Religion vs evolution

This post came to mind months ago walking home one day, but I didn’t have the motivation to flesh it out at the time. The idea I’ll briefly discuss stems from when I read Dawkins’ book “The Selfish Gene” (which I should have summarised at one time but evidently didn’t — I read it after Daniel Dennet’s “Consciousness Explained”) wherein he essentially talks about how everything can be explained by how various evolutionary forces shape their creation.

Some trawling through the archives of Scott Adam’s “Dilbert Blog” re-awoke my idea, which I present below. There’s not much to it, really. I just found it interesting to muse on for a few minutes.

Religion seems like a mighty odd thing. I separate it into two broad components: the “supernatural” elements that help to “explain” things that we otherwise can’t; and (more importantly) various guidelines that help shape the behaviour of the religion’s followers. The question that I was thinking about was “why would groups of people believe all these crazy things in unison?”.

The explanation that someone just dreamed it up (probably believing it themselves) as a theory to explain something incomprehensible makes a fair amount of sense. I don’t think that covers everything though. Why would such beliefs be “evolutionarily stable”? That is, in a group in which half believed in God and in which half didn’t, what process would govern whether subsequent generations were more or less religious?

And here the social aspects of religion rear their head. It seems to me that when people embrace religious beliefs, with their associated “harm ye none” (in general)attitudes, their society or community is advanced due to the (generally sensible) guidelines given by their religious leaders. So now the religious half of the control group prosper due to their moral code, which just so happens to be independent of their belief in whatever precepts their religious holds.

To sum up the argument, the claim is that a group of religious people due to their community will tend to dominate. I feel I’m ignoring a host of factors here, such as the whole “meme” issue that religious thought propagates by affirming faith over reasoning — you can never really win a fundamental argument against such people. But I think it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that if religion of itself weren’t beneficial it wouldn’t exist.

That’s kind of the end of the story. I told you it wasn’t interesting. (Isn’t that what the internet’s all about?) I could now say that it’s a problem that religion is in decline, because the unwashed masses are no longer living unconditionally by tenets that they otherwise would (lest they be smote). And in the 21st century, what inducement can be made for them to do so?