Religionâ€™s evolutionary landscape: Counterintuition,
commitment, compassion, communion,” by Scott Atran and Ara Norenzayan, to be published in Behaviorial and Brain Sciences, 2003, http://www.bbsonline.org/Preprints/Atran-12172002/Atran.pdf (latest version published Behavorial and Brain Sciences 2004, from Gene Expression).
Razbib links to a draft (the latest version is forty bucks!) by “Religion’s Evolutionary Landscape” by Atran and Norzenzayan. Razbib is most interested in apparent, widespread acceptance of prototheology, or as he says
monotheists regularly aver belief in a god they can’t really conceive of, and when psychologists have them tell stories about gods in an impromptu situation where they can’t regurgitate stuff they’ve been drilled in the god(s) they describe is much more like a godling of the days of old than the omni-god of their theologians.
From my perspective, the article was most interesting for its unstated faith in modernity. For instance, the authors write that alternative models of religiosity are flawed because
distinguish Marxism from monotheism, or secular ideologies from religious belief
Yet the distinction the authors are groping for, which relies on the existence of a “supernatural” world that differs from a natural one. Or as the authors write
Conceptions of the supernatural invariably involve the interruption or violation of universal cognitive principles that govern ordinary human perception and understanding of the everyday world.
The belief that the understanding the “supernatural” requires a different epistemology from understanding the “natural” one is far more modern, recent, and limited than the authors would believe.
As if to throw a bone for everyone, they even give Curtis of Phatic Communion something to chew on:
Science, like religion, uses metarepresentation in cosmology building, for example, in analogies where a familiar domain (e.g., solar systems, computers, genetic transmission) is used to model some initially less familiar system (e.g., atoms, mind/brains, ideational transmission). In fact, science and religion may use the same analogies; however, there is a difference in these uses. Science aims to reduce the analogy to factual description, where the terms of the analogy are finally specified, with no loose ends remaining and nothing
left in the dark: Atoms are scientifically like solar systems if and only both can be ultimately derived from the same set of natural laws. Whereas science seeks to kill the metaphor, religion strives to keep it poetic and endlessly open to further evocation. In religion, these ideas are never fully assimilated with factual and commonsensical beliefs, like a metaphor that metarepresents the earth as a mother but not quite, or an angel as a winged youth but not quite.