Atran notes (from Henig 2006)
The spiritual ape.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Are we by inclination that has evolutionary explanations, disposed to be religious, to
believe in spiritual interpretations and beingsz/
NOT asking, is there, or is there not, a God or gods?
This is not a philosophical question
about the origins of the universe and life; about creators and creation.
theist, or an
atheist, can find it interesting.
Whether or not there is a God – and whether or not science
has much if anything to say about that --
it can be asked: Why do so many people, over
so much history, and across virtually all societies, believe there is?
James Barrett, a by-product theorist (to be explained below) is a practicing, committed
Christian, who believes in “an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good God who
brought the universe into being. . .[entailing]. . .theprupose for people is to love God and
love each other” (Henig, p. 83).
How is the view that belief is an evolutionary accident
compatible with belief in belief?
“Why wouldn’t God, the, design us
in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite nature?. . .Supppose science produces a
convincing account for why I think my wife loves me – should I then stop believing that
In other words, having a scientific explanation for something does not
compel us to stop believing in it.
When we find human universals, commonalities we are tempted to look to human nature,
and from there to human evolution to explain.
Despite enormous, mind-boggling
variation, and even after the most general observation that religion in some form is
Descent of Man
(1871): “A belief in all-pervading spiritual
agencies seems to be universal.” , there are shared elements:
Share elements across religions:
- belief in noncorporeal beings, gods or God;
- belief in some form of afterlife;
- belief in supplication, the ability of prayer or ritual to affect world;.
70% of US population believes in Angels; 60% in devil and hell; [same article cites
Baylor U study finding 92% of students believe in a personal God.
Early anthropology, EB Tylor, thought that religion arose from misunderstandings among
primitive people that dreams are real. For instance, dreams about deceased ancestors
would lead to the belief that a spirit or soul escapes death.
that generated the earliest religious experiences.