theory of religion

There are two main theories of religion deriving from modern, computerised science — ie the sort that can only be done with computers in the background, either to model, or to run the equipment. [the influence of programming as an activity on the way we think about complex systems is a different, rather wider way of thinking about “computerised science”]

The “Boyer(A9 search. Looks very cool)”:http://a9.com/pascal%20boyer?a=ob sort looks at the cognitive mechanisms which promote supernatural belief. The “D.S. Wilson”:http://a9.com/David%20sloan%20Wilson / “Herbert Gintis(The most interesting sociobiologist)”:http://a9.com/herbert%20gintis “functionalist” expressions look at the effects of religious practice and argue that these must be beneficial.

There is one important point on which they both agree. Morality does not proceed from religion. Our moral intuitions and imperatives, or something like them, predate language and provide the script for our supernatural beongs to act within. Ths is an argument against individualism, in a way. I think that instead of Gods appearing in individual minds, and shaping our social experience; for most people social experience is primary, and shapes what we think God says. The exception would be the so-called “religious virtuosos”, who talk directly to God, but even the, perhaps especially they, depend for their status on social experience. Without it, they are not “religious virtuosos,(I couldn’t resist this)”:http://www.flickr.com/photo.gne?id=28176 but lunatics, at best possessed by evil spirits.

One more random thought: the connection of deserts and other lifeless places with the appearance of the divine makes a lot of sense if Boyer is right, and the root of our sense of the supernatural is the overdetection of agency. A place without life bigger than lizards, where even they are furtive, is going provide more opportunities for overdetection, to the extent that it does not provide opportunities for real detection. It is a very specialised form of sensory deprivation. One knows about St Anthony being tempted with luscious women, in visions which appeared precisely because there were no women for fifty miles. Might he not also have been tempted with visions of agency in the world?

“Who is that third who walks always beside you?”:http://eliotswasteland.tripod.com/twl.html#360

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5 Responses to theory of religion

  1. Rupert says:

    I like the phrase ‘overdetection of agency’, but perhaps that’s because I’ve been arguing with a particularly dense Intelligent Design nut who refuses to address precisely that point (oh, the layers of irony). Faces in the fire, and hunters in the sky.

    We detect patterns, we make maps, we follow internal, incomplete models to decide what to do next. Under those conditions, it’s hard to see how gods won’t lurk in the dark corners. It makes perfect sense, even if it’s wrong.

    R

  2. tom says:

    It doesn’t, of course, logically follow that the gods *aren’t* there. Or rather, it doesn’t follow that our relation to imagined divinity is a fact of no consequence.

    Gods, like faces seen in fires, might not have true and meaningful existence with relation to the physical world, but they have true and meaningful existence with relation to our internal psychic make-up. Or, to put it another way, they might be imagined, but they are *our* imaginings.

    For a physicalist, I suddenly feel uncomfortably Jungian.

  3. el Patron says:

    If I didn’t think they were enormously important, I wouldn’t spend nearly so much time thinking about them. But I have to say that the ontological status of deities seems much less problematic than the ontological status of meanings, or of genes. I know that a deity is a subset of meaning, but ever since Akhnaton, a deity can be a meaning without a necessary symbol. I’m pretty certain, though, that the only thing to which a deity can appear as a symbol is a human mind, whereas genes and meanings can appear to all -sorts of- living things.

  4. tom says:

    _since Akhnaton, a deity can be a meaning without a necessary symbol_?

    I think I have some reading to do before I understand this. Could you point me towards a good link for Akhnaton please?

  5. rupert says:

    Aknahton was the first monotheistic god, wasn’t he? Well, the first we know about. So if you’ve only got one God, like you’ve only got one Internet, you don’t need a symbol to represent you. You’re it: where there’s no ambiguity, you are your own referent.

    (At this point, I start to spin into a tight spiral on the nature of symbols, the nature of the imagined being to an individual, the nature of the imagined being to a group, the point at which reality is just a point of view (if I ever get a cat, I’ll call it Philip K Dick), and other fragments of my hippyish past and philosophical present.)

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