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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Even the most sophisticated can have a personal mythology

Evolution and religion June 22nd, 2007 (posted by ray harris) Open Integral
Continuing on the atheism theme - there was a reprint of NYT article in today’s Age ‘A2′ supplement that is a review of the current thinking in evolutionary biology regarding religion (written by Robin Marantz Henig).
There are two camps, the ‘adaptive’ and ‘by-product’ theories. The first says that religion has direct adaptive benefits and the second says that religion is simply a by-product of the adaptation.
Both acept that religion is caused by three traits in the evolution of human cognition.
1. The need for agency
2. The need for causal reasoning
3. The theory of mind
The need for agency evolved to motivate a reaction. If you saw a movement out of the corner of your eye you needed to believe it was caused by something and that that something posed a threat. Thus we have a habit of mind to attribute agency to events. Causal reasoning then leads us to believe that the ‘agent’ must have a reason for doing things - and the theory of mind leads us to believe that the ‘agent’ is causing things because they have a mind similar to ours.
These three traits are hard wired and cause us to assume that things happen because a mind has caused them to happen. In animism and primitive spiritualism the agents are ’spirits’. In monotheism the agent is an eternal God. Now what I find interesting is that as our knowledge grows we incorporate it into the ‘causative’ narrative and change the nature of the agent. Monotheists believe it is primitive superstition to believe in animal and plant spirits, but still believe in a conscious causal agent (CCA). But as knowledge grows (particularly with science) our concept of the CCA becomes more sophisticated.
The article goes on to suggest that even die-hard atheists find it difficult to be conscious of the automatic response to create a CCA to explain both small and large events and even the most sophisticated can have a personal mythology.
Might I suggest (perhaps stating the obvious) that the rational stage involves the struggle of reason against the impulse to ascribe things to a CCA before the facts are in. The problem with ‘faith’ is that it demands you embrace the assumed CCA without question. Posted in Ray's Integral Blog No Comments »

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