‘… there is as yet no consensus on why religion arose nor on why it has so tenaciously remained. And not for lack of ideas: coopting the naturally selected brain, driving group cohesion, calming existential anxiety, protecting reputations and reproductive opportunities’
― Brian Greene Until The End Of Time.
Does religion persist because it confers an adaptive advantage? Could it be that faith is a byproduct of the evolution of cognition? Could there be better things waiting for us in the future than we are experiencing now? Once you start asking questions like this, potential answers are legion.
‘The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best – and therefore never scrutinise or question.’
― Stephen Jay Gould
I’m inclined to think that religious belief of itself confers no adaptive advantage but as Green writes, it’s part of ‘an evolutionary package deal’. For example, the idea that something is watching over us tends to keep us in line. That’s been a good constraint for society for millennia. This may seem obvious, trite even. It may seem offensive, overly simplistic. These are just the things that I think about. More questions than answers.
I’ve been trying to balance my experience of life with the evolution of learning and knowledge. So much of what I was taught in my formative years has proven untrue. Sometime untruth comes from simple ignorance. We did not know that bacteria were responsible for stomach ulcers when I was born. We didn’t know about proton pump inhibitors either. I’ve known a few people who had life complicating, major stomach surgery after which they survived on baby food. Then in Australia I met a guy who had simply taken antibiotics. Later, in 2005, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to Barry Marshall and Robin Warren ‘for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease’.
So we had learned to cure ulcers with antibiotics. The marvel of the cure was partially undermined when we learned the ulcers can return if the bacteria aren’t purged. Now the use of proton pump inhibitors is common practice to keep the bacteria suppressed. We don’t have to live with ulcers any longer. Nor smallpox, come to think of it. That global program was initiated in 1959, the work was completed in 1977 and WHO announced that smallpox was eradicated in 1980. A truly altruistic marvel of cooperation.
And as Brian Cox said, we ourselves ‘are just proton pumps on a mote in a multiverse’. Don’t our scientists do well?