Monday, November 16, 2009

God Found! He's in your genes

The Evolution of the God Gene

There have been a couple of shots-across-the-bow directed at the neo-Atheists and others who delight in kneeling at the altar of reason. The above article points up the growing evidence that religion and spirituality have imparted an evolutionary advantage to our species:

...This and other research is pointing to a new perspective on religion, one that seeks to explain why religious behavior has occurred in societies at every stage of development and in every region of the world. Religion has the hallmarks of an evolved behavior, meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection. It is universal because it was wired into our neural circuitry before the ancestral human population dispersed from its African homeland.

Here's the part that will sting the biological determinists (oops, I mean neo-Atheists):

...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.

But don't feel so self assured, devout monotheists:

...For believers, it may seem threatening to think that the mind has been shaped to believe in gods, since the actual existence of the divine may then seem less likely.

Now Pagans, Rejoice :

...But the evolutionary perspective on religion does not necessarily threaten the central position of either side. That religious behavior was favored by natural selection neither proves nor disproves the existence of gods...

Carl Sagan was right when he said in "Cosmos" that the interior of the cell nucleus housed the 'holy of holies'. But I've quoted too much from this excellent article by Nicholas Wade. Please give it a read. There's also Karen Armstrong's book "The Case for God":

...The time, in other words, is ripe for a book like “The Case for God,” which wraps a rebuke to the more militant sort of atheism in an engaging survey of Western religious thought. Karen Armstrong, a former nun turned prolific popular historian, wants to rescue the idea of God from its cultured despisers and its more literal-minded adherents alike. To that end, she doesn’t just argue that her preferred approach to religion — which emphasizes the pursuit of an unknowable Deity, rather than the quest for theological correctness — is compatible with a liberal, scientific, technologically advanced society...

Amen! Er, I mean--Amon! Armstrong argues for a point of view which many Pagans are familiar with (and something I've discussed here and on other blogs):

...Both modern believers and modern atheists, Armstrong contends, have come to understand religion primarily as a set of propositions to be assented to, or a catalog of specific facts about the nature of God, the world and human life. But this approach to piety would be foreign to many premodern religious thinkers, including the greatest minds of the Christian past, from the early Fathers of the Church to medieval eminences like Thomas Aquinas...These and other thinkers, she writes, understood faith primarily as a practice, rather than as a system — not as “something that people thought but something they did.” Their God was not a being to be defined or a proposition to be tested, but an ultimate reality to be approached through myth, ritual and “apophatic” theology, which practices “a deliberate and principled reticence about God and/or the sacred” and emphasizes what we can’t know about the divine...

What we do, or how we act, is more important than what we believe.