Monday, July 7, 2008

Dawkins' The God Delusion, and Why We Lost the Big Game

In the chapter titled "The Roots of Religion" Dawkins discusses different ways we think of things, in progressive order. We think of a thing in terms of physics, because a thing pretty much always follows the laws of physics. But that can be a bit time consuming in the thinking process, so we may use the design stance: A thing (say, an alarm clock) was designed for a purpose, so we can assume it will work in such-and-such a way, without having to know the inner workings. The alarm will ring at 6, and who cares if it runs off a battery. We can use the design stance for things even if they weren't necessarily designed

The next shortcut in thinking is the intentional stance, or "what does this thing want to do?" This makes decision making even quicker, which is useful if we're faced with, say, the danger of an attacking tiger. Who cares about the molecules of the tiger, or the "design" of the claws...we know it intends to eat us.

So we are sort of predisposed to think about things with intent, and children even more so. I was relating to this as I read...I've found it's easier to explain things to my three year old sometimes if I personify whatever it is. And sometimes he does it on his own. Tadpole used to get mad while riding in the car, because the sun shone on her and made her hot. "The sun is BAD, it needs a TIME OUT," she'd say. Easy enough for a kid to think about something in terms of what it wants to do. Come to think of it, she kind of does that even now. But I digress.

"Justin Barrett coined the acronym HADD, for hyperactive agent detection device. We hyperactively detect agents where there are none, and this makes us suspect malice or benignity where, in fact, nature is only indifferent. I catch myself momentarily harboring savage resentment against some blameless inanimate such as my bicycle chain."

But it's also a very good explanation for why we are prone to superstition and religion. The world around us is, to us, completely filled with purpose and intent. "That traffic light changed JUST TO PISS ME OFF!"

I'd been thinking about this again very recently...there was a Deadliest Catch marathon on Discovery Channel, and in one part one of the crew members "jinxed" the haul by speculating on how full the pots would be. You never count your money while you're sitting at the table, son. And we talked briefly about how SUPERSTITIOUS people are (me included). Here, I say again, is a pretty good explanation. HADD.

"Yeah, we were winning...until Jesus made me fumble!"

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