’ - and an unfortunate lumping of empirical knowlege into the former and a priori knowlege into the latter) because of our brain architecture. In terms of how we think, it seems fairly cogent (except for my disagreement with the terms).
In conclusions, not so clear. I’d agree there’s a constant “WHY?!” tripping off in our heads, but insofar as seeking a supernatural answer, I suspect that’s a product of existential fatigue demanding any answer, not a demand for something supernatural per se. And our otherwise rational mind just scrawls something onto the void. Could be ‘quarks’, could be ‘God.’ It’s why sensory deprivation can get so funky.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:26 PM on March 5, 2007


I can think of a way in which religious belief would be adaptive to human survival - burial after death. Something telling the culture at large "That guy's dead. We need to respect him and put him in a big hole so the great JuJu in the sky doesn't eat us" puts them at an advantage over a culture with no great sky-eating JuJu who let their dead rot out in the open, spreading bacteria and disease.

So, if you think of religion as the byproduct of whatever adaptive gene or mechanism served to prod us to put our dead in pits (or setting them on fire) rather than rotting out in the open, it worked out fairly well.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:48 PM on March 5, 2007


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