“Were We Born to Believe?”

Over at the Telegraph, Matthew Taylor reviews Philip Pullman’s new novel, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.  Based on Taylor’s description, the novel appears to be a thinly-veiled attack on Christianity.  Yawn.  If you want to read a good novel that interrogates Christianity and complicates its dogma, I suggest Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ.  It is a masterful work.  The movie also is provocative.

In response to Taylor’s question in the headline of his article — Are We Born to Believe? — I noted in yesterday’s post that the answer is yes.  In the course of his review, Taylor discusses research involving children which indicates that as their minds develop the attributes I noted yesterday, they become “natural theists.” I will be covering much of that research in future posts.

Taylor’s review also notes that some evolutionists view the supernatural-religious as a byproduct of other adaptations and some view it as a group level adaptation.  I knew of course that David Sloan Wilson espouses the latter view, but did not know Richard Dawkins was a vehement byproduct theorist who — in typical fashion — thinks Sloan Wilson is a dolt:

Among evolutionists, the big debate is between those who argue that religious belief has helped human beings prosper as a species, and those who see faith merely as a by-product of other aspects of our development.

The evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson is perhaps the most prominent advocate of the adaptationist view, arguing that religious belief helped make groups of early humans comparatively more cohesive, more co-operative and more fraternal, and thus better able to fight off less organised foes.

Adaptationist accounts are far from universally accepted. Richard Dawkins describes the group selection theory that underlies Sloan Wilson’s account as “sheer, wanton, head-in-bag perversity.”

But whatever is happening at the group level, there is something about the way individual human beings develop that makes us susceptible to religious belief.

The  last sentence is key — there is something about every individual’s brain that predisposes him or her to supernatural thinking and makes it likely that most of us will have religious beliefs.

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  1. Pingback: Religion as Evolved Adaptation — The Fallacy of Backwards Projection

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