An Anthropological Look at Religion
I just finishing reading this (rather long) article (hat-tip to ALG). It's a fascinating read, merging two prime interests of mine - religion and the brain. The article discusses a couple different evolutionary theories about why religion is so predominant amongst humans in every generation and civilization.
The first theory discussed is that the neurological desire to create a religion is a byproduct of some other need. But I didn't find the theory especially compelling because the explanation of the theory that the article offered didn't give any kind of substantial primary need that would explain such a byproduct. (Just a caveat - I don't know any more about the theory than was offered in the article. It is possible that those theorizing do have a primary need that I am not aware of.)
The second theory that the article discussed was that religion was an evolutionary adaptation of the brain meant for our survival as a group. This theory made a bit more sense to me, especially when discussing it from the standpoint of group dynamics, because I think religion is so much a group process and to study it only from the aspect of individual dynamics leaves a lot out.
It's interesting to me that most of the scientists involved in the theories discussed in the article are atheists who are studying religion. I have had encounters in college with many a science-oriented atheist. And honestly, I've never really understood it. (Though maybe I am naive.) But in general, while I do have questions about particular religious thoughts and denominations, I have never been able to deny that there is a God, or gods, or some kind of supernatural higher power. For me, the more I learn about the incredible complexity of the world and the body and science in general, the less I can believe it happened by chance, with no force behind it. My mind certainly can't conceive even an inkling of what had to happen in order for the world to be the way it is, so I don't really understand how someone can reasonably believe without doubt that there was no higher power involved. But that's just me, and the point of this post is not to debate theism vs. atheism (been there, done that, no winners because there is no proof either way).
I guess what really comes up when reading the article is, if these theorists are correct, and religion is an evolutionary adaptation or byproduct of the brain, does that necessarily mean there is no God? If scientists can prove that there is a neurological pattern and logic for believing in an afterlife, a high power, or deeper meaning, does that prove that it's all bull as well?
I don't think it necessarily does. Maybe it proves that specific religious beliefs and codes and strictures are falsified and created in order to serve some purpose in the grand evolutionary scheme of sustaining ourselves and attempting to maintain survival of the fittest in regards to the fittest religion. Maybe they could pick apart different religious practices and rituals and find the reason humans developed them in a grand survivalistic code.
But all that still can't say that there is no God. It still can't compel me to accept that just because there is a reason for it means that it isn't true. Yes, maybe God is a construct of the brain and religion is the dressing for that construct. Maybe. But maybe there's something to it and that is the reason so many throughout history have been compelled to use such beliefs as some kind of survival mechanism.
Again, the more I learn about how the world is put together, the more compelled I am to believe in some kind of power outside of random chance. I practice Judaism - do I know for sure that it's the right explanation? Nope. But I do have the desire to pay some kind of respects to what makes the most sense to me, so I do my best. Does that mean I don't accept the findings of scientists and the study of evolution? Nope, and I don't think that believing in religion means you have to reject those. I make my best efforts to marry all the information that is compelling and with what information I have, I believe.