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Author Topic:   Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings?
Straggler
Member (Idle past 154 days)
Posts: 10333
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 1 of 373 (594081)
12-01-2010 3:32 PM


Do animals exhibit belief in supernatural beings?
OriginsNet Publications
http://www.originsnet.org/chimpspiritdatabase.pdf
If they do is this evidence in favour of the actual existence of supernatural beings?
Or does it point to the evolutionary origins and causes of human belief in supernatural beings?

Replies to this message:
 Message 2 by AdminModulous, posted 12-01-2010 5:17 PM Straggler has replied
 Message 26 by Jon, posted 12-04-2010 11:00 PM Straggler has replied
 Message 92 by Panda, posted 12-09-2010 9:40 AM Straggler has replied

AdminModulous
Administrator
Posts: 897
Joined: 03-02-2006


Message 2 of 373 (594095)
12-01-2010 5:17 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Straggler
12-01-2010 3:32 PM


Would you like to debate the evidence for supernatural belief in animals? What evidence might look like and try to resolve one way or another what we can say we know about this topic.
Or do you want to debate whether animals believing is 'evidence in favour of the actual existence of supernatural beings?'. This last one is just a variant of the Peanut Gallery/Great Debate - but the former is kind of interesting.
And it'd be nice to see you stake out your position so people can argue against it.
I assume Misc topics in evolution is where you'd want it?

This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Straggler, posted 12-01-2010 3:32 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 3 by Straggler, posted 12-02-2010 12:10 PM AdminModulous has not replied

Straggler
Member (Idle past 154 days)
Posts: 10333
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 3 of 373 (594172)
12-02-2010 12:10 PM
Reply to: Message 2 by AdminModulous
12-01-2010 5:17 PM


Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings
AdminMod writes:
Would you like to debate the evidence for supernatural belief in animals? What evidence might look like and try to resolve one way or another what we can say we know about this topic.
Yes. Let’s go for this. Do animals exhibit signs of belief in the supernatural? How could we recognise such beliefs? Is there any evidence to suggest parallels with primitive human beliefs? Are there any obvious similarities between the behaviour of animals and modern humans that could suggest animal religiosity of any description? That sort of line of discussion.
AdminMod writes:
And it'd be nice to see you stake out your position so people can argue against it.
OK. Prior to any real investigation of this at all I suspect that higher primates in particular may well exhibit basic signs of things like death rituals or ancestor worship. With regard to other less intelligent animals - I have no idea but I doubt it. And I don’t see how we could really tell. Does a dog bark at the moon because of some supernatural belief? I would be surprised if this was the case but I have no idea how we could ever possibly determine this without being able to communicate or examine directly comparable human behaviour.
In short I think the question posed in this thread is an interesting one, and one that I would hazard some guesses at, but not one I have formed a particularly strong position on. If it gets promoted and inspires any reaction in others then I would take it as an opportunity to consider the question in more detail.
AdminMod writes:
I assume Misc topics in evolution is where you'd want it?
I think this qualifies as a proper evidence based topic rather than ‘Coffee House’ or ‘Free For Al’ or anything like that. But I leave it to you to decide where best to put it beyond those comments.

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Replies to this message:
 Message 5 by Phage0070, posted 12-03-2010 2:42 PM Straggler has replied
 Message 6 by Coragyps, posted 12-03-2010 7:52 PM Straggler has replied

AdminModulous
Administrator
Posts: 897
Joined: 03-02-2006


Message 4 of 373 (594420)
12-03-2010 12:04 PM


Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thread copied here from the Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings? thread in the Proposed New Topics forum.

Phage0070
Inactive Member


Message 5 of 373 (594477)
12-03-2010 2:42 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by Straggler
12-02-2010 12:10 PM


Re: Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings
Straggler writes:
Do animals exhibit signs of belief in the supernatural? How could we recognise such beliefs? Is there any evidence to suggest parallels with primitive human beliefs?
I may be completely off base and talking out my ass here, but I draw a distinction between belief in the supernatural and simply an inaccurate view of reality.
For instance, an early human puzzled by how trees began to grow in the forest might guess that the trees crept around the forest at night when he wasn't looking, planting all the trees. A modern animist might instead believe that despite knowing that trees do not in fact physically do that, instead the "spirit" of the trees supernaturally fulfill that same role.
The first one, while definitely not actually an accurate depiction of reality, does not constitute belief in the supernatural because the person genuinely supposes reality to work that way. The second is belief in the "supernatural" because despite knowing that reality doesn't work that way, there is an effort to retain the belief regardless in a separate "super-nature".
So in my view the challenge is similar to that explained for the ape's treatment of the dead vs. wounded; the dead don't need tending of wounds, only protection. What distinction in behavior can we look for to distinguish an ape with a flawed understanding of reality from one who knows full well that their belief is flawed, yet retains it alongside more accurate understanding?

This message is a reply to:
 Message 3 by Straggler, posted 12-02-2010 12:10 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 8 by Straggler, posted 12-04-2010 6:15 AM Phage0070 has replied

Coragyps
Member (Idle past 823 days)
Posts: 5553
From: Snyder, Texas, USA
Joined: 11-12-2002


Message 6 of 373 (594525)
12-03-2010 7:52 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by Straggler
12-02-2010 12:10 PM


Re: Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings
Dorothy Cheney's Baboon Metaphysics reports that baboon mommies carry around the bodies of their infants that die of disease until they rot and start to disintegrate. (That observation is as close to "metaphysics" as I remember the book getting - it's really about their social skills.) That might be construable as some kind of belief in an afterlife, or hope for a resurrection, or some such. Or that baboon mommies are really dumb.
Dogs and cats, in my experience, don't even take much notice of death of their housemates. They may miss them after they are gone, but my admittedly anthropomorphic read on this is that they are wondering "Where the hell is Fluffy? I want to play!" rather than any deeper thinking on the absence.
Interesting topic, anyway!

This message is a reply to:
 Message 3 by Straggler, posted 12-02-2010 12:10 PM Straggler has replied

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Straggler
Member (Idle past 154 days)
Posts: 10333
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 7 of 373 (594632)
12-04-2010 6:06 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by Coragyps
12-03-2010 7:52 PM


Elephant Death Ritual
On the basis that death rituals and belief in an afterlife of some sort seem to be a near universal feature of human religions I thought I would see what equivalents there might be amongst animals.
I found this fascinating link on elephant behaviour (see below). I quote the bit specifically about death rituals as most relevant to this topic but I found the entire link on elephant intelligence and behaviour remarkable.
Elephant Intelligence
Link writes:
Elephants are the only other species upon Earth other than Homo sapiens sapiens and Neanderthals known to have any recognizable ritual around death. They show a keen interest in the bones of their own kind (even unrelated elephants that have died long ago). They are often seen gently investigating the bones with their trunks and feet, and remaining very quiet. Sometimes elephants that are completely unrelated to the deceased will still visit their graves. When an elephant is hurt, other elephants (also even if they are unrelated) will aid them.
Elephant researcher Martin Meredith recalls an occurrence in her book about a typical elephant death ritual that was witnessed by Anthony Martin-Hall, a South African biologist who had studied elephants in Addo, South Africa for over 8 years. The entire family of a dead matriarch, including her young calf were all gently touching her body with their trunks and tried to lift her. The elephant herd were all rumbling loudly. The calf was observed to be weeping and made sounds that sounded like a scream but then the entire herd fell incredibly silent. They then began to throw leaves and dirt over the body and broke off tree branches to cover her. They spent the next 2 days quietly standing over her body. They sometimes had to leave to get water or food, but they would always return.

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Straggler
Member (Idle past 154 days)
Posts: 10333
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 8 of 373 (594633)
12-04-2010 6:15 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by Phage0070
12-03-2010 2:42 PM


Re: Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings
Phage writes:
What distinction in behavior can we look for to distinguish an ape with a flawed understanding of reality from one who knows full well that their belief is flawed, yet retains it alongside more accurate understanding?
How can we know when animals might be exhibiting belief in the supernatural? With great difficulty I suspect. We can only really compare with what we know about humans and human behaviour.
So how do anthropologists identify whether or not primitive and long dead societies exhibited theistic beliefs? Signs of worship and ritualisation seem to be the key indicators.
But I am not claiming to have any knowledge in this area at all. I just thought it was an interesting and relevant question.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 5 by Phage0070, posted 12-03-2010 2:42 PM Phage0070 has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 9 by Phage0070, posted 12-04-2010 12:11 PM Straggler has replied

Phage0070
Inactive Member


Message 9 of 373 (594655)
12-04-2010 12:11 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by Straggler
12-04-2010 6:15 AM


Re: Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings
Straggler writes:
Signs of worship and ritualisation seem to be the key indicators.
That seems to be the case. Except that I'm not sure that anthropologists actually distinguish between religion and belief in the supernatural; there isn't anything inherent about ritualization and worship that necessarily implies the supernatural.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 8 by Straggler, posted 12-04-2010 6:15 AM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 10 by Straggler, posted 12-04-2010 1:06 PM Phage0070 has replied

Straggler
Member (Idle past 154 days)
Posts: 10333
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 10 of 373 (594657)
12-04-2010 1:06 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by Phage0070
12-04-2010 12:11 PM


Re: Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings
Phage writes:
there isn't anything inherent about ritualization and worship that necessarily implies the supernatural.
Not definitively no. But when anthropologists find signs of worship is it not usually taken that this implies some form of supernatural belief? I am thinking of things like neolithic figurines as representing some sort of fertility goddess.
Are there any examples of primitive cultures where we know that worship was not related to supernatural belief?

This message is a reply to:
 Message 9 by Phage0070, posted 12-04-2010 12:11 PM Phage0070 has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 11 by frako, posted 12-04-2010 2:29 PM Straggler has replied
 Message 13 by Phage0070, posted 12-04-2010 3:28 PM Straggler has replied

frako
Member (Idle past 394 days)
Posts: 2932
From: slovenija
Joined: 09-04-2010


Message 11 of 373 (594678)
12-04-2010 2:29 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by Straggler
12-04-2010 1:06 PM


Re: Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings
Are there any examples of primitive cultures where we know that worship was not related to supernatural belief?
Women worship, men worship, child worship, king worship, and sometimes you find non supernatural animal worship (rarer then supernatural animal worship).

This message is a reply to:
 Message 10 by Straggler, posted 12-04-2010 1:06 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 12 by Straggler, posted 12-04-2010 2:55 PM frako has replied

Straggler
Member (Idle past 154 days)
Posts: 10333
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 12 of 373 (594684)
12-04-2010 2:55 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by frako
12-04-2010 2:29 PM


Re: Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings
Can you give some examples?

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Phage0070
Inactive Member


Message 13 of 373 (594690)
12-04-2010 3:28 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by Straggler
12-04-2010 1:06 PM


Re: Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings
Straggler writes:
But when anthropologists find signs of worship is it not usually taken that this implies some form of supernatural belief? I am thinking of things like neolithic figurines as representing some sort of fertility goddess.
Sure they do, and we have every right to point out when they are talking nonsense. For example:
Anthropologist: "Aha! I found a... well, I have no idea what this is for. I mean: Ahah, this is a religious... thingy! Thats right!"
Assistant: "Are you sure, sir? It looks like a little doll... does that really fit with all that jewelry you found?"
Anthropologist: "Of course, patsy! There is no other conceivable use for a doll than for religious purposes. See, it was among this child's possessions so it was undoubtedly some form of religious instruction. If we don't find dolls in some of the other huts we will conclude that this child and family was part of the religious caste! I was already going to draw some connection between the dissimilar amounts of jewelry..."
Assistant: "Maybe the presence of dolls is connected to if the hut's resident had children who wanted dolls, and the jewelry to their comparative wealth? Maybe if you are more wealthy you can afford more dolls..."
Anthropologist: "Nonsense! Everyone knows that the most ornamented member of the tribe is their spiritual leader, and that by extension any other jewelry is simply a mark of their status in comparison to them! Having jewelry is therefore a direct indication of their spiritual status; after all, you wouldn't be suggesting that they spent large amounts of time and resources just to look pretty would you?"
Assistant: "Well, I wouldn't personally, but sometimes..."
Anthropologist: "Just look at these semi-regular feasts they have, where tribe members would gather around a fire, roast up some meat, smoke from ornamented pipes, and drink some crudely fermented beverage from decorated bowels. This obviously has spiritual significance! Undoubtedly this was an attempt to commune with their gods... its not like anyone puts out the nice dishes and invites their friends over to eat, drink, smoke, and socialize just because that is enjoyable! Be serious man!"
Straggler writes:
Are there any examples of primitive cultures where we know that worship was not related to supernatural belief?
Well I would say any time a culture resorts to "God of the Gaps" type thinking. A primitive animist might actually believe that lightning or rain was caused by the Sky-God, and that if he were able to fly he would potentially be able to encounter an actual physical being up there in the sky.
The dividing line into supernatural belief is when the believer doesn't believe something like the Sky-God physically exists and is the mechanism behind rain and lightning (probably by knowing how things actually work), and instead believes that the Sky-God "metaphysically" exists and causes those things to happen "supernaturally".
So even today I would suspect that there is a full spectrum of beliefs from natural to supernatural according to that criteria. It may be that you don't subscribe to my distinction of supernatural belief, but if not I would then wonder what the distinction was between a flawed understanding of medicine ("bad humors", et. c.) and a flawed understanding of weather systems ("Zeus", et. c.).

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 Message 10 by Straggler, posted 12-04-2010 1:06 PM Straggler has replied

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 Message 14 by Straggler, posted 12-04-2010 4:20 PM Phage0070 has replied

Straggler
Member (Idle past 154 days)
Posts: 10333
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 14 of 373 (594698)
12-04-2010 4:20 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by Phage0070
12-04-2010 3:28 PM


Re: Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings
Phage writes:
The dividing line into supernatural belief is when the believer doesn't believe something like the Sky-God physically exists and is the mechanism behind rain and lightning (probably by knowing how things actually work), and instead believes that the Sky-God "metaphysically" exists and causes those things to happen "supernaturally".
I'm not sure I understand your method of distinguishing between that which is supernatural and that which is not.
For example you seem to be suggesing that something like the following is NOT a supernatural belief because the believers do not know the actual cause of volcanoes.
Volcano Link writes:
The word 'volcano' comes from the little island of Vulcano in the Mediterranean Sea off Sicily. Centuries ago, the people living in this area believed that Vulcano was the chimney of the forge of Vulcan - the blacksmith of the Roman gods. They thought that the hot lava fragments and clouds of dust erupting form Vulcano came from Vulcan's forge as he beat out thunderbolts for Jupiter, king of the gods, and weapons for Mars, the god of war. Link
You don't think the above is a supernatural belief? Is that right?
Edited by Straggler, : No reason given.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 13 by Phage0070, posted 12-04-2010 3:28 PM Phage0070 has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 15 by Phage0070, posted 12-04-2010 5:21 PM Straggler has replied

Phage0070
Inactive Member


Message 15 of 373 (594703)
12-04-2010 5:21 PM
Reply to: Message 14 by Straggler
12-04-2010 4:20 PM


Re: Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings
Straggler writes:
You don't think the above is a supernatural belief? Is that right?
Right, because they thought that was how nature worked. In their view there was nothing supernatural about it; Vulcan really did have a huge forge down there. It would only become a supernatural belief if they actually understood nature to be something else, such as magma heated by radioactive decay bursting out through a weakness in the Earth's cooling crust.
A supernatural belief must be, by definition, separate from beliefs about nature. Supernatural beliefs are in essence built on top of beliefs about nature; they didn't start that way of course, but were often simply "pushed up" as better explanations were discovered. In hindsight, knowing the more accurate natural explanation for things, it is easy to look at these beliefs and assume they were viewed as supernatural explanations in the past.
For example, consider Thomson's "plum pudding" model of the atom where solid negatively charged electrons are embedded in a positively charged material, like plums in a pudding. This was of course inaccurate and the idea of positive atomic pudding is no less fictitious than the existence of Thor's hammer. The difference is that the idea was intended to describe nature and was abandoned when proven inaccurate, rather than preserved beyond its natural explanatory uses in the case of Thor's hammer.
Of course this is assuming the definition of "supernatural" as meaning "of, pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena; abnormal." If you want to use a different definition then I think it is crucial we clear that up before the real discussion can start.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 14 by Straggler, posted 12-04-2010 4:20 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 16 by Straggler, posted 12-04-2010 5:32 PM Phage0070 has replied

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