This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Comment

← India: atheism in the land of a thousand gods

Steven Mading's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by Steven Mading

Comment 11 by Vicktor :

I think the human propensity to worship gods, other people, animals, trees, stars etc. merits further investigation. Why, exactly, do most people believe that worshiping helps and that not doing so incurs wrath? Even faking it, many times, is apparently good enough - the important thing is that you do it all the same and be seen by others doing it. Are there any good books on the subject?

Also notice how our languages reflect this as well. When you attempt to construct a sentence in a fashion where you're talking about an event occurring without trying to imply it was done on purpose by some sentient agent, then it comes out in passive voice - the sentence construct in which the sentence has a verb, and an object, but not a subject. This is a really awkward grammar when used too much. The language itself seems to reflect that our ancestors had the attitude that events happening by deliberate actors is the normal way of thinking and other modes of thinking are weird exceptions (thus why passive voice is not the normal way of speaking.)

When you stop to think about it, passive voice should be very common. A lot more common than it is. It is far more honest to say "There is a thing happening but I'm not going to claim to know who or what caused it. I only know that this thing is happening."

Often pronouns are used to get around this. i.e. what you actually want to say is something along the lines of "raining occurring now", but what comes out of your mouth is "it is raining" because you need to create an artificial 'subject' for the sentence grammar, so you say "it" for the subject. Really? "it" is raining? What or who exactly, is doing the raining? Is "it" the cloud? Is "it" the sky? Is "it" the drops themselves? Well, it's none of those things really - it's just a placeholder used because our language forces us to think in terms of needing to specify the subject as the most important thing in the sentence and the few grammar constructs that leave it off come out sounding weird if used too much.

In other words, I agree that there seems to be a built-in need to always look for the do-er of an action, and it's so built in that it has actually creeped into our language itself, which is one of the reasons trying to describe evolution and make people "get it" is hard. You have a hard time even expressing the concept without resorting to linguistic forms that presume a "do-er" first.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 18:34:07 UTC | #638043