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March 11, 2007


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I think it boils down to people are afraid of death and eternal non-existence.

Tuscon Bob, that seems a bit too Adlerian. Almost every evolutionary adaptation is a way of expending less bio-energy to achieve a survival payoff. Fear of death imputes attraction to power.

It is much more of a struggle to believe actively in a living God than to mimic any of the accepted dogma or anti-dogma. If evolution is panning out in either of the methods outlined in the article cited above, then these adaptations are the activity of a consciousness that spans more than one mind in one time.

This would mean that there are implications to evolution that unfold creatively now, somewhat like (yikes!) a universal mind, or anima mundi.

Frankly, I don't know what Adlerian means, though I guess I could look it up. My comment was just a gut reaction. I don't know enough about evolutionary adaptations to keep up with you guys. Maybe someone smarter will show up. Carry on.

Alfred Adler, psychologist, contemporary and colleague of sigmund Freud. He had a theory that can be described as "striving for perfection," that includes the evasion of destruction. Anyway...

The Belldog

Most of the day
We were at the machinery
In the dark sheds
That the seasons ignored.
I held the levers
That guided the signals to the radio
But the words I received
Random code, broken fragments from before.

Out in the trees
My reason deserting me
Oh the dark stars
Cluster over the bay
Then in a certain moment
I lose control
And at last I am part of the machinery
(where are you? [The] Belldog, where are you?)
And the light disappears
As the world
Makes its circle through the sky.

Like Atran, I take a byproduct view, but think there might be more factors or causes to why people believe than are mentioned in the article.

For instance, humans naturally attribute personalities to things, including other humans. When you look at it closely, a personality is no more than a predictive model of behavior. That is, to say that Uncle Harry has a cranky personality is to make a prediction of sorts about his behavior. There are obvious survival advantages to predicting the behavior of others, which is perhaps why this trait of attributing personaliies to things arose in us.

It is but a short step from atrributing a personality to Uncle Harry and attributing one to other things --- even non-human things. Thinking of the weather as "Old Man Weather" comes to mind. So does calling one's car "Betsy" and believing it too has a personality. And from such simple projections, it is but another short step to creating spirits and then gods.

Well, the problem of the approach of most evolutionary psychologists towards religion is that they presuppose without evidence the truth of reductive materialism:, namely that the mind, our emotions and our thoughts, can be fully reduced to the interactions of molecules.
Assuming that, they then wonder: but why do so many people believe they have a soul, and that invisible beings exist, and that there is a God beyond the universe ?
By investigating the possible explanations, they fully rule out the possibility that people have these beliefs because they may be partially true.
They have therefore to resort to materialistic explanations like the idea we are deceived by this hyperactive agent detection device.

But let us examine the problem of religion's origin from an other standpoint: let us just assume, like many modern philosophers, that feelings (qualia) and thoughts are immaterial, that they are a part of nature, but irreducible to material processes.
Thomas Nagel argued for example that the full knowdlege of the neuronal processes going on in a bat sending out signals can not show us how it is felt by the bat itself, and that therefore subjectivity is something radically different from the material world studied by science.

If one presupposes this is truly the case, the explanation of religion's appearance looks quite different: people are rightly aware that their feelings, thoughts and personality is something different from matter, and they infer that other humans and animals must also have this kind of subjective experience, they form thus their own theory of mind in this way.

Like philosopher Keith Ward argued, since their immaterial mind is the first reality they encounter, they intuitively think that there may be also invisible minds, and that the ultimate reality itself must rather be something spiritual rather than material.

The fear of death, coupled with the queerness of their own existence may then lead them to believe they are immortal.

Note that my non-reductive account of religion may be fully naturalistic, if one accepts that subjective feelings, ideas, and concepts like mathematical truths are a part of nature, although not reducible to matter.

Likewise, I am not a dualist in the traditional sense: I believe that the immaterial feelings, thoughts which makes us a person emerge from the brain and are completely dependent on it, and would disappear if the brain was damaged.

According to my non-reductive theory, people began to believe in immaterial spirits mainly because they were puzzled and amazed by the non-material character of their being which they intuitively recognized.

Now, many religious beliefs could be false of course: it is quite possible, like Thomas Nagel postulated, that nature does not only consist of matter but also of ideas and the potentiality for subjectivity , but that there is no God, no invisible spirits, and no afterlife. By the way, I believe there are strong reasons for believing so, like the problem of evil and poor design in nature.

Basically, I don't agree with the evolutionary psychologists because they assume the truth of reductive materialism and limit the possible explanations to material processes, although many philosophers of mind hold a non reductive position.

isn't it generally known that our ancestors of thousands of years ago had minds that resembled more the quality of our dreams? Their lack of empirical knowledge and the way their way of life, without artificial light etc, impacted on them would obviously have led them to conjure up impossible scenarios as quasi-explanations for why and how questions.

We can see similar trends in primitive peoples of today. Religion probably arose from ritual behaviours and how some of the tribal peoples entered altered states of consciousness. They were given special attention by the tribe for various reasons. Perhaps the beginnings go something like this: - altered, dream-like states of consciousness - art - religion - science.

A fetus goes through changes in its early development spanning through amphibian to ape to human. Isn't it conceivable that human consciousness likewise goes through primitive stages before self awareness arises? It is known that children have higher levels of alpha waves in the brain than adults and also that they have more REM.

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