Religion as a Part of Practical Thought

Many a good atheist have experienced the futility of presenting logic and reasoning to a devout theist. As I have just completed P. Boyer's Religion Explained -The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought my viewpoint of religion and the theistic mind has been changed dramatically. Why?

My new understanding of the theistic mind from a cognitive perspective has forced me to realize that tools such as science and logic and even religious scriptures are not that important to the average supernatural believer. This is true across all religious peoples from the jungles of Africa to the mountains of India. The notions of "gods and ancestors" is of a practical concern to most religious people. A believer's mental representations of supernatural agents are not concerned primarily with their general properties or powers but rather about specific instances of interaction with them. This is a crucial point according to Boyer. General interpretations of the supernatural are a small part of the many representations activated in people's minds. Quoting Boyer- "The religious furniture of the mind is cluttered with far more specific representations such as "God is punishing so-and-so and that's why he is ill," "Such and such ancestor was not pleased with our sacrificed pig," etc."

In light of this practical aspect of religion it is now not surprising that so many of the world's religious turn a blind eye to the specifics of the nature of god(s) and ancestors. They are not interested or concerned in the minutia of how a god or ancestor exists or is even invisible. As a result most are indifferent to logic and reasoning as applied to religion, that which an atheist considers so vital to understanding the world we live in.  To an atheist the issue of cognitive dissonance should surface in the mind of the believer when presented with compelling arguments. But somehow the practical application of religion overrides this potential compulsion.

You can lead that horse to water but you can't make her drink.

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Comment by Barry Eckert on January 30, 2012 at 4:40am

A believer's mental representations of supernatural agents are not concerned primarily with their general properties or powers but rather about specific instances of interaction with them.

That makes perfect sense. Specific instances of interaction with god(s), however imaginary, seem to be the backbone of the belief of most theistic people I've run across. (Then I back up and run across them again, but I digress.) I tell some bonehead Christian something that pretty much invalidates their belief, and they then reply with some story of how Jebus "touched their heart", or left the family Bible unscathed and open to some pithy verse when the tornado blew away their house, or some such shit, and then look at me like checkmate. If you could have a rational conversation with theists, there wouldn't be any.

Comment by Ed on February 1, 2012 at 10:36pm

The Boyer book opened my eyes to the fact that people use religion as a tool (ie crutch) and that they are not for the most part concerned about the details of who or what their god is. They keep it at a personal level and leave the cerebral stuff for freethinkers. Their not really impressed with all our logic and reasoning. As the world continues to warm globally I can only hope this snowball called religion will eventually melt away for good.


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