Animism—the widespread belief among indigenous groups around the world that natural features like plants, rivers, rocks, and mountains are alive and animated by anthropomorphic spirits—is widely considered to be the oldest form of religion. Following the work of Justin Barrett, Stewart Guthrie, and others, the human propensity to attribute humanlike traits to natural objects is a plausible extension of an evolutionarily adaptive hyperactive agency detection device ubiquitous throughout the animal kingdom. After all, the false positive detection of an imaginary predator is much less costly to survival and reproduction than the false negative dismissal of a real one. In this essay journalist Sam Woolfe argues that a “soft animist” need not posit that personhood permeates the natural world in order to preserve the essential animistic sense of responsibility to respect and protect nature in all of its aliveness. In this sense animism can signify not a particular metaphysical viewpoint, but rather the beneficent relationship to nature that such a viewpoint has traditionally inspired.
New in the Kiosk: Trivial by Nature: A Critique of Hugh Harris’ Weak Naturalism (2023) by Gary Robertson
In this response to Hugh Harris’ earlier Secular Web Kiosk piece “Proposing Weak Naturalism,” Gary Robertson reviews some major flaws in Harris’ case for what he calls “weak naturalism,” which by Harris’ definition renders it either trivially true or internally inconsistent. In addition, the scientism, evidentialism, and arguments from ignorance undergirding Harris’ arguments are incommensurable and, in the case of scientism, discredited. Furthermore, Harris applies a double standard in requiring scientifically verifiable evidence of his opponents’ positions, but not of his own position. Finally, Harris’ appeal to a perceived lack of decisive evidence to the contrary amounts to an appeal to ignorance.
Recommended reading: Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says about the End (2023) by Bart D. Ehrman
In Armageddon, New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman delves into the most misunderstood book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation—a mystifying prophecy filled with bizarre symbolism, violent imagery, mangled syntax, confounding contradictions, and very firm ideas about the horrors that await us all. Ehrman provides a lucid tour through three millennia of Judeo-Christian thinking about how our world will end with wit and verve, exploring the alarming social and political consequences of expecting an imminent apocalypse, whether the message of the Book of Revelation is at odds with Jesus’ teachings, and how to live in the face of an uncertain future.