Dennett raises a nice issue about a potential problem with anthropological research into people’s theological beliefs. He points out that just as most people in our culture are happy believing in germs and atoms without really knowing much about them, so people in other cultures might be happy believing in their gods without really knowing much about the theological details. As a result, Dennett says,
we should not dismiss the corrosive hypothesis that many of the truly exotic and arguably incoherent doctrines that have been unearthed by anthropologists over the years are artifacts of inquiry, not pre-existing creeds. (p. 161)
That is, perhaps people just made up answers in response to the anthropologists’ questions; they didn’t have ready-made answers to tell the anthropologists. I had never thought of this before, but it’s an interesting hypothesis.