Saturday, December 10, 2011

Religion, useless or lifebelt?

RE: The Evolution of the God Gene

For atheists, it is not a particularly welcome thought that religion evolved because it conferred essential benefits on early human societies and their successors. If religion is a lifebelt, it is hard to portray it as useless.

This is a false dichotomy and, in fact, Daniel Dennett has repeatedly spoken about how well-adapted Religion is for the human mind. Hitchen's speaks of religion as man's early attempts at Science and Philosophy, which it almost certainly was. FACTS never pose any problem for those who care about the truth. In fact, I have studied ancient, animistic, and shamanistic religions for some time because I am deeply interested in this process myself. I also think that these insights can be beneficial to modern humans - our desire to experience the Awe of the cosmos is a drive we share very much in common with all ancient people.

Religion also was and is celebration, community, politics, control, and a consolation to suffering. It plays the role of many different things, to different people, at different times. But this article commits the fallacy of composition when it attributes the beneficial attributes to the Religion and not the component parts, such as philosophy and science. Those are the elements that gave our ancestors a leg up. It was their study of the cycles of nature that enabled them to better predict the future and develop agriculture & cultivation, animal husbandry, navigation, weaponry, fire, and some measure of control over their environment. They simply tied everything together with a celebration of Nature.

The article also incorrectly assumes that all things produced by evolution are automatically and eternally beneficial when this is clearly not the case. Changes that increased survival at one point can be the very change that results in the extinction of a population at a later date. One example, far too many religious people these days are seeking a culmination into the end times - this was not a feature of ancient religions which were based more around the cycles of Nature.

It is this feature that concerns atheists today. We want to keep the community, ethics building, comforting, charitable, philosophical and scientific components and dump the no longer useful parts, which have millions clinging to false and demonstrably harmful beliefs (that condoms CAUSE AIDS, that gay people are evil, that women are not equal to men, etc).

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