Monday, August 30, 2010

The Evolutionary Advantage of Believing in God

If you are an evolutionist, and an atheist, what is the scientific explanation for the almost universal nature of religion? People in every age in every place have developed a religion of some sort. Just about everybody who has ever existed has believed in the gods. Why?

NPR posted an article on just this issue titled: Is Believing In God Evolutionary Advantageous. Fascinating insights on how some in society account for God and religion in our modern world. Even within the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament - stories of Israel resisting the religions of the surrounding nations and staying loyal to the One True God - one wonders, where did all those other religions come from? By the time we get to Abraham, YHWH has to call him away from the gods and idols of his ancestors. Where did those gods and idols come from? Who decided what to worship?

The NPR article follows a story of a scientist who works to develop a credible theory for why we moderns still worship God or gods. The conclusion? Believing in a deity that will reward or punish you is effective. Scientific studies and sociological data reveal that people behave better when they believe that a supernatural being is watching their actions. This results in more human beings able to better cooperate, it fosters more kindness and hence creates for a stronger community. Thus, from a evolutionary point of view, religious people survived, and irreligious people didn't. Belief in God has gotten into our genes, it has preserved us, and it now sustains us.

All sorts of interesting conclusions can come from this study, and it also prompts more questions. Does it matter what kind of supernatural being is watching over you? Are there some supernatural beings that prompt better cooperation and stronger community then others? How sincere does the belief in the deity need to be to shape behavior? What kind of punishment is required in the belief system to "encourage" cooperation and community? Does it matter what the reward is?

Obviously belief in gods and goddesses came from somewhere. They were around before Noah and Abraham and Moses became acquainted with God/Elohim. There has been substantial changes over the past several hundred years in how modern citizens experience religion and relationships with the gods. Science has explained much about our world that used to be attributed to the divine. It seems that one of the few uses left for God is to prompt integrity, cooperation and participation in community - under threat of punishment.

Provocative ideas.


Anonymous said...

very interesting article, certainly something to think about and take into consideration, but how would we be able to prove if God/gods exist and what is the true evolutionary advantage? and how two very different things as supporting evolution and believing in Creation can come to a "blending"?

-A very interested student

Tim Hallman said...

I don't know that you can scientifically prove that God or gods exist. The primary reason for believing that God of Israel exists is the texts of Scripture. Christians believe that those writings are trustworthy accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. If what Jesus says is true, then he teaches us about who God is and how we can know and relate to him. If what Jesus says is not trustworthy, then we are at a loss for how to know if a God or gods exist.

The evolutionary advantage of believing in gods/God is the moral influence it exerts over communities and tribes. As societies evolve and become more complex, religious belief in God/gods helps individuals and families and networks of people flourish through moral expectations, beliefs in rewards and punishments.

Creation and Evolution point back to a beginning point in our existence. To say that God created the universe does not exclude his using the Big Bang as a means to begin his work. The Creation poems in Scripture teach us that God is creator, but they're not given as scientific manuscripts on the details of how it happened.

What do you think - very interested student?