NPR—Is Believing In God Evolutionarily Advantageous?

Posted by Kendall Harmon

For decades, the intellectual descendants of Darwin have pored over ancient bones and bits of fossils, trying to piece together how fish evolved into man, theorizing about the evolutionary advantage conferred by each physical change. And over the past 10 years, a small group of academics have begun to look at religion in the same way: they've started to look at God and the supernatural through the lens of evolution.

In the history of the world, every culture in every location at every point in time has developed some supernatural belief system. And when a human behavior is so universal, scientists often argue that it must be an evolutionary adaptation along the lines of standing upright. That is, something so helpful that the people who had it thrived, and the people who didn't slowly died out until we were all left with the trait. But what could be the evolutionary advantage of believing in God?

[Jesse] Bering is one of the academics who are trying to figure that out. In the years since his mother's death, Bering has done experiments in his lab at Queens University, Belfast, in an attempt to understand how belief in the supernatural might have conferred some advantage and made us into the species we are today.

Read or listen to it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryPsychologyReligion & CultureScience & Technology* TheologyAnthropology

7 Comments
Posted August 31, 2010 at 8:22 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. J. Champlin wrote:

NPR reports on evolutionary psychology with a hushed reverence appropriate to faith and worship.  But, then, it is a faith.  The irony is that the struggle of modern philosophy with theology and metaphysics was, in part, the critique that the conclusions were concealed in the premises and the positivist assertion that was no observation or experience that could verify metaphysical premises or conclusions.  Funny, isn’t it, that “evolutionary advantage” is an absolute and unfalsifiable premise that justifies any speculation, speculation in the nature of the case can never be verified.  More, all motives and knowledge are to be cut to the measure of “evolutionary advantage”, never mind what those funny people who actually believe were (and are) saying about what they’re doing.  A body is tempted to demand that evolutionary psychologists take a refresher course in Thomas Aquinas and Kant.  Failing that, well, as the Teacher says, there is nothing new under the sun.

August 31, 2:28 pm | [comment link]
2. moheb wrote:

The argument of both scientists quoted (Bering and Johnson) leads to the conclusion that refusing to believe in God, that is being atheist, undermines a fundamental foundation of civilization: cooperation. Athiests have no reason, according to their argument, not to “cheat”; they subvert humanity. If the two scientists actually believe in their “scientific” argument, they could not be athiests if they had any intelectual integrity!
Their argument also leads to the conclusion that those who refuse to believe in God will become extinct as they were not able to evolve into that which promote survival - utimately, only those who believe in God will survive! I concur with this conclusion but I arrive at it from an entirely different route!

August 31, 4:20 pm | [comment link]
3. Hursley wrote:

The reasoning in this article reminds me of trying to use a telescope by looking through it from the wrong end. Perhaps it will be a start in faith for someone….

August 31, 4:47 pm | [comment link]
4. elanor wrote:

this reminds me of the Scientific American article I read more than a decade ago that addressed the evolutionary advantages of altruistic behavior.

August 31, 6:23 pm | [comment link]
5. Larry Morse wrote:

To call this science is comic. The speculation is worth discussing as a set of ideas, but science….? Please. L

September 2, 8:28 am | [comment link]
6. J. Champlin wrote:

Amen Larry!

September 2, 9:12 am | [comment link]
7. MichaelA wrote:

Kendall’s title says it all - hilarious!

September 3, 11:54 pm | [comment link]
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