On NPR, a story asks the musical question “Is Believing In God Evolutionarily Advantageous?” The work of psychologist Jesse Bering is profiled–Dr. Bering has written extensively on the intuitive conceptions (mainly in children) of various supernatural beliefs, like invisible observers, gods, and the mental capacities of dead entities. He speaks of religious belief as an epiphenomenon, that there is an abstract belief in intentional agency that gives rise to, rather than springs from, religious thought.
I am hoping that he has been the victim of quote-mining, but with such a pithy quote I rather doubt it:
Bering has a credo, a truth he says he’s learned after years of studying this stuff.
“I’ve always said that I don’t believe in God, but I don’t really believe in atheists either,” Bering says. “Everybody experiences the illusion that God — or some type of supernatural agent — is watching them or is concerned about what they do in their sort of private everyday moral lives.”
He certainly seems to have found this in his research. It does not match my own experience (although it did when I was younger), and I have certainly read of other atheists who claim it does not match theirs. But Bering has an explanation for that:
In fact, Bering says that believing that supernatural beings are watching you is so basic to being human that even committed atheists regularly have moments where their minds turn in a supernatural direction, as his did in the wake of his mother’s death.
“They experience it but they reject it,” Bering says. “Sort of override or stomp on their immediate intuition. But that’s not to say that they don’t experience it. We all have the same basic brain. And our brains have evolved to work in a particular way.”
Ah. He felt something shortly after his mother died (the wind chimes tinkled, and he felt it was a message from his mother–he does not say he believed this, but rather that he felt it, which is a meaningful distinction), and thinks we all must feel the same?
“I don’t believe in atheists”, the man said with a smile
“See, everyone believes in God, but some are in denial”
It must have been convenient, though, as anyone can see–
Just throw away the data points with which you disagree!
I’d like to try this method–goodness knows what I will find–
The greatest boon to science in the course of humankind!
There’s guaranteed significance! The dumbest will look smart!
We can find the things we’re looking for, and know before we start!
No more “plus or minus” error bars, uncertainty, or doubt;
When data disagree with you, you simply throw them out!
“I don’t believe in atheists”–it’s really rather dim.
If that’s his methodology, I don’t believe in him!