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Tucson Atheists Message Board › Is believing in God evolutionarily advantageous?

Is believing in God evolutionarily advantageous?

Philip M.
PhilipMacDuff
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 15
NPR ran this story today, and the arguments presented were pretty flimsy.

http://www.npr.org/te...­

The first subject, Jesse Bering, claims to be an atheist, but from all that he says, I can't imagine he was very firm in his atheism. In particular, he claims "that believing that supernatural beings are watching you is so basic to being human that even committed atheists regularly have moments where their minds turn in a supernatural direction". This is utter tripe. His chain of reasoning seemed to me to be missing every other link, as well. He makes the argument that religion, and belief in God in particular, leads people to be more cooperative (because we're less like to "cheat" if we think we're being watched - based on a study of children), and therefore it is evolutionarily advantageous.

It's kind of disappointing that this is the kind of story being run about atheists. It makes us sound like we're just stubbornly ignoring the truth that there is some sort of higher power out there.

What do you all think?
Buck V.
buckabuddha
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 2
Extrapolating data collected in an experiment involving children and their willingness to believe that Princess Alice is there watching them to the world of adults and societal cooperation is absurd. Not "cheating" each other and having moral standards that respect and contribute to the well being of others is what has survival value.

The attribution of successful civilization to belief in a deity is tantamount to my excellent job of protecting Tucson from Fire Breathing Dragons! Well, you haven't seen any Fire Breathing Dragons in Tucson have you!?

You're welcome. biggrin
Mitchell
zenguy
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 83
An explanation is needed for the observed fact that religion is universal among civilizations. That is not to say that the beliefs of the religions are true. It does imply that such beliefs were useful.
A former member
Post #: 5
An explanation is needed for the observed fact that religion is universal among civilizations. That is not to say that the beliefs of the religions are true. It does imply that such beliefs were useful.

I agree, Mitchel. There may have been a time when belief in a supernatural power was useful for survival. It may have fostered cooperation or it may have simply made it easier for a charismatic leader to lead an otherwise chaotic group (which, I guess, gets back to cooperation). However, as you say, belief in an imaginary friend does not make it any less imaginary. Anyone who attempts to claim that because this false belief was beneficial then that proves it wasn't false, is using circular reasoning of the highest order.

I also submit that the benefits to humans as a species which may have derived from these false beliefs have long past. Currently the benefits only accrue to a few powerful or charismatic people who use these false beliefs to manipulate the impressionable masses towards their own ends. This is usually to the incredible detriment of those manipulated.

I further submit that those who do not believe in these imaginary gods are more highly evolved. If not physically, then socially and emotionally. It's a simple argument, that the NPR article kind of lays right out for us: If something was evolutionarily useful at one point but is now detrimental, those without that trait are now better suited to their environment.
Mitchell
zenguy
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 84
And I agree with you, Grant. :)
A former member
Post #: 6
Humanity's complex suite of psychological attributes may be considered, on balance, to have provided a selective advantage during the period in which our ancestors outcompeted or outlasted all their neighboring hominids. The evidence for this is the simple fact that we are here now. But the qualifier in that statement is, "on balance." It's the suite of attributes that proved advantageous--not necessarily every aspect of that suite. It was, as we say, the bottom line. There are still many aspects of behavior and intelligence that we may consider disadvantageous when studied individually or in special contexts.

The strong, well-nigh compulsive tendency to invent gods (not just "God") is so prevalent that we might almost call it an instinct in its own right (and therefore, something that was a selective advantage). But remember that deification is just one expression of the psychological tendencies that include belief in astrology, UFOs, and monsters in the bedroom closet (mine were always in the closet or the attic--it never occured to them to try hiding under the bed). Our ability to make up invisible realms is absolutely astonishing, especially when compared with the amount of proof (i.e., zero in the last 3,000 years) for those realms.

So if this sort of thing was an advantage, it was an advantage divorced from practical applications and proof. It was (therefore) some sort of psychological/social advantage. We need it in order to arrive at a comfortable consensus (individually, as equanimity--socially, as approval for our behavior) about our relationship with a difficult and incomprehensible world.

--Ben B
Mitchell
zenguy
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 85
Yes, the advantage, for our ancestors, competing with other groups of humans, as well as other non-human creatures, was social & psychological. It is hard for us to see the details of how that would work; it's very complex. But part of the story is that we have always been a social animal, evolving in groups where most members were related. So it was group vs. group. Perhaps groups with religion were more successful in the warfare between competing groups, or more cohesive at working together toward common goals, under the direction of the chief.
A former member
Post #: 6
Perhaps groups with religion were more successful in the warfare between competing groups, or more cohesive at working together toward common goals, under the direction of the chief.

Or perhaps, the groups with religion (belief in imaginary things) simply had more justification to be more ruthless in their attacks, or initiated more attacks because they believed their imaginary being wanted them to, or even fought more bravely because they believed their imaginary being was protecting them. This was illustrated by the Israelite attacks on the Palestinians as documented in the Old Testament. It was illustrated by the Crusades against Islam. Now a perverse, inside-out version of that is being illustrated by the terrorist attacks initiated by some radicalized Muslims as well as by the way the uber wealthy are manipulating the American public into believing that their imaginary being wants them to vote for politicians who will funnel more money into those wealthy peoples pockets. Now it is only evolutionarily advantageous to those who know how to manipulate the "instinct" rather than those who have it.
Anne
user 12910283
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 1
"Religion is the opiate of the masses"---Marx http://en.wikipedia.o...­

John T.
user 5081321
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 37
The latest issue of "Free Inquiry" has several articles the relate to Philip's original post.

It seems that evidence is growing in many fields that belief in supernatural forces is wired into us somehow. The problem is that even if this is true, there is no way you can use that fact to argue (rationally) for (or against, for that matter) the existence of god.

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