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Evolutionary Origins of Religion:

As I was skimming the web this evening I came across this site reviewing Hitchen’s “God is not Great.” I didn’t spend much time on the blog so I don’t know the gent’s background.  I’m going to comment on a few things he said as a springboard since I have heard it any number of times, including and perhaps especially Dawkins’ The God Delusion.

 However, as discussed in Religion Explained, religion and religious beliefs have natural evolutionary origins and arise out of how our mind works. So religion is here to stay. Even people who do not consider themselves religious usually have beliefs that can be classified as religion.

I don’t really have any problem with this analysis.  The evolutionist has got to say that religion and religious beliefs have natural evolutionary origins.  It is demanded by their system.  What is profoundly interesting, however, is that despite this obvious fact, skeptics and atheists- uniformly evolutionists- do two things:  1.  Condemn religious people for behaving the way they naturally evolved and 2.  Consider themselves to have seen through the biological baggage and somehow attained the truth.

This is utterly bizarre.  For example, in Dawkins’s The God Delusion, he argues that religion is a ‘misfire’ of an evolutionary trait, much like how a moth is drawn to its death by a flame because it is used to the sun being a very safe distance away.  The problem with the ‘misfire’ way of thinking, however, is that all moths are attracted to the flames.  What we want to know is how our atheistic friends managed to rise above their ‘misfire.’  Are they claiming that they are evolutionarily superior to the rest of us?  Perhaps they are a new species?  If not, they should be subject to the same ‘misfire’ that the religionists are drawn to.  We can then turn the tables on them and suggest that perhaps their version of reality is likewise a ‘misfire.’

Importantly, none of us can be blamed for it, either, since we have evolved to be this way.  Which is really odd, since all sides are arguing with each other as though they think one side is actually wrong.  But that is hardly relevant in the ‘misfire’ scenario.’

The assertion that religion is an evolutionary byproduct is a logical necessity of the evolutionary world view but it has the unfortunate effect of taking the carpet out from underneath atheists.  Far from a point in their favor, it calls into question their rationality alongside the religionists but does something else:  it calls into question their own humanity.

That’s a high price to pay for the smug assurance that billions upon billions of ‘religious’ folks are stupid, ignorant, unsophisticated, and unenlightened.

As a quick aside, the gent also said:

Despite all those issues, I think we can only say that religion does not make make better or worse. This in itself is a major indictment of religion.

This is only true if the assumption is that a religion, if true, would make someone better.  I don’t agree with that at all.  The question, the only appropriate question, is not the utility of the world view nor its success at ‘making us better,’ but rather, is it an accurate description of reality.


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  1. […] 2007 — The Professor Quite apart from our discussion on Watson and racism, Horvath has an interesting discussion of the evolutionary origin of religion, about which he has a question or two. [I]n Dawkins’s The […]

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