Why Would Anyone Believe Justin Barrett's Theistic Arguments?
Justin L. Barrett is a psychologist who studies cognition. He is currently a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, which advertises that it emphasizes "the integration of psychology and Christian theology," and that its faculty are "committed Christian disciples." The first six chapters of Barrett's book Why Would Anyone Believe in God? (Barrett, 2004) are a largely unexceptionable presentation of recent understanding of the primitive, unconscious mental processes that are one explanation of the existence, prevalence, and durability of belief in gods. (Expositions of this kind were made previously by others [Atran; Boyer].) The present essay is a critique of arguments and statements in chapters 7 and 8, where the author departs from a scientific presentation and enters into more overtly theistic arguments.
An important initial point: what Barrett describes as reasons for "belief in gods generally and God particularly" (p. 15) are actually reasons for belief in spirits (including gods). He makes this clear by references to ghosts, spirits of ancestors, and local (forest) spirits as "gods" (pp. 21, 40, 55-56) belief in which is promoted by the unconscious mental processes he is describing. So, he is explaining not specifically why people "believe in God" but why they believe in spirits including his god, The Trinity. The most appropriate word denoting such belief is spiritualism (Oxford English Dictionary sub spiritualism, #4), which includes theism.
Belief in Minds and Belief in Gods
After spending 93 pages describing how belief in gods is a naturalistic phenomenon, Barrett turns to spiritualism in the form of the antique dualism that is at the heart of his and other religions: a human being consists of two kinds of parts—the demonstrable, physical body, and one or more indemonstrable, hypothetical entities that are adduced to "explain" certain biological facts. In chapter 7 the author presents an extended argument that "believing in other minds and believing in God are comparably natural beliefs" (p. 95), and "one cannot attack belief in God as unjustified on empirical grounds ... and [also] hold that belief in minds is justified" (p. 97).
The argument has two components:
- The author defines mind so that the concept has the resemblance he desires to the concept of God.
- He justifies this definition by alleging that it is the common idea of mind.
The argument fails on both counts. This will be demonstrated by answering the following questions:
- What is Barrett's concept of mind?
- What is the present-day concept of mind among knowledgeable people?
- Does Barrett's concept correspond to the common idea of mind?
What is Barrett's Concept of Mind?
Since the Middle Ages (MacDonald, 2003, pp. 255-259), and still in the ideas of most people, mind is conceived as the agent that is responsible for "percepts, beliefs, desires, memories and thoughts" (p. 95) (as well as likes and dislikes and other things); these are called mental because they are attributed to the mind. This concept was the basis of past dictionary definitions of mind:
That from which thought originates.... [T]hat which feels, perceives, wills, thinks, etc. (Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., 1949)
This dictionary adds that mind "was formerly conceived as an entity residing within an individual." This seems to be Barrett's idea. He defines minds as "invisible, intangible, and immaterial" entities. Thus he does indeed make his concept of them "sound like God" (p. 96). Only by accepting the hypothesis that there are such entities can one assert that "minds are not accessible to direct investigation and have not even been proven to exist" (p. 96).
Immaterial mind as conceived by Barrett is an "experiential" entity, inaccessible to other people (pp. 95-96). But as a student of cognition, Barrett should know that people's thoughts, etc.—the cerebral activities denoted by mind—are not solipsistic phenomena. One cannot, indeed, experience as his own another person's mental states, but one does have "access to the experiential world of the other": "implicit knowledge enables us to understand in a direct way what the other person is doing, why he or she is doing it, and how he or she feels about a specific situation" (Metzinger, 2009, pp. 175-176; cf. Lakoff and Johnson, 1999, pp. 309-310).
What is the Present-Day Concept of Mind among Knowledgeable People?
In recent decades there has been extensive scientific study of the phenomena attributed to minds. These studies have shown that the processes that the concept mind subsumes are physiological actions of the brain, associated with electrochemical activity in specific parts of the brain. They are not mysterious immaterial phenomena, and there is no evidence of an immaterial entity that produces them. "There is no mind separate from and independent of the body, nor are there thoughts that have an existence independent of bodies and brains" (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999, p. 266). There is no need to postulate a spirit mind as the cause of thought. Immaterial mind is an imaginary agent that functions to provide a pseudoexplanation of some cerebral activities.
This new understanding of the workings of the brain is incorporated in recent dictionary definitions of mind:
The conscious mental events and capabilities in an organism (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed., 1994)
Mind is not a thing (immaterial or material); it is an abstract concept useful for thinking about a set of cerebral activities (Musolino, 2015, pp. 189-190).
Some philosophers who reason about the concept of mind have incorporated the results of science into their thinking and even participated in scientific studies (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999; Metzinger, 2009). They state that the results of cognitive science "require our culture to abandon some of its deepest philosophical assumptions" (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999, p. 3). The traditional idea of an immaterial mind distinct from the body is losing place in philosophy (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999, pp. 16-44, 265-266). Educated persons who retain it may mostly be theists like Barrett who find it useful for promoting their religious beliefs, as in the argument being discussed here.
Does Barrett's Concept Correspond to the Common Idea of Mind?
One of the unconscious "mental tools" that contributes to belief in spirits is a "theory of mind" (pp. 4-6, 97; Lakoff and Johnson, 1999, pp. 235-248, 254). To paraphrase Barrett, people believe intuitively that other people have "percepts, beliefs, desires, memories and thoughts" that they can access consciously as oneself does his own thoughts, etc. (p. 95). Now, the people who devised the concept theory of mind did not intend to state that human beings have an innate idea of an "invisible, intangible, and immaterial" agent of thought in others. A person's "theory" that other people think, etc., does not in itself require any idea of one or more agents of those activities. If such an agent is supposed, it does not have to be described; one need have only a general idea of what it is, as in the dictionary definitions above (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999, p. 266).
Barrett's assertion, "belief in minds ... does not arise empirically" (p. 97), is wrong. Children believe intuitively that other people have thoughts, purposes, and beliefs (Musolino, 2015, pp. 180-188), but only if they are told that those things are produced by something called a mind do they have a concept of and belief in minds (p. 98). What Barrett calls "mental tools" are ways of thinking that evolved because they promoted survival among humankind's ancestors. The point of his book is that certain of these ways of thinking promote belief in spiritualistic concepts. But evolved ways of thinking do not come equipped with concepts. The concept mind is an intellectual cultural artifact. The word mind is a linguistic cultural artifact. (Likewise, the concept God is an intellectual cultural artifact, and the word God is a linguistic cultural artifact.) "Belief in minds" (distinguished from an innate belief that other people think) is learned, hence empirical.
Barrett states, "belief in minds is not empirically supported" (p. 95). But he also observes that the "consequences" of the activity of "immaterial" minds "in the physical, material world" are "the only evidence for their existence" (p. 98). In fact, one's theory of mind is validated empirically, by the behavior of other people: they act as oneself does on the basis of thoughts, etc. The "theory" obviously is essential for interacting with other persons. The existence of social interaction, and the predictability of much behavior, are evidence that others possess minds. This—and not just the attribution of minds to other people because of "largely nonconscious mental tools" (p. 97)—is why "minds seem like good, reasonable explanations of a huge number of empirically verifiable behaviors" (p. 96).
Moreover, many of people's specific cerebral processes can be detected, measured, altered, created and extinguished by appropriate procedures (e.g., Kahneman, 2011; Metzinger, 2009, pp. 75-82, 98-101, 225-226). Also, as noted above, they are associated with electrochemical activity in specific parts of the brain. These facts are evidence of the existence of mental states; there is no analogous evidence of the existence of God.
In the verifiability of attribution of minds to other people lie other flaws in Barrett's analogy between belief in minds and belief in spirits. First, one's theory of mind does not allow her to suppose that other people's minds are imagined by oneself or others. But it is not counterintuitive to suppose that spirits are imaginary beings that give "a local habitation and a name" to primitive ideas of unseen agents in nature.
Second, Barrett writes that, as in the case of minds, the "evidence" for God's existence is "the consequences of ['his'] activity in the physical, material world" (p. 98). But the ascription of anything in the universe to God is an attribution; it is not evidence. With respect to belief in God, there is nothing like the manifold correlations with one's own mental activity that demonstrate the presence of similar activity in other people. Nothing distinguishes a "physical" event or state attributed to spirits from the same event or state perceived without attribution to spirits. The existence of minds in other people does not justify belief in God nor the "many [other] theological beliefs" that are "not empirically verifiable" (p. 95).
The fact that there are unconscious mental activities that make belief in spirits "natural" (pp. 76-85) is no evidence whatsoever that spirits, or any particular spirit, exist. People intuitively attribute agency to moving inanimate objects including two-dimensional visual artifacts (pp. 32-33; Musolino, 2015, p. 193), but such attribution does not endow those objects with real agency. Attributing mental states that conduce to theism to God's having "created people with the capacity to know and love him" (p. 123) does not make God real.
Barrett writes that both God and mind cannot be studied by science because they are immaterial, and science studies the "physical world" (pp. 95-96). True, science cannot study God in the form in which Barrett imagines "him." Nor can it study Long John Silver, Gilgamesh, or the Easter Bunny. But scientific methods can be used to study literature and myth, seeking the origins, history, characters and relations of these imaginary entities. Likewise, the imaginary agent, mind, is not a possible object of evidential study, but the concept of mind is (MacDonald, 2003).
Atheism is better called nontheism because the a in atheism is a prefix indicating lack of something, so the word was created from the theistic point of view. It assumes the existence of one or more deities and thus claims by presupposition intellectual territory that the theist should attempt to acquire by argument.
Most Western nontheists have been indoctrinated as children with notions of God, so nontheism is a principle they have adopted. Most of them lack belief not only in God but also in spirits in general, so their principle is an opposite of spiritualism. The most appropriate term for it is naturalism (Oxford English Dictionary sub naturalism, #2). Naturalism requires no reference to spirits; it can be defined as "the empirical doctrine that all facts of the universe are explained by its physical character, and by general regularities in the behavior of matter-energy and space-time that are the result of their intrinsic properties."
In chapter 8 Barrett presents what he believes to be the difficulties in adopting and maintaining disbelief in spirits. It is true that this requires not letting one's thoughts be governed by the various mental processes that promote spiritualism; in Barrett's words, having "sufficient reflective defenses" to avoid unthinking acceptance of nonreflective ideas (p. 33). This is aided by knowing about these mental processes (as by reading Barrett's book) and by understanding that their existence can be explained as a result of evolution (Boyer, 2001; Metzinger, 2009, p. 178). (Barrett acknowledges the evolutionary origin only as a possibility. But he offers no alternative explanation, only an attribution of these processes to God [p. 123]).
More importantly, an individual's disbelief follows readily from:
- Accepting as one's principle for determining truth and falsehood an evidential principle, and understanding the difference between it and an authoritarian principle (see below).
- Perceiving that spirits do not provide explanations of anything, and that all propositions of the form "spirit x caused y" are attributions and pseudoexplanations. They can be neither verified nor falsified, because they make no meaningful statements (Ayer, 1936/1946, pp. 35, 114-116).
- Perceiving that religious opinions are just that: opinions. They are innumerable because they "cannot be empirically verified or falsified" (p. 96). The consensus that exists about most matters in the real world is impossible for spiritualism. Moreover, the countless conflicting assertions of spiritualists nullify one another. For example, attributing the creation of the universe to Jesus, to Brahma, or (following Aristophanes) to Vortex are mutually contradictory assertions, and equally meaningless to persons who have no attachment to any of those entities.
- Perceiving that rather than expressing "eternal truths," religions continually change their doctrines and their interpretations of their scriptures in response to changes in society and under the influence of individual thinkers. Thus, the religion of Jesus was his version of the apocalyptic Judaism that was popular at the time. Paul co-opted elements of Jesusism into a new religion he devised that amalgamated Judaism and foreign elements (Wilson, 2009). Unknown authors then created works full of invention and forgery that would become scriptures (Ehrman, 2012; Price, 2003), changing Paul's construct in the process.
- Learning that Christian ethics has been centered on prohibiting most kinds of sexual behavior, including natural behaviors such as coupling as an expression of love and not because of desire to procreate, having more than one sexual partner during one's lifetime, masturbation, homosexuality, and deriving erotic and esthetic pleasure from viewing nude human bodies. Christian ethics is much less concerned with cruelty and injustice; in fact, for 1500 years Christian churches were large-scale practitioners of these things.
- Perceiving that many spiritualistic notions are magical and preposterous. Examples are the revivification of corpses; people ascending into the sky to reach an invisible place outside the universe where they have lost their bodies but retain their mentation; wine being "really" blood and a bread wafer being "really" the body of a man.
- Learning the harmful effects of spiritualism on the individual and society: with respect mostly to Christianity, see: Bawer, 1997; Bennett, 1878; Bradlaugh Bonner, 1919; Cohen, 1931; Foote and Wheeler, 1887; Frankfurter, 2006; Hedges, 2008; Hitchens, 2007; and McCabe, 1935; 1946).
- Knowing that science indicates absence of design in nature (Stenger, 2007, pp. 47-75).
There are two principles commonly used to ascribe truth or falsity to any proposition. The evidential principle may be stated as follows: the objectively best way to determine the degree of credence to give to a proposition is to examine the evidence for and against the proposition. The other principle is the authoritarian principle. It states that the judgmentally correct way to determine the truth or falsity of a proposition is to compare it with a body of statements that one accepts as an authority for this purpose (such as ideas with which one was indoctrinated by his parents, and writings regarded as scriptures). Propositions that accord with the body of statements are true (or at least not definitely false), while those that are contrary to the body of statements are for that reason to be regarded as false.
In his denunciations of "scientism" Barrett may be attacking indirectly the evidential principle. He defines scientism as "a worldview dedicated to the notion that science ultimately can answer all questions" (and also "solve all problems," an idea that is not relevant here) (p. 118). The evidential principle is the principle of science and its prevalence in modern thought is largely a result of its use in science (Frey, 2009, p. 233). Few if any naturalists believe that "all questions" about the universe will be answered in the future. But observing the success of the evidential principle in answering questions about things that were previously inexplicable (and therefore received false spiritualistic answers), such as why there are seasons, tides, and storms, why people become ill, how babies come into being, and what constitutes the nature of the sun, moon, meteors, comets, planets, and stars (and how and why they move), naturalists think it likely that many things presently unexplained will be explained in the future using evidential thinking. The fact that the principle does not guarantee an answer to all questions is not a reason to hypothesize the existence of indemonstrable beings as explanations. (Note that it is creationist monotheism, not science, that pretends to provide an answer to all questions: "God did it or wants it.")
Barrett gives two instances of what science "cannot really explain" (p. 118). (To these one might add alleged miracles [pp. 34-36, 55, 114-115].) The first, "why the universe is fine-tuned to support intelligent life," is addressed below. The second is "why we should behave morally." Now ought statements are commands or exhortations; they are not statements of fact that are capable of being explained. Barrett can offer justifications for an exhortation "people should believe in God," but he cannot explain it (make intelligible what is not known) because it imparts no knowledge to explain. (Science, however, has described a "mental tool" that explains why people do behave morally [p. 5].)
Thus, there are abundant reasons why a rational, knowledgeable, and moral person can, and even should, reject spiritualism.
Barrett presents a list of "strategies" that he thinks nontheists can execute to sustain their unbelief (pp. 112-115). They can be summarized as adjusting one's environment to immerse oneself in atheism. But there are no segregated communities for nontheists. On the contrary, it is devout Christians who segregate themselves in monasteries, nunneries and theological seminaries. There they nourish their theistic ideas in "a community of others who likewise engage in intellectual exercises" (p. 114) where they can "spend time with other [theists] who can help provide [theistic] explanations for events and phenomena" (p. 112), and "whose accounts thus provide supporting evidence for some religious beliefs" (p. 114). And numerous more secular Christians immure themselves in ghettos to which only Christian ideas, Christian friends, Christian schools, Christian activities, Christian media, and Christian publications are admitted (and in doing so they stunt the intellectual, cultural and social growth of their children). These people seem to have learned that their religious notions are so unnatural that they can be sustained and transmitted only by intense and prolonged indoctrination and diligent avoidance of contrary ideas. One suspects that many theists engage in these behaviors to some degree: "[a]voiding [non]religious people altogether so that you do not hear their stories would help avoid troublesome 'evidence' that seems to [deny] God" (p. 114).
Perhaps avoidance behavior is why Barrett seems not to know that naturalists live sociably, easily and contentedly in a universe devoid of spirits, even when surrounded by theists, theistic presumptions, and theistic propaganda. We can live in the country (p. 113) without imagining that nature is a puppet show with spirits pulling the strings. We can undergo stress without feeling a need to cry to nonexistent powers for succor, and misfortune without feeling a need to blame them (pp. 51-53); we understand that these behaviors hinder one from comprehending and acting on the facts of the situation. We know that when those we love die, they cease to exist and there will be no more communication with them (pp. 56-57) this causes us to cherish them more while they are alive, not imagining that one's life is just "a doormat to eternity." We do not live in fear of scary devils and scarier prying, prudish, peevish and punitive deities, for the same reasons that we are not afraid of monsters under our beds or ghosts in our closets.
Barrett asserts that nontheists "have a burden to concoct theories of morality that justify their moral certainty" (p. 110). But ethical ideas and behavior do not originate in spiritualism (Bradie, 1994; de Waal et al., 2014; Lakoff and Johnson, 1999, pp. 290-292; Musolino, 2015, pp. 206-217; Palmer, 1801/1823, pp. 153-163) and do not require it for their operation. Naturalists possess consciences and follow moral precepts; one does not need to believe that those precepts were presented by and are enforced by one or more deities in order to observe them. Next, "moral certainty" is claimed by theists because they believe in absolute, transcendent moral laws. But morality cannot be determined by any set of rules (Churchland, 2012, pp. 165-185). The absolutism inherent in a set of ethical commands is not compatible with either what people do or what is desirable. Morality is a set of personal and social behaviors, based on biological tendencies (Churchland, 2012, pp. 27-46, 59-60); Barrett writes of an "intuitive morality tool" (p. 5). Ethical rules are attempts to codify behaviors that already exist. Such rules can never be complete or fully consistent, because those behaviors are variable depending upon the situation.
Similarly, Barrett asserts that whereas theists feel confident about their beliefs because they assume that their minds were "designed by an intelligent being to provide truth," nontheists need "another explanation for the certitude of beliefs, ... or certitude must be abandoned." If minds were not designed, "why should we feel confident in any belief?" (p. 112). But this "certitude of beliefs" is (like "moral certainty") merely a theistic presumption made possible by reliance on the authoritarian principle. Under the evidential principle certitude is in fact abandoned; there are only degrees of probability (Ayer, 1936/1946, p. 114; Burton, 2008, p. 195), but for a great many beliefs the probability is so extremely high that doubt is irrational. The feeling of knowing something with certainty is an unconscious process (similar to those that are the subject of Barrett's book), and it is not a reliable guide to what is fact (Burton, 2008). There are many matters concerning which one's belief or opinion should be determined by reflective thinking, and each of us must decide whether to assign truth based on evidential reasoning or on submission to authority.
Barrett writes, "before the industrial revolution, atheism almost did not exist" and that it "seems to have a foothold" in conditions of "urbanization, industrial or postindustrial economies, enough wealth to support systems of higher education and leisure time, and prominent development of science and technology" (p. 116). Of course, all these things are required as parts of the apparatus of present-day American Christianity, with its megachurches, Christian media, television evangelists, prosperity gospels, political religiosity, orchestrated bloc sectarian voting, and denial of scientific facts. What would the religion become if it had to return to tent meetings and itinerant preachers?
This "atheism almost did not exist" argument does not acknowledge published expressions of disbelief since antiquity (Berman, 1990; Drachmann, 1922; Hecht, 2003, Hunter and Wootton, 1992; Kors, 1990; Meslier, 1729/2009; Spink, 1960). Barrett allows that "a small number of individual thinkers ... have rejected belief in gods" (p. 116), but these past statements of disbelief presented ideas current in contemporary society, not just individual opinions. Individuals acting alone could not have published, disseminated and preserved these works. If the thoughts they expressed had seemed unnatural and preposterous they could just have been ridiculed. Instead they were regarded by the religious as serious threats capable of harming theism.
The "atheism almost did not exist" assertion thus also ignores the fact that alarmed priesthoods punish nontheistic statements and act to expunge them, so it must be expected that they will be found rarely, and are often disguised. Barrett offers several reasons for the increasing prevalence of naturalism in modern Western society (pp. 116-117) but omits what may be the most important one: Christian churches have been deprived of their power to compel expressions of belief and to punish expressions of disbelief.
Barrett presents nontheism (and irreligion in general) as a recent historical oddity. Another way of viewing the same facts is as a historic achievement: during an arduous course of 2600 years of intellectual and social effort in the face of constant, often violent, opposition by self-serving spiritualists, Western civilization has now partly overcome precivilized, innate modes of thought. In achieving secularism, humanism (in place of otherworldliness), universal education, genuine knowledge, and the freedom of speech that accompanies popular governments, it has attained a stage in which many people no longer need spiritualistic superstitions and can assess and reject them.
A Little Child Shall Lead Them
Studies of children show that they possess intuitive ideas that make it easy for them to believe in the Christian God (and other deities), and to ascribe superhuman characters to God (pp. 76-85). But in all these studies the children already possess the concept of God; and in being given a notion of God they must also have acquired some ideas about God's character (p. 76, 98). A fundamental question is, if a person were never exposed to the notion of spirits during childhood, would she ever develop that idea spontaneously? The studies do not show that the theistic ideas of children are not artefactual (introduced by others), however much their acceptance by the children, once they are learned, is "natural" because of innate processes.
Children give conscious expression to unconscious, innate tendencies to spiritualism (p. 76) not because their beliefs are "purer" than those of adults (p. 123), but because they have immature brains. They are naïve, credulous, and poorly rational. They have many erroneous perceptions, erroneous conceptions, and faults of reasoning (such as believing that inanimate objects and processes have intentions) (pp. 78-80, 83-85). (For a brief description how the animistic ideas of children could lead them to creationism see Frey, 2009, pp. 234-235.) When these childish errors are carried over into the adult thinking of a population, the resulting intellectual milieu is one of superstition (Frey, 2009, p. 230). One would not propose prolonging the poorly patterned, uncoordinated movement behavior of small children as the basis for the movements of adults; their immature mental behavior is equally inappropriate as a basis for adult thinking.
Persons who want to use childish ideas to promote spiritualism should consider Paul the Apostle's remark: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways" (1 Corinthians 13:11, New Revised Standard Version).
The "Fine-Tuning" Argument
This argument runs thus: life—in particular, human beings—could not exist if various physical constants in the universe were only slightly different, and the coexistence of all the favorable conditions is best explained by intelligent design of the universe (for a theistic physicist's presentation see Vilenkin). Barrett mentions (p. 112, 123) and accepts (p. 118) this argument, and it is worth analyzing.
Similarly, one can imagine numerous slight differences in the characters and history of the planet Earth that would have precluded the development of life. The fact that these were not actualized is not evidence of supernatural providence; rather, our existence is proof that these alternative characters and histories were not actualized. One should not presuppose that life on Earth was preordained and then seek supernatural "explanations" of how it became possible.
Let me parody the argument. My family speak English. The people in my community, and most of the people in my country, speak English. Now, of the hundreds of languages, the one I happen to know is English, the one of greatest use to me! This cannot be attributed to "chance," so it must be the result of God's benevolence toward me.
The fact that we human beings exist in a universe in which various physical constants and other circumstances make our existence possible is totally unsurprising. Some astronomers and physicists believe that there are innumerable universes. Perhaps only a minuscule fraction of extant universes support life (Krauss, 2012, pp. 125-126), but this does not mean that we humans are blessed in being in our universe rather than another we did not exist, waiting for a suitable environment, before our universe began.
Proponents of the argument often use the phrase "fine tuning" (or something similar) to describe the existence of favorable circumstances. This betrays their underlying reasoning. The argument presupposes that the universe is an artifact whose conditions were determined by an intelligent agent, and therefore the argument cannot be used as evidence of an artificer. And as the physicist Lawrence Krauss observes, if one suggests "that each fundamental constant is significant because God presumably chose each one to have the value it does as part of a divine plan for our universe," then "nothing is an accident, but by the same token, nothing is predicted or actually explained. It is an argument by fiat that goes nowhere and yields nothing useful about the physical laws governing the universe" (Krauss, 2012, p. 122).
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 Barrett's notion of mind is useless for scientific studies—even his own (pp. 19, 30, 44, 74, 91-93, 129-130). It is noteworthy that (at least in this book) he never describes his own research as study of an "invisible, intangible, and immaterial" thing. On the contrary, he acknowledges "the embodied nature of the human mind" and that the brain is "a substrate for the mind" (p. 100). He does not attempt to explain how an immaterial mind "squats down in the flesh" (Musolino, 2015, pp. 136-150), how its supposed operations can be influenced by physical events (Musolino, 2015, pp. 152-165), or how it can express itself in physical events, such as those shown by various methods of imaging the brain (Musolino, 2015, pp. 168-170).
 Barrett's concept of mind is analogous to the old notion that souls are agents of vitality and of physiological processes such as sensations, digestion, growth, etc. (Musolino, 2015, pp. 42-45). There is no longer any utility in imagining a soul as the cause of biological processes; it was a pseudoexplanation. God is also an imaginary agent that functions to provide pseudoexplanations.
 Musolino (2015, pp. 57-61) shows that the idea that immaterial entities (e.g., souls/minds) exist is a hypothesis that science can study.
 Barrett complains bitterly about faculty proselyting for nontheism in public universities (p. 111, 122). (One supposes that some of these professors think it an intellectual and/or moral obligation to provide some perspective to the many students who were indoctrinated with theism when they were too young to assess ideas.) Does he think it is ethical for parents to labor to deprive their children of all but narrowly sectarian ideas? He states that institutions of higher education "starve ... religious belief" (p. 122). Is force-feeding young people—like geese—proper mental nutrition? How many of the students and faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary are there because they were raised in this way?
 On the matter of favorable conditions, note that the three traditional monotheistic religions have succeeded as religions dominating entire societies or nations mostly when their observance has been compelled by a government either controlled by, or colluding with, a priesthood. The diffusion of Christianity over the world also required the existence of cities, industrial-agricultural slave economies, wealth, education, the sciences of navigation and weaponry, and transportational technology.
 Barrett observes that Communist governments have been unable to suppress belief in God (p. 118, 122). He might have also noted that since antiquity, theistic governments have been unable to suppress skepticism about, and outright rejection of, belief in one or many gods, despite "horrific efforts" (p. 122) to do so.
 After describing "studies outlining children's development of religious concepts," psychologists Rebekah Richert and Erin Smith remark: "[w]ithout cultural input and support, it is unclear whether religious concepts would disappear or simply relegate to the fantasy realm" (Richert and Smith, 2009, p. 191).
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