Monday, March 12, 2007

Darwin's God

I don't know for how long this New York Times article will be freely available online before it's archived (it's over a week old), but here it is anyway.

The lengthy article, entitled Darwin's God, is about a scientific explanation for mankind's belief in deities and religion in general. Since religion seems to have cropped up in societies all over the world, some evolutionary scientists and anthropologists figure there must be a logical reason for it. There appear to be two schools of thought - one that religious beliefs were 'adaptive' evolutionary traits that helped humans to survive, and the other that they are merely byproducts of other evolutionary traits - namely "agent detection, causal reasoning and theory of mind". No, I'm not going to explain them. The latter theory is given more attention than the former.

It's an interesting read, but one thing that disappoints me about the article is the lack of insight into why some people don't believe. There's a couple of paragraphs that touch on the idea right at the end, and that's it. It basically concludes that rationalism requires a lot of effort and entails suppressing natural instincts - i.e. the desire to 'believe'. No thoughts on whether we'll ever evolve to leave behind religious beliefs. If anything, it implies the latter: No matter how much science can explain, it seems, the real gap that God fills is an emptiness that our big-brained mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural. The drive to satisfy that yearning, according to both adaptationists and byproduct theorists, might be an inevitable and eternal part of what Atran calls the tragedy of human cognition.

End of blog entry. I'm going to get back to my "emotional and intellectual struggle to live without God in a nonatheist world".


sanity index said...

That was a long, mind-numbing article!

There was a study from a couple of years back that showed the level of education was inversely related to the belief in god. That's one explanation.

There are still quite a few things that science hasn't been able to explain yet, so it's much easier for most people to believe supernatural explanations for them. Most people like easy, clean answers.

As for those who don't believe...I suppose there's a similar "faith" in the scientific method, that as we become more advanced, we will be able to explain/correct certain accepted beliefs. Just think, people used to believe the earth was square and smack in the center of the universe, and the plague was caused by witches/cats!

Antimatter said...

Sorry, I did say it was lengthy! :D A bit too long for such a 'hand wavy' article, admittedly.

The education aspect makes sense, though I think culture tends to negate that somewhat. Beliefs inculcated at a young age seem hard to overcome. I know smart, well educated folks who are religious (though perhaps not devout).

There are lots of unexplained things, I just wish people could settle for 'we don't know yet and may never know'. I don't really have faith that we'll explain most things anytime soon, nor that people will accept those explanations even if that were to happen. I have no objection to religion except where it results in people imposing their views or beliefs on others, especially when that means opposing scientific evidence and established fact.

I do have 'faith' in the scientific method in the sense that it is the most reasonable and logical method of understanding things. It's inherently one that involves questioning and seeking out explanations, and allows established explanations to be torn down if evidence to the contrary is brought to light. I'm not sure I would equate that to religious faith, which is by definition something that steps out of the bounds of logic!

Oh, and the plague was caused by witches. New evidence has recently come to light, but it's all classified. ;)

sanity index said...

Ditto, ditto, and ditto. :) I'm pretty much on the same wavelength, and for the most part trust the scientific method. Though, the scientific method doesn't tell you how to "live life," and most people still need that sort of guidance.

I do find it amusing that many religious folks live less moral/ethical lives than atheists.

Antimatter said...

We all need guidance now and then, and I envy some people's ability to be satisfied with easy and comforting answers!

I think a distinction should be made between religious people who actually bother to understand what their religion's about, and those who are sanctimonious, settle for simplistic interpretations, and blindly follow dogma. The former are cool. The latter... erm... Not so much. :)