Are we preconditioned against atheism by evolution?

If god belief helped our ancestors’ survival, would it not then get included in our evolved mental processes? If this is the case can people therefore be easily argued out of such evolved preconditioning? Does this not explain why some belief can seem irrational to atheists? And as a long time non-theist myself, I can still have the odd “God” moment.

Posted: October 25th 2007

George Locke

“If god belief helped our ancestors’ survival…” That’s a pretty big if. What you’re suggesting is that there was some evolutionary advantage to god-belief such that our genes were selected to promote a propensity for faith. That’s a pretty complex assertion and it would be very difficult to prove. Keep in mind that evolutionary time is measured on a geological scale. Human history since agriculture really isn’t enough time for significant genetic selection.

To my knowledge, there is evidence of ceremonial burial among pre-agricultural humans, which suggests that religion was present over a long enough period for it to have some impact on natural selection, but not necessarily that its impact was significant.

However, I think you’re not entirely off base. I see religion as a byproduct of the (evolutionarily selected) human need to explain the world. What I mean is that as language developed, early humans were devising ways to understand such things as the precession of the planets, the sun, the seasons, birth, death, etc. Naturally, we should expect that some of the ideas that the early humans had weren’t entirely accurate, but the important thing is that they were trying to understand the world.

So humans are amazing at pattern recognition, problem solving, etc. So I think religion isn’t evolutionarily advantageous per se. Reason clearly is advantageous, and it is reason that creates a need for world-ordering systems such as relgion, philosophy, and science.

I hope this answers the question.

I have 'God moments’ too, by the way. I don’t see anything wrong with it as long as you can tell the difference between your unconscious speaking to you and an invisible man in the sky speaking to you.

Posted: October 27th 2007

See all questions answered by George Locke

flagellant www

It really depends how you have been brought up. My secular friends, who haven’t had religious upbringings, never think about 'god’. They are not susceptible to these 'god moments’. Personally, since I was not so blessed, during the early days of my escape from the religiosi, I did have the occasional qualm. However, such moments are long gone and, even in extremis, I do not backslide.

It is difficult to remember my 'god moments’ – they were so long ago. I think that they occurred during reflective times, when I was thinking about my wants and needs. I saw/see the lapse simply as a vestige of my inclination to pray before I shed my indoctrination.

I see religion as being a by-product of the human desire for inclusion. We are social beings and, with few exceptions, we do not thrive without social contact, being part of a group, and a feeling of 'belonging’. This desire for inclusion clearly has evolutionary benefits. Religions, however, abuse this human trait in order to control people; they promulgate nonsense to which it is necessary to adhere to be part of the group.

Atheists tend to be more individualistic, sceptical, self-reliant, and autonomous, and their need to belong is not so ingrained. They find it less difficult – but still often a considerable struggle – to escape their conditioning. They are more likely to find themselves in the position of the little boy in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emperor’s_New_Clothes , from whence PZ Myers must have derived his celebrated “Courtier’s Reply”:

Religion is parasitic upon decent human characteristics; it has no evolutionary value of itself.

Posted: October 26th 2007

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