University of Tasmania
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Homo credulus : bio-philosophical reflections on evolution and religious belief

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posted on 2023-05-26, 03:39 authored by Hedges, DL
This thesis is a personal, folk philosophical reflection on the biological and believing nature of the human animal. It seeks to defend our right to believe, and argues that on occasion it is right to believe, even in the absence of good evidence. In particular I argue that such credulous belief may be justified when it forms part of a Life Centering Belief [LCB]. The prime example of an LCB is religious belief. I argue that human beings are 'naturally' drawn to belief. We are 'credulous animals,' with limited access to certain knowledge of a personally relevant kind. So beliefs that solve problems for us are very attractive; in the right circumstances, they are all but irresistible. We must act to survive and almost always on less than complete information ‚Äö- thus the need to believe, even in the absence of evidence. I argue then that religious believing is an evolved capacity. It came about out of the environment of evolutionary adaptedness for a number of practical reasons. Broadly, those reasons are: the need for security, the need for some explanation of many puzzling phenomena, and the need to bring together, to give us reason to cooperate. I review a number of hypotheses on the evolutionary origins of religious belief, and I am most attracted to a theory based on sexual selection. Until relatively recently, it was thought and believed by almost all religious traditions that human beings are special. I argue against that view ‚Äö- we are a species, not a 'chosen' species. We are not special in any absolute sense. But, like all species, we have our own phenotypical peculiarities, our traits and behavioural predispositions ‚Äö- including the predisposition to believe in 'strange' things. Some contemporary atheists have become 'anti-theists.' They rail against any nonscientific claim, and insist that religious belief is 'poisonous.' I take issue with their 'rebuttal by ridicule,' and affirm the value of socio-diversity. I argue that religion is properly based on different criteria than science: there need be no conflict. Religious belief is good because we cannot live without 'hope,' and many of us need a faith to provide this hope. Even now that we know many religious beliefs are ill founded, we still need something to ground and center our lives. My thesis is devoted to trying to resolve this apparent paradox: the need to believe without something out there to believe in.


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  • Unpublished

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Copyright 2010 the author

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