In evolution, religious belief found "useful"

The Post-Dispatch, here in St. Louis, ran this story about researchers at Wash. U. who are researching religion as an evolutionary response:

Perhaps since the time of Galileo, science and religion have had a gentleman's agreement: You stay out of my business, and I'll stay out of yours. Not any longer. A cadre of scientists, including Washington University anthropologist Pascal Boyer, are trying to explain why, in almost every human culture, people choose belief in God over unbelief — why, it seems, the human brain is wired for belief.And the scientists are finding something that would please Charles Darwin himself: Religion may have evolved through the same rules that led to big brains and opposable thumbs. From an evolutionary standpoint, they have found, belief can be useful."Supernatural beliefs are, in general, very easy extensions from beliefs that are useful in everyday life," Boyer said...

"Believers say, 'You're showing how God interacts with my brain.' Atheists say, 'That's great because it shows that it's nothing more than activity in the brain,'" he said.But Boyer feels that he has been caught in the middle. Believers have accused him of trying to take the mystery away. And atheists have criticized him for not attacking religion enough. He has received hate mail from both sides.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's really no reason for science and religion to be at odds with each other. There's no reason God couldn't have created evolution. It stuns me that many people seem to think that God is capable of creating something as complex as the human mind, yet don't give him enough credit to think that he might've created a universe capable of independent operation that wouldn't constantly require direct divine intervention.

One argument is that "God created man in his own image, and God isn't a single-celled organism", but if God is timeless, perhaps the end result of our evolutionary development will be the one that most resembles God. Anyway, if God created everything in a state of perfection, what would be the point of existing at all? What would there be for us to achieve?

Regarding belief in itself: The problem I've had with religious belief is that it seems to exclusively fulfill the needs of humans. Or, rather, all the things people feel God wants are things that are kind of ludicrous to believe an omnipotent being would want.

For instance, what need would an omnipotent being have for hell? What driving need could perfection incarnate have to torture beings so much weaker than itself? This seems more like something humans would need, the hope that the people they don’t like will face some kind of unavoidable justice for their behavior. You can’t really do anything about it yourself, but that belief - that desire for vicarious vengeance - can help get people from day to day.

Which, I mean, sure, maybe religion exclusively benefits humans because God wants us all to be happy, but this seems to imply that God is man's servant and not the other way around. "Faithful humans get everything they could possibly want; God gets nothing God couldn’t just effortlessly fashion for himself, but for whatever reason grants all the wishes of faithful humans."

The fact that religion is so human-centric makes claims to its divine origins rather suspect, in my opinion. I'm not arguing that God doesn't exist -- it's just as objectively inaccurate to make claims for or against something that can't be directly observed or tested. What I'm saying is that the organized belief structure itself and many of the details therein seem to have such an exclusive human benefit that the validity of their divinity should all be questioned.