I am reading a book about the psychosocial needs of theists (Everybody Is Wrong About God by James A. Lindsay) and the author makes several novel points (the existence of God debate is over, they lost) and is urging us to shift the focus of anti-theism onto addressing how to naturally meet the needs of god-fearers which are now being met by “god,” that is meeting those needs via nature.
Several things have converged over the last couple of days on this topic so, before I have finished the book and can write a proper review, I have some thoughts to share.
One piece I read recently claimed that people who are good at “mental modeling” make more money and get better grades and that part of that process is narrating your life, coming up with theories and making guesses. This is clearly an evolutionarily important skill that is showing up now in a form not originally demonstrated.
Another point that links to the previous is, one I just realized how much easier theism is to accept than reality. If one were to compare the evolution-based human prehistory and history with “God did it” as explanations for why we are what we are at this point on time, you have to be in awe of how much simpler to learn and remember the theist’s explanation is. Then compare how difficult it would be to describe one’s personal morality absent theological frameworks with those who describe their morality as “God.” Again, way simpler. And the god stuff is placed beyond a “Don’t Question” barrier that allows challenges to theist’s thinking to be shrugged off so they do not have to engage in thinking about those subjects. They are “closed.” (“Man cannot know the mind of God,” “God works in mysterious ways,” etc.)
Belief in a god is a shortcut to an acceptable position in our society and allows one to identify one’s “tribe” by simply applying one word labels (Christian = good/safe; atheist = bad/dangerous) to the extend that many non-Christians self-identify as Christians, apparently to get along with their neighbors. Nonbelievers have to expend energy to figure out whether or not to trust someone they just met, etc.
The story goes that our imaginations have a bias. If we think that the rustling in the grass ahead is a lion and we are wrong, the penalty for falsely avoiding that grass is very small. If it is a lion and we scoff at that idea, the penalty for being wrong is severe. So, we are better off being conservative and expecting the worst case scenario.
One of the psychosocial benefits of theism is “agency,” that is it supplies agents or causes for natural phenomena. In our past we had separate gods for lightning and thunder and rain and volcanoes and dark places and the sun and … and now we have only one. Having an idea of what caused “that” is reassuring, I guess, but I have to wonder how reassuring believing in false agencies can be. There is the protection from negative results from being not cautious enough as in the case of the lion in the grass, but there is no predictive ability in “it is God’s will.” Imagine a small family of primitive humans huddling in a cave while the Mother of All Lightning Storms rages just outside of the cave mouth. The children and women are frightened so the man tells a tale of an annual dance of the lightning gods or some other bullshit to sooth their fears. But that dance isn’t on the calendar and no ability to deal with the situation is had. Fast forward to now and we know what lightning is, how it happens, how to predict when it is going to happen, and how to protect ourselves by not standing under tall, wet trees, for instance. Real agency has benefits far exceeding false agency (the lightning god is angry). But real agency takes effort to collect the information, intellectual horsepower to understand it, etc. Theism is short and sweet by comparison (bullshit always is).
We all agree that safety-proofing our children is important. We teach them to treat stovetops as being hot at all times, to be skeptical of strangers, to not eat things they’ve picked up off the ground, etc. One aspect of that is Christian = good/safe; atheist = bad/dangerous. Children learn in church about the evils of drugs, sex, and the theory of evolution.
The above mentioned book makes the claim that all of the psychosocial needs of theists can be met by natural means and no supernatural means are needed, but in my mind the critical element is can we show that to them so that it is as easy to grasp as “God”? I don’t think so, especially since everybody is allowed to fashion their own idea of what “God” means (which makes discussions of “God” a fool’s errand) and, well, once you put some phenomenon at your God’s feet, it inherits some of that god’s unchallengability. (Has there ever been a religion that urges its followers to think for themselves and ask lots of questions? I am aware of many that say “Shut up, don’t ask; believe, have faith, give us money,” but none of that kind.)
Laziness is beneficial in many, many ways but intellectual, even “spiritual,” laziness (science = hard, magic = easy) may doom our future.