Is theology nonsense (no 599968 in an ongoing series)?

Interesting [“piece in the TLS”:,,25349-2512801,00.html] (I hope it’s not paywalled) by Thomas Dixon, who has organised a conference to which I think I am going next summer, rounding up a bunch of science-and-theology books. One of them appears to be making large claims for the Pascal Boyer explanation of religion as consisting (1) of beliefs about supernatural beings, which (2) are generated by the hyperactivity of our agency-detection mechanisms.

Boyer is a very smart guy, and these ideas are possibly true. But they are not an explanation of religion because it can’t just be reduced to a belief in supernatural beings. Any coherent explanation has to balance social function with psychological origin. If I think a particular seashell is precious, I am either deluded or a child. There are psychological explanations in either case, which are entirely valid and satisfying. But if my tribe trades in cowries, I may be rich as well. That’s something that psychology alone can’t explain.

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2 Responses to Is theology nonsense (no 599968 in an ongoing series)?

  1. Or is it the wiring and chemistry of our brains, that makes it easy to believe in ultimate causes and higher purposes? That’s a serious question. Religion, after all, exists in many forms; not all of them require the supernatural. All do seek to provide purpose.

  2. Rupert says:

    Wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was agency detection allied to family/tribe instincts together with neotony and, in some cases at least, a really deep love of frocks.


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