“The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!” It’s all many Young Earth Creationists, and other Fundamentalists need to know! They are completely satisfied with the simple statement of faith. I am not.
“I reject any notions that Christian belief falls from the sky as a magic book that exists apart from other components of human experience.”
I’ll leave it the reader to decide whether or not I qualify as “post-evangelical”, but I do resonate with with Michael on this point. For many believers, the Bible is the starting point and the ending point for their belief in God; I find it necessary to consult those “other components of human experience.”
Thus, when I ask the ultimate questions about whether there is a God, my starting point is the evidence in creation, that place where the Apostle Paul declares that the invisible things of God can be clearly seen (Romans 1:20).
But if anything is clear, it is that not all see those “invisible things of God” with equal clarity. Hence, the question of my previous post about whether we are intrinsically theists or atheists, or whether any such default setting exists. The responses were mixed, as I expected, and made for some fascinating reading for me. Thank you to all who participated.
No one denies that God-consciousness is wide-spread in humankind. But the explanations for religious belief vary.
Commenting on the previous post, Psi suggests that a tendency to see purpose and intention in our world was a survival tool, perhaps necessary in the early development of our species. Thus, religious belief is a product of evolution, though less genetic than memetic. He cites Lewis Wolpert's Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief in which Wolpert traces religious belief, like many such superstitions, to our tendency to assign causation to phenomena.
Isaac points us to the work of British psychologist Bruce Hood who believes that humans are hard-wired for religious belief:
“Humans are born with brains designed to make sense of the world and that sometimes leads to beliefs that go beyond any natural explanation.... We are inclined from the start to think that there are unseen patterns, forces and essences inhabiting the world ...”
This intrinsic human inclination lead to superstitions of all kinds, including (in Hood’s view) belief in God.
Of course, in order to be evolutionarily explained, the human tendency to believe in God must have adaptive value, and those evolutionary scientists who doubt God’s existence have gone to great pains to explain how fanciful notions about gods could have helped our species in its evolutionary struggle. We hear about things like hope and purpose, necessary to drive us forward, even if they were false to the core! “Belief in a supernatural Being served the species well (it must have!)” they tell us, “but of course now we have outgrown its usefulness.”
But when the dust settles around the skeptics’ evolutionary explanations for religious belief, what emerges is this salient observation: religious belief is so universal that it demands an explanation. And of course, the skeptic rejects out of hand any suggestion that this ubiquitous inborn belief in the supernatural might be borne out of supernatural reality.
But the Hebrews had a simpler way of viewing things. The Creator himself, Koheleth instructs us, has “set eternity in the hearts of men”. I cannot say that I’ve never experienced doubt about God. But neither can I deny the reality of Ecclesiates 3:11 in my own experience: eternity is solidly set in my heart, and it is unshakable.
These two competing ideas, 1) the contention of the Bible, that God-consciousness is inborn, irrepressibly written upon the human soul, and 2) the notion that religious belief is merely an adaptive step in our evolutionary history are not mutually exclusive constructs. When we understand evolution as the Creator’s chosen mechanism, it ought not surprise us that an awareness of God would arise developmentally. RBH points us to evolutionary anthropologist Justin L. Barrett, who traces belief in God through its evolutionary stages, finding “adaptive value” in our own evolutionary history along the way. And Oxford researcher Barrett is a professing Christian, one with whom I think I would get on quite well. Together with others, he has helped to establish “the Cognitive Science of Religion” which seeks to study and explain the phenomenon of near ubiquitous religious belief. He writes, “CSR is often associated with evolutionary science and anti-religious rhetoric but neither is intrinsic nor necessary to the field.” Evolution provides little shelter for the atheist in his contention that belief is passé.
Pervasive religious belief remains for me evidence of a default human setting. It appears to me that people widely believe in supernatural causation based upon the witness of nature, and the witness of their own heart and mind. To be sure, many of the forms of this belief, and the early rationales, appear quaint and strange to us today. For me, this is no justification to abandon the implications of God-consciousness. Rather, it compels us to allow our understandings to be refined. Early beliefs were often based upon mysteries in nature (weather, astronomy, etc.) now more fully understood. But the witness of nature today is no less compelling.
And thus the starting point for my personal theology, the launching pad for my exploration of God, is this inner witness, this deep inclination formed by observation of nature and listening to my own heart. I find belief in God to be natural and irrepressible. I experience its renewal every time I step out on my front porch and breath in the fir scented air, and gaze upon the Oregon sky, and the dazzling array of living things that greet me. Yes, eternity is indeed set upon my heart.