Evolutionary Psychology Religion


I don’t understand the claims by evolutionary psychologists who try to account for the “primitive” origins of religion, claims like this one, paraphrased by anthropologist T.M. Luhrman, who herself is critical of such assertions:

One interpretation of these data is that belief in the supernatural is hard-wired. Scholars like the anthropologist Pascal Boyer, author of “Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origin of Religious Thought,” and the psychologist Justin L. Barrett, author of “Why Would Anyone Believe in God?” argue that the fear that one would be eaten by a lion, or killed by a man who wanted your stuff, shaped the way our minds evolved. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were more likely to survive if they interpreted ambiguous noise as the sound of a predator. Most of the time it was the wind, of course, but if there really was danger.

I don’t see how this counts as science, and not, what E.E. Evans-Pritchard called a “just so story.” I don’t see what basis can be made to prove such a claim, one way or the other. There would seem to be no living or falsifiable evidence.

I took this quote from Luhrman’s most recent piece in the NYT, which can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/15/opinion/luhrmann-conjuring-up-our-own-gods.html?hp

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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2 Responses to Evolutionary Psychology Religion

  1. dmfant says:

    fine/fuzzy line sometimes between just-so stories and bootstrapping, so does this than count as “speculative” philosophy or theology? Lurhmann is an interesting case as she has offered an ethnographic blueprint for how all-too-human acts of extended-mind-ing produce gods and yet sees herself as a defender of religious beliefs/communities.

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