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Religion a figment of human imagination - Comments

sane1's Avatar Comment 1 by sane1

Imagination indeed!

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 12:20:00 UTC | #162820

Johnny O's Avatar Comment 2 by Johnny O

Humans alone practice religion because they're the only creatures to have evolved imagination

An interesting article, but they're forgetting that goddidit...

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 12:22:00 UTC | #162827

Wosret's Avatar Comment 3 by Wosret

I think that this is patantly, and demonstratably wrong. I think that zoologists would fervently disagree that we are the only animals with imaginations, ethical codes, or a sense of fairness.

I think that the obvious secret ingedient is language. The imagination is abstract, and conceptual, and has no referents in reality. It is impossible to communicate your abstract ideas to someone without language. Every creature on earth could believe in supernatural gods and afterlives but it wouldn't equal a group belief, like a religion, without the ability to communicate the abstract and conceptual.

To have specific words to describe your thoughts...and perhaps more importantly to the religious, have words of ambiguity and abfiscation.

Your imagination could be exceptionally prolific, but your ideas would all die with you without the ability to communicate them to others. I think that it is beyond obvious that although imagination is a necessary vactor of religion, it isn't sufficient by itself, you also need to be able to communicate your invented concepts to the members of your society to have a unifying and shared superstition.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 12:55:00 UTC | #162885

Ty_Webb's Avatar Comment 4 by Ty_Webb

Interesting idea. I always figured religion to be the result of a lack of imagination. The inability to imagine what being dead must be like resulted in creating the various stories about what happens when we die.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 12:57:00 UTC | #162890

sane1's Avatar Comment 5 by sane1

I'm pretty sure my dog thinks of me as a god.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 13:04:00 UTC | #162899

Chuk15's Avatar Comment 6 by Chuk15

I don't think your dog even understands the concept of god.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 13:10:00 UTC | #162904

PJG's Avatar Comment 7 by PJG

Dogs think their owners are Gods
Cats think they (cats) are Gods

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 13:16:00 UTC | #162909

movingshadow's Avatar Comment 8 by movingshadow

"I'm pretty sure my dog thinks of me as a god. "

I'm not a gambling man, but I'd be willing to wager your dog thinks you're the alpha male of it's pack.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 13:21:00 UTC | #162918

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 9 by phil rimmer

I think Gods a bitch.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 13:23:00 UTC | #162924

D'Arcy's Avatar Comment 10 by D'Arcy

Well, surprise, surprise! You have to be able to imagine things that aren't there to believe in gods!

Now if Big G were to show Himself in an unambiguous way, then there would be a very good reason to believe, but as this is highly unlikely to happen before the sun's conversion to a red giant star, atheists can continue to have a more focussed view of reality.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 13:24:00 UTC | #162927

LaurenceH86's Avatar Comment 11 by LaurenceH86

I agree with Mitchell, without the facility of language to express our imagination nothing would ever be communicated and no ideas shared which are neccesary for a belief system of any kind to form.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 13:26:00 UTC | #162931

prettygoodformonkeys's Avatar Comment 12 by prettygoodformonkeys

God, Satan...
put both those bitches on a leash.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 13:28:00 UTC | #162935

emmet's Avatar Comment 13 by emmet

I think there's evidence that orcas have imagination. See this YouTube video:

In the clip, orcas collaborate (three swimming together) in order to swim under an ice floe, creating a wave to upset the floe and knock a seal off. This requires some or all of having the idea, planning, communication, an expectation of what will happen, some kind of "model". I fail to see how this could be done without something that could reasonably be termed imagination.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 13:29:00 UTC | #162937

Rick and his Ward's Avatar Comment 14 by Rick and his Ward

Try telling this to the time wasters that hold cushy jobs, knock on our doors promoting mythology and indoctrinating our kids.

I disagree on the sharp dividing line though, I'm sure animals have memories, a goldfish has at least a 90 second memory!

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 13:29:00 UTC | #162939

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 15 by rod-the-farmer

I agree with Mitchell Gilks. I bet a zoologist, especially of the marine sub-species, would tell you all kinds of interesting stories about dolphins that would surely indicate they are highly intelligent, and can imagine things. Didn't we see an article recently about a chimp or a gorilla who made up words to describe fruit he/she had tasted, but for which he/she had not been given the name ? Life is wonderful, in all its varieties.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 13:32:00 UTC | #162945

82abhilash's Avatar Comment 16 by 82abhilash

4. Comment #171460 by Mitchell Gilks on April 28, 2008 at 1:55 pm

I think that zoologists would fervently disagree that we are the only animals with imaginations, ethical codes, or a sense of fairness.

So you think it is written language that makes the difference. It could be. It might be that all animals have a sense of proto-morality from which our sense of morality emerged. Shaped by natural selection of course.

It is even possible that we share common brain structures with our primate relatives. It might be only a small difference in our brain structure that makes us able to develop civilizations and them incapable.

Knowing how animals are different from us is as important as knowing how they are similar to us. I hope they can zero in on where exactly the differences began.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 13:34:00 UTC | #162949

MelM's Avatar Comment 17 by MelM

Religion is just a fantasy.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 14:40:00 UTC | #163013

ukvillafan's Avatar Comment 18 by ukvillafan

When one examines sufficiently the argument that ideas cannot be communicated without "language", it becomes self-evidently false after a short period of time.

Communication takes many forms and, clearly, other animals communicate in ways that we, as humans, do not call "language", at least not in the sense that is meant in this thread. Joint action and community knowledge clearly exists in the animal world without verbal communication.

Whether the ability to pass on knowledge and ideas in the animal world requires "imagination" or not is an interesting question. To act in concert to hit ice floes from underneath to dislodge a food source would require a certain amount of imagination if undertaken by humans, even if after countless years the ability becomes second nature due to the passage of information down the generations. The person who first contemplated such an action would have had to "imagine it" â€" the same must go for other animals.

As I understand it, the point being made here is that the ability to imagine the abstract must have pre-dated the infiltration of religion in human development, on the ground that religion is, essentially an abstract concept. Effectively, the transcendant can only exist after the ability to imagine "evolved".

Personally, that element of the story is, surely, self-evident. In order to believe in the concept of a god, one has to postulate the concept in the first place. Even if the existence of god was implanted by god, he would have had to have implanted the ability to imagine the divine first.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 15:13:00 UTC | #163029

FightingFalcon's Avatar Comment 19 by FightingFalcon

If only the imaginary friends of Theists didn't kill people. At least mine don't...

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 15:17:00 UTC | #163034

Damien White's Avatar Comment 20 by Damien White

I think that certain animals do display at least a limited capacity to understand language. The best example of this would be a sheepdog. While they may not understand the words used themselves, they can link sounds and tasks such that sounds can be used to get them to perform quite complex tasks. If this is not at least proto-language, I don't know what is.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 15:30:00 UTC | #163044

Dr. Strangegod's Avatar Comment 21 by Dr. Strangegod

This is all totally right on. It seems a bit obvious to me, but I'm happy to get some anthropologists on my side. There is indeed a point at which we were physiologically able to imagine, though I think the slow evolution of this occurrence is missed when you think of it as a sudden, single event. I have a theory about what I call 'powerful fictions', but I'll spare you all. It goes along quite nicely with the article above.

Mitchell - You're correct to stress language, and the mental abilities of animals are often underestimated, but I would be careful also of overestimating them. Most creatures on earth are significantly less mentally developed; that is a fact. A few, like whales and dolphins and chimps and elephants, may be awful close to what we can do. "Good luck, and thanks for all the fish!" and all that, sure. But this article is not really about animals. It's about humans, and most likely different groups of humans that evolved at slightly different rates, allowing some to produce art and imaginative stories, as well as lie, con, and grift, at an earlier time. Who do you think won out? Who do you think took advantage of who? It may be that we have since been divided very generally in to the tellers and the listeners. Those of us here interested in the origin of religion should be paying very close attention to this period of human development. Again, I'll mention the bi-cameral mind thing. There may be a link here.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 15:32:00 UTC | #163047

Hobbit's Avatar Comment 22 by Hobbit

Religion a figment of human imagination!

Well "Duhhh".

I'd like to see that as a head line in all the major news outlets around the world and then watch the faithheads go very red in the face with rage as they come up with the same old arguments.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 15:40:00 UTC | #163051

Wosret's Avatar Comment 23 by Wosret

I never said that other animals lack communication of anykind, or the ability to share ideas of all kinds. I was specifically talking about sharing ideas that do not have a referent in reality. That require complex communication skills to be able to explain my idea to you without the aid of the world in anyway. When conveying to you an idea of something that in no was exists, or can be demonstrated to you in an meaningful sense.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 15:41:00 UTC | #163052

Wosret's Avatar Comment 24 by Wosret

Lucas, we are animals, and I think you mean developed mentally differently. Not "less". Otherwise I would like to know what scale of mental developement you possess that I am not aware of.

Clearly human beings are smarter, and can do some mental tasks that other animals can't. That doesn't make us more developed, and them less developed. No more than are ducks more developed cause they can fly.

Surely every species has different brains, and are developed differently, and have different mental facualties. Since we are all related, we also undoubtably have many similar aspects.

I think they are plainly wrong saying that other animals have no imagination. I am fine with the claim that humans are capable of a level of abstract thought that other animals are not. Or our system of morality and ethics is far more involved, and entires a lot more. I don't think that is true of our sense of fairness, I've seen some other primates act with an extremely strong sense of fairness.

My disagreement was in their saying all other animals lacked those facualties completely, and that imagination was the most important. I think that complex language is more important.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 15:47:00 UTC | #163057

Darwin's badger's Avatar Comment 25 by Darwin's badger

Dolphins definitely have imagination, if you include their penchant for blow-hole sex.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 15:56:00 UTC | #163066

savroD's Avatar Comment 26 by savroD

Phil Rimmer Says:

I think Gods a bitch

Phil... is that like god's a bitch and then you marry one? or god's a bitch and then you die? or Both?

Cheers my friend!

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 16:19:00 UTC | #163081

SPS's Avatar Comment 27 by SPS


'Imagine no religion...'

Had to throw that in.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 16:45:00 UTC | #163094

Apeseed's Avatar Comment 28 by Apeseed

Studies have shown that brown Capuchin monkeys have a sense of fairness.

The likeliest scenario must be that the basis of our morality comes from our evolution as social animals. Then our imagination comes up with "Just So" stories to account for why we have the sense of good and bad, fair and unfair.
Perhaps someone who understands better could explain why Chris Frith says "theory of mind" might be as important as the evolution of imagination. I had always assumed "theory of mind" was an act of imagination.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 17:12:00 UTC | #163109

riki's Avatar Comment 30 by riki

I think you'd also need a complex system of written and spoken language, to describe your imaginary world, so that others can live there as well.

btw the New Scientists Magazine subscription is great value. I've been a subscriber for about two years now.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 17:26:00 UTC | #163120

MorituriMax's Avatar Comment 29 by MorituriMax

emmet wrote,

In the clip, orcas collaborate (three swimming together) in order to swim under an ice floe, creating a wave to upset the floe and knock a seal off. This requires some or all of having the idea, planning, communication, an expectation of what will happen, some kind of "model". I fail to see how this could be done without something that could reasonably be termed imagination.

Hmm, I think the whales just remember that "if we bump this ice, tasty food falls into our mouths."

heh heh, almost like a south park episode.. the seal is kenny.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 17:26:00 UTC | #163119