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A more interesting tack

When I get science types on the podcast, I ask them about Richard Dawkins and his anti-theistic campaign. Dawkins, Danniel Dennett, and Sam Harris have commanded a lot of spotlight and made a lot of noise, but...

Lost in the hullabaloo over the neo-atheists is a quieter and
potentially more illuminating debate. It is taking place not between
science and religion but within science itself, specifically among the
scientists studying the evolution of religion. These scholars tend to
agree on one point: that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain
architecture that evolved during early human history. What they
disagree about is why a tendency to believe evolved, whether it was
because belief itself was adaptive or because it was just an
evolutionary byproduct, a mere consequence of some other adaptation in
the evolution of the human brain.

Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God —
evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident? Is there something
about the cognitive functioning of humans that makes us receptive to
belief in a supernatural deity? And if scientists are able to explain
God, what then? Is explaining religion the same thing as explaining it
away? Are the nonbelievers right, and is religion at its core an empty
undertaking, a misdirection, a vestigial artifact of a primitive mind?
Or are the believers right, and does the fact that we have the mental
capacities for discerning God suggest that it was God who put them there?

In short, are we hard-wired to believe in God? And if we are, how and
why did that happen?


The debate over why belief evolved is between byproduct theorists and
adaptationists. You might think that the byproduct theorists would
tend to be nonbelievers, looking for a way to explain religion as a
fluke, while the adaptationists would be more likely to be believers
who can intuit the emotional, spiritual and community advantages that
accompany faith. Or you might think they would all be atheists,
because what believer would want to subject his own devotion to
rationalism's cold, hard scrutiny? But a scientist's personal
religious view does not always predict which side he will take. And
this is just one sign of how complex and surprising this debate has

Vector :Trans-Spirit

If you wanted to continue this line of thought and inquiry, this talk by Mike LaTorra might be a good next step:



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 9th, 2007 03:32 am (UTC)
I think that perhaps what we see when we observe the origins of religion is a unique pathway of human thought. Most of our creative enterprises exist at the crossroads of reason, need, imagination, and desire. In this respect, we are adapt at creating archetypes that act at the road sign.

In brief, we create gods. So, for now, I have to stand somewhere in the middle of the argument, until I understand the questions more. But I feel my thesis has at least a decent level of merit.
Mar. 9th, 2007 03:43 pm (UTC)
archetypes that act at the road sign.
we are adapt at creating archetypes that act at the road sign.

Hey, thanks for the comment. I was hoping you would un-pack this metaphore a bit. I don't think I grok your intent with it.
Mar. 10th, 2007 02:27 am (UTC)
Re: archetypes that act at the road sign.
I don't think I can un-pack that metaphor. I didn't realize I had made one...

Essentially: We are creatures with both reason and imagination. While I doubt the creation of our earliest civilizations proto-gods where done for nothing, I have no doubt that they were as well thought out as they could be. I guess you could make this a metaphor in that the spark was imagination coupled with need, the tinder was reason coupled with desire. Voila, you have yourself a proto-fire-god to stave of the evil spirits of darkness.

Add more reason coupled with despair (the twin of desire) and you get....churches.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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