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Word of the Day: Hyperactive Agency Detection

Does God exist?  I doubt it.February 12 is Darwin Day, the birthday of Charles Darwin. In honor of Darwin’s 203rd birthday, let’s look into a term that’s related to both evolution and religion.

Imagine an early hominid in the grasslands of Africa. He hears a rustling in the bushes—is that a cheetah or just the wind? Should he run away or ignore it?

There are two kinds of errors. Suppose our friend thinks it’s a cheetah and runs away … but he’s wrong. This is a false positive. He’s crying wolf. There can be a cost to this—our timid hominid might have been frightened away from a water hole.

But consider the other error. The hominid might think it’s the wind in the tall grass … but he’s wrong. This is a false negative. The cost is obvious—he likely becomes a predator’s lunch.

Given the disproportionate consequences for guessing wrongly, natural selection seems to have selected for caution. As a result, early man may have developed a “hyperactive agency detection device”—an overactive tendency to see agency (that is, intelligence) in nature, even where there is none. The HADD may also be where we detect patterns in things—superstition, concluding that odd events are more than coincidence, or even conspiracy theories.

If this gave early man the ideas of spirits of the dead and gods, this may help explain where early religion came from.

Photo credit: Simon Varwell

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    Print Written on February 9, 2012 at 6:00 am by Joel McDurmon
    The Rape of Morality

    The best way to refute an atheist is to quote a more consistent atheist. Modern atheists get angry and some even feel justified in ridiculing Christians when we recall Dostoevsky’s refrain (paraphrased), “If God does not exist, all things are permissible.” The ridicule comes with pointing out that Dostoevsky didn’t actually write this exact line, although a character in The Brothers Karamazov does get close to the sentiment. “You idiots are so ignorant: Dostoevsky never said that!” Of course, the protest only skirts the real point of the saying. Whether Dostoevsky said it or not, who cares? The issue is the impossibility of justifying moral laws in a godless universe.

    Flowing from a near idol-worship of Isaac Newton and his emphasis on the laws of nature, Alexander Pope published his 1732 “Essay on Man” as an affirmation of faith, although more in nature than God. “All things fall out according to Natural laws,” was his point, and we should learn to live content with whatever happens in life. After all, as he repeats throughout that poem, “Whatever is, is right.”

    Think about that: Whatever is, is right.

    Pope had no idea what he was really advocating. Living in a world that was still dominated by Christian culture, law, morals, etc., for Pope “Nature” and “Right” seemed like good things. Little did he know just how depraved a society built solely on nature could actually be.

    Pope died in 1744. A mere four years earlier was born another influential literary figure across the English channel: the Marquis de Sade. Pope would not live to see the French Revolution where they idolized “Nature” and enshrined “lady reason” in the cathedrals. Sade not only lived through it, he provided the most radical and most consistent view of what a system of morals built only on natural impulses would look like. In his rigorous consistency with “Nature,” Sade shows how deluded a dream like Pope’s really is, though Sade embraced it wholeheartedly. He pulls back the curtains on a dark, sadistic (a word derived from his very name), heartless, murderous, pornographic, backstage of evil. His basis for this? The fact that godless Nature dictates a lawless society: “for what should we, who have no religion, do with law?”[1]

    The Return of the Village Atheist
    Only $8.95 He continued, “Nature, equally dictating virtues and vices in us . . . in reason of the need Nature has of the one and the other, what she inspires in us becomes a very reliable gauge by which to adjust exactly what is good and bad.” While this sounds somewhat acceptable—he is still speaking of both good and evil, right?—he had much more in mind. Unlike Pope, Sade would not be hindered by the moral values of good and evil already entrenched around him. He would rigorously seek ought only that which Nature dictated “in us.”

    For example, he would advocate abolishing the death penalty, but not because he thought it too harsh a penalty for the crime of murder, but because he did not think murder is a crime to be punished at all. And thus, he argued, we should also abolish all laws against murder. Murder, after all, is a perfectly natural impulse.[2] Society must learn to accept it.

    In fact, sometimes mass murder is profitable for society, for example, to keep the population down and thus prevent poverty. For this, Sade prescribed infanticide: “The human species must be purged from the cradle.”[3]

    Sade was just warming up. Once denuding society of punishment for the highest offense of murder, the way was clear for his favorite “natural” acts—those of sexual deviance. Sade advocated the forced submission of all women to all men unconditionally, incest, sodomy, pederasty, as well as the eating of feces as a matter of taste and sexual pleasure.[4]

    Of course, some atheists today are still brave enough to say as much as that rape is, in fact, “natural.” Sam Harris, for example, has admitted, “There is, after all, nothing more natural than rape.”[5] Although he pleads that it is still not “good.” A few years back a book titled A Natural History of Rape stirred up controversy with the same admission, “We fervently believe that, just as the leopard’s spots and the giraffe’s elongated neck are the results of aeons of past Darwinian selection, so is rape.”[6] Like Sam, the authors were quick to point out, “We’re not saying something is good even if it’s natural.”[7] Nevertheless, the book gives scientific, Darwinian, and academic sanction to the belief, “Rape is natural.”

    At such a juncture, it seems that an ethic like Pope’s offers humanity little help: “Whatever is, is right,” entails, “Rape is; therefore, Rape is right.”

    But on what basis, then, can a naturalist decry (contra Sade) such an act as evil? Since the atheist/naturalist believes nothing exists except nature, a consistent doctrine of “good” versus “bad” will be impossible to find. What is good for one man may or may not be good for another. One man’s pleasure is simply another woman’s (or little girl’s) pain, and who is to judge between them except for might itself?

    This is why atheists like Sade are so important: they expose how more moderate atheists are really arbitrary and soft in both their logic and their practice. Sade shows how cruel and heartless the naturalistic ethic truly is:

    [W]hat right do you have to assert that women ought to be exempted from the blind submission to men’s caprices Nature dictates?[8]

    [W]e have received from Nature the right indiscriminately to express our wishes to all women . . . we have the right to compel their submission . . . Indeed! has Nature not proven that we have that right, by bestowing upon us the strength needed to bend women to our will. . . . I have incontestable rights to the enjoyment of her; I have the right to force from her this enjoyment, if she refuses me it for whatever the cause may be.[9]

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    Only $29.95 With the naturalistic ethic, what is natural is good; and (if God does not exist) there’s no one who has the right to say otherwise. Ergo, rape is not only natural, but Nature herself proves that rape is acceptable by equipping the rapist with greater strength than his victims.

    Nor do the age or well-being of the female affect the scenario:

    [O]nce you concede me the proprietary right of enjoyment, that right is independent of the effect [harm] it produces. . . . The issue of her well-being . . . is irrelevant. As soon as concern for this consideration threatens to detract from or enfeeble the enjoyment of him who desires her . . . this consideration for age ceases to exist.[10]

    “Once you concede me the proprietary right to enjoyment. . . .” Now that is a profound notion of which all naturalists should take note. Taking nature as a source of morals creates a paradox for the naturalist: while he knows he has no authority from Nature to forbid the individual the right to enjoyment, he must do so in order to stop the rapist from pursuing his enjoyment. The Sadean rapist, of course, only cares about his personal enjoyment, and cares nothing about temporarily denying the same for his victim.

    But here the naturalist steps into a real catch-22. In wishing to prevent the rapist his enjoyment, the “good” naturalist must rely upon the same ethical standard as the rapist: by saying that it is sometimes acceptable to prevent another person’s enjoyment, the naturalist has adopted Sade’s standard. He is, in principle, no better than Sade. Of course, which one prevails—in a naturalistic world, this is—will depend only on which one is more cunning, secretive, and/or powerful enough to impose their will.

    In other words, in a naturalistic world, get away with whatever you can get away with. That is, in a nturalistic world, might makes right.

    In a Christian world, of course, we have an infinitely better system. Mankind—male and female—are created in God’s image. They are thus designed to express God’s will—the Ten Commandments—in society. An attack on another person bearing God’s image is an attack on God Himself. To debase and dishonor that image through scheming, kidnapping, bondage, sexual violence and theft—i.e., rape—is essentially to break the entire second table of the Law in one act. As such a consummate act of rejection of God and God’s prized image on earth, rape deserves the death penalty.

    This morality is transcendent, it descends from above, and lifts man to a higher purpose, honor, and meaning. Naturalistic ethics debases man to the level of lawless, meaningless matter. In such a world, the issue is not whether rape is good or evil, it is who can ultimately get away with raping whom. Reject God, and you destroy law, and open the floodgates to destroy man as well.

    Naturalism is, therefore, the rape of morality.

    Biblical Logic: In Theory & Practice
    Only $19.95 The next great consistent atheist after Sade came a generation later in Friedrich Nietzsche. He used the same rigorous logic as Sade: “When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. . . .” Thus, when naturalists

    actually believe that they know “intuitively” what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion. . . .[11]

    This continues today as a perfect description of most of the modern atheists. Logically, they have pulled the foundations of morality out from under their feet. Sade has show us where this logically should lead. But rape and pederasty make for bad PR. Thus, atheists continue to steal necessary bits of Christian morality while denying the Christ who gave it.

    As long as they continue to do this, we should continue to refute them by referencing the more consistent atheists. The point is not to drive them actually to become more consistent atheists—at least not in practice—but rather drive them to admit where the logic of the naturalist position leads, and hopefully to turn to the only God who can save them from it.

    And in the meantime, whether Dostoevsky said it or not, the truth remains, “If God does not exist, all things are permissible.”

    • Bob Seidensticker

      You’ve got to quote someone else? You can’t think up arguments yourself?

      The issue is the impossibility of justifying moral laws in a godless universe.

      And we’ve bashed this ridiculous line of reasoning as soundly as the Israelites killed the Canaanites.

      Flowing from a near idol-worship of Isaac Newton …

      Don’t you badmouth the atheist pope!

      (Oh–wait a minute. That’s His Holiness Richard Dawkins. Never mind–my bad.)

      Pope had no idea what he was really advocating.

      Then if Pope said something silly, take it up with him.

      “for what should we, who have no religion, do with law?”

      And the same goes for de Sade.

      He goes into a long litany of things he doesn’t like about de Sade as if that’s supposed to rub off on today’s atheists? Weak.

      One man’s pleasure is simply another woman’s (or little girl’s) pain, and who is to judge between them except for might itself?

      This is just some stream of consciousness thing, I guess? No research or thought put into it?

      Evolution selects for fitness. Ever consider that cooperation might be a trait that improves fitness in a population?

      This is why atheists like Sade are so important: they expose how more moderate atheists are really arbitrary and soft in both their logic and their practice.

      When you point to things you don’t like about de Sade, I simply reply: “Take it up with de Sade.” If you have an argument that applies to me, show me. Telling me what moral scum de Sade was doesn’t advance your case.

      With the naturalistic ethic, what is natural is good

      I’ve never heard anyone say this. I certainly don’t. I guess I don’t know any naturalists then.

      Arsenic kills people; arsenic is natural; therefore arsenic is good? Who says this??

      Blah blah blah. More stuff that doesn’t apply to me.

      In a Christian world, of course, we have an infinitely better system.

      You mean, you’ve made up an infinitely better system? I disagree that it’s better, but this argument doesn’t even get off the ground if it’s just invented. And if it’s not invented, show me.

      This morality is transcendent, it descends from above, and lifts man to a higher purpose, honor, and meaning.

      Bob Calvan: this guy just handwaves transcendent morality into existence, just like you! You’ve found a little friend.

      As long as they continue to do this, we should continue to refute them by referencing the more consistent atheists.

      When you go off on a rant against someone else, I just sit on the sidelines. It doesn’t apply to me.

      Bad advice. Indeed, this entire piece is empty and doesn’t help your position a bit. You need more compelling allies, ’cause this guy ain’t helping.

    • Retro

      An attack on another person bearing God’s image is an attack on God Himself.

      Unless of course God orders you to kill your brothers, friends, and neighbors:

      Exodus 32:27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’”

      To debase and dishonor that image through scheming, kidnapping, bondage, sexual violence and theft—i.e., rape—is essentially to break the entire second table of the Law in one act.

      Unless of course God orders you to kill the boys, kill the women, but to save the virgins:

      Numbers 31:17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

      In such a world, the issue is not whether rape is good or evil, it is who can ultimately get away with raping whom.

      In the Christian world, the issue is not whether rape is good or evil, it is whether God wills it or not. If God wills it, then murder, rape, theft, and slavery are all good.

  • Bob Calvan

    You’ve got to quote someone else? You can’t think up arguments yourself?

    I just thought you may be interested in the article.. Thanks for your input.
    Try to be a little more “Tolerant”:
    “accepting different views: accepting the differing views of other people, e.g. in religious or political matters, and treating the people who hold these different views fairly.”

    • Retro

      Bob C wrote: Try to be a little more “Tolerant”:
      “accepting different views: accepting the differing views of other people, e.g. in religious or political matters, and treating the people who hold these different views fairly.”

      Do you accept anyone else’s religious views that differ from yours?

      What does your Bible say about people who have differing views on religion? How tolerant is stoning someone to death?

  • Bob Calvan

    I just thought you may be interested in the article.. Thanks for your input.
    Try to be a little more “Tolerant”:
    “accepting different views: accepting the differing views of other people, e.g. in religious or political matters, and treating the people who hold these different views fairly.”

  • Bob Calvan

    Retro said:

    An attack on another person bearing God’s image is an attack on God Himself.

    “………Unless of course God orders you to kill your brothers, friends, and neighbors:..”

    “….Exodus 32:27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’”…”

    Of course as usual Retro ( who just does not like how God does things) gives us one verse. No context .. And then twist’s the verse to make it say something is does not.

    So what really happened is Moses returns to the Israelites who just sinned and made an idol of gold and were worshipping it.. Which is a sin unto death. Then Moses gives them a chance to come on (The Lords side) Moses side or stay with the idolaters. And those that went on the Lords side Moses had them “kill” the Idolaters ( with justification) .

    • Retro

      Bob C wrote: Of course as usual Retro ( who just does not like how God does things) gives us one verse. No context .. And then twist’s the verse to make it say something is does not.

      Did not God order humans to kill their brothers, friends, and neighbors? How is this twisting these verses to say something that it does not?

      You want context? The people who were killed were not threatening to kill anyone. The killers did not kill in self-defense. These people were killed for nothing more than a religious dispute.

      You can claim these killings were justified if you wish, but don’t dare try to claim that I’m twisting these verses to say something that they’re not.

  • Bob Calvan

    “…You can claim these killings were justified if you wish, but don’t dare try to claim that I’m twisting these verses to say something that they’re not….”

    You are twisitng these verses to say something they’re not.

  • Bob Calvan

    “…You want context? The people who were killed were not threatening to kill anyone. The killers did not kill in self-defense. These people were killed for nothing more than a religious dispute….”

    Huh? That is not the context??? You gave me your presuppositions about self defense and religous desputes? Which is not in the verse, and has nothing to do with the context? As I said “YOU ARE TWISTING THESE VERSE’S TO SAY SOMETHING THEY ARE NOT!

  • RandomFunction2

    Hi Bob the Atheist,

    I do think that something like that hyperactive agency detection device exists, and it probably explains belief in spirits, in aliens, in angels, in Satan, especially in animist and folk religion… but I don’t think it can fully explain God belief (at least as some theologians conceive him today…) I don’t think everyone believes in God because they detect an agency behind particular phenomena. When I look at the world, I don’t see it as the work of a powerful spirit lurking somewhere beyond my eyes. The world seems to run quite well without God and spirits. I believe despite the appearances, not because some unexplained phenomena lead me to think that “God did it”.

    A better question is probably whether I would have acquired the idea of God if I did not inherit it from a tradition that may well have started as an effect of that HADD.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      That’s a good question. Here’s one for which I think the answer is clear. Imagine a World War III where all records of the past are destroyed. The survivors have no religions to fall back on–all tradition and documents are gone. Humans being wired the way they are, they may well recreate religion. But they certainly wouldn’t recreate Christianity.

      Doesn’t say much about the truth of Christianity if the existence of its god is knowable only through tradition.

      • RandomFunction2

        Hi Bob S,

        It’s not impossible that God reveals himself implicitly in people’s hearts and in people’s relationships, but I don’t think the HADD is a revelation of God. It’s more like the source of idolatry.

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