Good question--Is Theism/Religion simply a 'misuse' of some evolution-created capability?


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At the time of writing this menu, I am in the process of  revising my "Long-winded, slow-moving, argument for the faith..." (nextseat.html), trying to adjust it for  some criticisms, rebuttals, and pushbacks--for which I am VERY thankful, btw.

One of these I was alerted to was by my friend Brian Holtz, whose writings I have enjoyed--and envied (smile) for their conciseness. I do not know if his response is still posted (it is an older one from five years ago), but one of his statements formed the impetus for this series. In responding to my observation that the concept of a god was embedded in our thinking, he agreed and referred to a selection from an apparent book of his:

"(it is embedded) because of our nature as intelligent social animals who survive by detecting patterns and especially intentions in an environment dominated by their social interactions. Humans appear biased to see intentionality not only in friends, foes, predators, and prey, but also in weather, the heavens, or the universe itself. This bias is perhaps related to the general human tendency (known in psychology as the Fundamental Attribution Error) to incorrectly emphasize intentional explanations over situational or circumstantial ones."

This reminded me of several books I consulted on a small, two-paragraph email I wrote a while back on  "Isn't there a 'God' part of the brain that proves all this Jesus stuff is untrue?' (godnbrain1.html). As I started looking a little wider at this, I noticed that this thesis (or closely related ones) formed an important part of several popular skeptical positions.

Historically, the writer/work most referred to seems to be Stewart Guthrie's Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion [NS:FITC]. In the preface to the paperback edition, Guthrie makes a masterfully succinct and clear statement of his premise:

"Earlier writers who have seen anthropomorphism as basic to religion have disagreed about its nature and causes. Most have slighted its secular forms. My own claim is simple. I hold that religion is best understood as anthropomorphism and that anthropomorphism results from a strategy of perception.
The strategy is to interpret the world's ambiguities first as those possibilities that matter most. Such possibilities usually include living things and especially humans. Although the strategy leads to mistakes, it also leads to vital discoveries that outweigh them. We see shadows in alleys as persons and hear sounds as signals because if these interpretations are right they are invaluable, and if not, they are relatively harmless.
The strategy is involuntary, mostly unconscious, and shared by other animals. Understanding it and the anthropomorphism to which it gives rise illuminates secular as well as religious experience."

There are a number of works/writers which align closely with some variant of this, and I would like to examine that group in this series. I obviously believe SOMETHING is innate, which allows a relationship with God, but I will have to analyze these works to see how/how much I/they agree/disagree.

My plan (loosely speaking, of course--sigh) is to deal with the works (a) in chronological order--since some of them interact with earlier ones; and (b) as written from different specialties (e.g. psychology versus anthropology). So, here is the tentative list works I hope to analyze in this series:


I have read a couple of these already, but with my schedule like it is, this will take a long time--there is a good deal of ancillary research required (e.g., animal cognition, developmental psych, perception/sensation, etc). But hopefully it will be of value to somebody...

Glenn Miller
June 2006


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