Theories of God: Explanatory Coherence in a Non-Scientific Domain

Abstract

Public representations of God range from the highly anthropomorphic to the highly abstract, and the present study explored whether differences in the interpretation of those representations are correlated with differences in one’s religious beliefs and religious practices more generally. American adults of varying ages and religious backgrounds completed a questionnaire that probed their beliefs about a wide range of religious matters, including prayer, ritual, worship, sin, cosmogenesis, anthropogenesis, angels, Satan, Heaven, and Hell. Participants were divided into two groups based on their propensity to anthropomorphize God in a property-attribution task, and their responses were analyzed for internal consistency. Overall, the two groups exhibited explanatorily coherent, yet qualitatively different, patterns of beliefs and practices – patterns interpreted contrastively as a “humanistic theology” and an “existential theology.” These findings suggest that individuals’ religious beliefs are organized in a theory-like manner despite their lack of direct perceptual support.


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