Sunday, March 04, 2007

"Mind and Spirit" -> Does Religion Evolve

Man, do I like Scotty Atran.

I totally disagree with him, but at least he is thinking.

On the other hand, when I see Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, I wonder why anybody would read their interpretation of culture. (Dawkins and Harris are often put together with Daniel Dennett to be called the unholy trinity of evolution.) Mind you, Harris is hardly qualified to give comments, and I have no idea how he ever got noticed. Dennett has a massive mind, and should not be dismissed. Dawkins, well, Dawkins is just so Dawkinish. The man is not stupid in his field, but simply willing to bury his head in the sand when it comes to the observation of religion.

Atran is an atheist, but he is a thinking atheist. In one sense, this makes him the most dangerous person to my faith since he thinks so well. However, on the other hand, he has the most to offer me (and us) in observations. At least Atran isn't afraid to examine religion for what it is.

Recently, The New York Times ran a fascinating article on Atran and others like him.

A short snippet:

...sometimes he [Atran] presents students with a wooden box that he pretends is an African relic. “If you have negative sentiments toward religion,” he tells them, “the box will destroy whatever you put inside it.” Many of his students say they doubt the existence of God, but in this demonstration they act as if they believe in something. Put your pencil into the magic box, he tells them, and the nonbelievers do so blithely. Put in your driver’s license, he says, and most do, but only after significant hesitation. And when he tells them to put in their hands, few will.

The point is obvious. Even those that say "I have no religion" have fears of religion. I have spent a little time talking to atheists, and what always amazes me is the number of atheists that are so bitter toward God or have the desire to run others faith. This is the wooden box all over again.

I believe that they have a fear that they are damned and going to hell. Therefore, they have a desire to get others into the boat with them. After all, this is human behavior. If I am going to suffer, I want everybody else to suffer with me. Really, if you don't believe in Santa Claus, do you really spend a lot of time trying to prove to others that he doesn't exist? No, you simply walk away.

Atran has gone on to speculate that perhaps religion is an evolutionary trait that is actually required for human species. With his Ph.D. in Anthropology, he fully understands that all cultures at all times have religious artifacts. There have been a few cultures where religions was put to the side. Again, in the article he states:

“I started looking at history, and I wondered why no society ever survived more than three generations without a religious foundation as its raison d’ĂȘtre,” he says.

Three generations is not a long time. Sounds a little bit like the Genesis 20:4-6

4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

I suppose that even the sin of atheism cannot stay fresh for more than 4 generations before God moves in. (And to derail this post a bit, notice that goodness is visited for 1000 generations, but sin is only allows for 3 to 4 generations. This is not to say that a child should be punished for the sins of their fathers. This is to suggest that God is a God that redeems and will break the cycle.)

According to those that are studying religion, we are somehow wired for God. They try and figure out why this happens. Again, another quote from the article based on the fact of young children have an almost eerie sense of God, based on profiling experiments that are done with them.

The bottom line, according to byproduct theorists, is that children are born with a tendency to believe in omniscience, invisible minds, immaterial souls — and then they grow up in cultures that fill their minds, hard-wired for belief, with specifics. It is a little like language acquisition, Paul Bloom says, with the essential difference that language is a biological adaptation and religion, in his view, is not. We are born with an innate facility for language but the specific language we learn depends on the environment in which we are raised. In much the same way, he says, we are born with an innate tendency for belief, but the specifics of what we grow up believing — whether there is one God or many, whether the soul goes to heaven or occupies another animal after death — are culturally shaped.

They believe that man has evolved this belief in God, and it is a central part of how we were formed.

I have a simpler explanation for why young children seem to understand God so well.

God made it that way.

No comments: