Daniel Dennett and Religion as Belief-in-Belief

Daniel Dennett and Religion as Belief-in-Belief April 18, 2018

Daniel Dennett’s take on religion is the most nuanced of all the New Atheist critiques.

(Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

It may not be as popular on nonbeliever reading lists, or as packed with quotable quips about religion as God Is Not Great or The God Delusion, but Daniel Dennett’s 2006 book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon gives us a scheme for a scientific study of religion: how it developed and what it means to society today. Even on my first reading of it, I recall being impressed with Dennett’s thoroughness and seriousness in his task, which was much more subtle and empathetic than the standard demolition of religion delivered by cheap polemicists like Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins.

Such a study is important, Dennett knows, because religion represents a significant investment by believers in time, effort, and resources. Whether we think religion is a good thing or not, we have to come up with some sort of explanation for its development and survival throughout human history. In Darwinian terms, it has to justify its cost at every step of its evolution.

Religion As a Human Endeavor

Drawing on a variety of anthropological and psychological research into religion, Dennett postulates that folk religion was based on being able to discern agency from randomness. This ability was probably of immense value to our primitive forebears, whose instincts about everything from noises to footprints were crucial to their survival. Their assumption that there was agency behind all phenomena no doubt had selective value for them, but it also reinforced the illusion of agency that gave rise to folk religion and superstition. Furthermore, the accumulated wisdom of the society needed to be heeded without question to ensure the continued existence of its inhabitants. Once better forms of inquiry made this ur-inquiry program obsolete, and hierarchically organized religions replaced folk traditions, the only thing left was the demand for obedience.

Nowadays, the custodians of religion have come up with ways to ensure its survival that represent defense mechanisms for the meme complex. The first is the “spell” Dennett refers to in the title: the admonition against examining religion the same way we’d examine other human phenomena like sexuality or language. But there’s a more significant way that religion perpetuates itself in our era, and that’s through the belief-in-belief. In other words, whether people believe in the deities and tenets of their religion, they profess belief that the belief in them is a good idea. Religion perpetuates itself not by the belief it inspires, but by the behavior it motivates. Professing religious belief, in particular, is a behavior that significantly contributes to the perpetuation of the meme complex of religion.

Religion as Meme-Complex vs. Religion as Set of Literal Claims

This is the feature of Dennett’s thought that distinguishes him from a critic of religion such as Dawkins: while Dawkins focuses on the literal beliefs of religious people, Dennett points out that from the meme’s-eye-view, there’s no difference between a Muslim who prays five times a day because he truly believes in Allah and the truth of the Koran, and a Muslim who prays five times a day because that’s what Muslims do.

It has been noted by many commentators that typical, canonical religious beliefs cannot be tested for truth. As I suggested earlier, this is as good as a defining characteristic of religious creeds. They have to be “taken on faith” and are not subject to (scientific, historical) confirmation. But, more than that, for this reason and others, religious-belief expressions cannot really be taken at face value.

It seems to me that this is correct, and it also pulls the plug on the majority of what passes for dialogue between believers an atheists in our day and age. After all, if we can’t take religious claims at face value, then whether they’re literally true or not is totally beside the point. People profess belief in them for completely different reasons than they profess belief that the Sun will rise in the morning, or that chimps and humans share a common ancestor, reasons that make the content of the beliefs themselves irrelevant.

An Anthropologist on Steroids

But wait, you might say, religious people claim their beliefs are true. The problem is that, as Dennett says, the social utility of the act of professing these beliefs far outweighs the truth value of the beliefs.

When it comes to interpreting religious avowals of others, everybody is an outsider. Why? Because religious avowals concern matters that are beyond observation, beyond meaningful test, so the only thing anybody can go on is religious behavior, and, more specifically, the behavior of professing, A child growing up in a culture is like an anthropologist, after all, surrounded by informants whose professings stand in need of interpretation. The fact that your informants are your father and mother, and speak in your mother tongue, does not give you anything more than a slight circumstantial advantage over the adult anthropologist who has to rely on a string of bilingual interpreters to query the informants.

Religion has co-evolved with humanity and survived in secular society for a lot of reasons, but neither the Holy Spirit nor literal truth is among them. Dennett does an admirable job of mapping out a program for understanding the phenomenon.

Doesn’t this imply we’re wasting our time trying to debunk religious claims? If we’re not dealing with the psychological and cultural meaning of religion, aren’t we missing the point?

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  • Dennett points out that from the meme’s-eye-view, there’s no difference between a Muslim who prays five times a day because he truly believes in Allah and the truth of the Koran, and a Muslim who prays five times a day because that’s what Muslims do.

    This is silly. That ignores the current psychological theory on the matter. Indeed, I would argue that a specific type of belief is required for something to be a religion. By the aforementioned argument presented by Dennett, washing one’s hands because of religious belief and washing one’s hands because of germ theory, both constitute the same thing. Then why isn’t the latter still religious? This is why I argue for a unified approach: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/xqduv/

  • You’re missing the point. We can’t know whether someone truly believes in the tenets of their religion, we can only see the behavior their belief presumably motivates. Okay, technically there’s a difference between belonging to a religious community because of devout belief and belonging because of the social benefits of the community. But from the meme’s-eye-view, there’s no difference. Religious behavior perpetuates religion, regardless of whether it’s sincere.

  • Well, there are different cognitive signatures between religious and non-religious belief, or at least there appear to be. The very way the brain processes the two are different, so it is reasonable to conclude that the actions resulting from those two classes of beliefs would be different.

    Indeed, I would argue that a definition of belief is somewhere along the lines of “a learned persistent cognitive state which modulates behavior.”

  • Well, there are different cognitive signatures between religious and non-religious belief, or at least there appear to be.

    Step away from the neurobabble. We can’t make everyone undergo an fMRI to establish whether they’re truly a religious believer.

    Look, I conceded that there’s technically a difference between someone who believes and someone who goes through the motions. The distinction I made is that from the meme’s-eye-view, there’s no difference. Even people who don’t literally believe have the belief-in-belief; they believe that religious belief itself is a good thing. And that’s what perpetuates religion. Behavior is what’s important; belief is beside the point.

  • > Step away from the neurobabble.

    I’m sorry that you consider scientific theory and evidence to be babble. But if you want me to dumb it down for you, let’s consider an example.

    Let’s consider a ritual where a person cooking a turkey breaks the legs off before putting it into the oven. Now suppose there’s another person that does the same thing. The first one just does it because “that’s how you cook a turkey.” The second one does it because “god said so.”

    Now how do we break this ritual? In the first case, we can just show that there’s no point to it and that the ritual started because, let’s say the grandmother’s oven was too small so she had to do it to fit the turkey. Do you think the person will persist in the ritual? Probably not. Now let’s consider the second person, and we say that there’s no reason to perform the ritual. Of course the person is going to reject and state quite firmly that god commanded it. Now you either have to break the connection between the ritual and the god belief, or you have to break the god belief.

    So even fro the “meme’s-eye-view” there is a difference.

    > And that’s what perpetuates religion.

    Religion continually regenerates. There are new religions born all the time. We seem to be fairly predisposed to religion, regardless of any perception that it is positive. Indeed, one of the most extreme cases of this kind of situation is what I refer to as Religious Rejectionism, which based on the model of religion I cited previously, is indeed a religion. https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/d7hpb/

    But it essentially centers around a belief regarding religion: that all religion is false, that religion is harmful, etc. So here we have an entire religious group, who are quite religious, and yet also hold a belief that religion is harmful.

    > Behavior is what’s important; belief is beside the point.

    And as I said, belief is a learned persistent cognitive state which modulates behavior, which I explained by the above turkey example.

  • The problem here is that you’re comparing nonreligious belief with religious belief. You don’t seem to be getting the point here at all.

    Look at the dietary restrictions of Jewish households who keep kosher or glatt. Compare someone who really believes that there’s a reason why they should abjure pork or keep meat separate from dairy, and the person who simply observes the rules out of cultural tradition. The observance is completely separate from the literal beliefs someone has about God and ritual cleanliness. The observant person merely believes that there’s a benefit to the belief that these restrictions should be observed.

  • > The problem here is that you’re comparing nonreligious belief with religious belief. You don’t seem to be getting the point here at all.

    I get it quite well. You say that from a meme’s-eye-view there is no difference. I gave you a thought experiment rejecting that.

    > Look at the dietary restrictions of Jewish households who keep kosher or glatt. Compare someone who really believes that there’s a reason why they should abjure pork or keep meat separate from dairy, and the person who simply observes the rules out of cultural tradition.

    Okay. And do you really think that the two will respond the same towards attempts to adjust that behavior? Do you really think it would be just as easy or difficult to adjust the behavior in both conditions?

    > The observance is completely separate from the literal beliefs someone has about God and ritual cleanliness. The observant person merely believes that there’s a benefit to the belief that these restrictions should be observed.

    But there should be differences, both in terms of opposition to change (which means that the evolutionary trajectory of the cultural phenomenon would be different), as well as with other associated patterns of behavior.

    I also showed you an example of a religion which generally espouses the belief that religion is harmful. So that totally contradicts the thesis of the article and Dennett’s book.

  • And do you really think that the two will respond the same towards attempts to adjust that behavior? Do you really think it would be just as easy or difficult to adjust the behavior in both conditions?

    I don’t see why it would be easy in either case, do you? You assume that rituals that people perform because of their religious identity don’t have any meaning for the religious person? I’m afraid I find that assumption absurd.

  • We change our rituals all the time, based on new information. But when it comes to rituals which are integrated with religioid beliefs, it becomes far more difficult to adjust behavior.

    Additionally, one of the core parts of this article is the claim that religion persists because a belief that religion is good. Yet provided an example of a religion that is growing in strength, yet which generally includes the belief that religion is harmful.

  • We change our rituals all the time, based on new information.

    No, most times we don’t change our behavior at all, regardless of well-meaning attempts to “adjust” it for us.

    But when it comes to rituals which are integrated with religioid beliefs, it becomes far more difficult to adjust behavior.

    Yeah, but there’s no way to distinguish whether people push back on attempts to “adjust” their behavior because the rituals have meaning for them in their personal and cultural identity, or whether they truly think that they’re going to make The Big G mad if they don’t continue observing the rituals.

  • > No, most times we don’t change our behavior at all, regardless of well-meaning attempts to “adjust” it for us.

    Really? So whenever new guidelines for health and safety come out, we just keep using the old standards? Hmm…

    > Yeah, but there’s no way to distinguish whether people push back on attempts to “adjust” their behavior because the rituals have meaning for them in their personal and cultural identity, or whether they truly think that they’re going to make The Big G mad if they don’t continue observing the rituals.

    So you say, but given the reaction to opposition of religioid beliefs, that’s not really the case. More importantly, you keep ignoring the bigger issue of the existence of a religion which is dominated by the belief that religion is harmful. That really throws a wrench into your argument that religion persists due to a belief that religion is good.

  • More importantly, you keep ignoring the bigger issue of the existence of a religion which is dominated by the belief that religion is harmful. That really throws a wrench into your argument that religion persists due to a belief that religion is good.

    Since it appears to be something you made up out of whole cloth, I think it’s safe to say it does no such thing.

  • > Since it appears to be something you made up out of whole cloth, I think it’s safe to say it does no such thing.

    Got it. It’s not really a religion so it doesn’t count. That’s called the “no true Scotsman fallacy.” Now, if I just gave the term and no justification, that would be one thing, but I have provided a full unified psychological and anthropological model of religion and a full justification for why Religious Rejectionism exists and should be considered a religion, but then again, what do I know? I only have formal education on these topics and have spent an extremely large amount of time researching and justifying my position.

    Now, in your case, it seems that you’re so heavily invested in your thesis that you refuse to hear out criticisms of it. That’s okay. Moving on.

  • Anat

    So what about all the formerly religious who abandoned the religion they were brought up in because they did not believe its tenets to be true? Did they leave because nobody told them ‘it’s not supposed to be true in that sense anyway, silly’? Or was it because ‘belief in belief’ doesn’t work for them?

  • Priya Lynn

    Kirk Politicoid said “Got it. It’s not really a religion so it doesn’t count. That’s called the “no true Scotsman fallacy.”

    You’re expressing the begging the question logical fallacy. You’re the one calling the belief that religion is harmful a religion – no one holding that belief considers that belief to be a religion so its not the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. Your whole premise is based upon a lie.

    You have no respect for the truth, you just post to try to pump yourself up.

  • Priya Lynn

    Could be either. People abandon religion for a lot of different reasons.

  • Right. I think we tend to assume that everyone looks at religious belief the same way we’re used to: as a set of literal beliefs about reality. Since the religious community and experience didn’t do anything for us, we left. But a lot of people stay in religious communities for no other reason than that they get meaning and comfort from the communal experience of religious tradition, and don’t consider the literal truth of the belief system relevant.

  • Another powerful, well-written book on the nature of religion is Pascal Boyer’s book, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought.

    Boyer is an anthropologist and explains in detail how the development of religion in human history is complicated.

  • Ugh, Boyer. For an anthropologist, he seemed to ignore a basic concept of the field: what is common sense in one culture may be incredibly bizarre in another.

  • Jim Jones

    The question that has occupied me for a few years now is, what IS a religion? We seem to have a case of can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s one thing to come up with a wacky idea like this, but why do so many people comply with it?

    I finally figured it out the other day. People are wired to form or join groups. These may be families, clans, tribes, cities or countries or more.

    The most basic form for strangers forming a group is a gang. I hardly need to point out how common these are.

    Religions are usually better organized and better structured than common gangs but they still have some similarities at their core.

    Religion offers social inclusion – like a gang.

    It offers the opportunity to bully others – like a gang.

    It encourages the commission of actual crimes against non members – like a gang.

    It offers a veneer of superiority to others – like a gang.

    Those who leave are loathed and sometimes threatened or hurt – like a gang.

    When a rival member dies they rejoice – like a gang.

    Members brag about how powerful and important their boss is – like a gang.

    The religious want to graffiti up the walls, park, or anything else they can put their mark on – like a gang.

    And you fear not praising the boss enough – like a gang.

    (They both recruit young people, though religion tends to start at an earlier age, and is usually more successful at it.)

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2018/03/06/parents-suing-la-district-request-anonymity-after-death-threats-from-christians/

  • I think the Glorified-Ingroup theory makes a lot more sense than that people consciously join the religion whose beliefs they think approximate objective truth most accurately.

  • Hmm…I’m surprised that you have a negative view of the anthropologist Pascal Boyer. His book delved much deeper into questioning the nature of religion than most books I’ve read.

    However, I’m not a professional scientist, and while I did major in anthropology for a while at university, I eventually, returned to my first major–creative writing.

    I don’t recall Boyer ignoring “a basic concept of the field,” but I read the book 15 or more years ago. And I don’t have a personal copy on my science shelves, so I will order the book and re-read it.

    Also, I’m curious, since you call yourself “The Spiritual Anthropologist,” is your career in anthropology? If so, what anthropological study would you recommend?

  • I am an anthropologist because I produce and test anthropological theory, not because I get paid for it. Most of my formal education in anthropology was focused on archaeology, however I suppose I am mostly a cultural anthropologist, focusing on religion and alcohol. While I have a blog, of course, I also have some material posted on SocArXiv: https://osf.io/gpm6n/

    One of those papers relates directly to the topic and discusses the issue with Boyer’s view on religion: Boyer and Ramble’s “Cognitive Templates for Religious Concepts” published in 2001 try to define religion based on a concept of “counter-intuitive” belief. This view of religion is problematic, because it suggests that there is such a thing as “intuitive belief.” But anthropological theory suggests that what might seem intuitive in one culture may be bizarre in another, thus the problem. Our understanding of reality, of our sensory information, etc is heavily dependent on our enculturation.

  • Thanks. I already had been to both of the urls, and downloaded your one paper to read later.

    I’ll check back on the ScoArXiv one.

    You wrote, “This view of religion is problematic, because it suggests that there is such a thing as “intuitive belief.” But anthropological theory suggests that what might seem intuitive in one culture may be bizarre in another, thus the problem.”

    From a world literature standpoint, I probably agree with Boyer and some other thinkers in various fields who think that humans are born with an intuitive structure for language and for exploring the world, which includes the vast area called “religion” which includes everything from taboos to ethics to rituals to philosophical concepts. While all of us do grow up within differing cultures, I don’t think cultures are as bizarrely opposite as you appear to do.

    Consider that over 80% of Egyptian Muslim parents of the recent past–and most still DO!– support mutilating little girls as part of their Islamic religion. However, it turns out that even some non-Islamic cultures in Africa also do this.
    And the concept of cutting for religious purposes also occurs in non-Islamic cultures too, even the U.S., where until recently circumcision was practiced on most boys.

  • This guy’s a real trip. I love how his “scholarly paper” on the open-access site cites other papers he wrote and posted there. Definitely the sign of a crackpot.

  • Biology gives us a general framework for culture, but that framework is incredibly loose. Let’s take these “crazy” languages: http://www.cracked.com/article_21556_the-5-craziest-human-languages-spoken-around-world.html

    Now, to someone who is a native speaker, they sound perfectly normal, and English probably sounds incredibly bizarre. Now, as we listen to these languages, we start to get a frame of reference, and start to be able to perceive order in them, but it takes time. In fact, there are cases where we cannot perceive information unless we have learned a reference frame for it.

    Or how about eating grubs from a tree? Bizarre? Maybe to some, but perfectly natural to others. How about milk? The Japanese didn’t really eat dairy until the west started introducing dairy foods to the region, so that was bizarre to the Japanese. How about PB&J which many people outside of the United States think is so bizarre they won’t try it? http://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/2014/05/13/american-foods-rest-world-thinks-are-strange.html

  • Raging Bee

    I’m sorry that you consider scientific theory and evidence to be babble.

    What scientific theory and evidence? You haven’t presented any. All you bring is babble and the pretense of superior knowledge.

  • Raging Bee

    More importantly, you keep ignoring the bigger issue of the existence of
    a religion which is dominated by the belief that religion is harmful.

    We ignore that “issue” because it’s obviously just another made-up rehash of “atheism is a religion!” Yet another religious-apologetic talking-point that you’ve dressed up in a shiny new sciencey costume, and trotted out in a blog thread that has nothing at all to do with that subject.

    Go beat your dead horses somewhere else. The brand-new saddles you’ve put on them doesn’t make your sad little shit-show more useful to watch.

  • Raging Bee

    Bragging about your “formal education” AFTER you’ve been proven wrong again? Credentialism: UR DOIN IT RONG!

  • Raging Bee

    I just had a look at your “On Religious Rejectionism” paper; and (surprise surprise!) it’s just the same obscurantist bullshit you’ve repeatedly spewed on Patheos blogs for as long as we’ve known you. One example: You admit that people claiming the existence of god(s) have a burden of proof, but then you go on to insist that people denying or doubting such claims (when they haven’t been proven, mind you) are still required to prove NONexistence of god(s). This is nothing but obvious doubletalk, and can be dismissed for its dishonesty. You’re nothing but a pseudo-intellectual hack and a fraud.

    (EDIT: I tried to paste a quote from that paper, and every letter was on a separate line. Is this intentional, or just crap software?)

  • Raging Bee

    I had a look at one of his papers on the ScoArXiv site: it’s nothing but bullshit and doubletalk, with a lot of twisted bogus logic trying to prove the old Christian blither-point that “atheism is a religion!” This guy is just a hack trying to dress up old religious talking-points in new sciencey rhetoric, and trying to pretend atheists are being “irrational” when they reject religion without proving all religious claims false.

  • Be fair now, RB, he’s at least typing these screeds, appending footnotes to them (half of which cite his own work), and posting them online to a free open-access site, rather than scrawling them in half-dry Sharpie on a sandwich board that he wears as he’s marching up and down a subway platform shouting slogans.

  • Jim Jones

    If a Christian wants to argue theology, or quality, I ask them about monophysitism, eutychianism or a hypostatic union.

    https://www.gotquestions.org/monophysitism.html

    “Monophysitism taught that Christ has one nature—a divine one—not two. Eutychianism specifically taught that Christ’s divine nature was so intermixed with His human nature that He was, in fact, not fully human and not fully divine. Eutychianism and monophysitism are a denial of the biblical teaching of the hypostatic union.”

  • Since what Dennett is saying here is that religious claims can’t be taken at face value, you seem curiously interested in making it seem like we should assess their claims at face value.

    If working a shell game is a shameful practice, what should we think about people who fall for the shell game?

  • Jim Jones

    It’s one of the core questions of Christianity – what is the nature of Jesus? People used to kidnap, torture and kill each other over the arguments about this question! Once, it was super serious. Now, almost no one knows or cares.

  • I’m not sure that has anything to do with the topic here. Did you happen to notice there was a topic?

  • (((J_Enigma32)))

    Doesn’t this imply we’re wasting our time trying to debunk religious claims?

    This has interesting consequences on the question of epistemological irresponsibility and what rule we as a society have in combating that. After all, believing in something without having any supporting evidence is the height of irresponsibility, and in a democracy, we can clearly see where that takes us: Donald Trump as President, because a sizable percentage of this country believes absolute horseshit and demands no evidence or even logical reasoning simply because it reinforces what they want to hear.

    I’ve seen it argued that believing in God is an example of epistemological irresponsibility. If it isn’t, it’s pretty damn close, and can we separate a belief in God from, I dunno, bullshit like Pizzagate, especially since neither has any evidence validating it? At what point does an irresponsible belief become something we can’t tolerate because it creates an epistemological and existential crisis for civilization?

    Of course, that takes us into the question of “how are we defining God again?” and hey, I heard you liked rabbit holes of madness and despair. Nothing can be a more entertaining way to lose several hours and trying to define something that essentially defies definition.

    I dunno. I get the impression that if I had the answer to these questions, I’d be a lot more than some nameless internet rando posting bullshit comments on blogs.

    If we’re not dealing with the psychological and cultural meaning of religion, aren’t we missing the point?

    Put bluntly, yes. That’s why I’ve never liked the approach that some atheists take towards religion. Sure, religion has a lot of bad qualities, but you can’t overlook the positive cultural impact it had, too. After all, stories of Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt were probably what got more than one slave through their horrible existence, and Dr. King was motivated by religion to try and build a better world. It’s deeply ingrained in the Western World, and I’m not even going to try and figure out how it fits in the Eastern World because that’s a whole different beast (I find it funny that so many atheists focus exclusively on the Western World, ignoring the Eastern faiths — not all, of course, and I mean, can you call Confucianism a “faith?” — that can be just as damaging and toxic; for instance, the Buddhist-executed genocide in Rohingya. I mean, hell, hasn’t Sam Harris praised Buddhism in the past?)

    Of course, my personal ax has always been against nationalism, not religion. I consider nationalism the height intellectual cowardice and maintain that it’s completely toxic and serves no social good at all (I’m probably wrong, but I suppose we all have our personal bugbears).

  • Great response!

    I think we’re very selective when it comes to epistemological irresponsibility, in that we only accuse other people of it. My motto on this board has always been: Evidence is whatever supports what I believe, not what you believe.

    I affirm the validity of the Big Bang theory, even though I’ve never demanded to see the raw data that supports it or would even be able to understand it if I did. I just figure scientists oughta know. I’ve never demanded evidence that the Siege of Vicksburgh took place either, I just figure historians oughta know. Conspiracists exploit this distance that exists between our beliefs about the world and the grounds we have for affirming them; we spend a lot of time showing them how we know that the Earth is round or that species evolve, but we also realize that we’re appealing to the authority of experts rather than accessing raw data.

    I don’t think religious claims are anything like our beliefs about the shape of the Earth. Whatever “God” means to someone, I couldn’t care less. What I’m interested in knowing is what their beliefs are about morality, tolerance and a just society. I’d rather talk to a Christian who supports marriage equality because “We’re all God’s children” (whatever that means) than a nonbeliever who thinks “the evidence points to the intellectual inferiority of African-Americans.”

    I really don’t think “epistemological irresponsibility” put Trump in the White House. If anything, the debunker mentality insulated us from seeing what was really going on. Look at the way Trump pushed the Obama birth certificate thing. We all made it sound like it was just a nutty urban legend, but fact-checking doesn’t deal with the way these things resonate in people’s imaginations. This wasn’t about a piece of paperwork. It was about demonizing the Other, delegitimizing Obama’s presidency and appealing to people’s suspicion and mistrust of black people. We fixate on the literal meaning, and miss what it really means.

  • stphneye1971

    Any organisation can be described in terms of a “designoid” (mainly of structure) as well as in terms of a “meme” (mainly of function).

    There’s a certain speculative romanticism with our modern conception of what the earliest spirituality or folk religion looked like.

    The patrilineal and matrilineal bases for hierarchical, organized authority is clearly seen in language and sexuality. In turn, language and sexuality are the bases of authority.

    Authority (not excluding folk religion) can be examined by looking at the Milgram experiment.

    The parent is embedded in some ‘deep grammar’ and in ‘our bodies’ which have survived – and it isn’t a rudimentary “meme” staring us in the face when we bother looking in the mirror.

    *

    Designoid, as explained in “Climbing Mount Improbable”:

    Designoid objects are living bodies and their products. Designoid objects look designed, so much so that some […] think that they are designed. These people are wrong. But they are right in their conviction that designoid objects cannot be the result of chance. Designoid objects are not accidental. They have in fact been shaped by a magnificently non-random process which creates an almost perfect illusion of design.

    *

    Memes are non-random (usually). In a 2014 article on the Dawkins website, the author recounts what a “meme” is using an example from Dennet’s “Breaking The Spell” about ants:

    … climbing to the top of blades of grass, and staying there, from which exposed position they are frequently devoured by grazing animals. It is impossible to account for this behaviour until it is realised that the beneficiary is not the ant and her genes but a tiny creature called a lancet fluke which has taken over the brain of the ant and compelled it to follow this course of action. It is part of the lancet fluke’s reproductive cycle to be eaten by a sheep or cow, and hitching a ride inside the ant is an excellent way to achieve this.

    *

    Freud was a lot smarter than Dennett when it comes to explaining steeples.

  • Priya Lynn

    I didn’t know that, that’s hilarious!

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

    NO, NOT WASTING OUR TIME AS SOMETHING SOMEONE SAID OR SOMETHING WHICH HAPPENED LIKE 9-11, IS WHAT STARTED THE OVER 900 MEMBERS OF THE CLERGY PROJECT WHICH IS MADE UP OF FORMERLY RELIGIOUS OFFICALS, THE MULTI-MILLIONS OF FORMER CHRISTIANS AND MANY MILLIONS OF OTHER FORMERLY RELIGIOUS PEOPLE TO START THEIR JOURNEY TO THEIR FREEDOM FROM RELIGIOUS BELIEF.

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

    I SOMETIMES WONDER WHY SO MANY SEEM TO HAVE NO CLUE THE ONLY REASON ALL RELIGIOUS PEOPLE, OTHER FROM A FEW WHO ARE NOT SANE, ARE RELIGIOUS IS SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY WERE, AS BABIES AND CHILDREN, BEFORE THE AGE OF REASON AT AGE SEVEN, PROGRAMMED BY THOSE WHO RAISED THEM, TO BELIEVE IN THE SAME RELIGION AND GOD OR GODS, THEY BELIEVED IN.

  • stphneye1971

    OK. I should have listened to you before providing The Spiritual Anthroponogist with a reply long enough to be in your spam inbox. It was a fun graveyard shift anyway.

  • You’re looking at the belief vs disbelief section. The study also looks at how the brain responds to religious and no-religious stimuli and identifies differential activation of regions in the brain, based on the type of stimulus. That’s the main point of the study. Look at the section titled “Religious compared with Nonreligious statements.”

    > there is also such a thing as “intuition.”

    Belief and instinct are different. There are some instinctual behaviors, but they are incredibly limited, and that’s different then a perception of counter intuitive ideas. I gave plenty of examples of what might be common sense or intuitive based on enculturation or might be totally bizarre depending.

    > I have not read Ninian Smart’s “Worldviews: Crosscultural explorations of human beliefs” but from what you’ve given, I would have to say the fMRI studies don’t even begin to cover the material culture and the range of peoples’ religious experiences.

    That’s not how the definition works. It isn’t an attempt to explain every element through the cited studies. The definition consists of two parts: the development of the concept of the religioid belief, based on fMRI studies, and showing that for each cultural element found in religion, as described by Smart, can be shown to “make sense” in light of that religioid belief, or is in some other way integrated with that belief.

  • Wow.

  • Dude, the second paper cites my first paper, as one of MANY citations. Seriously, what the hell do you know about this topic? All I see is an article which violates basic understanding of how beliefs modulate behavior and the evidence that the presence or absence of a religious belief affects the way we respond to stimulus. Now, what determines how culture evolves? The people who create it and possess it.

    What’s your f*cking background? Eh?

  • Dude, at least I don’t back up my claims with references to my own essays, in which I make up concepts like “Religious Rejectionism,” and then complain when everybody points and laughs.

  • Raging Bee

    Funny thing about your citations: A lot of the assertions in your paper simply don’t have endnote-references, so there’s no hint as to which part of which “source,” if any, supports each of your assertions. I’ve seen REAL scholarly papers, in which one paragraph can easily have an endnote-reference for each SENTENCE, so it’s easy to go back and verify whether the source cited really supports the claim stated. Your papers don’t do much of that, which is just one more indication that they’re bogus.

    And your hyper-defensive chest-pounding “What’s your f*cking background? Eh?” response is another such indicator.

    To adapt my favorite line from one of the world’s worst TV shows: We know that you know that we know that you’re full of shit.

  • Raging Bee

    …or block commenters whose responses you can’t bear to acknowledge.

    I think he’s re-blocked me. I’d suspected he’d had me blocked for a while; then he unblocked me, probably because I was the only commenter on his own sad little crank-blog; now he’s back to trying to ignore me again. Just another day in the life of a crank-propagandist I guess…

  • Take the rest of the week off from here, since you’re obviously a little stressed out. Go write a thesis or something. Come back when you’re in a better mood.

  • You’re lucky. Now he’s cyber-stalking me all over the Interwebz. I hope his morning meds kick in soon.

  • adriancrutch

    …Hey Shem…I saw a Doc on the Shroud of Turin…the “image” is Da Vinci…lol…and they also state that several churches in that sector have claimed to have the “foreskin” of Christ…

  • adriancrutch
  • stphneye1971

    Good grief man.

    The Harris study still says there’s a greater signal for BOTH groups to the SAME religious stimuli in the regions you also gave (ie. ventral striatum, paracingulate cortex, middle frontal gyrus, frontal poles, inferior parietal cortex).

    The differential part is in the activation or signal of other regions. I’d refer to the anterior cingulate cortex (ACCreporter of response conflictnegatively correlated with religious conviction) and especially to the medial cortex (posterior medial cortexpart of resting state networkself-referential tasks). You might find the medial cortex is quite apparent in other literature and it would serve you to refer to them instead of cherry-picking a few regions from a list in one or two fMRI studies.

    Your proposal or argument that BOTH groups could possibly hold onto religoid beliefs remains valid but you’ve given the wrong regions.

    All of our thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviour develop from basic instinct and intuition. Some of those ideas are counter to their origin.

    I can see that you are not trying to define or describe every element. I was just asking how you have a proposal and now I can see it is just for kicks.

  • adriancrutch

    …so where does the use of the word Amen after a prayer come from???….Ho’tep’s need to know…

  • That’s nothing. Turns out the Holy Grail I bought has GENNESSEE BEER embossed on the base.

  • Raging Bee

    He also includes a lot of other sources in the bibliography of the paper of his that I read; but he doesn’t have endnote-references in the text to show where in his “sources” there’s any support for his assertions. So there’s really no connection between his statements and the stuff he cites.

  • Raging Bee

    That could be because you have the word “abstraction” in your blog title, so he needs your place to show off his pretend-abstract-reasoning.

  • Raging Bee

    I knew there was a reason why I liked that stuff…

  • michael

    …so religion is objectively untrue, but it has social utility, so it’s OK?….doesn’t address the ethics of religious behaviour…and genocide and patriarchy have social utility as well, for the dominant groups…..

  • I never said “It’s OK,” did I? The question is whether the literal meaning of religious claims is relevant, or whether we just pretend it’s important because it keeps the online slapfights going.

    Incidentally…is this Ellipses Overload Day or something? ….first Adrian and now you …It’s like everyone here forgot how to use commas and periods…

  • boneheadaudio

    “Indeed, I would argue…”
    Ya. We know.

  • boneheadaudio

    FYI:
    He posts under 2 names.
    He also posts as Kir Politicoid.
    He once tried to tell me that my lack of religious beliefs is itself a religious belief.
    He is only here to hear himself talk.

  • boneheadaudio

    He has a negative view of everyone.

  • JSloan

    What is with the cheap ad hominem put-down of Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins. If you do not agree with their approach to countering religion, does that make them cheap? I have heard and read of many people for whom reading one of their books was instrumental in their deconversion. Clearly a single strategy will not work for all people. For many people, especially those have some critical thinking skills to begin with, the exposure of religious tenants that do not make sense or are morally reprehensible will eventually have an impact on their beliefs. Therefore these approaches are not a waste of time.

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

    WHY ARE YOU REPLYING TO ME?

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

    AS I TOTALLY AGREE, IT IS A GREAT REPLY!

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

    PLEASE GET A GREAT FREE NEWSPAPER FROM FFRF AND JOIN US!
    https://l.patheos.com/ffrf-signup/?track1=LI_300x250

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

    HELLO ALL ATHEISTS, PLEASE GET A GREAT FREE NEWSPAPER FROM FFRF AND JOIN US!

    https://l.patheos.com/ffrf-signup/?track1=LI_300x250

  • Phil

    “But a lot of people stay in religious communities for no other reason than that they get meaning and comfort” I hear this a lot but there are an awful lot of people that take advantage of this, ie Trump and millionaire pastors. So I don’t really see it as a good thing.

  • Phil

    I am sure it has been mentioned before, but please, please turn your caps lock off. It is difficult to read and gives the impression you are shouting.

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

    HI PHIL, THANKS ONLY, FIRST, NO ONE FORCES ANYONE TO READ MY ALL CAPS POSTS! SECOND, AS I AM 83, I LIKE BEING ABLE TO SEE WHAT I AM TYPING EASIER AND WITH THE LEAST HASSLE. LAST, ON LONG THINGS I USE A WEBTOOL TO CHANGE IT TO REGULAR TEXT.

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

    IN MY VIEW, RELIGION HAS ZERO “SOCIAL UTILITY”. TO ME IT IS A PLAGUE ON THE EARTH WHICH SHOULD BE ERADICATED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

    NO SILLY AT ALL, IN FACT YOU SOUND SILLY FOR SAYING IT IS SILLY. THAT MUSLIM BOY IS SELF PROGRAMMING HIMSELF FIVE TIMES A DAY. AND, THERE IS A GOOD CHANCE HE WILL, SOMEDAY, BE MOST HAPPY TO FLY AIRPLANES IN TO BUILDINGS.

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

    ALL RELIGIOUS PEOPLE. OTHER THAN A FEW CRAZY ONES, ARE RELIGIOUS SIMPLY BECAUSE AS BABIES AND CHILDREN, BEFORE THE AGE OF REASON AT AGE SEVEN, WERE PROGRAMMED TO BELIEVE IN THE SAME RELIGION AND IN NUMBER OF GODS THOSE WHO RAISED THEM BELIEVED IN. PERIOD! END OF STORY!

  • Phil

    Fair enough, I am not far behind you!