18 October 2005

THE GOD ADVANTAGE REVISITED

Following on my recent post on the postulated evolutionary advantage of religion, or at least, some kind of communal approach to faith, I offer this worthy read:

The Guardian excerpts another take on the "God Gene" theory, without actually mentioning Dean Hamer's genetics research. The book is
The Story of God by Robert Winston. Here's an excerpt of the excerpt:

It is possible that strong levels of belief in God, gods, spirits or the supernatural might have given our ancestors considerable comforts and advantages. Many anthropologists and social theorists do indeed take the view that religion emerged out of a sense of uncertainty and bewilderment - explaining misfortune or illness, for example, as the consequences of an angry God, or reassuring us that we live on after death. Rituals would have given us a comforting, albeit illusory, sense that we can control what is in fact ultimately beyond our control - the weather, illness, attacks by predators or other human groups.

However, it is equally plausible that the Divine Idea would have been of little use in our prehistoric rough-and-tumble existence. Life on the savannah may have been in the open air, but it was no picnic. Early humans would have been constantly on the lookout for predators to be avoided, such as wolves and sabre-tooth tigers; hunting or scavenging would be a continual necessity to ensure sufficient food; and the men were probably constantly fighting among each other to ensure that they could have sex with the best-looking girl (or boy) or choose the most tender piece of meat from the carcass. Why would it be necessary, in the daily scramble to stay alive, to make time for such an indulgent pursuit as religion?


3 Comments:

Blogger Lee Ehlers said...

James,

I think it's probably possible to punch holes in the "God" Gene theory on methodological grounds. Finding genetic determinants of human behavior is one thing, but making broad inferences concerning the putative evolutionary advantages of particular traits is quite another. It seems to me to be a highly speculative enterprise frought with what psychology refers to as internal variables that are notoriously difficult to pin down.

11:45 AM  
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3:53 AM  

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