Communicator (communicator) wrote,

God is not a primate

Richard Dawkins provides a Darwinian explanation for the existence of religion.

"Darwinian selection sets up childhood brains with a tendency to believe their elders. It sets up brains with a tendency to imitate, hence indirectly to spread rumors, spread urban legends, and believe religions. But given that genetic selection has set up brains of this kind, they then provide the equivalent of a new kind of nongenetic heredity, which might form the basis for a new kind of epidemiology, and perhaps even a new kind of nongenetic Darwinian selection. I believe that religion is one of a group of phenomena explained by this kind of nongenetic epidemiology, with the possible admixture of nongenetic Darwinian selection"

I find Dawkins amusing but irritating, and I think this explanation is unconvincing. The predisposition he describes may explain the conservatism of religious belief within a community, but in my opinion nothing else. He can not explain why these unsupported beliefs within human societies are similar enough to be identifiable as 'religions', and why such ideas as gods, spirits, totems, ghosts, prayers, sacrifices, emerge over and over again.

My explanation is based on Stephen Mithen's work, which I discussed before. I think that the human brain has a tendency to anthropomorphise - to use primate social intelligence to think about things which aren't primates. This is 'wrong' in terms of logic, but adaptive in terms of evolution, because it makes us clever at thinking about things.

Religion is thus the result of anthropomorphising the nature of the universe. A corollary of this belief is that, unlike Dawkins, I don't have to claim that religion is completely baseless. We are of course wrong to think that god is a primate, but this does not mean there is no god. Just as we are wrong to think that there is a man in the moon, but there is a moon.
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