Thursday, December 04, 2008

A predisposition to believe?

In a recent article, Justin Barret argues that the reason belief in gods is so prevalent in human societies is that we have certain innate predispositions that tend to lead to a belief in supernatural agents.

This brought a critical response from philosopher A.C. Grayling, which unfortunately seemed to amount to little more than the ad hominem strategy of attacking Barret's faith position and funding, rather than the arguments themselves.

However, as Barrett subsequently points out, his arguments are not new and they don't come from Christians or Templeton Foundation funded researchers.

Barret cites Pascal Boyer's 2001 book 'Religion Explained' as one source and this reminded me that Grayling has never really understood the nuances of Boyer's position. In Grayling's collection of essays 'The Reason of Things', he mentions Boyer's arguments directly and criticises them, for failing to account for the following:

"Why, for example, have traditionally conceived deities had human characteristics of will, intention, memory and emotion, instead of being like (say) waterfalls, carrots or birds?"

Clearly Grayling either has not read or has not understood the chapters of 'Religion Explained' which deal with this precise point about what kind of entity turns out to be a suitable candidate for the role of deity.