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Intuitive theists? Agency and the concept of God . James A. Van Slyke. Concepts of Agency. Primary component of God Concept: Agency Detection Stewart Guthrie (1993) Evolutionary adaptation to detect agents Predators or prey Default assumption: assume something is an agent

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concepts of agency
Concepts of Agency
  • Primary component of God Concept: Agency Detection
  • Stewart Guthrie (1993)
    • Evolutionary adaptation to detect agents
      • Predators or prey
      • Default assumption: assume something is an agent
  • Bump in the night is a burglar, not a tree
  • We overestimate the existence of agents
classic study of agency
Classic study of Agency
  • Fritz Heider and Mary-Ann Simmel (1944)
    • What happens when persons view a movie about geometrical shapes?
    • Most persons tend to attribute some form of agency or personhood to the shapes
      • Assume that the shapes had intentions or purposes
      • Assume that the big triangle is “mean” or picking on the little triangle
      • Shapes are chasing each other
theory of mind
Theory of Mind
  • Assume intentions, goals and forms of agency in other persons
  • These assumptions are not limited to person, but engage a variety of different objects
    • Children’s cartoons
    • Computers
    • Weather
hyperactive agency detection device hadd
Hyperactive Agency Detection Device (HADD)
  • Justin Barrett
  • EP Cognitive Module
    • Related to ToM
    • Adaptive to move rather than wait
  • Tend to assume agents are everywhere
  • Makes it very easy to believe in God without a lot of theological training
promiscuous teleology
Promiscuous Teleology

Teleology – belief that something is caused by someone with intentions rather than natural or “blind” causes

Children prefer explanations based on teleology vs. natural or scientific explanations

Seems to be a cognitive bias towards these types of explanations

designing agent bias
Designing Agent Bias
  • Keleman & DiYanni (2005)
  • 6 to 7 year old British Children
  • Did someone or something (X) or did it just happen
    • (X1) Make the first mountain? (over 50% attribute this to someone)
    • (X2) Make the first monkey? (over 73% attributed this to someone)
  • Children’s bias may indicate a cognitive tendency towards agency
who designed the natural world
Who designed the Natural world?
  • Margaret Evans
  • Children tend to favor creationist accounts over evolutionary accounts
    • Children younger than ten
    • Even if their parents and teachers endorsed evolution
hadd and tom
HADD and ToM
  • False Belief Task (Box of crackers)
    • Prior to age 4 or 5 assume similar cognitive awareness
      • If I know there are pencils everyone else does too
      • After 5 understand differences in cognitive states
  • What about a supernatural agent? (i.e. God)
    • Developmentally assume ‘supernatural’ abilities for everyone, then parse it down
    • Even after age 5, children assume God would not be fooled
immortality bias
Immortality Bias?
  • Emily Reed Burdett
    • 66 Israeli children (2 to 5 years)
    • Questions
      • Could friend/mother/God Die?
      • Can God be killed?
    • All children distinguished between God and friend/mother
    • Even youngest children were able to consistently make the distinction
      • God could not be killed
      • Split over whether parents and friends could be killed
      • Understood God’s immortality before understanding human morality