Monday, December 05, 2005

InG we T - Expectations

In Gods we trust
1.0 - Expectations

Who can resist a book whose subtitle is "The evolutionary landscape of religion". While some people like befuddling themselves with questions of when commandment A is more appropriate than commandment B, I find hard fundamental questions much more entertaining. It seems like a good way to keep oneself humble, and hence teachable. After all, from a naturalistic perspective, religious positions already seem so improbable I can't imagine why one would want to meld their hard won personal experiences within an inflexible paradigm. Extracting reliable knowledge from revelation is difficult enough, why make it more so by insisting that the baggage of construction is without err.

Thought provoking posts like The Main Issue at Issues in Mormon Doctrine intrigue me. They force me to step back and rexamine the possibilities that underlay my beliefs. Is my testimony of God's reality contingent upon his existence as an ex nihlo creator? Do my assurances about the reality of Adam force me to conclude that non-adamic homonids were really an impossibility? Is Adam's ascendance to God any more improbable if his mortal existence was through evolutionary lines rather than, ID direction or outright divine manufacture? With these ideas in mind I bought "In Gods we trust" with aspirations to see where my social and biological baggage about religion could lay. After all, there is not much point in making tradition a trump card if one is after anything non-circular.


Clark Goble said...

You might wish to read the Atlantic article that proposes a very different model. I'll hopefully have comments on IGWT soon.

jeff g said...

I read Boyer's "Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought" a couple of months ago. It will be interesting to see how these two compare and contrast with one another.

chris g said...

I will have to check that one out Jeff. I find the whole idea quite interesting.

Clark, I think your link died. This is the atlantic link

An ezboard discussion about the Atlantic article is here

A blog post with comments by the Atlantic author is here and here. It doesn't seem to tackle the real issue though. However, since I don't have an Atlantic description I really can't comment.

jeff g said...

A pretty good intro as to where he Boyer goes with it can be found here:

It was a great book.

chris g said...

Clark, without having the Atlantic article, I am not too sure how different the models are. Atran doesn't present a single model, rather he outlines quite a different number of ideas that explain why supernatural beliefs seem natural and common.

The one idea he mentions, that our ability for abstract thought enables us to envision motive for apparently non-random events, seems quite similar to the one quote I read from Bloom. How are they different? Perhaps you could email me the Atlantic article so I can comment intelligbly.

chris g said...

Sorry Jeff, the link is down, at least for me. I know at the one board, Atlantic had them take it down.

chris g said...

I got it Jeff. I had to go in from a sub directory page.

chris g said...


If only they grounded their reasoning in sound logic or rational order, they would not have supernatural beliefs, including superstitions and religion. I think this view is misguided, for several reasons; because it assumes a dramatic difference between religious and commonsense ordinary thinking, where there isn't one; because it suggests that belief is a matter of deliberate weighing of evidence, which is generally not the case; because it implies that religious concepts could be eliminated by mere argument, which is implausible; and most importantly because it obscures the real reasons why religion is so extraordinarily widespread in human cultures.

It seems like Boyer's arguments in the page cited above boil down to what Atran calls quasi-propositional beliefs. Atran seems to say that one of the problems with religion is that it is based on non-falsifiable claims which are treated in a science like fashion. To this he adds that some people have a natural tendency to try and make superstititious beliefs as rigorous as possible. Thus people, like the ID'ers like to incorporeate scientific concpets as much as possible. He says this is done to try and reconcile the gap between the two worlds of thought. This is a strong point. He backs this up with a section saying that slightly counter-intuitive beleifs are better propagated in a society.

This is a strong point. I think the problem is that people overextend the context of their spiritual experiences. Instead of leaving things rather ambiguous, we try and make a full world based on some rather sketcthy data.

Boyer's next point "Religion is not a domain where anything goes, where any strange belief could appear and get transmitted from generation to generation. On the contrary, there is only a limited catalogue of possible supernatural beliefs," again seems reasonable. I tend to agree with it. However, one can weakly argue that the similarities of our social memes mean that religion will generally tackle similar questions in similar people. The limited catalogue can be explained by the assumption of minimally counter-intuitive beleifs. People tend to the best explanation of supernatural events. This eliminates lots of possibilities. However it doesn't mean that the original beliefs are correct, only that people minimize logical inconsistencies.