Religion, Naturally

Beauty-of-nature-random-4884759-1280-800As with his previous comment on the histories of religion, I largely agree with Mackie when he turns to the question of what the origin of religion says about the truth of theism.

His answer: It says very little.

He rightly sees, as many in our current culture do not, that explaining the appearance of an idea does not tell us whether or not that idea is true. This is the classic genetic fallacy, after all. It may or may not be true that “you only believe in x because of your personal motivations”, but that tells us nothing about whether or not “x” is true. Mackie sees this, and dismisses the idea that natural histories of religion are, in themselves, reasons to reject the truth of theism.

He goes on, however, to argue that these can be used as a counter to the idea that the existence of religion cannot be explained apart from supernatural intervention.

Again, I agree with him, though I’m left wondering who it is that Mackie thinks has given this argument. He does not tell us, and even goes so far as to complain that theists often point out a fact that runs counter to it: that humans have a natural psychological desire for God.

Of course we do. And this should have signaled Mackie that theists, with very few exceptions, have never argued that the natural desire for God is itself in need of a supernatural explanation.

Mackie seems to think otherwise, and Daniel Denett dutifully informs us that the natural desire for God is a desire for God that is natural–as if that were a revolutionary concept.

In this, and many other places, it seems that those who argue against the truth of theism tend to have a very weak understanding of what theists are actually claiming.

6 responses to “Religion, Naturally

  • john zande

    A bevy of research into early childhood has revealed that children are prone (hardwired) to finding agency in nature, not theism. Theism is unnatural. It is new information superimposed over the default, a-theism.

    • Debilis

      If you’d like to make a case that religious belief, which exists in all human cultures, and dominates in nearly all of them, is unnatural, you are free to do so.

      But I don’t see a case being made here. In fact, I’ve been arguing for some time that the theism I defend is quite different from finding agency in nature. And, since the New Atheists only ever argue against agency in nature, they haven’t actually addressed theism as I’ve presented it.

      Here, you seem to agree with me on that point. As such, it is simply reasonable to throw out the New Atheist arguments, and move to more sophisticated conversations (such as those Mackie is trying to have).

      • john zande

        Debilis, it’s quite simple. Theism is not natural. It does not rise instinctively naturally like hunger, because it is not a truism. It is artificial. If it were true we would have already seen the same religion emerge at least twice on the planet. Have we? Of course not. No one in history has ever arrived independently at Christianity, Islam, Mithraism, Scientology without it first being taught to them.

        That is all the evidence i need to dismiss your claims out of hand.

        Children having the capacity to imagine agency in nature is not theism, and no amount of special pleading will change that fact.

        I suggest you read a little more on the subject, as its clear you really don’t know much about it.

        • Debilis

          To start, I tend to think that anyone who believes he/she can settle a centuries-old debate with a short post which opens with the words “it’s quite simple” hasn’t yet thought enough about the topic.

          Second, I think it is a pretty tall claim to say that religion is artificial. Particularly on the grounds that no religion arises twice in world history. It seems to completely ignore the fact that I was discussing something much more general than the particular claims of revealed religions.

          Really, it’s rather like claiming that hunger is artificial because every culture has a distinct diet.

          But I’ve already pointed out that I’m not talking about “children having the capacity to imagine agency in nature”. You keep telling me that this isn’t theism–which strikes me as completely odd, because I’ve spent some time trying to get you to understand the difference between theism and a belief in “agency in nature”.

          That is, I’ve been talking about a God that has nothing whatsoever to do with “agency in nature”, and keep getting arguments against “agency in nature” as if that refuted what I was saying.

          So, given that we agree that my beliefs are’t about “agency in nature”, do you have anything to say about them? Any reason at all why one can confidently dismiss them?

        • john zande

          “To start, I tend to think that anyone who believes he/she can settle a centuries-old debate with a short post which opens with the words “it’s quite simple” hasn’t yet thought enough about the topic.”

          -:) Granted, yet perhaps you should re-read most of your material. You’re the greatest offender here.

          I’m sorry, but seeing agency in nature has positively everything to do with broader superstition (cognitive blunders in cause and effect), which then (if allowed to fester without correction) foments and matures into theism.

          To service your own emotional needs (special pleading) you are simply ignoring the most basic of steps in the process and leaping to the finish line. This, of course, is the general method of the apologist who must “define” their god into existence (synthetic truth) because they cannot “demonstrate” it.

        • Debilis

          Here, you seem to be arguing that seeing agency in nature is deeply connected to religion, and that religion is simply an outgrowth of a natural human trait.

          This is precisely where we started.

          I’ll skip past the irrelevancies about my personal character, but it is necessary to point out that concern for personal needs is simply not the same thing as the special pleading fallacy.

          Yes, you’ve done nothing to show that either of these things are true, but the issue is with the latter. Nothing whatsoever about my argument asserts that the rules of inference do not apply. I’ve specifically been the one arguing that we trust logic, and use it on this topic.

          Rather, it is the atheists in the discussion that have been making use of special pleading–by insisting that logic isn’t reliable in this case.

          Nor have I done a thing to define anything into existence. I’ve not given any arguments based on the categorical imperative, and I’ve even been widely critical of ontological arguments.

          What I’ve done instead is start from publicly available information (people are conscious, the universe is a contingent object, qualia are a part of experience, etc.), and reasoned to theism from there.

          You’re free to think there is a problem with my logic, but no one has yet pointed any problem out. Instead, I mostly get personal insults (as if we were on a 5th grade playground) and attacks on a straw-man version of theism (even when it is materialism I’m discussing).

          So, rather than play armchair psychologist about your personal needs, and ramble on about how you might be servicing them by trying to make yourself feel more intelligent than theists, I’m going to underline that I’ve never actually been given a single argument in favor of materialism.

          At this point in the conversation, that alone is reason to dismiss it.

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