Is God an Accident?
"Despite the vast number of religions, nearly everyone in the world believes in the same things: the existence of a soul, an afterlife, miracles, and the divine creation of the universe. Recently psychologists doing research on the minds of infants have discovered two related facts that may account for this phenomenon. One: human beings come into the world with a predisposition to believe in supernatural phenomena. And two: this predisposition is an incidental by-product of cognitive functioning gone awry. Which leads to the question...
This notion of an immaterial soul potentially separable from the body clashes starkly with the scientific view. For psychologists and neuroscientists
Still, it feels right, even to those who have never had religious training, and even to young children. This became particularly clear to me one night when I was arguing with my six-year-old son, Max. I was telling him that he had to go to bed, and he said, "You can make me go to bed, but you can't make me go to sleep. It's my brain!" This piqued my interest, so I began to ask him questions about what the brain does and does not do. His answers showed an interesting split. He insisted that the brain was involved in perception—in seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling—and he was adamant that it was responsible for thinking. But, he said, the brain was not essential for dreaming, for feeling sad, or for loving his brother. "That's what I do," Max said, "though my brain might help me out."...
We have what the anthropologist Pascal Boyer has called a hypertrophy of social cognition. We see purpose, intention, design, even when it is not there...
Stewart Guthrie, an anthropologist at Fordham University, was the first modern scholar to notice the importance of this tendency as an explanation for religious thought. In his book Faces in the Clouds, Guthrie presents anecdotes and experiments showing that people attribute human characteristics to a striking range of real-world entities, including bicycles, bottles, clouds, fire, leaves, rain, volcanoes, and wind. We are hypersensitive to signs of agency—so much so that we see intention where only artifice or accident exists. As Guthrie puts it, the clothes have no emperor...
It's not surprising, then, that nascent creationist views are found in young children. Four-year-olds insist that everything has a purpose, including lions ("to go in the zoo") and clouds ("for raining"). When asked to explain why a bunch of rocks are pointy, adults prefer a physical explanation, while children choose a functional one, such as "so that animals could scratch on them when they get itchy." And 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. Creationism—and belief in God—is bred in the bone."
Keywords: Atlantic, shape, shapes, religion, we are natural theists, we are born
The Swelling Wave
"“What about a cure for Alzheimer’s?” I ask my guest. My Dad died from Alzheimer’s, and it’s a thing I worry about. I had read that some genetic research was going on.
The Datanaut shook his head. “Tricky. Dangerous. Alzheimer’s correlates with IQ, you see. Also has different incidence among different races...” He laughed. “Once researchers know that, they go find something else to work on. The state our science is in right now, there’s plenty of low-hanging fruit. No need to go committing professional suicide.”
So it goes. This wave of knowledge, this great wave, is building up in laboratories and research institutes all around the world. Sooner or later the wave will come roaring in to crash on our beach. When that happens, a lot of stuff will get swept away — a lot of social dogma, a lot of wishful thinking, a lot of ignorant punditry and self-righteous posturing, and probably some law and tradition and religion and social cohesion as well. There is, however, no stopping the wave. Or rather, we might stop it here in the USA, but then it would just go crashing ashore somewhere else — in China, or Japan, or India — somewhere with a different set of attitudes, a quite different kind of wishful thinking.
Dragged forward by cold science, which doesn’t care what we think or believe or wish for, we are headed into some interesting times."