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Homo religious

by Michael Shermer, Aug 18 2009

Did humans evolve to be religious and believe in God? In the most general sense, yes we did. Here’s what happened.

Long long ago, in an environment far far away from the modern world, humans evolved to find meaningful causal patterns in nature to make sense of the world, and infuse many of those patterns with intentional agency, some of which became animistic spirits and powerful gods. And as a social primate species we also evolved social organizations designed to promote group cohesiveness and enforce moral rules.

People believe in God because we are pattern-seeking primates. We connect A to B to C, and often A really is connected to B, and B really is connected to C. This is called association learning. But we do not have a false-pattern-detection device in our brains to help us discriminate between true and false patterns, and so we make errors in our thinking: a Type I error is believing a pattern is real when it is not (a false positive) and a Type II error is not believing a pattern is real when it is (a false negative). Imagine that you are a hominid on the planes of Africa and you hear a rustle in the grass. Is it a dangerous predator or just the wind? If you assume it is a dangerous predator and it is just the wind, you have made a Type I error, but to no harm. But if you believe the rustle in the grass is just the wind when it is a dangerous predator, there’s a good chance you’ll be lunch and thereby removed from your species’ gene pool. Thus, there would have been a natural selection for those hominids who tended to believe that all patterns are real and potentially dangerous. I call this process patternicity (the tendency to find meaningful patterns in random noise) and agenticity (the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents who may mean us harm). This, I believe, is the basis for the belief in souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens, intelligent designers, government conspiracists, and all manner of invisible agents intending to harm us or help us.

People are religious because we are social and we need to get along. The moral sentiments in humans and moral principles in human groups evolved primarily through the force of natural selection operating on individuals and secondarily through the force of group selection operating on populations. The moral sense (the psychological feeling of doing “good” in the form of positive emotions such as righteousness and pride) evolved out of behaviors that were selected for because they were good either for the individual or for the group; an immoral sense (the psychological feeling of doing “bad” in the form of negative emotions such as guilt and shame) evolved out of behaviors that were selected for because they were bad either for the individual or for the group. While cultures may differ on what behaviors are defined as good or bad, the moral sense of feeling good or feeling bad about behavior X (whatever X may be) is an evolved human universal. The codification of moral principles out of the psychology of the moral sentiments evolved as a form of social control to insure the survival of individuals within groups and the survival of human groups themselves. Religion was the first social institution to canonize moral principles, and God as an explanatory pattern for the world took on new powers as the ultimate enforcer of the rules.

Thus it is that people are religious and believe in God.


138 Responses to “Homo religious”

  1. Cambias says:

    It is precisely because religious belief is so deeply ingrained in the very way our brains work that I think skeptics and atheists do ourselves (and everyone else) a disservice by taking the “only fools believe in Jesus and the Tooth Fairy” tone.

    By analogy, we only want sex because of the way our brains and bodies are wired, yet I don’t know of any skeptics urging celibacy or self-castration in order to prevent sexual desire from interfering with clear thought. (Religions have done so, and yet we call them loopy for it!)

    Indeed, if most people’s belief in God is based on how the brain works, and skeptics or atheists don’t believe, could that not genuinely be described as a brain abnormality?

    • Steve says:

      The difference is that we only want sex because our brains are wired that way and it is beneficial and necessary to reproduction. When it becomes detrimental such as when someone indiscriminately rapes or diddles kids we do say it is wrong.
      Using your example if humans are predisposed mentally to believing in gods, spirits and the like that doesn’t mean we should accept it because we are wired that way any more that we should accept a pedophile. If an adult can shed belief in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus than they can shed the same irrational belief in God. I am tired of hearing about all of the good that religion does as a justification. The mafia always took care of their neighborhoods but it came at a steep price.

      • tmac57 says:

        If you had just stopped with “that doesn’t mean we should accept it because we are wired that way..”. Equating someone’s irrational belief in a god to pedophilia is just over the top, and a poor analogy.

      • anita pal says:

        Believing that there is a God, is only a belief, not yet a proven fact. Our brains may be programmed in a certain way based on our cultural differences and value systems, but with education and critical analysis there is no reason why we cannot unwire those wirings. We do not do so, because we refuse to open our minds to different viewpoints and logic, and also because we are afraid, that we will be socially discriminated.
        If prayer is used as a source of meditation then it can be a powerful tool to energize our brains, just as physical exercise helps our overall well being. But the claim that prayer helps us to connect with a self created belief we call God, is baseless.

    • tmac57 says:

      “Indeed, if most people’s belief in God is based on how the brain works, and skeptics or atheists don’t believe, could that not genuinely be described as a brain abnormality?”
      No that would be described as being rational. That, after all, is the whole point of skepticism don’t you think?

      • Loughlin Tatem says:

        It is amazing the many million of people who believe in god because they have never heard a well put, well reasoned argument against the existence of god.We have also evolved with the instinct to reason, that is why we are able to determine what we believe is right or wrong, and that is why we are persuadable. That is why some of us have figured out that the god of the book most likely does not exist.

    • Marc says:

      “…brain abnormality?”

      Certainly from a religious point of view that seems more than possible. On the other hand, a rational mind is an abnormality from its precursor. The concept of normal is contrary to being adaptive; losing the ability to adapt is dangerous. Since we are potentially entering a phase of self-controlled evolution I think normal should be devalued and questioned at every opportunity.

    • John says:

      The new book, the Evolution of God, by Robert Wright illustrates this concept beautifully.

  2. Colin says:

    I liked the write up and agree that’s the likely scenario.

    But, group selection in human populations? Yikes!! Seems highly unlikely. What’s being selected when it comes down to it? Genes in individuals for individuals survival and reproduction. In most cases (but perhaps not all) it is not useful to evoke multi-level selection as, mathematically speaking, higher units reduce to genes and gene selection.

    • Mike K says:

      Genes aren’t the only things that pass from generation to generation. A group with a cohesive religious view is more likely to stay together and survive than a loose collection of individuals with nothing connecting them socially.

      Social selection probably isn’t driving of genetic change, but it drives changes in beliefs that are inherited and modified which can impact the survival potential of the group (raw meat is unclean, run away from the group and a demon will get you). As Shermer seems to be describing it here, beliefs are an emergent phenomenon that comes out of our genetic tendencies toward agenticity, patternicity and morality. But we still experience selection at the social level; it doesn’t all just boil down to genes.

    • Rob says:

      Group selection in humans happens not at the gene level, but at the meme level. It seems that in our past our brains became sufficiently advanced that we became self aware and developed consciousness. At this point, it became possible for us to rebel against our genes and use our intelligence to work through issues, leading to the evolution of memes. Memes are similar to genes (both are only information), the only difference being that genes tends to be encoded in DNA and memes tend to be encoded in neurons. A successful meme will spread among a population very quickly, and an aggressive meme will be very successful in wiping out competition (ie, the meme for stoning heretics to death). While this is not “group” selection per say, in all practicality it is indistinguishable from group selection and calling it such serves to simplify the situation.

  3. ouini says:

    “Did humans evolve to be religious and believe in God? … humans evolved to … infuse many of those patterns with intentional agency … agenticity (the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents who may mean us harm).”

    It simply sounds like rephrasing (begging) the question to explain how humans came to believe in an intentional agency with, “they infused patterns with intentional agency.”

    I must have missed a step.

    • Marc says:

      “I must have missed a step.”

      Yes, like the paragraph that attempts an explanation of how an inability to conclusively detect the lack of a threat in certain patterns – without getting eaten when you’re wrong – could develop into a belief that the threat is real.

  4. John says:

    I made a type II error this morning when I mistook a penny on the floor in poor lighting for a roach and it made me jump backward, but I immediately recognized the error and retrieved the penny. After reading this article, I now wonder if there are any controlled studies that show type II errors generating strong belief. It need not be a general rule, because we all know that it only takes a few people with strong beliefs to influence a society. I’m sure that anthropologists can cite numerous examples. Dr. Shermer’s argument supporting patternicity and agenticity leading to religious belief is logically compelling, but I’d like to see some controlled studies that more than suggests these as mechanisms for developing false beliefs. If anyone knows of such studies, please feel free to point me in the right direction.

    • Mike K says:

      I think that was a Type I. The Type II error would be if you had glanced at a roach on the floor, and thinking it was a penny picked it up and put it in your pocket.

      You’re right though, it all sounds logical, but it’s just another plains-of-Africa evolution narrative until somebody does some science. I don’t know about research into the specific ideas Shermer is talking about, but the Templeton Foundation has funded some studies with a group at Oxford purportedly showing that children have innate beliefs supposedly before they’ve been introduced to the specifics of their culture’s beliefs. The project seems geared more at publicity than research, and I don’t agree that the research validates their conclusions, but they do cite seemingly legitimate journals in the discussion articles on this site:

      They seem to have missed the irony in thoughtlessly bolstering their position with the fact that children tend to believe in the afterlife and design. They seem to have missed the possibility that vague innate beliefs could be caused by some underlying brain structure instead of a subconscious connection to the supernatural. Just because it’s intuitive doesn’t make it true(early in development, young children aren’t able to distinguish that other people have minds).

      Teasing out the evolutionary story of this innate sense of belief appears to be an unanswered research question.

  5. Mike K says:

    This seems to refute the believer’s canard “Belief is such a human universal, there must be something at the core of it.” No, it’s probably just that any belief that has a positive social aspect is better (from the perspective of social selection) than no belief.

    Beliefs seem especially adaptive and pernicous in a social selection environment when they deal with reproduction, criminality and economics/occupations. The specific claims are just vestigal and maybe in a free, global and scientific society they will begin to be selected against.

  6. Ed Graham says:

    I agree with Shermer, again. I have always found religion to be a learning problem.

    Most of what I was taught by parents, school, the media, etc. was beyond wrong – – it was a lie.

    The Scientific Method is one of the most important tools that we are not taught in school. It should be part of our EARLY training, not held for higher education. (if we choose it)

    • John says:

      Interesting. I have an anecdote about teaching college students *really* how science research is conducted:

      I teach Astronomy at the college level and I used to do a lab called “Using the Scientific Method on Astrology”

      I began by explaining the scientific method (and debunked the cartoonish idea of a simple cyclical nature of testing and explaining). I further explained this lab is about practicing the actual process of scientific research and Astrology just happens to be a convenient topic relevant to our class. [Note: I also explained that from Kindergarten through a College Degree - virtually all lab experiments are not at all experimental and do not show how research works. This lab would be the only opportunity for many of them to see how science progresses]

      I had the students, in groups, do a ‘literature search’ on astrology and examine the purported nature and claims of astrology. The groups reported back to the entire class and we discussed it.

      Then each group made lists of specific claims of astrology (e.g. Virgos are more musical, etc) – and again we discussed and compared the sundry claims for consistency.

      Then the class designed some tests for selected claims and collected data. [I volunteer my skills as a statistician-consultant so they don't have to worry about that part].

      Then the data set was analyzed, interpreted and discussed – and reports were written.

      Typically during this process one or two students dominated the discussion with the rest of the students remaining quiet until they sensed that a consensus has been achieved and then they ‘jumped on the band wagon’

      I always held a ‘de-briefing’ to discuss our experience and overwhelmingly the class hated it. They intensely disliked the uncertainty of it all – one student mentioned that it really bothered him that there was no “Correct answer in the back of the book.” Of course one or two students LOVED this exercise (the STEM majors) and they were the ones who participated most in the discussions.

      After trying this exercise for a couple of years I had to stop: students stopped enrolling in my astronomy lab section.
      They hated doing ‘real research’ that much!

      I am still turning this over in my mind, but I suspect that many people do not have the temperament for real research. If I were more of a sociologist than an Astronomer, maybe I could figure out what it all means…

    • Joe says:

      There was an interesting Scientific American piece on why the scientific method is not favored by evolution. (Naturally, I cannot find it at the moment).

      The gist of the article is similar to Schemer’s and uses a similar analogy to show why people tend to believe anecdotal evidence rather than science re: global warming, evolution, etc.

      Basically, if you are Joe Hominid and meet Bob Hominid who tells you “Don’t eat those mushrooms, they’ll kill you,” then the guy who gets to pass his genes along is the one who accepts this statement at face value rather than the one who tests it out.

  7. Colin says:

    I admit that I wasn’t at all initially thinking along those lines, only biological selection. But I think that was the context of the article. Surely we evolved genetically to be social via natural selection. After that step certainly cultural selection etc. occurs and other traits including social standing are very often inherited. Also there is no doubt that that not all physical and behavioural traits are determined by our genes. Its way outside of my area of expertise however I still wonder if it all doesn’t break down to individual memes or individual cultural traits. Individual memes survive or not and are modified in an analogous fashion to genes. An emergent property of meme complexes is culture. Similarly, an emergent property of gene complexes is individuals.

    Michael says:
    “The moral sentiments in humans and moral principles in human groups evolved primarily through the force of natural selection operating on individuals and secondarily through the force of group selection operating on populations.”

    My point also is that group selection is indistinguishable from individual selection (whatever unit) when you do the math of selection. Groups reduce to individual units of selection when there is in fact some form of selection. To me calling it group selection doesn’t simplify but adds an unnecessary layer of complication. Especially when are saying individual and group selection act on something when they are in fact the same. Pedantic and semantic I know. And maybe outside of biology incorrect?

    • Mike K says:

      I agree that the math works the same, both types of “selection” or whatever you want to call it are simply different mechanisms for information (genes or memes) being translated into observable phenomenon (hair color or memes). I do think that the distinction is meaningful, however, since both processes can operate in parallel to each other.

      For instance, I see the last few hundred years of human history as a period of very rapid meme/social evolution but very slow (relatively) genetic evolution. I think that the mechanisms have interesting differences: inheritance (DNA vs. norms and books), mutation (all at once at birth vs. frequent push and pull of debate and demographics) and selection (binary procreate or not vs. the wide spectrum of social acceptance of a meme). Of course the genetic can influence how we generate, evaluate and believe in memes, but it seems to me that the two “levels” are in some way separate.

  8. aaron says:

    I liked this, its a retelling or a more focused telling of this theory but it was very concise. We’re such silly creatures, so often at the will of our biology and unconcience. A good anecdote is the feeling I get when I think I’ve lost something important, disgust and sort of dizzy ‘didn’t do my homework’ feeling.

    The magic tragedy happens when a minute later I find it and the feeling persists, as brain chemistry and past experience battle the fact.

    I find it amazing that with so many examples similar to this occuring each and every day, misleading and obviously wrong feelings, that religious people will believe with only a sort of ‘feeling’ to go with.

  9. featheredfrog says:

    Sounds like you’re advocating Pascal’s Wager as genetically based.

    • Tom says:

      I thought of Pascal’s Wager as well. Clearly Pascal was willing to risk a Type I error. Many institutions follow the same approach. The Federal Reserve is happy to risk a small amount of inflation in order to avoid “pernicious deflation”.

      Personally, I found this to be an interesting narrative that doesn’t really shed any light on the real question: Is there a God? The Intelligent Design crew could actually run with this hypothesis to say, “You see, we were created by God to believe in God”

  10. Tim says:

    Sounds plausible enough, although I don’t care for the phrase,

    “…humans evolved to…”

    It operates on a fundamentally backwards view of cause and effect. We didn’t evolve to anything, various species increased their ability to survive based on a particular random mutation (as Dawkins put it, “the non-random survival of randomly varying replicators). There is no purpose to evolution, no end point or goal, just a dynamic nature.

    I don’t think the issue is a simple matter of semantics, but rather about a frame of mind, about HOW we go about thinking about things. So cut it out Shermer.

    • Mike K says:

      Unfortunately we tend to think in words and semantics really does “frame the mind.” I don’t think the English language really has the words required to deal with those fine disctinctions of the mechanics of evolution. “Happened to inherit a mutation and survive to the detriment of competitors” doesn’t have to ring of “evolved to”.

      But if Shermer is right, then our evolution has resulted in a tendency to see patterns, causes and agents where there are none, and our language has developed to reflect that. (See, I can’t even write that sentence without using causal words like “resulted” and “developed”. Is there a good single word for the contingent, adaptive chance events that characterize evolution?)

      Design, causality and agenticity are built into our language, so it’s hard to even think outside that box, much less communicate ideas without it.

    • Marc says:

      I emphatically agree: evolutionary speculation that cites the resulting benefits of change as the driving force of change drive me bonkers.

      Mike K, is too kind to Shermer, and I disagree that the English language is inadequate. Shermer could have said “humans evolved into…” which would have been acceptable. Further to Tim’s point about frame of mind, I think he’s smack on because Shermer has on several occasions been the very one driving me bonkers.

      Another example, and relevant here, is The God Gene, by Dean Hamer. It’s almost counter-convincing.

  11. TonyK says:

    Yeah, I’m going to have to disagree with the final analysis: not all humans believe in any gods. There have been thousands of gods created in the history of mankind to fill this need for pattern recognition, but that doesn’t mean we’re hard wired to believe. I grew up in a house that considered itself Catholic despite never attending church (we weren’t even C&E Catholics, we were W&F (wedding & funeral) Catholics).

    I went to Catholic school, and while as a youngster I understood what I was told to be true: there was a single god and he loved me and came down to Earth a a human to sacrifice himself to himself so that I could be forgiven by him for transgressions made against him by people very distantly removed from me in ancestry…then, I got older and I started to realize how silly it all was.

    In the fourth grade religion class, my nun attempted to explain how “fear of god” was the greatest love I could have…huh? Even at 9, I knew that made no sense. She proceeded to spend the next 15 minutes trying to get me to understand it. I finally capitulated in spirit just to move on, but at that point decided this was all bunk and I was done with it. For a while, I believed in something akin to “The Force” from Star Wars, but eventually came to realize that none of it made any sense and I gave up trying.

    We’re all born atheist, it’s only through training and indoctrination that we follow a particular god exclusively or believe in ghosts or UFOs. If my family had paid closer attention to it or forced me to believe, I might be just as willing to accept fear=love as that nun did. But, when I hear a bump in the night, I think it’s a burglar, not a ghost. Similarly, when I’m down and a song comes on the radio that relates to my feeling, it’s not Zeus talking to me, it’s a coincidence. Because I’m capable of recognizing patterns does not lead to any belief.

    Your hypothesis is better phrased “all people have the POTENTIAL to believe in the supernatural”.

    • Tim says:

      Fortunately I never believed in any sort of God, however, I did have the Catholic school experience. Well, actually I had the public school experience (from which I am still recovering), but my father sent me to Catacism. Lucky for me though, nobody there ever actually told me anything they were teaching was real, that I was actually suppose to accept it as true. The most vivid memory I have of that experience was watching a cartoon video of Jesus kicking ass, taking names, and flipping over tables. I also remember setting up tables for food and glaring out a window at rocks and plants near some water and being curious about them. That last part must have come from interest in science.

      The first time somebody actually told me that such beliefs were actually to be taken seriously, I thought they were kidding me. Like I’m supposed to believe a cartoon is real? Get real! So fortunately I managed to dodge the bullet on the whole religion thing, although in college I did briefly switch to a Vegan diet, although that probably had more to do with the hot girl who was a vegetarian who gave me carnivorous thoughts. They try to hook you by convincing you that they have science on their side, but look into it for too long and the woo-woo becomes apparent. I kind of feel a little bad though because that I managed to push that hot girl from vegetarian to full blown vegan. Oh well.

      Oh, and I also briefly thought that there was merit to the Thimerisol scare and that global warming might be real, but I think that had more to do with public school indoctrination rather than and religiosity.

      • tmac57 says:

        Better check that bathwater you just tossed out.

      • Tim says:

        You’re talking about global warming aren’t you?

        1: Is global warming real?
        2: Is it caused by man?
        3: Is it bad?
        4: Can man reverse it?
        5: Can it be reversed through conservation?
        6: Is government the means in which conservation can be used to reverse global warming?
        7: Is it moral to use government for that purpose?
        8: Can power hungry crooks be kept from corrupting any government program implemented?

        I’m skeptical of the whole global warming thing. is a place to check out information in a bias manner.

      • Max says:

        “bias manner” is right.

        Your preceding post implied that global warming isn’t real, so why even go past #1?
        Do #6-8 have any bearing whatsoever on #1-3?

      • Peter says:

        FWIW, “bias manner” is not English. It’s “biased manner”.

      • Tim says:

        Well it was late, proper English wasn’t my top concern. Also, I do not know what “FWIW” means. Did you mean FYI?

        Why go past one Max asks. Well, because global warming could very well turn out to be real and each one of those points must be addressed for any government program to be passed (which is usually the next thing to be said after a warning about global warming). Current evidence suggests that global warming is not real, that indeed for the past ten years we appear to be in a cooling phase, so when considering a government policy you would not have to go past one. If the research changed though and global warming appeared to be a real phenomenon then the subsequent questions would be of great importance.

        No, 6-8 do not have any bearing on 1-3. 1-5 are necessary for 6-8 to be considered. The first 5 really have to do with establishing that the phenomenon is real and a problem, and then the last few questions deal with the philosophical, economic, and political aspects.

      • Peter says:

        Sorry, FWIW means “for what it’s worth”; I thought everyone knew that one :)

      • Beelzebud says:

        junkscience is a great name for that website.

        Looking over it, I can see the author there has spent more time lately pushing the right-wing/libertarian talking points on health care reform, more than doing anything involved in science.

        Hmm let’s see, who do I believe? The consensus of climate scientists worldwide, or and James Inhofe?

        Decisions, decisions.

        Skeptical my ass…

      • Tim says:

        Well then Beelzebud, enjoy believing what everyone else believes. If that line of reasoning suffices for you, then it suffices for you.

      • Beelzebud says:

        So scientific consensus is now just group think?

        Yeah to hell with experts, what do they know?

      • Beelzebud says:

        One last thing I’m going to note here. You’re reasoning is exactly the same as creationists. They reject scientific consensus.

        “Well then Beelzebud, enjoy believing what everyone else believes. If that line of reasoning suffices for you, then it suffices for you.”

        I’ve had creationists tell me the exact same BS line about evolution. Another topic that scientific consensus is quite clear about. I’ll trust the experts over the zealots. Libertarians seem to reject any idea of global climate change, or the need to do anything about it, because they fear what it might mean for their ‘invisible hand’.

        They do it for the cult of Christianity

        You do it for the cult of Libertarianism.

      • Tim says:

        Mr. Mook,

        I thought I would address the various points listed.

        1, 2: Yes, carbon dioxide, that is something in the atmosphere. Simply referencing a wikipedia page on carbon dioxide is not an argument.

        3: Did you read this article? The first paragraph says that the theory is contradicted by the evidence, namely a warming in the Northern Atlantic.

        4: This point is easily refuted. Apart from the fact that your reference ignores the fossil fuels that are burned to produce hydrogen, it also ignores the economics of the situation. If we stop buying fossil fuels here then there will be less demand for the same amount of supply. Prices will drop allowing places like China and India to purchase more (and subsequently burn more). Our economic progress will be retarded by such a policy because we will be consuming more than we are producing (proved by the fact that something needs to be subsidized in order to exist which means by definition it consumes more than it produces). Therefore your source does not make your argument.

        5: Your citation does not match your comment. First you said no, that conservation of CO2 is not the answer. Second, an economics book doesn’t answer the question.

        6, 7: This article does not answer the questions put forward, it just states the position of the American Chemical Society.

        8: This video with 203 views is completely incoherent. The premise is false and the arguments do not follow each step or conclusion before it.


        You are a:

      • Max says:

        A demagogue typically appeals to popular sentiment against the elite establishment, like when the Texas Board of Education chairman said, “I disagree with these experts. Somebody’s gotta stand up to experts that are… I don’t know why they’re doing it. They’re wonderful people.”
        Sound familiar?

      • Tim says:


        I linked to a definition of demagogue. While I did expect the exact reply you gave (which is demagogic), the nonsensical platitude in complete anti-rationalist format (to accuse me of being the same as a creationist for the purpose of, well:

        ), I still figured I should post a reply. I recommend you pick yourself up a baloney detection kit in the shopping center of this site. I wish I could write things down in an envelope and post them that way so people could see how predictable your response will be, but I can’t. Now come on, tell me how everything I believe is exactly the same as everything I reject. Let’s see the “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I” come backs, the ridicule that is based on deliberate misunderstandings, the equating of logical reasoning to logical fallacy, the conspiracy thinking, the obscure website citations, come on keep it coming, it is entertaining.

      • Max says:

        Let’s see the “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I” come backs, the ridicule that is based on deliberate misunderstandings, the equating of logical reasoning to logical fallacy, the conspiracy thinking, the obscure website citations, come on keep it coming, it is entertaining.

        All right. Who says that global warming is a conspiracy, you or I? Who links to to refute, you or I?
        Who links to some comedian’s diatribe against “Liberals” in every other post?

        At least link to an interesting video, like this KGB defector’s lecture on subversion.

      • Tim says:

        Yes, there are the strawmen, there is the belittlement, the appeal to authority and the dogmatic rejection of those who disagree with your current position, the “I know you are but what am I” responses, yes, keep it coming.

        P.S. I will keep posting that video too because it perfectly describes what is wrong with your thinking as well as the rest of the anti-rationalists.

      • Max says:

        I predict that Tim will have the last word in this thread for a period of at least one month.

    • Peter says:

      Yeah, I’m going to have to disagree with the final analysis: not all humans believe in any gods. There have been thousands of gods created in the history of mankind to fill this need for pattern recognition, but that doesn’t mean we’re hard wired to believe.

      Being “hard-wired to believe” (which isn’t quite what Shermer said, anyway) doesn’t mean that every single individual will/must believe!

      (I’m rather partial to Julian Jaynes’ hypothesis that gods/demons/etc. were something like schizophrenic hallucinations. Shermer’s process explains why people might believe there are supernatural entities controlling the weather, etc., but not why they so often used to claim to be able to see and converse with them)

      • We are hard-wired to survive, but that may be overcome by the individual (self-sacrifice, heroism, etc.), therefore any hard-wired propensities toward god beliefs could also be overcome or refused before uploading.

    • Marc says:

      The hypothesis does not suggest belief in God necessarily, much less the belief in any specific god. We didn’t develop right- handedness to be able to write and there’s no reason there can’t be left-handed people.

      Your final analysis is off. Better would be: MOST people have a substantial PROCLIVITY for belief in the supernatural.

  12. Dr. T says:

    I’m too much the skeptic to believe such a pat answer to the question of why we have religion. I cannot accept that it’s all due to predator paranoia and creation of patterns. Such things do not explain why nearly all religions address our fears of death or create some type of afterlife. What have those concepts to do with “patternicity” or “agenticity?”

    Primitive religions exhibited personification: natural items and phenomena (sun, moon, lightning, fire, storms, rainbows, seasons, fertility, etc.) were given human-like characteristics and were called gods. I don’t see how patternicity and agenticity explain sun gods and thunder gods and fertility gods.

    There seems to be a recent desire to characterize magical thinking as a primitive survival trait. Apparently, that will remove some of the shame of magical thinking. My view is simpler: magical thinking is a universal characteristic of young children who lack the experience and training to think logically and realistically. Religion and other cultural idiocies preserve magical thinking among teens and adults. Religion results from retention of childish thinking, and not from keeping us from becoming lion food.

  13. Max says:

    When I was little, I thought the sun and moon follow me around, and trees swing their branches to make wind. It was animism, but it made sense. I didn’t see anything else making the wind blow. I asked what they were doing it for. Fortunately, my parents and teachers gave me scientific answers, and there was no need for spirits or gods.

    • do the scientific answers work any better? are they any more correct? In 500 years won’t they both be considered equally quaint?

      • Tim says:

        Fallacy. You are ascribing characteristics of woo-woo to science. You are making the fallacy that since those woo-woo bits of nonsense fell apart over time that it is therefore time that refutes things.

        The problem is that animism and other such childhood beliefs operate on cause and effect thrown into reverse, which is to say that they stem from a fundamentally backwards way of thinking about things. Science works to understand the universe, to observe a phenomenon and then seek not to come up with a possible explanation for it, but to investigate and through the scientific method understand the nature of the phenomenon as it exist objectively. Animism, religion, etc. operate on a sort of subjectivism which is why they have all gone by the waste side. Time is not what has made these things look quaint, it is reason.

        The attitude that you expressed made me think of this video, which I have posted before, but I am posting it again because it is a good video. I don’t agree with all the individual positions taken, but the frame of mind that is described offers interesting insights.

  14. Beast of the lake says:

    I’d say that the issue of grup selection is, in a way, distracting. I agree essentially with the idea, thoug I undestand it not genetically, but as “selection by the group”. Thus, whatever is the current social consensus, it will be adaptive to be responsive to it. Remember tóo, that we are born while still in an almost fetal state, our brain has not been still influenced significantly by outside information. So its upbringing that direct our thoughts one way or the other, or maybe I should say “imprinting”, and cultural transmission is lamarckian, not darwinian, it doesn’t need genes to pervive. It is taught, and whatever changes, for good or bad, are transmitted, whenever they occur, from generation to generation, “the function develops the organ”, to misquote old Lamarck. Changes in cultural outlooks (even if only vaguely menacing to the current oligarchy), like “oh, it can be done like this too, and we like it better”, tend to end with social upheavals of any sign (see Honduras) and social changes, be it for better or worse.

  15. UNRR says:

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 8/19/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  16. Al Thomas says:

    “Thus it is that people are religious and believe in God.”???

    Once again Michael Shermer has an interesting theory, but where is the skepticism? Should I roll with Shermer just because I agree with
    him? Or should I be more skeptical because I am being lulled into
    a comforting sense of common opinion? This site has blogs that rip
    apart “woo” because of the lack of evidence and valid testing,
    yet let standards lapse when ideas are presented by
    “one of our own”.
    I feel that the standards implied by:
    “SkepticBlog is a collaboration among some of the most recognized names in promoting science, critical thinking, and skepticism.”
    need to be applied equally across a level playing field.

    • tmac57 says:

      Al- No one is saying that the opinions and beliefs expressed on this blog must be accepted without criticism. Indeed, many of Shermer’s posts have been roundly challenged.

  17. Jacob Stein says:

    If religion has survival advantages, then why don’t other animals, for example wolves and dolphins, possess it? They too are intelligent and live in communities yet have no hint of religious belief.

    Rather it would seem that humans are different because we have been created by God to serve Him, while animals have been created by God to serve us. (Genesis 1:28)

    • You employ logic to deny religious belief evolved as a selected survival trait, and then necessarily abandon logic in favor of words from a book to assert how, why, and by whom animals were created.

      I suggest you apply logic and critical thinking across the menu of your beliefs, not just where they seem to support them.

    • tmac57 says:

      Jacob- I see the various religions and creation myths as being human’s earliest attempts at a philosophic understanding of how they came to be in a pre-scientific era. Those belief systems became codified and mandated and culturally embedded.
      Ever since the rise of science, and it’s powerful ability to explain what was formerly unexplainable, we have been in a struggle with those cultural beliefs that no longer seem to fit into what we have learned. So really, all along , humans were just trying to find answers. The question that this implies is: Which system of finding answers do you want to follow? The one that has expanded human’s knowledge to immense heights and allowed us to even explore the universe? Or the one that is stuck in pre-scientific, magical thinking, based on a text that is self contradictory and flawed, and obviously a product of a myopic and naive view of the universe.

    • William Patrick Haines says:

      How do organisms that were around over 100 million years like leaches flies and cockroaches serve humanity that was only around for 100 thousand ? Also what about the utilty of poison ivy sumac and oak ? Also a god resenting people who do not believe him is as idiotic as somebody resenting a person because they do not know them or might have forgotten their name !!! Also thanking for the crucifiction makes as about as much sense somebody demanding thanks for hitting themselves with a hammer !!!

      • Max says:

        Forget roaches. How do the malaria parasite and its mosquito vector, and the bubonic plague bacteria and its flea vector serve humans?

    • Max says:

      Elephants and Neanderthals are known to have burial rituals.

    • Kenn says:

      Exibit “A”

    • Max says:

      If we think of animism or anthropomorphism as a primitive religion, where humans attribute human qualities to nonhumans, then we see the same thing in animals that mistake non-animals for animals.

  18. William Patrick Haines says:

    True people will find patterns in things that are not there and often will try to find things to justify their beliefs especially when they are of an extremist nature . I often wonder why a god would ever care whether people believed in them . If actions speak louder than words certainly a moral non believing life should speak louder than someone using a religious text to self glorify themselves while living in moral squalor
    Also some adaptations like sickle cell anemia as a reaction to malaria is example of an over adaptation. So yeah while religion has did some good it has also been an impediment to progress in both science and social progress and has aided and abetted various autocracies like monarchies through countless years of untold suffering .Religion has did more to self sabatoge itself through it’s actions than any other entity except political parties

    • Tim says:

      The “truthseekerjournal” has woo-woo written all over it. Suggestion: stay away from groups that have the word “truth” in them.

  19. rcreative1 says:

    While footnotes might have helped fill in the blanks for some skeptical (who knew?) readers of Shermer’s overview, it seemed to me that he was being intentionally vague for 1) scientific reasons — the mechanics and details are under active investigation currently, 2) political reasons — he threw a bone to most of the big personalities in the field, and 3) practical reasons — a full explanation would fill several books, and this was a mere blog post.

    My only disappointment was that he didn’t mention the hypothesis that religion is a parasitical meme that serves itself without concern for the host. It’s still an active question IMHO.

  20. Rinanthus says:

    That humans seek patterns, even when there are none, is an empirical fact. That we also tend to assign causal connections to these patterns is also an empirical fact. That we assume intentional agency to these causes, when they are not visible, is also an empirical fact; indeed, even a dog will bark when it hears a sound outside the house(thus it is assuming that some agent, rather than the wind, is causing the sound). I think that it is also an empirical fact (but I might be wrong) that people also tend to assume that the strength of an unknown cause is proportional to the strength of the effect – so the causal agent that can shake a mountain must be much more powerful then are they. Put these together and it results in animism. What isn’t explained further is why religions assign morality to these agents and why religions include notions of punishment/reward and the afterlife.
    One can speculate on the social forces that might give rise to these later phenomena (people who are good at identifying and “explaining” the actions of the gods would gain power and, having power, might want to use it to direct the behaviours of others by telling them that unless they do X the gods will cause the rain to stop…) but this is as yet beyond the empirical evidence.

  21. sproutlore says:

    I would think that God evolved from the first time someone asked, “WHAT”? And continued with the stunning query of “HOW”? And finally, because the now stunned, just out of the trees, hominids aren’t confused enough, the 5 year old brat with his finger up his nose who nothing better to do, just has to ask “WHY”? An answer of “It’s an all seeing “Great Putack” that is the who, what, why, when and whatever and he’ll burn your ass to a cinder if you don’t shut up”, served the purpose and provided answers for any anything.

    The “burn your ass” addition evolved effectively for those you like the perks of power and control. You know the type, the horrid little turnips we keep voting into office. It’s not that complicated.

    God evolved from ignorance and will die with education.

  22. TryUsingLogic says:

    If you look at the stats on religious beliefs of the total world population it is easy to see that mankind has evolved with the basic need to believe in somekind of benevolent god. It is in us to reach out for belief.

    Simple common sense validates what Michael is saying in his article.

    And it is interesting that those who say they are non-believers tend to believe in a socialist Utopia on earth where government/dictator is a benevolent God……sort of like a religion!


    • William Patrick Haines says:

      Well what about the invisible hand which all reality is nothing more than chaotic rule of the jungle instead of the rule of law !!!Things are just going to magically trickle down and life is what make it gibberish and the hell with the less fortunate

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        Dreaming of a Socialist Utopia is no different that dreaming of a Heavenly or Spiritual Utopia except for one thing. Religious Utopias are based on faith…..Earthly social Upopias are based on the denial of reality and rejection of scientific data that validates what works best for more people more of the time.


      • Tim says:

        I do not think you have a sound understanding of what Mr. Smith was saying in regards to the “invisible hand.” I recommend Mr. Shermer’s book “The Mind of the Market” on the subject of economics. The first chapter makes particularly clear the condition of human existence prior to capitalism.

        I don’t think we need an intelligent designer for our economy.

      • Peter says:

        There’s nothing magical or woo-ish about the “invisible hand”; it’s just a nice metaphor for emergent behavior (which Smith got from someone else, by the way; I can’t remember who, but it was first used a century before the much-overrated Adam Smith)

  23. William Mook says:

    There are two aspects to BEING human. One is the mundane reality beyond our skins to which scientific methods are properly applied. The other is what is going on INSIDE our skins. Science is applicable here too, but has been far less successful so far even while progress is being made. Also, we cannot help but be attached to the findings in personal ways that we do not attach to the outer world.

    As far as the inner world goes we’re more sure of our biology and that is the basis of modern medicine, than we are of psychology which is the basis of religion.

    That’s the proper order by the way – according to present day science. Biology is an epiphenomenon within a far larger universe, a subset of carbon chemistry. Consciousness is one of many biological processes like the Krebbs cycle. Religion is only one aspect of consciousness – despite eloquent claims to the contrary.

    On this basis we can come to some reasonable scientific understandings of religion.

    Even so, all aspects of the INTERNAL world of each human is a work in process as far as science is concerned at present.

    One thing that is not in question is REALITY DOESN’T NEED ANY DEFENSE. What is is the way it is without our help. It is only WE who suffer if we are ignorant of what is. So, this is the proper basis for any inquiry.

    On this basis any defense of science or religion says more about the mental state of the defender than about the subject they are defending. In fact, when scientists sink to the defense of science against defenders of the faith, they are falling to the same level of those they are arguing with – and have given up the high ground of true science.

    Beliefs, especially shaky ones, may need to be defended by those who are emotionally attached to them. Reality needs no such efforts to be what it is. Again, it is WE who suffer if we adopt foolish or otherwise incorrect beliefs, because those beliefs do not change reality in any way and have not power to alter in any way what is.

    This is a very scientific view.

    and a deeply religious one as well – Isaiah 1:18 – Come let us reason together saith the Lord.

    This is the great power of truth – no matter what you call it.

    Now, lets look at sources of error.

    All of us proceed through our lives by adopting ideas and beliefs that are useful and on the basis of what has worked for us up to this point. Not just what works on this or that theoretical level, but on the basis of what works FOR us and IN us based on what has worked for us up to this point.

    These beliefs and the decisions based on them are due to the isolation of our individual mental processes NECESSARILY anecdotal. Even the adoption of science by a scientist is not scientifically based for that scientist this reason. This knowledge is the source of fear both for scientists and non-scientists alike.

    All personal beliefs necessarily an anecdotal decisions made by a lone consciousness based on his or her personal history and anecdotal personal experience.

    Beyond the fact that this proves there will always be con-men even among super-sophisticated super-human robots (I can imagine a sci-fi story based on that premise) there will also be a basic ambiguity about what is.

    On this uncertainty rests the need for faith. So, scientists and atheists have every bit of much faith in their world view as any gibbering paranoid delusional acolyte of some ancient irrelevant and incomprehensible religion.

    What is right is judged only on the basis of what works. What works and what doesn’t work is how we can say a belief is right or wrong – at a personal level. (another sci-fi story – a nuclear scientist encounters a monk carrying a sign emblazoned ‘the end is near’ and we laugh at him. The nuclear physicist has a conversation with the monk which the reader thinks proves the monk mad. The scientist goes about his day – and brings about a nuclear conflagration of the world. The scientist encounters the monk again while scrabbling to survive – and the same conversation is now seen where the scientist is mad for doing what he did this would have been a better story right after the Cuban missile crisis)

    to recap;

    Reality doesn’t need any defense. Reality isn’t threatened by ideas only wrong ideas are threatened. Although It is only we who suffer if we do not apprehend reality correctly by adhering to wrong ideas.

    All personal beliefs are necessarily anecdotal, thus one adopts any belief on the basis of an irrational and illogical faith in the meaning of that anecdotal experience.

    This should give us the basis to decide a strategy that works.


    This is one of the many fundamental disconnects in the human experience that points to a deeper reality.

    That is, if we do not, in fact, CANNOT have faith in any SPECIFIC belief what are we being asked to have faith in exactly?

    That’s a real question.

    The answer is – we need to have faith in the underlying reality we are having beliefs about.

    This brings us to the EXPERIENCE OF REALITY.

    Any belief is an abstraction of reality. We use these abstractions as tools to help us deal with reality day to day. If one tool works well, we keep it. If it does not work, we exchange it for a better tool. Even if a belief works well, we can exchange it for a better one.

    We are not asked to have faith in our tools, we are asked to have faith in what the tools work upon – the underlying reality itself which is the object of our mental processes and unknown or unknowable in itself to those mental processes.

    Here is another important point.

    Everything that exists in the outer world of which we are aware, exists also as an IDEA INSIDE US.

    We cannot help but have feelings about ideas.

    Feelings themselves are ideas.

    So, we can speak of the world of ideas in terms of real science.

    This is reflected in the following song

    In the empire of the senses
    You’re the queen of all you survey
    All the cities all the nations
    Everything that falls your way
    There is a deeper wave than this
    That you don’t understand
    There is a deeper wave than this
    Tugging at your hand

    Every ripple on the ocean
    Every leaf on every tree
    Every sand dune in the desert
    Every power we never see
    There is a deeper wave than this
    Swelling in the world
    There is a deeper wave than this
    Listen to me girl

    Science tells us that the moon is a huge ball of rock circling the Earth once a moonth a third of a million kilometers away. Science tells us that our planet orbits the sun at a distance of 150 million kilometers and that the Earth rotates in a way that makes it seem the sun circles us every day.

    Yet, this doesn’t change the reality that the moon and sun are also ideas inside us of which science has very little to say at present.

    When we think about the moon, we are thinking really about the IDEA of the moon. This idea, as every other idea, has meaning far beyond what is scientifically known about the things they refer to. Such meaning has emotional power based on how the idea relates to other ideas and to our feelings. Our feelings affects our perception of reality, and create a closed loop of feeling and reality.

    A person who believes themselves to be unattractive behaves in ways that are unattractive and notices people’s negative responses, while ignoring any positive responses that are out of accord with their beliefs. A person who believes themselves to be attractive behaves in ways that are attractive and notices people’s interest, while ignoring negative responses that are out of accord with their beliefs.

    An athelete who believes they will win is more likely to beat one who believes they will not win – even if the second athelete is demonstrably better than the first.

    These are just a few of the ways our ideas affect our reality our perceptions and events in our lives.

    For anyone who doubts the power of an idea to affect one’s emotions and those emotions to affect their perception of reality – I ask you to recall a time when you heard that someone you loved loved you back for the first time. She loves me. She loves me not. Is a powerful mantra for that reason.

    In fact, the things themselves are often seen as merely symbols that connect to a far richer world of inner meaning they are associated with rather than the mundane reality of which they are a part scientifically.

    Accessing those meanings give rise to powerful emotions that are directly connected to one’s life experience and so give the things themselves the status of deities.

    We do this today when we chase after success, recognition, the admiration or affection of others. We make of them deities that give us a profound sense of believing and belonging which is the organizing basis of any culture.

    To this extent, all cultures are based on emotions. Even those cultures that make of science a deity.

    The modern world at its best is a meritocracy. What would your life be worth to you if you awoke one day without the love admiration and respect of your family, friends and colleagues? Understand this and you can begin to have some small understanding of what the moon means to an ancient ancestor who might have been an adherent of a moon cult.

    Such meanings are not random they derive from deep needs of us as social animals surviving in the natural world. The only reason something becomes a deity is that it make sense to those who are part of the system of ideas meanings and feelings. Such meanings may access things impossible for others to access without the deity giving it tremendous power.

    Someone to whom personal merit rules all can make no sense of a moon worshiper. Someone to whom the moon gives meaning cannot understand how something as weird and unimportant as skill sets at tasks that have no immediate benefit can have any meaning at all.

    If you believe a moon cultist is mad and you are not recall that humanity arose and evolved on Earth, and the Earth has had a moon for far longer than it has had humans.

    This means that the moon is woven deeply into the biology and history of humans since the very beginning of humans. Women who go through moonthly cycles know the importance of the moon. Men, who in our present culture are less connected to their bodies, don’t feel this connection as much – though it is there in both sexes.

    So, its easy to see that these ideas can have the potential for huge meaning and power.

    Alright time for an experiment to demonstrate what I mean.

    Close your eyes.


    Take a few deep breathes and let them out slowly.

    Breathe deeply and evenly.

    Focus your attention on your heart. Whatever feelings you have there, notice them, and accept them. Do not judge them or think about them, just let them be, and continue focusing on your heart.

    When you are ready, now with your eyes closed, think of the sun. Think of it falling on your face warming it. Now imagine the bright cheering sun is moving deep into your heart, lighting up your heart from within.

    Breathe in the power of the sun as it warms your heart. Breath out the light of the sun. Imagine the sun glowing in your heart.

    Now after you’ve done that, imagine the full moon on a dark night – glowing in the sky. Imagine now the moon comes into your heart and is swallowed up by the sun. Imagine the moon inside the sun and the sun inside your heart and the light of both the sun and moon beaming outward from your heart into the world.

    Hold on to this image for as long as you can. Imagine the moon inside the sun, and the sun inside your heart and both lighting up your heart with the combined light of sun and moon.

    Hold on to this idea for as long as you like. With this IDEA in your mind, breath deeply a few minutes and open your eyes.

    How do you feel?

    Do you feel a joy in your heart? A sense of certainty and purpose? Perhaps an ecstatic sense of well being?

    If you did this right, you should.

    And in fact, in this culture, and in this time, with a history of recent travel to the moon and discussion of space travel generally – most do feel that way.


    Because the ideas have power, and the ideas of the moon and the sun are deeply connected to all life on Earth in ways that give us a sense of well being when the idea of the sun and moon being combined at the center of our hearts giving the heart their combined strength.

    These words have no scientific meaning as yet.

    They do have meaning however.

    Because they refer to ideas, ideas that have a deep biological basis, for a biology that evolved on a planet with a moon and sun.

    Put another way, every thing in the outer world is reflected by ideas in the inner world. The inner world is represented by ideas. Those ideas have specific biological configurations associated with them. In turn our biology is the result of a long history within the same outer world. So, the configurations have the potential to resonate in complex ways with the biological history of the things with which they refer.

    This impacts our experience of the idea. and so on…

    As a first order approximation though we can cut this sequence off at;

    1) everything in the outer world is represented by an idea inside
    2) every idea is associated with a biological ‘imprint’
    3) the imprint affects other aspects of biology

    this has some hope of rational scientific analysis .. but also reproduces much of the personal experience of being human in the cosmos.

    and how this leads to religious ideas thoughts feelings and behaviors based on them.

    and how a rational scientific culture merely accentuates certain aspects of mundane reality.

    Santa Claus does not exist in mundane reality in a way that matches the legend. The IDEA of Santa Claus does indeed exist and has the power to release other ideas and feelings and more importantly behaviors among us that are beneficial.

    One can argue over whether or not God exists or has this or that property. But, the IDEA of God certainly exists. God certainly has the power to release other ideas and feelings that would not be released without Him. When these ideas feelings and behaviors arising from them are beneficial, then God is a good thing. When religions are organized to codify and give depth and meaning to experiences we all feel, or are capable of, and do so in ways that empower us and deepen our capacities for feeling and joy – then religion can be a very good thing.

    By their fruit you will recognize them – Mathew 7:16

    I would ask every religionist every believer, every defender of the faith – WHAT ARE YOUR FRUITS?

    I would then ask, every athiest, every agnositc, and every scientific unbeliever the same question – WHAT ARE YOUR FRUITS?

    What do you give humanity?

    Not just the sweet fruits, but the bitter ones too!

    A religion that turns the bitter loss felt by a mother for her dead children, killed in a missile attack, into a suicide bomber rather than console her for her losses and take effective action to end the bloodshet in honorable ways – can certainly be said to know sin.

    Scientists are not immune. The creation of the nuclear weapons, the conversion of medical science to biological weapons, the perversion of psychological science to fool the entire world and allow the accumulation and use of these weapons – Oppenheimer had it right – physicists now know sin – along with all other scientists.

    We are at grave risk if we dismiss the power of God, or Santa, or even the Sun and Moon deities because they make no scientific sense.

    Freud and right, religion is a delusion, but so is love, and beauty and all other things in life that give a happy life its ultimate meaning.

    More importantly, religion has the capacity, if approached properly to reliably bring great and beneficial fruits into all lives by giving us a basis to connect our isolated anecdotal experience of the inner world, and allow us to start building a science of the inner world to match the science of the outer world -and be as effective operating in it to create real and lasting human happiness – and not be at mercy to the irrational winds that blow there no matter how rational we seem to be.

    • aaron says:

      Good job with the cut and paste! AND THE OCCASIONAL ALL CAPS!

      • William Mook says:

        I typed it all from scratch. Where do you think I pasted it from?

      • Marc says:

        “Where do you think I pasted it from?”

        I think it was an attempt at sarcasm and perhaps a comment on your response being several times longer than Shermer’s article. You could have at least attempted to discuss the topic rather than ramble on incoherently.

      • William Mook says:

        What seems incoherent to you? Shermer says religion is an irrational artifact of evolution whch we have outgrown. I say that faith is a rational requirement of a psyche limited to anecdotal evidence of an outer world and informed of an inner world by an inner knowing that gives us ultimate meaning. Rather than outgrowing religion it may be more properly said our religion is growing to meet our richer understanding and appreciation of the outer world. That is, yes it is true in the past we have had a naive appreciation of the world, and science has led to an accumulation of reliable knowledge that informs us in richer ways. This has put religion at a disadvantage since it has lagged behind, being an inner reflection of the outer world. This disparity of development accentuates the failings of religion at present, but it would be wrong to say we have outgrown religion. Religion is in the process of shedding its naivete and will soon reflect the sophistication of modern science and in the process enrich and enliven our culture and science itself.

      • tmac57 says:

        Man, that must have been some itch!

  24. could religious belief be an emergent property of a complex system, the mind? To maintain a sense of integration?

    • Max says:

      How is that different from any other belief?

      • William Mook says:

        There are two sources of knowledge. The first is obtained from the senses – and that knowledge is subject to change and provisional. The second is obtained from within – and is not generally subject to change – or doesn’t seem to change. Call the first information and the second knowing. You might be informed that your significant other will be arriving at 5:$5 on flight 1108. This knowledge is provisional and subject to change. You might also have a deep inner knowing that you love that person. This generally doesn’t seem to be subject to change. Religion at its best points to a rich inner life that informs and enlivens the world. Artists musicians and poets may not need religion to have such a rich iner knowing, just as natural mathematicians don’t need formal education to develop the Calculus or group theory. But for the rest of us, we benefit greatly from a religion that knows its value and resides comfortably in society and doesn’t try to exceed its role as catalyst in creating a rich and abundant and happy life for people. Of course, religion has seldom been content working only for the betterment of mankind, and has been used by agressive and irreligious folks as a means of control or worse, a means to inflict suffering on the great majority of people. Killing God’s creations in the name of God has to rank right up there with burning a village to save it – on the scale of stupidity. Religion has a lot to answer for, so does science. This doesn’t change the positive roles they both might play in a truly civilized world. Perhaps if we’re lucky and we work hard, we will one day live in such a world.

      • Tim says:

        Well this demonstrates a special kind of stupidity. Inner knowledge, are you kidding me? There are two sources of knowledge? I’m sorry, how did you establish that again? What’s that? You didn’t? Okay, that is what I thought.

        No, you can gain knowledge through your senses and then you can think about it. There is no hidden psychic ability that people have that allows them to bend spoons that can only come from inner knowledge. The universe does exist and as much as you would like it to be otherwise matter, energy, and the laws that govern them are not provisional or subject to change. Gravity is not 32 ft per second today and 35 ft per second tomorrow. Just because you don’t understand how somebody can be good at math doesn’t mean that there is some mystic source of information available to them that you don’t have. You shouldn’t be asking “what is wrong with me” if you can’t do math as well as them, you should be asking “what do I need to learn.”

        However, so long as you have a ridiculous epistemology which says that the world (existence) is unknowable and constantly subject to change and therefore you cannot really know anything through the senses or through reason, but there is a source of information (which you cannot explain) which is absolute that comes to you all of the sudden then you will never be able to understand anything.

        Two books would be good to read.

        1: Flim-Flam by James Randi

        2: Philosophy: Who Needs It by Ayn Rand

      • William Mook says:

        Well this demonstrates a special kind of stupidity.

        No it doesn’t.

        Inner knowledge, are you kidding me?

        Right, there are things called ideas. Certainly you’ve heard of them. When you think about a thing you are generally processing ideas – not the things themselves. This knowledge doesn’t come from the world outside your head, it comes from the ideas inside your head. Again, very simple uncontroversial stuff.

        There are two sources of knowledge?

        Yes. Your senses of the outer world, and the configuration of neurons you were born with that gives you an inner sense. You can deaden ignore and denigrate that inner sense – but its there.

        I’m sorry, how did you establish that again?

        Establish what exactly? That the entire world and everything known by you in it exists as ideas in your head? Simple biology. Photons enter your eye, cones and rods fire and send neural impulses to your visual cortex, that causes a cascade of neurons to fire in a complex pattern. You see a thing and say something like, the moon is full this evening.

        You don’t know a damned thing about the moon. The only thing that has happened is photons entered your eye, rods and cones fired, neurons fired and your twitched and blurted out a series of barks.

        Now those barks give rise to pressure changes in the air. Somone standing next to you and enters their ears. The eardrum virbrates in response, sending acoustic energy through the bones of the inner ear, and vibrating fluid there, stimulating tiny hairlike structures in a spiral shaped organ that fires an array of neruons and sends signals to the auditory cortex, a complex series of events happen in the brain and that person’s mustcles twitch pointing their face toward the sky apprehending the moon. Photons enter their eyes, and they bark a series of vibrations..

        You’re right, its very beautiful.

        Now, there is what is going on in mundane reality, photons stimulating biological systems that then twitch in resopnse…

        but BEYOND the mundane reality there is what can only be called an INNER DIALOGUE that reflects an INNER WORLD. A world of IDEAS. What is the moon to you and me and anyone who hasn’t been there but an idea? an image of light in the sky?

        People sneeze, people have orgasms, people fall in love, – these are all hard wired into us – obvious sources of inner knowing. Our senses interact with this inner knowledge in ways that allow the creation of an inner world – a world of ideas that reflect in some way the outer world in which we have evolved to operate. We have even assigned symbolic values to barks and marks in a way that lets us to bark ideas from one MIND to another, or make marks to achieve the same end.

        This ALL reflects INNER KNOWING.

        What’s that? You didn’t?

        Now you’re just making shit up rather than open to your inner reality. This usually stems from being hurt or outraged as a child.

        Okay, that is what I thought.

        No you made that shit up, I said very precisely what inner knowledge is. Here’s an example – Santa Claus. Santa Claus exists ONLY as an idea. Yet, we can have a reasoned discussion about what Santa would look like or what Santa would do – this is all inner knowledge because Santa doesn’t exist in the outer world.

        No, you can gain knowledge through your senses and then you can think about it.

        The thinking about it is a reflection of the inner knowledge and the inner reality.

        Ideas are things.

        There is no hidden psychic ability

        Again, you’re making shit up. I never said a damned thing about psychic ability. I only said there was inner knowing an inner reality that we have evolved to operate successfully in this world.

        that people have that allows them to bend spoons

        You are making shit up again rather than deal with what I did say. This marks you off as a dishonest person, or an unenlightened one likely both.

        that can only come from inner knowledge.

        You are confabulating what I said with what you wish I said.

        The universe does exist and as much as you would like it to be otherwise matter, energy, and the laws that govern them are not provisional

        That is precisely what I said. Reality is, no amount of argument will change that. There are two aspects for humans. The outer world and the inner world.

        or subject to change. Gravity is not 32 ft per second today and 35 ft per second tomorrow.

        Not unless the moon crashes into the EArth – but yes, I agree.

        Just because you don’t understand how somebody can be good at math doesn’t mean that there is some mystic source of information available to them that you don’t have.

        I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. If someone’s brain is pre-wired with the neruonal pathways that allow them to be superb at math – there is every reason to believe that they have already in their heads knowledge most of us do not have. Their ability to access that knowledge comes from them opening up to that source of knowledge having nothing to do with anything that goes on outside them. By the same token, these innate abilities can go unappreciated if they do not open up to them.

        This is a metaphor to inner knowledge in all of us.

        You shouldn’t be asking “what is wrong with me”

        Again, you’re making shit up – I never said that. So, your comment makes no sense to any rational person reading this.

        if you can’t do math as well as them, you should be asking “what do I need to learn.”

        There are naturally good dancers, musicians, mathematicians, no amount of practice will make a genius out of a non-genius. However, by using certain ideas and symbols, all can perform tasks like integration adequately. We might not all be able to write a beautiful song, but with practice we can certainly enjoy singing it.

        So, too, there are aspects of feeling that some are very good at, genius in fact, and they can inform and enlighten the rest of us – and they create symbols for us to help us point in the right direction. Symbols like Santa and God – can be very useful – even while they can be abused from time to time.

        However, so long as you have a ridiculous epistemology which says that the world (existence) is unknowable and constantly subject to change

        I said just th eopposite. The world doesn’t change at all. Our ideas about the world are subject to change however, since the world is far more complex than our ideas about it. It HAS to be. Just look at the size of your brain versus the size of the cosmos.

        and therefore you cannot really know anything

        You can only know ideas about things – you cannot know the thing itself. This should be obvious even to someone as unenlightend oas you.

        through the senses or through reason,

        You can only reason about what you sense. Your senses present only a perspective on reality and ultimate (unchanging) reality cannot be known by us humans or any creature as limited as humans.

        but there is a source of information (which you cannot explain)

        Your brain is highly complex and evolved. I have explained that several times. You have ignored it. Think of BOOT RAM or something. Your brain is hard wired with lots of knowledge. Your ability to access this knowledge when needed – in response to stimuli – gets you through life. Consider an erection and orgasm. That’s all hardwired for procreation. So is love and admiration. Very complex stuff. That knowledge extends throughout every aspect of your biology – and is only accessed when stimulated in the right way at the right time. There are trillions of neurons and quadrillions of synamptic junctions and quintillions of bits of information in every baby waiting to be released as they grow and mature.

        which is absolute that comes to you all of the sudden then you will never be able to understand anything.

        Think about the last time you fell in love. How did you know you loved that person? There was no reason for it that you could name. That would cheapen and denigrate the infinite depth you felt – you know this is true – unless of course you’ve never felt love. Its the same thing for any inner experience. Those who are really good at a thing, feel this and become a source of knowledge for the rest of us.

        Two books would be good to read.

        1: Flim-Flam by James Randi

        2: Philosophy: Who Needs It by Ayn Rand

        The things you need to be aware of cannot be found in books. Maybe you need more love in your life?

      • Tim says:

        So then there would be no harm in reading the books, right?

        In the mean time I will keep looking for my third eye that gives me information without thought or input through my senses. Who knows, maybe I can find a cure for cancer or a magnificent musical talent that doesn’t require development or thought of any kind. Until I have that mystical experience though that gets my neruonal pathways right, I do recommend those books…as well as a subscription to the magazine of this website.

  25. Don Byrd says:

    There are basically only two survival strategies in the biosphere…compete and/or cooperate. Granted there are many nuanced ways in which these might manifest. A single celled organism is a conglomeration of cooperative parts that at an earlier stage of evolutionary development included many competitors. E. coli and others can under duress form bio-films that are virtually immune to antibiotics that would kill the individual. This pattern of cooperation/competition adaptation runs through the entire range of life forms, balanced in such a way as to favor the continued existence of any given creature in an ever changing environment.

    To make a long story shorter, by the time humans evolved, one of the ways in which we see this develop is in the mother infant bonding mechanism…essential considering the level of development of the human infant – somewhat underdeveloped compared to most mammals. Being basically neotonous apes, we retain many juvenile characteristics into adulthood. This exaggerated need to connect and cooperate, driven by an oxytocin cocktail, serves the infant well, but leaves the adult with an empty angst that is then filled with any number of culturally influenced paths to bonding. Romantic love, political orientation – including allegiance to one’s group (and denigration of others) and most relevant to this discussion, religion.

    Religion in its many forms, tends to offer an, “us/them,” balance that is ordained by the highest of beings…imaginary parental surrogates. Dressed up to promise answers to mortality and other unfathomable conflicts, how could one resist? Rather than being “wired” for religion, as has been suggested here, I would submit that we are wired to bond to life giving nurturing mothers. This retained juvenile trait is later exapted to enable a more flexible expression of cooperation/competition that includes the filling in the blanks with demons and gods.

    • Marc says:

      “There are basically only two survival strategies in the biosphere”

      I think you are missing a very important element. Consider a single organism, the first and only specimen of life. Suppose this life form is able to grow and evolve, but that each generation produces only one offspring and birth results in the death of the parent. Now you can set aside your two basic survival strategies.

      This life form needs to develop some way in which to interact with its environment. As it becomes more complex, its needs become more complex, and its ability to interact with its environment must become more complex. Any ability would be a result of trial and error, but the life form would have to be able to expect certain outcomes in interacting with its environment.
      I am suggesting that these expectations would be the genesis of beliefs.

      In order to interact with your environment you need expectations. When these expectations are unreliable it is natural to conclude there may be another component at work, when these unreliable events are sometimes harmful and sometimes helpful, it may be reasonable to conclude there are multiple unseen components at work, when you consider that your fellow creatures can sometimes be helpful and sometimes harmful, it may be reasonable to conclude that the unseen components may be similar to your fellow creatures. As you and your fellows are sociable creatures you conclude that the unseen creatures are sociable creatures. As other social groups can be appeased by offerings you conclude the unseen creatures may be appeased by offerings. etc. etc. etc.

      You can see that I’m heading toward the development of religion as a social structure but that it all stems from the development of individual’s instinctive need to trust his own expectations.

  26. Kenn says:

    Among the most religious are the non-religious — if we equate a sense of morality with religiosity.

    • Atheists have their moral codes; a sense of good and evil which, if you’ve read Dawkins, is defined in religious terms.

    • The Humanist Manifestos can be understood as moralism.

    • Environmentalists (often secularists) display CS Lewis’ sense of oughtness every time they recycle the garbage.

    • PETA is driven by a moral code.

    • Even the mafia has it’s code.

    Were narcissists, such as Genghis Khan, Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein, genetic anomalies?

  27. Baloney Detective says:

    Perhaps humans are wired to experience awe, which is what religion can inspire, but so can science as Sagan was always so eager to remind us.

  28. Grover Syck says:

    It is not that our brain is wired for religion as it is ‘the need to know why’.

    Things happen, the sun rises and sets, the seasons change, there is an earthquake, and so on down the line.

    When ‘man’ was less developed and our ‘information base’ was lacking, the answer was that “god did it”.

    As time progressed, an enterprising sole decided that “god” would be a good way to control the masses, and then the idea of ‘religious extortion’ popped into some scoundrel’s head.

    MAN created god, not god created man.

  29. Joe says:

    “There is a deeper wave than this
    Swelling in the world
    There is a deeper wave than this
    Listen to me girl”

    Damn! I always thought he was saying “There is no deeper wave than this!”

    I guess we all believe what we want. Is that a type I or II error?

  30. Vie says:

    Yet again, what you are presenting here is an oversimplification of human behavior. If the belief in God is an outgrowth of the human capacity to note cause and effect relationships, then why is it that not all humans believe in God? I will argue that I am quite adept at recognizing relationships between cause and effect, yet I do not believe in God. So how does your theory address this? Clearly, there must be some variable acting upon humanity that is not accounted for in your theory. Am I a seperate species? Am I more evolved? That would be quite a claim, don’t you think?

    • The belief in god as an answer for the unexplained emerged originally from an absence of better hypotheses, a situation not present in your life. Once originated, god beliefs were perpetuated via community reinforcement and indoctrination of children as a part of raising them, all in absence of alternate proofs.

      Either you were never indoctrinated in the first place or replaced a belief in god to explain things with other hypotheses.

  31. Robert Stith says:

    I am just curious if you can ever come up with any original ideas in skepticism. I haven’t read enough of your material to know for sure, but it seems that what I have read in a couple of places are the ideas of other authors. I just read what I see here in the book “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. I also read something on your site about baloney detection. This sir is most certainly taken out of the book “The Demon Haunted World” by Carl Sagan. I didn’t see any credit to the authors and it seems as though you assume to be the originator. I just think credit should be given where it is due. I especially believe this to be true in the Carl Sagan previously alluded to since he is deceased.

    • Basic tenets of skepticism are in the public domain, among skeptics anyway. Not many skeptics are unaware that Sagan popularized the term ‘baloney detection kit’, nor was it difficult for you to determine this.

      I see no reason to make an attribution to Sagan every time baloney detection is mentioned. I very much doubt Sagan would have wanted that either.

    • Joe says:

      Yes. That would create billions and billions of Sagan citations.

      I left out the quotation marks because, though cited ad nauseum as saying “billions and billions,” he never actually did.

  32. William Mook says:

    Tim says:
    August 21, 2009 at 12:27 am

    So then there would be no harm in reading the books, right?

    I’ve read them. You have yet to prove why they are relevant to what I’ve said.

    In the mean time I will keep looking for my third eye

    You are being disingenuous since I never said a damned thing about a third eye. Like I said previously, you care little for honesty and reasoned discourse. Obviously you merely claim these things for yourself as you promote your fearful denial of inner knowledge.

    Even so, the third eye certainly exists as an idea. So do chakras. They do not exist in mundane reality. They do exist as ideas as part of our inner reality, and are useful as a way to organize the function of our bodies with respect to that inner reality.

    that gives me information without thought or input through my senses.

    The third eye or any idea is a shorthand that makes sense to those who use the idea to access knowledge. These ideas are not sources of knowledge, the sources lie deeper in our biology. Your biology gives you knowledge without thought or input through your senses. Every baby knows how to suckle. Every adult knows how to get an erection. These are obvious knowings. I think therefore I am – Descartes founded his entire philosophy on the inner knowing that he was his thoughts. A young adult may come to the realiztion I f*ck therefore I am. Here the function of the genitalia grounds his existence rather than the function of his brain. Others may say I drink therefore I am. I shit therefore I am. I feel therefore I am. These involve other biological systems. All of them connect directly to ancient legends about chakras. These chakras do not exist except as ideas. They re no more real than Santa. But just as Santa delivers the goods on Christmas because everyone acts on the idea, so too can these ancient ideas deliver as well. Not because there is anything out there in the world that does shit – but because of the way we are built in our deepest biology. The root chakra is associated with the anus. Elimination is an important function. We cannot help as biological beings but have powerful feelings and relation to that idea. The ideas associated with the root chakra allow us to develop those. Sex organs. Ditto. Belly. Ditto. Heart – ever have feelings in your heart? Ever want to make sense of them? Ideas about the heart chakra allow that to happen. Just like Santa allows people who normally wouldn’t buy toys for their kids, to do so, and in the process build connections that wouldn’t exist without the Santa legend. Throat chakra – we all breathe and bark – this idea helps organize that knowledge written in that biological system. The visual system, has its own set of meanings – the third eye as you call it allows you to access that knowledge written in that biology by evolution. The brain ditto – I think therefore I am – Descartes would approve.

    Who knows, maybe I can find a cure for cancer or a magnificent musical talent that doesn’t require development or thought of any kind.

    Natural expression of inner knowledge does not compete with efforts to acquire skills, but rather acquisition of skills activates them and deepens them and inner knowledge makes use of them. Everyone knows about the discovery of the benzene ring. It accessed inner knowing.

    Until I have that mystical experience

    Open to it without prejudice and it will come.

    though that gets my neruonal pathways right,

    You don’t get it. Your inner knowledge is already there. It has always been there. You merely need be aware of it to gain benefit of it. The act of awareness is called enlightenment.

    Consider this image as a metaphor, there is data in the image. If you are unaware of it, you don’t see it. If you are aware of it, there is no way NOT to see it. Same for the inner knowledge written into your very being;

    The first image consists of four spots with cutouts. They create the impression of a white square. The white square is an artifact. It isn’t in the image. It is suggested by the image and easily seen despite the fact it doesn’t exist.

    The second image is a rather famous one taken during world war one and widely published at that time. Its a dog rooting for food. If you don’t see the dog, continue to stare at the image until you do. It is there. Once you see the dog its hard not to see it.

    These two images are metaphors only of how we can know something and not know it at the same time. Thought is a byproduct of biology. Biology is a byproduct of chemistry and physics. Our very biological beinghas encoded in it tremendous amount of information. That information is sometimes summarized in convenient form – such as the square that doesn’t exist. Or sometimes present, but not an active part of consciousness, as in the case of the dog that DOES exist.

    At a very mundane level we’re talking about accessing knowledge available to our brains that exist within the very structure of our biological being itself. Despite the mundane origin of this knowledge it can be very important and very meaningful. Ancient cultures have summarized aspects of awakening to this knowledge in a variety of forms.

    I do recommend those books…as well as a subscription to the magazine of this website.

    I have read the books you mention, and the magazine and I am active on the website. None of these books say that inner knowledge of the type I am describing here does not exist. Why do you think this is relevant to our discussion?

    • Tim says:

      First, I am going to call you a liar. I don’t think you have a subscription and I don’t think you have read those books (one of which is actually recommended in the gray strip on the right).

      Second, I really don’t think a reply is required in this audience. I think that anybody who reads your comment (if they have the patience to read it) can make their own decisions on its validity and comedy. I leave the issue to the fairness and intelligence of the audience.

      • William Mook says:

        First, I am going to call you a liar.

        That would be a baseless lie.

        I don’t think you have a subscription and I don’t think you have read those books (one of which is actually recommended in the gray strip on the right).

        Definitely baseless.

        Second, I really don’t think a reply is required in this audience.

        ?? You are turning this into a personal attack to avoid the truth that you don’t want to talk about inner knowledge that is written into your very being by your biology – and how people historically have created ideas to organize and access that knowledge in useful and meaningful ways.

        I think that anybody who reads your comment (if they have the patience to read it) can make their own decisions on its validity and comedy.


        I leave the issue to the fairness and intelligence of the audience.

        You calling me a liar without one scintilla of evidence to back it up would leave a fair and intelligent observer with a very poor opinion of you.

        You are very defensive. Reality doesn’t need any defense. The reality is our minds deal with ideas that are informed as much by our inner knowledge as by outer knowledge. This inner knowledge is informed by our biology and ancient ideas that organize this knowledge for easy access is the result. Science has given us great advances in our understanding of the outer world, that move far beyond our inner experience. This has called the validity of the inner experience into question in the modern age. We have as a result become a low culture- one that knows how to build a thing, but not really clear as to why. Mike has observed this is a moving beyond the ancient ideas that he sees as holding us back. I am merely pointing out that our naive view of reality has been replaced by science in the modern world, and eventually as we progress, our naive view of our inner world will be replaced as well. Joseph Campbell calls this the hero task of the modern age. Your poor attitude toward any reasoned discussion of this topic and trumpeting your clearly wrong beliefs – isn’t helpful.

    • tmac57 says:

      William, this is from the Skepticblog comments guidelines:”Generally speaking, if your comment is longer than the blog post on which you are commenting, it is probably too long.”
      At least 3 of your comments here seem to fall into that category.

      • William Mook says:

        Well, since I quoted what I responding to so I could respond point by point – responses are necessarily longer. My contribution may not have been as long.

        As far as my original comment, Mike made a complex series of assumptions that I wanted to treat fully and fairly to unwind the points I wanted to make. This is perfectly appropriate.

        I do agree that if my comments bear no relation to what is being discussed and it rambles on for pages without any relation – then it definitely is inappropriate – this is not the case.

        What is inappropriate is someone calling another a liar unfairly and putting words in their mouth and wasting space talking about appropriateness instead of dealing directly with what was said.

        Back to the point.

        My point is that prior to science we had a naive view of the world that led to religion. After centuries of scientific progress, we have a more sophisticated view of the outer world, and our ideas about the inner world remain at a naive level. Religion remains important to the vast majority of people despite this disparity because people need to access inner knowledge that is part and parcel of their biology.

        Mike observes this disparity and says hey, soon we will dispense with these foolish notions altogether and be better off. They used to say that at the end of the 19th century. They saw an age of unparalleled progress. It didn’t happen. The scientific age became one of unparalleled suffering and destruction as our inner world broke loose of irrational constraints in the scientific age. So, we created concentration camps, wmds and other products of the modern age that speaks poorly of us.

        Alright, all I’m saying is that there is a valid source of inner knowing – written in our biology. Our naive world view informed our relationship to this inner world as we created useful ideas about it in ancient times so we could be complete beings. Those ideas are obviously out of date in light of our modern understanding. It doesn’t make the inner knowledge unimportant or meaningless however.

        For this reason religion will remain important, and as information science progresses, will catch up in sophistication with science today and be more important than ever before.

        Much has been said about psychic phenomenon and so forth. Naive views of these things don’t stand up to modern scientific scrutiny. They exist no more than Santa Claus exists. But the idea of Santa exists, and does the idea of psychic phenomenon. The Santa idea lets us do things we wouldn’t normally do. The Santa idea lets us buy kids toys when we likely wouldn’t buy them toys. This is hugely useful on so many levels. Made possible courtesy of the Santa idea.

        This is a model of other important ideas that exist only as legend.

        For example, body language, or response latency analysis, communicates things that are understood by us at a biological level, but not at the level of ideas or thought. This knowledge is presented to our conscious minds somehow. Ancients spoke of ESP. Any real analysis of ESP demonstrates without a doubt that it doesn’t exist at the naive level folks believe it to exist at. But, the ideas surrounding ESP do provide a useful way to organize knowledge derived at a biological level – from a basic appreciation of body language and response latency analysis.

        Again, this is a metaphor for nearly all other ideas like this. None of these ideas exist at the level of mundane reality. They all exist as legend, like Santa. But this is enough. Santa delivers the goods. So do the other ideas. We ignore them at our peril.

      • aaron says:

        Gist: Religion and the paranormal in general are not real but valid instruments for bettering life.

      • Tim says:

        No no, he says that religion and paranormal claims were descriptions of something real but are themselves false. You see, Jesus, Alien Abductions, and ESP are all primitive understandings “THE IDEA,” or “INNER KNOWLEDGE.” You see, naive people like, everyone who doesn’t believe, think that science is how you understand things, but they have no idea about the power of the idea. The idea which comes from inner knowledge is a non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable form of enlightenment. This inner knowledge can only be obtained subjectively via the supernatural (although this fact cannot be admitted because of how thoroughly discredited the supernatural is when it comes to the paranormal).

        In reality the only source of information is, reality (which is to say objectively). Claims of revealed wisdom and subjective sources of information are contingent upon the rejection of reality and the premise of a paranormal or supernatural source of information. These sources (supernatural, paranormal, and subjectivity) by definition exist outside the natural objective world. For that reason they are what James Randi would call “woo-woo.” This gentleman attempts to say “evolution,” “biology,” and “neuro-fancy term” hoping that catch phrases will suffice for evidence or reason. He does not point to FMRI results, a particular set of genes in the DNA code, or behavior studies of any sort, he just says the words out loud and hopes to fillibuster his way to a successful argument. You do not want to argue with these people for too long because as the old saying goes, ‘never argue with a drunk or a fool because it won’t take long before onlookers can’t tell the difference.’

      • William Mook says:

        They are ways of trying to make sense of those things that go on inside of us. See, our brains are LIKE computers in some ways. They are not computers. Thoughts are the result of biological processes. These processes have an impact on the thoughts. Some of this is noise and must be filtered out. Some of this is useful information embedded in the biology by the process of evolution. Since this information has no bearing whatever to what is going on outside, and since it is largely unchanged by events, it presents on our reality as weird ass ideas that have more meaning than they should, and when properly used, do better life. Anyone who excludes them because the ideas don’t make sense runs risk of eliminating important aspects of being alive. In more concrete terms what would your life be without love? The love of your spouse? The love of your children? The love of your parents? The admiration of your co-workers and colleagues? These are meaningful to all of us only because they derive from our biology as social animals. There we find meaning not because the ideas of love and admiration make sense, but because that’s how we’re wired to interact. In some ways we can see how at times these ideas help create social units, at other times they seem illogical and burdensome. But, we eliminate them at our peril since our biology evolved that way, and it did so for a reason.

  33. Bill Anderson says:

    Andrew Newberg’s new book, How God Changes Your Brain, provides some provoking ideas about how the brain and “god” has evolved over time and explains in neurological terms how various religious patterns (authoritarian, critical, distant, benevolent, mystical) differ in the way the brain functions. He also offers data obtained from various imaging techniques that shows how the brain can change from experience as well as intentional practices such as meditation or prayer, and perhaps cultural experiences. I suspect this field of neurotheology will continue to widen our understanding of spirituality in Homo sapiens.

  34. I suspect spirituality in homo sapiens began when the first prehistoric con man dared to (1) ascribe mysterious phenomena like lightning, earthquakes, heart attacks, flatulence, etc., to the workings of a god, (2) claimed to be able to communicate with this god he’d created, and (3) promised to do so, for a small fee, of course, perhaps a chicken leg or free tanned fur.

    • William Mook says:

      You might be right. Why did this attribution to god persist? I persisted because others found the idea meaningful and useful and so repeated it. Why did they find it meaningful? Because it made sense at some level. Why did the irrational make sense? Because somehow it allowed the hard-wired data in our biology to be expressed. This finally explains why the irrational can at times be useful – hard wired data was selected by evolution.

      I gave the example of the Santa legend elsewhere to illustrate this.

  35. William Mook says:

    Tim says:
    August 21, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    No no, he says that religion and paranormal claims were descriptions of something real but are themselves false.

    I am not saying that. Lets make it absolutely clear with a simple example. Take Santa Claus. No one above the age of 8 ‘believes’ in Santa. But, the IDEA of Santa exists, and persists despite the absolute non-existence of Santa in mundane reality. The Santa idea persists because it is useful and meaningful to humans. The Santa idea also delivers the goods on Christmas morning – despite his abject lack of existence in the outer world. He is a large feature in our inner world however.

    The same thing applies to all legends and rumors. Why do some rumors and legends persist and some do not? Clearly those that persist do so because they are meaningful to those who repeat the legend. This meaning generally derives from some inner knowledge written in our biology that is struggling for expression and finds in the legend a vehicle for that expression.

    Again the Santa legend is instructive. This legend came to dominance in the industrial age. Sociologists tell us that pre-industrial people treat their children far kinder than those in industrial cultures. Its not far-fetched to conclude therefore that the idea of a jolly old elf that brought candy and toys and delightful things to children became meaningful in the period where children were held in less regard because they were not economic units that could be exploited to the same degree as adults in the industrial world. Santa legend is a series of ideas that let us to be illogical in ways we find meaningful because our biology is wired to be tender toward and care for our children, despite the hell we make of Earth in pursuit of industrial progress. This analysis of the Santa legend is easily extended to all other modern legends. Any analysis that says these legends are merely noise and can therefore be rejected, misses the point and rejects this important source of life giving knowledge. Any analysis that says these legends contain any more knowledge than exists in our biological being misses the point by saying this knowledge is more than it is. Its biological basis, wrought over billions of years of evolution, is quite enough.

    You see, Jesus, Alien Abductions, and ESP are all primitive understandings “THE IDEA,” or “INNER KNOWLEDGE.”


    You are attempting to make more of what I’ve said than I actually said. The idea of Santa exists and has meaning because it lets us do things we want to do, because we are hard-wired to be tender to our children, but have no rational reason to do. So, the legend persists.

    UFOs do not exist. The legend exists certainly. It exists because our biology is telling us something about the subject matter. You are attempting to ridicule what I am saying by telling everyone I am saying more than this and confabulating the words I have said into something else. Shame on you.

    You see, naive people

    I never segmented the population into naive and not naive. What I say applies to all of us. Our understanding of the world prior to science was naive. So, our manner of interpreting these inner urges and legends was also naive. Science is in the process of increasing our sophistication of the world. Our inner urges and legends are adapting to this increased sophistication and will reflect it. Michael says we’ll overcome religion as if its some sort of noise or disease. I am saying the old time religions we are all familiar with will certainly pass away, but the source knowledge – which is biologically based – will remain, and new legends and myths will arise to replace the old if we are to survive.

    Michael is right in one aspect, our culture is in crisis right now because ancient legends no longer serve in the modern age. Absolutely. Science, by rejecting religion or reducing its importance to the human experience exacerbates the problem and doesn’t resolve it. This is why Joe Campbell says the hero task of the modern age is to come up with a scientifically appropriate mythos that allows full integration of human imaginative and scientific capacity. Michael doesn’t see this, hence my comments.

    like, everyone who doesn’t believe, think that science is how you understand things,

    Science is a Greek word for knowledge that denotes a body of knowledge accumulated using the scientific method. This method originated among a group of Polish monks who realized that God made the world, and if a reliable way could be found to read the world, it would be a rich source of unimpeachable knowledge. Their intuition was right since the process was solidly based in logic. The central point is that the natural world itself serves as reference, and repeatability is the standard with complete revelation of the experimental process and so forth.

    but they have no idea about the power of the idea. The idea which comes from inner knowledge is a non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable form of enlightenment.

    Tim, you are being disingenuous again!

    I did not attack science, or scientists, or say anything against science. Being a scientist myself that would be foolish.

    I also did not ascribe any source of knowledge beyond evolution and our own biology. Do not under-rate this source, we ignore it at our peril. This is the only warning.

    This inner knowledge can only be obtained subjectively via the supernatural (although this fact cannot be admitted because of how thoroughly discredited the supernatural is when it comes to the paranormal).

    Tim, I made no claims about the paranormal. I said only that your brain processes ideas about the outer world as those ideas are created by your senses. These ideas are not the things themselves. Furthermore, the ideas generated by action of the senses activate other biological processes that we have evolved as a species that also present as ideas. We can recognize two classes of ideas. Those that represent the outer world – beyond our skin. Those that represent the inner world – within. We can make statements that clearly derive from one or the other.

    For example, “the sun is bright today, where are my sunglasses?”
    That relates to the outer world.

    Also, “I love you.” That relates to an inner experience.

    In reality the only source of information is, reality

    The only source of information is ideas in our heads. Some of this information comes from our senses. Some of this information comes from the operation of biological processes within us.

    (which is to say objectively).

    Your body and its function is every bit s real as a rock or a star. The objective reality is, your mental processes are the result of the operation of your brain, just as your heartbeats are the result of the operation of your heart. Add a bit of alcohol, or a minute amount of psychoactive substance to your bloodstream, and your objective reality shifts in response. Increase or decrease the function of various organs and your objective reality will shift as well. Anything you are aware of that you assign to objective reality is a pattern of neurons firing in your head. If there is no neural activity – that thing does not exist for you. Deaden the nerves in your jaw, and pain disappears. Distract your attention to the right hand while secreting something with your left, and you can make things disappear.

    YOU give meaning to everything for you. YOU choose what to pay attention to. Your mental life is a reflection of you.

    Claims of revealed wisdom and subjective sources of information are contingent upon the rejection of reality

    This is a false choice that you are selling here that has nothing to do with anything I’ve said. The outer world, mundane reality, is. It needs no defense or support to be what it is. It is what it is, and is no more and no less than what it is.

    When humans think about and operate within this reality, this necessarily gives rise to an INNER WORLD OF THOUGHT – that is a reflection of our experience, expectation, and biology. Our experience is what we choose to remember of our sense history. Our expectation is a combination of history and thinking about that history in the context of models we build based on our recalled history, biology informs us directly and presents ideas in the form of feelings that we sense as well being, fear, interest, etc.,

    and the premise of a paranormal or supernatural source of information.

    You are disingenuous when you keep repeating this canard in the context of answers to my comments. Fact is the only source of inner knowledge I pointed to what the information written in our biology through the course of evolution. Our experience as social creatures, our experience as parents and children, is largely hardwired. When our logical processes interfere with our hard-wiring the result is an ‘irrational’ legend that is retained repeated enlarged in ways that allows for irrational expression of needed hard wired data. I gave the example of Santa Claus as just such a myth arising over the period where we transformed from a pre-industrial to an industrial culture – and the Santa legend allowed us as a culture to express the sort of tenderness toward our children that we would not express easily otherwise. This must be why irrational ideas persist in our culture. It also informs us what is going on around us. Science for over a century now calls into question popular legends about God and Christ. Rational people are forced to conclude, yep, that God shit if f*cked up! In response, people with issues cling even more irrationally to clearly bogus ideas. Meanwhile we move beyond the Earth in spaceships. We see how evolution operated on Earth to create life. We see these processes operate throughout the cosmos. Drake calculates the probability of intelligent life in the cosmos. The rate of star formation times a series of fractions times the lifespan of those ETIs gives a numerical estimate, the same way looking at the production rate of light bulbs times their life span times the fraction a particular light bulb model is made – gives you the number of bulbs out there. This releases a persistent irrational idea about alien intelligence in the modern age. Psychologists clearly see that we are projecting into the possibility of superior intelligence ‘out there’ as a replacement for the outdated God idea. In fact sociologists can see every ghost, demon, goblin, saint, and god in ancient religions throughout the world, seated at the Mos Eisley Cantina.

    Clearly, these images have meaning because they allow the expression of something within us that needs expression and that we are ignoring in our present conception of the world.

    These sources (supernatural, paranormal, and subjectivity) by definition exist outside the natural objective world.

    The knowledge exists in the natural mundane world differently than we normally perceive it. The knowledge exists in our biology. In our very structure. It presents as ideas that have no bearing on mundane reality, that allow the expression of deep seated biologically based behaviors. Again, think about the Santa legend. With Santa we find it very easy to treat children tenderly than we otherwise might. ALL OTHER PERSISTENT LEGENDS are likely similarly based. Michael errs when he associates these legends with noise that is better filtered out of our existence. This will make matters worse since it is the disconnect from ancient prohibitions that have made our world a hell. In this context it is useful to recall that many generals in the 18th and 19th centuries thought the development of firearms and even in the 20th century the development of mechanised warfare and aerial bombardment of civilian populations, were not right and wouldn’t support it. Of course, the logic of warfare requires these developments. Following that logic has made our world a larger version of Beruit and worse. In response to this legends arise that contain and encapsulate rejected ideas that our biology tells us is important – and those ideas seek for expression in any way we let it.

    For that reason they are what James Randi would call “woo-woo.”\

    James Randi is a great man, and I value his analysis. He has not analyzed what I’ve said, and you have not shown how any of his analysis relates to anything I’ve said. In fact, you persistently misquote what I’ve said, and put words in my mouth to make it easier to say what you want to say about the inner world.

    This gentleman attempts to say “evolution,” “biology,” and “neuro-fancy term” hoping that catch phrases will suffice for evidence or reason.

    No I’m not. I’m saying something very non-controversial. You and I and everyone reading this are human. As humans our thoughts result from brain activity. That’s what brains do. In this connection its quite appropriate to talk about neural function. As humans we are biological creatures. So, in this connection it is quite appropriate to talk about biology. Finally, humans are the result of a long evolutionary process of life on this planet. Obviously, in this context is perfectly alright to talk about evolution.

    So, the picture is quite clear – our thoughts derive from our brains, our brains derive from our evolution.

    Our brains deal with thoughts – for lack of a better term. There are two sources of information for these thoughts.

    1) the senses attached to the brain
    2) information structures hard-wired by evolution in the brain

    The first forms our ideas about the outer world.
    The second forms our ideas about the inner world.

    Since evolution is the source of knowledge of the inner world – this too ultimately derives from the outer world – but through a different path – through the evolutionary pathway. Thus this knowledge represents the history of the species survival strategies – e.g. treating our off-spring tenderly even if there is no logical reason for it.

    He does not point to FMRI results, a particular set of genes in the DNA code, or behavior studies of any sort,


    You just wrongly attacked me for using the words neural and evolution without saying why. Even though I gave very clear uncontroversial basis for all my statements. You also attacked me for writing long winded blogs. I cannot imagine what you would say if I gave you a peer reviewed article with bibliography. haha – again you are being disingenuous. It is more important that you ‘win’ and I ‘lose’ than you understand what I’m saying at this point. hahaha – Fact is, I don’t need magnetic resonance to prove that brains deal with ideas about things not the things themselves. The only thing brains CAN do is deal with ideas. So, you are making irrational claims about brain function at this point saying that only reality exists without explaining what reality is. lol.

    My brain, your brain, every human brain, deals with ideas. Those ideas are the only thing in your brain. The ideas have two sources of information – the senses attached to the brain, and the informational structure encoded into the brain itself.

    Reading all you’ve written and filtering out all the bogus argumentative bullshit – you seem to be saying that only the senses should be the source of knowledge and we should only live in the mental construct I call ‘outer world’ only and ignore any propensity toward inner knowledge since that doesn’t derive from the senses.

    This is stupid. It is also reflected in a legendary figure of science fiction. Mr. Spock. An emotionless automaton. This represents an ideal. An ideal encapsulated in the very imagery you are asking us to reject. But Mr. Spock is needed as a model, an ideal, that allows humans to even attempt this sort of life. haha – we subsume our entire inner life in the mysterious inner life of this supremely rational alien – and project onto his inner life the inner life you are asking to reject in ourselves.

    The fact is, you are a biological being and are the result of billions of years of evolutionary experience. That experience is recorded in your biology, and it informs you whether you admit it or not. It gives meaning to everything that you think about, and provides a richness that improves your function in the world.

    he just says the words out loud and hopes to fillibuster his way to a successful argument.

    That’s a lie. I have explained in gory detail precisely what I’m talking about. You have yet to accurately apprehend what I’m saying let alone respond to it a way that even suggests you know what you’re talking about – let alone defend the misbegotten notion we should ignore the rich source of knowledge encoded in us by evolution.

    You do not want to argue with these people for too long

    Yeah, go ahead, dehumanize me rather than deal honestly and fairly with what i’m saying. I see how you are.

    because as the old saying goes, ‘never argue with a drunk or a fool because it won’t take long before onlookers can’t tell the difference.’

    You imply that I’m a drunk or fool or both without really saying why. This is a trick used in advertising and modern politics – it is not very useful in understanding what I have said, nor does it say anything itself. Clearly you want to ‘win’ and for me to ‘lose’ but have nothing really to say that effectively argues for your point.

    I think anyone who has troubled themselves to read this far our conversations would conclude one of us a fool certainly, but you are the one who brought that up, which is the only reason I mention it here.

    • epicurus says:

      I didn’t read all your long comments but I agree with what you call “inner knowledge.” In my philosophy, I call it ‘subjective reality’ which pertains to ideas inside our minds as opposed to ‘objective reality’ which pertains to real things outside the mind.

      And may I add the outlandish but not my original claim that all scientific theories (and hence all of science) is subjective reality. Why? Because theories exist only the mind. We can perceive real things through our senses but the explanations on how and why these things are the way they are, well we simply made them up. We don’t discover theories. We invent them. As Henry Mintzberg put it, theories aren’t true but they’re useful. If all of science isn’t true, or only provisionally true, I guess we should look at religion in the same way. It may not be true but is it useful?

      • William Mook says:

        Yes, subjective reality is another valid term. Science cannot but help be subjective to practitioners of science given the nature of subjective reality. The repeatable experiments, consistent sensations, all of these form our subjective view of the world.

        Yet, another source of beliefs about the world, is the hard wiring in our brains, tenderness toward children for example. Another, artifacts of brain function as it interacts with the world, Hallucinations after ingesting substances for instance is such an effect.

        Brain function, brain structure and hard wiring of data are the result of billions of years of evolution. So, this is all selected for. So, the system likely contains lots and lots of information resulting from that process.

        The operation of the brain in the world gives rise therefore to a subjective reality colored by all these sources of knowledge.

        How do we make logical sense of this? Religion is one component. However, religious ideas are clearly out of step with science and modern understanding. Mike says religion will pass away. I am saying religion will change and become more powerful as a result.

      • Marc says:

        Subjective reality, is not reality. If it were I could simply call upon my inner knowledge to know that you and Mook don’t have a clue what reality is. Case closed. The only reason anyone subscribes to the notion of subjective reality or inner knowledge is to claim irrefutable understanding. What would account for anyone’s subjective reality being any more valid than anyone else’s besides their own ego?

        Scientific theories are subjective reality because they exist only in the mind? That is just wrong and shows complete ignorance of what a theory is. Scientific theories are working models, made up of hard fact, physical evidence, experimental results, accumulated data, mathematical proof, etc. They do not exist solely in the mind; they are a reflection of reality independent of mind.

        P.S. Henry Mintzberg wasn’t a scientist. What he might have meant by a theory in respect to economics or business management is irrelevant.

      • William Mook says:

        Marc says:
        August 25, 2009 at 12:23 am

        Subjective reality, is not reality.

        What the hell does this mean?

        If it were I could simply call upon my inner knowledge to know that you and Mook don’t have a clue what reality is. Case closed.

        You are mad! lol. Are you saying you know what reality is? What is objective and fact? You can only form anecdotal opinions ideas and beliefs based on your subjective experience up to this point in your life. The only thing you can say is that your personal beliefs are a) consistent, and that they b) ‘work’ – which means allows you to predict what will happen next.

        The only reason anyone subscribes to the notion of subjective reality or inner knowledge is to claim irrefutable understanding.

        So, you are saying subjective reality does not exist? Dude! Subjective reality is the ONLY reality you know or any of us knows. When we talk with one another there is consensual reality. If you can’t see that, then we don’t have much to talk about since you are dreaming dude – quite mad if you think that YOU see the world without any distortions whatever. hahahahahaha – the only reason you claim such insanity is that it inflates your ego to believe such illusions about reality.

        What would account for anyone’s subjective reality being any more valid than anyone else’s besides their own ego?

        That it works for them and is consistent – as already stated.

        Scientific theories are subjective reality because they exist only in the mind?

        Yes, that’s the nature of the human condition.

        That is just wrong

        No its not. All your time is spent in dreaming – your sleeping and waking dreams are different – that is all.

        and shows complete ignorance of what a theory is.

        No it doesn’t.

        Scientific theories are working models, made up of hard fact, physical evidence, experimental results, accumulated data, mathematical proof, etc.

        The scientific method accumulates knowledge about the world by referring to repeatable experiments. Mathematical proof is something totally different. What do you think the difference is between hard fact, physical evidence, experimental results and accumulated data? hahaha- obviously you don’t even see the importance of repeatable experiments. hahaha – clearly for each individual – apart from those who actually do a statistically significant number of experiments – reports of scientific consistency, and experimental results – are necessarily subjective judgments about rumors that form a shared subjective reality creating a consensual reality that successfully results in powerful engineering techniques that expands the belief in this consensual reality.

        They do not exist solely in the mind; they are a reflection of reality independent of mind.

        You ARE mind – hahaha – you think you are something else? What else are you but mind? Tell me! You are making a HUGE claim here. That you know more than your mind. What is it exactly that you know? How does that work scientifically? Obviously your claims are baseless. Plainly your senses respond only to light that falls on your body, sounds that intersect your body, chemicals that contact your body, and physical contacts your body makes. Clearly, these physical interactions are encoded in your sensory neurons in the form of neural firings. Those firings cause cascades of nerual firings in your brain – that YOU REPORT AS IDEAS, THOUGHTS, OPINIONS, BELIEFS – which have at present no sound scientific description – but are clearly merely patterns of firing neruons – that result in body changes – i.e. memory recall, memory formation, hormonal release, muscle twitching – which result in changing configuration of the body, or changes in body temperature, or release of chemicals, or production of sounds.

        This is all science can say.

        Of course your experience is quite different. You understand what sounds are, words are, images are, letters, music, poetry, math, all these are nothing more than ideas about patterns of nerual firing in your head.

        The world you think about is an idea in your head. If you have no idea in your head about a thing, then you don’t see it. All the meaning you give the world is what you choose to give based on more ideas you have about the world. You are predisposed to certain ideas and behavior because of your biology. You fear falling, and loud sounds. You become sexually excited when objects you identify as sexual are available to you. You become hungry when certain odors and sounds are experienced. You feel tender toward children. You fall in love. Love is a highly meaningful idea that arises from within you – and is important even though is is nothing more than a subjective experience. BECAUSE it is a subjective knowing when it occurs – it is absolutely true – despite the fact it doesn’t ‘really’ exist. But it does exist, as an experience as an idea within you.

        Where does love exist except as an idea in the mind?

        P.S. Henry Mintzberg wasn’t a scientist.

        Yes he was.

        Mintzberg created well reasoned hypotheses and developed sociological and psychological experiments that produced repeatable results predicted by the hypothesis. Obviously he followed the scientific method and conducted repeatable experiments that produced scientifically defensible results.

        That’s science dude.

        What he might have meant by a theory in respect to economics or business management is irrelevant.

        No it isn’t. Its quite relevant. You’re the one whose all wet dude. Economics and management science are both sciences – you really ought to read up on things you write about – it will save you needless embarrassment.

      • Marc says:

        Your answers make my point for me, so thank you. If subjective reality is the only reality, then my subjective interpretations are more real than yours: your subjective experience, and any argument derived from it, though predictable, is meaningless to my subjective experience. (Perhaps even more so because you are so predictable.) But, again predictably, you miss the point and attack my arguments as if I believed in subjective reality. If subjective reality is everything, on what grounds do you mock my subjective reality? After all “Subjective reality is the ONLY reality you know or any of us knows.” You have flooded this forum with your subjective reality, but I am left unaffected, unimpressed, and unembarrassed.

  36. fascination says:

    Beelzebud, not all liberatarians disbelieve in global warming. I for one, am a liberatarian and I accept global warming. Also, linking liberatarianism with the political right is silly. Yes liberatarians believe in smaller government, but we want less government across the board not just fiscally. For example, most liberatarians don’t think that people should be sent to prison for victimless crimes like smoking marijuana or prostitution. In this regard, we are more socially liberal than most democrats. If you would like to learn more about liberatarianism email me ( and I can recommend some books.

    • Beelzebud says:

      That’s about as creepy as it gets. You want me to personally send you an email, so you can suggest some books about libertarianism for me to read? How about you just suggest some right here?

      Do you also have a newsletter I can subscribe to?

  37. “I think anyone who has troubled themselves to read this far our conversations would conclude one of us a fool certainly..”

    False dichotomy. I’d guess there are many who see two fools.

    • tmac57 says:

      I see Santa Claus, and the Statue of Liberty (sweating).

      • Tim says:

        These people crack me up. Subjectivism, innate ideas, inner knowledge, Santa? Just the same old mind-body dichotomy baloney in a new package. I am glad to see that I’m not the only person who found the Santa thing to be completely incoherent. They come up with all sorts of new names and sources of magic but why do they never come up with any new arguments? ‘There is no rational reason to be moral,’ ‘children would starve on the streets and become pedophile meat because there is no reason to feed or protect them without irrationally derived morality,’ ‘morality and science (objective reality) are non-overlapping so stop trying to use rationality where it doesn’t belong,’ ‘Looooooooooove is not the expression of appreciation, respect, bonding, or any sort of response to the values one holds, but rather it has nothing to do with anything in reality and occurs spontaneously and must be obeyed always.’

        Why are there never any new arguments? Oracles, gods, God, society, environment, evolution, the sources and manifestations keep changing but why never any new arguments? The meta-physics, the epistemology, the ethics; they never seem to change. Why do they never change? I mean, I know why they never change, but for the purpose of throwing the question out there, why do they never change? Why do they disregard reason and logic? Why do they only react to negative connotations and never to the argument? Are they really not interested in being right?

      • William Mook says:

        These people crack me up.


        Subjectivism, innate ideas, inner knowledge, Santa?

        Yes, Santa cuts through the bullshit. Santa doesn’t exist EXCEPT as an idea, yet the legend delivers the goods. Perfect example of what we’re talking about. It has nothing to do with mind-body dichotomy. No dichotomy at all.

        Just the same old mind-body dichotomy baloney in a new package.

        No its not.

        I am glad to see that I’m not the only person who found the Santa thing to be completely incoherent.

        Sort of sad, I tried to make it clear even for fools like you. Fact is, you aren’t a fool, you are just heavily invested in not opening to your inner life.

        They come up with all sorts of new names and sources of magic

        I never said one damned thing about magic. Funny you think I did.

        but why do they never come up with any new arguments?

        Because you are too stupid or too scared to think outside the ruts you normally think in and project blame on others because of your limitations.

        ‘There is no rational reason to be moral,’

        Never said that. Didn’t talk about morality at all. Spoke only of what works. Obviously if we killed our offspring we wouldn’t survive long as a species. Clearly species that have long periods of socialization must evolve some sort of tenderness toward their kids. When the environment changes, this tenderness must be expressed – if we are to survive. So, legends arise – legends like Santa or Ponya.

        ‘children would starve on the streets and become pedophile meat because there is no reason to feed or protect them without irrationally derived morality,’

        Never mentioned pedophiles or morality. Sounds like someone has issues! hahaha – look, if kids die off before they become adults and have kids themselves, then the species won’t survive. Obviously species that survive evolve some sort of tenderness toward their offspring when they nurse them. This is as true of humans as of all other species. This tendency occurs as all other things do – as ideas in our heads. And our heads work on them – and produce things like the Santa legend – which lets us express a natural tendency in a changing sociological environment.

        ‘morality and science (objective reality) are non-overlapping so stop trying to use rationality where it doesn’t belong,’

        Never said anything about morality – science is about what works. Are you telling us that killing off our kids before they have kids is a valid survival strategy? That’s nuts. Are you telling us that leaving our offspring in a condition that makes them poorer each generation because we are selfish bastards, is a good survival strategy? That’s nuts too. What is logical in your view? Fact is, you are afraid of opening to your own inner reality.

        ‘Looooooooooove is not the expression of appreciation, respect, bonding, or any sort of response to the values one holds, but rather it has nothing to do with anything in reality and occurs spontaneously and must be obeyed always.’

        Love is not learned.

        You are making a false choice I did not make.

        Love is not learned.

        What is bonding except a biological response? What is appreciation? except an idea with strong biological component? What are values but ideas? What are responses to values (like wanting to reproduce with someone who is tender towards kids) but ideas that arise from a biologically based process?

        Must be obeyed always? Didn’t say that. Said only what works – if too many adults are pedophiles, and selfish bastards, then the species won’t long survive – so we wouldn’t be around to argue the point. Obviously we’ve survived millions of years, and we contain biologically based knowledge gained from that millions of years evolution.

        Why are there never any new arguments?

        Because you’re too stupid to recognize a new argument when you see one.


        Never mentioned oracles. Yet oracles like Santa, UFOs and Ghosts certainly exist as ideas. These ideas are attractive to those who can use these ideas to express behaviors that would be difficult or impossible to express otherwise.

        If we are imprisoned in logic we would quickly go insane every bit as much if were were to totally ignore logic and imprisoned ourselves in our intuition and feeling.

        gods, God,

        Exist as ideas certainly. Are the ideas useful? Of course. They summarize ideas about transcendent knowledge available within each of us in ways that can be quite useful in accessing that knowledge and allow us to perform at higher levels.

        society, environment, evolution,

        We are social, we live in an environment and part of it, we are products of evolution. Are you suggesting we should ignore these facts? Why? Because you’re afraid of looking within? hahahah – idiot.

        the sources and manifestations keep changing

        No they don’t they represent new ideas which you are willfully avoiding because of your fears.

        but why never any new arguments?

        Because you’re too stupid to recognize a new argument when you see one.

        The meta-physics,

        Never mentioned meta-physics at all. You’re the one who are making meta-physical claims. You claim that you know reality through something other than ideas in your head. What is that exactly? haha – Fact is, nothing exists in your world that doesn’t exist as an idea in your head. These ideas are modified by changes in brain function – and by other ideas already in your head – some of which come from your biology.

        the epistemology,

        didn’t talk about that.

        the ethics;

        Never mentioned the word.

        they never seem to change. Why do they never change?

        Because you’re too stupid to recognize change when it happens.

        I mean, I know why they never change,

        You know you’re an ignorant slug? Okay.

        but for the purpose of throwing the question out there, why do they never change?

        Because you are stupid. Its the simplest answer.

        Why do they disregard reason and logic?

        You are the one ignoring reason and logic. Your body responds to things that happen to it. This gives rise to neural firings that communicate to your brain. Your brain’s neurons do a dance. Then your muscles twitch, your hormones flow, and you do a little dance, do a little bark, maybe fart.

        That’s perfectly reasonable and logical and scientific.

        EVERYTHING ELSE IS AN IDEA! Pick up a rock, you cannot know anything about that rock EXCEPT for ideas. ALL THE MEANING THAT ROCK HAS FOR YOU ARE IDEAS. The rock has no inherent meaning. The meanings come from within you. There are two sources. The first, is based on your past experiences with rocks. The second, is based on your species past experiences with rocks.

        This is true for everything in the external world.

        All physics. Wholly logical. Totally reasonable.

        Why do they only react to negative connotations and never to the argument?

        What argument are you talking about?

        Are they really not interested in being right?

        Bodies in the physical world is what I’m talking about. That’s it. Nothing more right than that.

        You’re the one talking abou tmorality, talking about metaphysics, talking about a reality that is known to you that is not an idea (without explaining precisely what that is)

        You found the Santa thing inchorent because you couldnt go beyond mind/body dichotomy. There is no dichotomy. You are wrong.

        The Santa legend is appealing to us because we have tender feelings toward children. Had we no such programming, the Santa legend would not be so important to us. Were we not tender toward our kids, we likely wouldn’t be here to talk about it, since our kids wouldn’t survive to reproduce.

        No that’s logical – your commentary is not.

      • Tim says:

        ” ‘children would starve on the streets and become pedophile meat because there is no reason to feed or protect them without irrationally derived morality,’

        Never mentioned pedophiles or morality. Sounds like someone has issues! hahaha ”

        This statement is a measure of your character.

      • kabol says:

        mr mook – i can’t understand this post at all.
        please help me on your next one by differentiating between the text you’re quoting and your own:

        ” quoted text “

        leave off the quotation marks.

        unless, of course, you were just having a conversation with yourself. that’s always fun.

      • kabol says:

        sorry — you put a

        oh for fux sake can someone explain the code.

      • Tim says:

        What happens if my “inner knowledge” is different from your “inner knowledge?” What happens is a contradiction. Either the world exists, or it doesn’t. Either the world is objective or it is subjective and exists only as ideas. If something only exists as an idea then that is the mind-body dichotomy. Something cannot be both true and untrue at the same time and in the same respect.

        You speak of Santa saying that since he delivers the goods then he is real through people believing that he is real. What you are saying is that if the con works, then it is good. No, actually what you are saying is that if people believe the con is real then it is real. If you would like to study how such faith is poisonous to people then I recommend research “The House of Yahway.” All the people there believe that there is a God and this God is discovered through inner knowledge. They follow their leader who is the world’s ear to God (again discovered through inner knowledge) and they substitute their thinking to his judgment and irrationally derived knowledge (which comes from comes from God, or aliens, or the environment, or society, or from evolution, or from some other authority or phenomenon).

        I think you will find that such sources of knowledge and subsequent action based on such “knowledge” leads to inefficiency and with it poverty, misery, and stagnation. Faith, force, and mysticism destroy morality, logic, and wealth.

        Santa does not deliver the goods for a lot of people who believe in him. Visit an orphanage on Christmas and see how many gifts are there. Visit child services and see how many children not only do not get gifts, but are gifts on Christmas. No myth or any form of wish thinking “delivers the goods,” only action first to produce the gifts and then the thoughtful action to give such gifts delivers the goods. Belief does not do anything, thought and action are what gets things done.

        You say you didn’t say anything about epistemology, yet you speak about nothing else. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge, where it comes from and how things can be understood. You claim a source of knowledge outside of evidence, outside of reason, outside of logic, that this source of information is irrationally derived from impulse, which carries with it not just epistemological questions but metaphysical ones as well. You say you’ve said nothing about ethics, yet at the same time talk about what is acceptable to do and what is not in regard to children and your fellow man. Such issues are issues of ethics and your source? Again, “magic,” or if you find that to be too condescending (but true) then “inner knowledge.”

        What is logical to me? Non-contradictory identification. Do you know why? Because that is what logic is. Logic is not anything to anybody, it is a process that is either used, or it is not. If there are sources of knowledge outside of reason and objective reality that can contradict objective reality, then there can be no logic. If such knowledge does not contradict objective reality and can be discovered through reason (reason being discrimination of thought to discover what is true and what is not about reality), then such “inner knowledge” is irrelevant and any ability to “feel” your way to truth (that actually get you to truth) gets you there by coincidence and therefore is not a valid way to gain knowledge. Logic cannot apply in a philosophy based on subjectivism. For that reason you are not being logical, not because you are a fart or some other name you want to call me.

  38. William Mook says:

    Every fundamental particle in the cosmos has a unique distinct history separate from every other particle. To the limits of Heisenberg uncertainty this difference is in some way encoded in its present state. It cannot be otherwise. The particle contains implicit knowledge of its history.

    When particles get together to dance and have a party, in other words when they interact, implicit knowledge in each particle impacts their dance which reveals explicitly some of that implied knowledge.

    We are made of fundamental particles like and operate in a universe that is a field of fundamental particles. Each particle in each of us has a unique history that has locked within its present state implicit information of that state which is partly revealed as the particle interacts with other particles within us and outside of us.

    When that dance occurs between particles exclusively outside of us, and is picked up by our senses, it forms our experience of outer-reality.

    When that dance occurs in our bodies, and impacts our brain function directly – not through the senses – (i.e. through hard-wired information or physiological changes) – this forms or experiences of inner-reality.

    This requires only that we understand that we are physical creatures operating in a physical world. We have brains which produce thoughts about the world. Here we are getting a little less precise because we don’t really have a clear scientific idea what a thought is or what a feeling is or what an idea is, except to say these all must be the result of physical body processes the product of brain function at some level.

    Obviously, if all thought is the result of brain function, anything that impacts how the brain operates, as well as how the brain is constructed and how it works, will affect our ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Add a little alcohol to your bloodstream or hormone, or psychoactive material, and your ideas feelings and thoughts will change in response.

    Clearly, there is a physical world beyond us, as well as a mental world within each of us and we can talk reasonably about each. The physical world is the outer world revealed to us by our senses. The mental world is the inner world which is directly perceived.

    Since each of us has similar brain function – just as each of us has similar lung function and heart function and liver function – we all have shared mental features that allow us to communicate, empathize, and socialize and generally share this inner world among ourselves.

    Some of the ideas and thoughts and feelings that humans share collectively have resulted in religions. These ideas are not the product of science and as a result largely stand in stark contrast to our scientific understanding of the world. This does not mean they are without merit. It also dos not mean they cannot be a rich and vital source of important knowledge and information – despite their occasional misuse.

    Our brains are also connected to the world in four ways;

    1) through our senses;
    2) through our musculature;
    3) directly through our biology;
    4) directly through our mental filters

    The first two indirect connection provides information about the present state of the world around us and allows us to act on the world. These both relate to the world physically.

    The second two are direct connections within us to the world. The third provides survival information that is hard-wired into our biology that gets expressed under the right conditions. The fourth allows us to tune our senses to improve our performance – ignoring pain while focusing on a task to be achieved for example. These processes adjust our mental world to our liking and allow us to relate to the world mentally.

    A balanced individual makes appropriate use of all their capabilities to survive and prosper in the world. One who has access and control of his inner life as well as his outer life is plainly superior to those who seek only outer understanding or those who focus only on feeling without regard to the outer world.

    It is plain to me that religion wafts along behind our understanding of things and that it forms a way to organize vitally important knowledge available to us beyond our usual senses and for that reason will always be around – though clearly – not in the same ancient forms we see them today but in new forms more appropriate to modern understanding of things.

  39. Nope. Just the one fool.

  40. kabol says:

    what’s with the epistles, people? and give us some paragraphs! you’d use those if you you were writing lengthy missives the old fashioned way, wouldn’t you?

    does anyone actually write the old fashioned way?


  41. John Draeger says:

    Yes, this comment is late, but perhaps someone new to the blog will read older posts and get something out of it:

    There are 2 competing ideas for why supernatural explanations evolved in human thought. One is covered by Dr. Shermer and has been called the by-product model. Brain functions that evolved for other survival benefits have produced, as a by-product, religious thought tendency. The other model was covered by Dr. T in comment #12 – the forward extension of child-like thinking. I distinctly remember Dr. Shermer wrote somewhere that he found the later model appealing at one time. Consider that mother and father are used to refer to gods, and human-created gods have at least some human characteristics. Since we know the human form evolved due to a number of historical earth catastrophes (extinction events) it’s extremely unlikely that any real god would have a human form.

    Perhaps we should not be trying to chose one or the other; it could be some of both.

    Oh, and to Devil’s Advocate (#34), it probably wasn’t a chicken leg – maybe some bone marrow from a larger beast – but any statement about a chicken seems to be inherently funny so I liked your explanation anyway!

  42. Vie says:

    The thesis of Shermer’s argument is: “People believe in God because we are pattern-seeking primates.” I said that was too simple. Pattern-seeking primate and childhood indoctrination are not the same ideas, to the individual who responded to my comment. Shermer’s ‘patternicity’ applies equally to every animal on the planet. Natural selection would favor a ‘false positive’ in a rabbit as much as a human. As we all know, it would be ridiculous to assume that a rabbit is religious. Hence, ‘patternicity’ is too simple to account for the belief in religion or God, because it applies equally to every animal on the planet.
    Moreover, how does believing a lion is responsible for a rustle in the grass lead to believing a sky god makes rain fall? It’s a non-sequitor. The false positive, as outlined in the post, has nothing to do with explaining a belief in God. It’s more reasonable to say that the belief in God stemmed from recognizing cause-and-effect. If primitive man overturned a jug of water, he would eventually understood that knocking the jug fell over because of his action. The jug, however, was not inclined to fall over unless something knocked it over. Hence, if a volcano erupted something must have caused it. If the rain fell, it fell because of a cause. Disease had to be caused by something. Our ancestors had no means to understand forces that caused these events, but they knew they were caused by something. Animisitc beliefs, and the belief in impersonal forces (which many anthropologists believe proceded the idea of spirits) arose from this.
    Comparing animistic beliefs or their predessessors with religion is a little like comparing a heat-seeking missile to a rock, they’re both weapons right? While there are definetly parallells, there is no way a missile and a rock are the same thing. Religions are infinetly more complex, but the post doesn’t bother to mention that.
    While a desire to understand the natural world is a reason why people believe in religion, it isn’t the only one. Anxiety over dying is a far better way to account for religion’s longevity. Anxiety and fear are one of the factors commonly cited as one of the reasons religion exists. In one introductory anthropology text book four reasons for the rise of religion are discussed; a need for understanding, fear and anxiety (particularly about mortality), reversion to childhood feelings, and a need for community.
    But Shermer didn’t mention four, did he? “People believe in God because we are pattern-seeking primates.” I only count one. Oh wait, let me double check. Yeah. That’s one. And it doesn’t sufficiently account for religions existence at all.
    Secondly, people aren’t robots. Indoctrination can only account for so much. Your opinion is irrelevant. The fact is that many different and divergent views do exist. People do evaluate the beliefs they are taught against the personal experience and knowledge they acquire (I was brought up Catholic, by the way). “Patternicity” doesn’t account for that.
    Another flaw is that there are, in reality, a lot of organization that promote cohesion and enforce social rules. If that and the need to understand natural phenomenon were the sole reason religions exist, then isn’t it likely that it would have been replaced by government and science? It could reasonably be assumed that religion offers something to it’s adherents that other social structures do not. Comfort, amongst other things. It also endeavors to explain man’s place in the world, how we should behave in it, what our duties are to our fellow humans. These ideas aren’t new, and they’re constantly reinvented to suit the times. We can debate whether or not these people should feel they need a prescription or guidance on these matters. We can argue there are better sources that provide that. However, it’s inescapably clear that the majority of religious individuals know that other options and views exist, and that they’ve chosen religion for some reason. Denying that there was a choice made is willfully misunderstanding the issue. Clearly there’s some value to be had in it, or no one would bother adhering to it. The value can be debated, but ultimately relegating it to an anachronistic, evolutionary leftover doesn’t cut it.