Oxford University is getting $4 million from — who else? — the Templeton Foundation to study “why mankind embraces god”. I hope that what I’m seeing is mere journalistic sloppy truncation, but knowing the Templeton Foundation and the usual crap I read from theologians, I fear that this does reflect their starting premise:
He [Roger Trigg, director of the program] said anthropological and philosophical research suggests that faith in God is a universal human impulse found in most cultures around the world, even though it has been waning in Britain and western Europe.
“One implication that comes from this is that religion is the default position, and atheism is perhaps more in need of explanation,” he said.
“Universal human impulse,” my left butt cheek. There are a lot of us who find ourselves quite content once we’ve shed religious indoctrination, and feel not one iota of desire to participate in supernatural foolishness. We happen to be human; there hasn’t been a wave of X-Man-style mutations sweeping the globe, transforming a subset of the human race into trans-human beings with the super-power of being able to see through lies. “Faith in God” is also a peculiarly Abrahamic view of religion — I’m surprised that any anthropologists behind this scheme haven’t been jumping up and down, trying to explain that there are many cultures in this world other than the Islamo-Judea-Christian axis of monotheistic intolerance, and the concept of a domineering paternalistic sky daddy is not universal.
There are human universals. We are curious or concerned about the world around us; we look for causal explanations for events; we like explanatory narratives that link sequences of events together; we tend to anthropomorphize and project our motivations and our expectation of agency on objects in our environment. That’s human nature, and religion isn’t at all intrinsic to it. Far from being the default, religion is a pathologic parasite that rides along on those human desires by promoting the illusion of agency as an all-encompassing explanation for everything, and by providing a framework for story-telling. Basically, it’s a nice collection of lies that makes for a self-serving story — it’s the original Mary Sue. Religion is like badly written fan fiction (in the case of the Abrahamic religions, in the fantasy/horror genre), and is no more an intrinsic component of human nature than is Star Trek slash, although it certainly is a warped reflection of human tendencies.
Maybe someone ought to stop and think that any universal explanation of human nature must include both theists and atheists, rather than treating the latter as a mere exception to be disregarded. Maybe they ought to notice that one good reason for rising godlessness is that entirely secular explanations succeed in providing a satisfying causal narrative, and have the added virtue that they’re actually true. Science works, quite unlike prayer.
Starting with the assumption that “religion,” that chaotic potpourri of diverse false starts in comprehending the universe, is a natural element of humanity and that it is the default position, whatever that is, was probably a necessary bit of pandering to milk money out of that blithely ideological promoter of happy lies called the Templeton Foundation, but it sounds to me like a proposal to build a research program on a false foundation. Maybe they’ll surprise me (and horrify Templeton), but I don’t expect anything but useless noise from such a proposal.
Maybe they should just give me the $4 million. It would help me get this damn book done.