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David Bentley Hart

Supernatural Agent Detection (Part 2): What’s Credible?

In my previous post in this series, I talked about the theory of “anthropomorphic promiscuity” as a mechanism of supernatural agent detection among early human beings — or, you might say “hominins” if you’re a bit embarrassed about being one yourself. I said (and I am really only reacting out of my own experience about the credibility of this) that the theory seems quite credible and certainly accounts for much God-detection in our own day as well — though, I think this is mostly bad (or mistaken) God-detection.

theology-after-the-birth-of-godAs I mentioned previously, the theory can be found in atheist theologian F. LeRon Shults book Theology after the Birth of God: Atheist Conceptions in Cognition and Culture as well in several of the essays available at his web site: especially Bearing Gods in Mind and Culture, and Excavating Theogonies: Anthropomorphic Promiscuity and Sociographic Prudery in the Neolithic and Now.

Put simply, it is a “god of the gaps” view. There was an evolutionary advantage enjoyed by those early peoples who posited the existence of human-like supernatural beings to explain otherwise ambiguous aspects of human experience. So, natural selection favored those who believed in the gods.

This, by the way, is what he means by “the birth of God.” God is borne in human minds as a way of helping them to explain their life in the world — and affords them a significant survival advantage.

As a theory this works well for me in some ways — and doesn’t in others. Having said that I feel it does account for some supernatural agent detection, I wish to also indicate some ways (it seems to me) this doesn’t work. (more…)

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