The accidental deity

Once again those feisty young fellows at Frink Tank have caused my withered ovaries to twitch with faint lust. As a Simpsonophiliac, casual (and sometimes cynical) Dawkins observer, and admirer of All Things Irreverent, I was sent over the edge by this blog gobbet from Not Shitashi. Crazy Cat Lady. Ha! I will never think of Dawkins as Darwin's Rottweiler again.


That cephalopodean dude wrote a review of The God Delusion which appears in the November '06 print edition of Seed Magazine. We coddled Science Bloggers get freebie print mags but you readers will have to rush to your newstands if you don't want to wait for it to appear online. The good squidly doc gives his review a mention in this post, A devil's catechism. PZ has selected a good passage from the review which lends some perspective to crazy cat lady yowlings.

Myers points out that Dawkins believes the pervasiveness of religious belief is a byproduct of another adaptative characteristic which confers a survival advantage. PZ notes that Dawkins, in his speculation on the evolutionary underpinnings of religious belief, has overlooked the capacity of empathy as biological-religion, and provides a few neat little notes on mirror neurons which may represent the hardwiring for empathy. Reading these passages reminded me of Paul Bloom's article in last December's Atlantic Monthly, Is God an Accident?

This article has been well blogged to a Cajun-blackened crisp, and I have no doubt that most of the Science Blogs crowd has read it. But hey, I'm aging, and we geriatrics love to repeat ourselves. Bloom contends that humans are natural born dualists and pop into this world with a predisposition toward belief in the supernatural. Yep, religion is the darned babies' fault. Human babies quickly develop two systems to help them make sense of the world: an understanding of physical objects and an understanding of social interactions. This, according to Bloom, gives rise to the perception of duality.

Babies have two systems that work in a cold-bloodedly rational way to help them anticipate and understand--and, when they get older, to manipulate--physical and social entities. In other words, both these systems are biological adaptations that give human beings a badly needed head start in dealing with objects and people. But these systems go awry in two important ways that are the foundations of religion. First, we perceive the world of objects as essentially separate from the world of minds, making it possible for us to envision soulless bodies and bodiless souls. This helps explain why we believe in gods and an afterlife. Second, as we will see, our system of social understanding overshoots, inferring goals and desires where none exist. This makes us animists and creationists.

Give the full article a read if you haven't done so already. Also be sure to check back at the Richard Dawkins Foundation web site. An online store is under construction. I hope to buy a Dawkins bobblehead.

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Hey doc,
Your link to Is God an Accident? in the third paragraph needs to have the quotation mark removed from the end of the URL.

By Gene Goldring (not verified) on 28 Sep 2006 #permalink

Hey, thanks, Gene, for catching that. It's fixed.

Seeing how prolific Not Shitashi is over at the Tank, I would expect his spunkiness would command a high price.

I'm 48 years old and as my memory still serves me well, I have always been under the impression that the God's phenomena was nothing more than mans creative mind working his imagination into thinking there is/was a god or god's. I never found any rational reason for myself, or others to believe in a god.
That being said, would there be reason to think that atheists are an evolutionary advancement or throwback when compared to believers?

As well, would atheism be considered beneficial or harmful at our present stage of social developement?

By Gene Goldring (not verified) on 28 Sep 2006 #permalink

And that comment was in regards to the Is God an Accident? piece. Sorry for not specifying.

By Gene Goldring (not verified) on 28 Sep 2006 #permalink

Gene, my take is that atheism is neither advancement nor devolution, but a product of our environment, culture and the remarkable adaptability of our brains. To be an evolutionary driver, atheism would have to confer a selective advantage. Based on population demographics in the US, I would say that atheists do not get more dates and reproduce like rabbits. So, there would appear to be no selective pressure there just yet.

We humans are inquisitive creatures, and one can imagine a few outliers in ancient societies thinking, "Huh. Maybe that rock isn't talking to me. Maybe it's just a rock." As we continued to rationally observe our world, dualism became eroded. I also recall reading an interesting speculation that our ancestors may have regarded the internal dialogue which rattles around in our brains as "the gods speaking" and that it was only in the relatively recent past that we became introspective enough to recognize this dialogue as our own thoughts.

Given that atheists can be as kind and altruistic or as cruel and selfish as any god-fearing believer, I'm not sure, overall, how beneficial or harmful atheism would be. Given human nature, even in the absence of sky, earth, water and "soul" gods, we naked apes would invent them anyway.

That being said, would there be reason to think that atheists are an evolutionary advancement or throwback when compared to believers?

I wouldn't think there's any reason to think that. Atheism is not genetic, it is the contingent product of an individual's personal growth. Atheist brains are still wired for percieving a dualistic world, and they (we) are all probably still practically stuck in the illusion that there is a world of "objects" and a world of "thoughts."

Atheists just don't believe in "God."

Thank you for the replies.
I've been looking for the reason of why some believe and some don't and Paul's paper is as close to what I have assumed for a long time. My nutshell has been a creative mind enables the imagination which allows for religions based on some sort of god. Of course, Paul goes into much more detail and fills quite a few of the gaps in my nutshell explanation.

Atheists just don't believe in "God."

Ok. Atheists have made a conscious effort to over come this intuitive nature within thought, which draws so many to religion, which relies on a god.

Maybe the selective advantage lies within scepticism. I'm a sceptic first and an atheist second in regards to religion and spiritual beings.

Is there evidence of a predisposition towards scepticism I wonder?

By Gene Goldring (not verified) on 29 Sep 2006 #permalink