Sunday, December 04, 2005

We are born Manichaeans   posted by Razib @ 12/04/2005 01:51:00 PM

Paul Bloom takes his hypothesis that humans are innately dualist and applies it to religion in the most recent issue of The Atlantic in Is God an Accident? Here is his conclusion:

Nobody is born with the idea that humanity started in the Garden of Eden, or that martyrs will be rewarded in heaven; these ideas are learned. But the universal themes of religion are not learned. They are part of human nature.

The theory of natural selection is an empirically supported account of our existence. But almost nobody believes it. We may intellectually grasp it, but it will never feel right. Our gut feeling is that design requires a designer.

If you've read my previous posts on the cognitive science of religion you won't find anything surprising. The most important point about the new research that is emerging over the past 15 years is just how banal and conventional many of the cognitive processes are which result in normal theism. For example, consider the common motif of sacred relics, the Buddha's tooth or fragments of the cross upon which Christ was crucified, this is easily explained by the tendency of the human mind to imagine contagions all around us. In this case, the sacred contagion is one we actually wish to encounter. In terms of God being an "accident," it maybe that saying God is an accident is like saying that heat is a byproduct of work, if God-belief is the result of the interaction and overreaction of banal cognitive processes, then it could be inevitable in minds of sufficient complexity.

In regards to evolution, the basic thesis of macroevolution, that species X is the ancestor of species Y, is simple enough. But the tendency to imbue species with distrinct and disjoint essences is problematic in terms of making common descent believable. One reason I put so much emphasis on an internalization of the basics of microevolutionary population genetics is that the processes of and mutation, selection and drift, along with their interaction other factors such as migration or long term effective population size, are essential to enable one to have an intuition of why macroevolution is inevitable.

Now, it is true that some of the claims of the world religions are manifestly mysterious, uintuitive and intellectually taxing. But I've claimed elsewhere that theological constructs are simply notional badges which identify ingroup-outgroup boundaries, and their perpetuation is generally through mnemonics rather than internalization and comprehension. This phenemonon is not restricted to religion, how many Communists actually read Das Kapital?

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