Thursday, September 14, 2006

The clothes have no emperor

Is God an Accident? is an article by Paul Bloom, professor of psychology and linguistics at Yale, who argues that religious thinking is a byproduct of ways that the mind's come to process the world. More specifically, people understand things and people as having both material elements and social element - we know that a person is a physical object with mass that will fall when we yank the chair out from under them as they sit, and we know that they will be cheesed when we do this. This separation allows people to conceive of spirits without bodies, an afterlife, etc.

Plus, people have a tendency to read purpose into events that don't particularly have any purpose or intention.
Stewart Guthrie, an anthropologist at Fordham University, was the first modern scholar to notice the importance of this tendency as an explanation for religious thought. In his book Faces in the Clouds, Guthrie presents anecdotes and experiments showing that people attribute human characteristics to a striking range of real-world entities, including bicycles, bottles, clouds, fire, leaves, rain, volcanoes, and wind. We are hypersensitive to signs of agency—so much so that we see intention where only artifice or accident exists. As Guthrie puts it, the clothes have no emperor.
These two things characteristics of human perception make possible the special providence of a spiritual creator and caretaker.

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