From ape to . . . theologist

At the London Times, John Carey reviews Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief, by Lewis Wolpert.

Given the growing muscularity of both neuroscience and evolutionary biology, it’s no surprise that some would reduce spirituality to a product of biological evolution. From the article:

Surveys suggest that religious people are happier, more optimistic, less prone to strokes and high blood pressure, more able to cope with life’s problems and less fearful of death than the irreligious. It follows that belief in the supernatural is an evolutionary advantage, and our ability to have such beliefs must, Wolpert deduces, have been partly determined by our genes.

Carey writes that the book has a chicken/egg conundrum; Wolpert fails to clarify which came first: the “causal thinking” that allowed us to become sophisticated tool-makers, or was it tool-making that led to our forebears selecting for causal thinking? Says Carey, “He can be found saying both things in different places . . .”

But there’s a parallel difficulty that Carey doesn’t call out, but is implied in the sentences that follow the excerpt above:

Religious people might rejoice at that, concluding that God has wired us up to believe in him. But for Wolpert, the wiring is no more divine than our guts or toenails, or any other part of our evolved anatomy.

No more divine — or no less?

[tags] spirituality, religion, evolution [/tags]

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2 Responses to From ape to . . . theologist

  1. I think they just made a hasty inference there: having an evolutionary advantage does not necessarily mean that God wired us that way, or that believing in God is beneficial. For instance, we may just have evolved into believing in God from believing in rocks, and that’s still an advantage, because it is possible that believing rocks makes us happy as believing in God does.

    That said, evolution, I think, does not imply anything religious.

  2. Pingback: » Blog Archive » “Secular sermons”

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