Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Reactions and Responses to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Pt. 12

For Dawkins, Darwin is god.

It may seem like that must surely be an exaggeration, but I’m not so sure. In chapter 5, “The Roots of Religion,” Dawkins maintains that every generalized trait must be explained in light of Darwinian evolution. I fail to follow his logic; if natural selection explains some things, I don’t see why it follows that it has to explain everything. But, Dawkins seems to think that it must. Therefore, it seems that Dawkins things of Darwinian evolution in much the same way that the Christians that he so despises think about God, since we certainly feel compelled to explain things in light of and in terms of God.

So, Dawkins must explain why it is that “no known culture lacks some version of the time-consuming, wealth-consuming, hostility-provoking rituals, the anti-factual, counter-productive fantasies of religion” (p. 166). On a genetic level, natural selection would ordinarily weed out such wasteful practices. Since everything must be explained in terms of natural selection, why, Dawkins wonders, have the “wasteful” practices of religion not been eliminated?

One possibility, Dawkins suggests, is that religion is an unfortunate, useless, and harmful byproduct of some originally useful adaptation. We ask, he says, why a moth flies into a candle, when that behavior is in fact a misfiring of their otherwise useful navigation system. So, perhaps the perpetuation of religious belief and practice is a similar misfiring. It is useful and helpful that children are psychologically predisposed to follow the direction their parents. Perhaps, then, the passing on of religious belief is a misfiring of an otherwise useful trait. Dawkins fails, though, to explain why and how religious beliefs and practices originated, even if we could accept his explanation of why they continue to be passed along. And, it is of course indisputable that religious beliefs and practices are handed down from parent to child.

Dawkins suggests another factor that may be in play: the tendency in humans toward dualism and teleology. “A dualist believes the mind is some kind of disembodied spirit that inhabits the body and therefore conceivably could leave the body and exist somewhere else” (p. 180). Teleology is the “assignment of purpose to everything” (p. 181). Dawkins suggests that the human may have evolved toward a predisposition to dualism and teleology out of a need to have short-cuts in our decision-making process as it relates to survival. That is, if we could cut to the chase and draw a conclusion about the intention of someone or something, that might help us survive (the possible attack by a predator, for example). He further suggests that our tendency toward religion may be a misfiring of that otherwise helpful tendency. We developed the mistaken sense that there were mind and intentionality where there were in fact no such things, and that may have led to our religious impulses.

Another possibility is that God in fact has revealed himself in nature, in history, in Scripture, and supremely in Christ. It is also just possible that the religious impulse, wherever it came from, is at its heart a positive and helpful one and that the negative outcomes of religious practice may in fact be the unfortunate misfirings of an otherwise good and helpful tendency.

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