Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Hyperactive detection device

Humans evolved a Hypersensitive Agency Detection Device (HADD). Most humans seem to be hardwired to believe that agents explain various facts; this tendency seems to include all sorts of invisible agents, including God, gods, ghosts, and so forth. The advance of science has systematically reduced the need to invoke invisible agents, by providing naturalistic explanations for things previously explained by invisible agents.

Why does the the relatively new discipline of cognitive science of religion support the claim that we have a Hyperactive Agency Detection Device (HADD), which causes human beings to naturally form beliefs about invisible agents? Considering HADD’s poor track record of producing true beliefs about invisible agents in general, why should we trust it when it produces a belief about one invisible agent, the God of theism?

i) Jeff states this as if it's a fact, which Christians (or theists) must explain. However, this is just a postulate of evolutionary psychology. Have cognitive scientists isolated and identified a HADD mechanism in the brain? Where in the brain can this device be found? What's the physical structure of this device? 

ii) If they can't locate HADD in the brain, then aren't they guilty of inferring an indetectable cause? But in that event, the HADD postulate is in itself a prime example of hypersensitive agency detection. So the postulate is self-refuting. 

iii) Does HADD have a poor track record? Has scientific progress systematically reduced the need to invoke invisible agents? 

Let's consider some examples of HADD. Forensic scientists who infer a murderer from circumstantial evidence. Inferring that invisible pathogens (bacteria, viruses) cause disease. Inferring that rats carrying fleas carrying bacteria are the cause of Bubonic plague. Inferring that some infections are caused by waterborne pathogens (e.g. cholera, salmonella). Or airborne diseases (e.g. TB). Or radiation poisoning.  

Inferring that some snakes are dangerous due to the chemical composition of venom. Or box jellyfish. Or death by nerve agents (e.g. sarin).  

Inferring that visible objects are composed of invisible molecules, atoms, subatomic particles and energy fields. Inferring that objects fall to earth due to the invisible force of gravity. 

What about inferring that a landscape was produced by invisible past events like erosion and volcanic action? 

What about a farmer who infers that a weasel killed his chickens at night, or wolves killed his sheep at night, based on footprints and bloody remains? 

Jeff might object that some of these factors aren't "agents" in the technical sense of personal agents, but the general principle is the same. Inferring an invisible cause for a visible effect. Is the hypothetical HADD postulate confined to personal agents, or is that just a special case of the general human tendency to trace many outcomes back to invisible factors? Invisible in time, place, or scale? 

If Jeff and other like-minded atheists try to confine the principle to personal agency, that's special pleading. An ad hoc restriction on a general principle to artificially target supernatural explanations while exempting naturalistic alternatives. Jeff has a bad habit of compartmentalizing issues.  

iv) Even assuming that we're hardwired to detect invisible agency, why would that be the case unless it conferred a survival advantage? Wouldn't that be truth-conducive? Isn't that how Darwinians attempt to deflect Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism? 

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