The Embodied God: Core Intuitions About Person Physicality Coexist and Interfere With Acquired Christian Beliefs About God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus

Michael Barlev, Spencer Mermelstein, Adam S. Cohen, Tamsin C. German

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Why are disembodied extraordinary beings like gods and spirits prevalent in past and present theologies? Under the intuitive Cartesian dualism hypothesis, this is because it is natural to conceptualize of minds as separate from bodies; under the counterintuitiveness hypothesis, this is because beliefs in minds without bodies are unnatural—such beliefs violate core knowledge intuitions about person physicality and consequently have a social transmission advantage. We report on a critical test of these contrasting hypotheses. Prior research found that among adult Christian religious adherents, intuitions about person psychology coexist and interfere with theological conceptualizations of God (e.g., infallibility). Here, we use a sentence verification paradigm where participants are asked to evaluate as true or false statements on which core knowledge intuitions about person physicality and psychology and Christian theology about God are inconsistent (true on one and false on the other) versus consistent (both true or both false). We find, as predicted by the counterintuitiveness hypothesis but not the Cartesian dualism hypothesis, that Christian religious adherents show worse performance (lower accuracy and slower response time) on statements where Christian theological doctrines about God's physicality (e.g., incorporeality, omnipresence) conflict with intuitions about person physicality. We find these effects for other extraordinary beings in Christianity—the Holy Spirit and Jesus—but not for an ordinary being (priest). We conclude that it is unintuitive to conceptualize extraordinary beings as disembodied, and that this, rather than inherent Cartesian dualism, may explain the prevalence of beliefs in such beings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12784
JournalCognitive Science
Volume43
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019

Keywords

  • Counterintuitiveness
  • Disembodied mind
  • Dualism
  • God
  • Holy Spirit
  • Religious beliefs
  • Representational coexistence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The Embodied God: Core Intuitions About Person Physicality Coexist and Interfere With Acquired Christian Beliefs About God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this