Thursday, December 15, 2016

What's in a name? Apophenia vs. Intuitive Theism

This is me responding to this post by Tony Breeden, which in turn is responding (sort of) to the loss of faith of former Baptist pastor Bruce Gerencser. I expect my comment to show up on Tony's blog shortly (it's currently queued for moderator approval), but just in case it doesn't make the cut, I'm reproducing it here.

Mr. Breeden disagrees with the idea that children are "born atheists".
I’d actually partly agree with you, in that:
A. I don’t think that children are born “atheistic” in the way that adult atheists use the term, and
B. I do think that a general tendency towards religious belief and expression is “wired in” to the human species.

Where we differ is that I don’t see that either of those things requires or even offers evidence suggesting a “creator god”, let alone the specific deity of the Christian religion.

What you keep referring to as “intuitive theism” has other names, and it’s worth reading their definitions: Pareidola, Apophenia, and Hyperactive Agency Detection. And while those add up to a tendency towards religious belief, they don’t add up to any sort of intuitive or pre-programmed monotheism – let alone anything as specific as Christianity.

Historically and socially, monotheistic religions are a statistical outlier (though admittedly, one that’s been so successful that at the current moment, in Western countries, it’s popular enough to seem like the default). That sort of belief is neither “programmed in” nor particularly intuitive; it only seems that way because we’re swimming in it.

Basically, while the phenomenon you’re describing is real, it is (at best!) an extremely weak argument for the truth of Christianity (or even the existence of some vague, generic, Deist sort of Creator). We aren’t born “with eternity in our hearts”; we’re born with a tendency to assign personalities and purposes to the events that affect our lives.

Edited to add: Mr. Breeden responded that I'm not arguing with him, I'm arguing with peer-reviewed Science! (which, um, isn't exactly how science works; a peer-reviewed article suggesting a specific conclusion is not the same thing as an established conclusion), and then deleted my response. So, I'm guessing that conversation is pretty much over.

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