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November 20th, 2008
In the News: On Religion and Evolution

When you see “evolution” and “religion” in the same headline, certain assumptions about the following article might jump to mind. But this recent study published in Science sets aside the religious critique of evolution and examines how religion itself may be a part of human evolution.

Remember that evolution’s driving force is each individual’s biological urge to pass on his or her own genes. Life is a competitive enterprise wherein everyone strives to be the most successful breeder around. So some scientists have wondered: why do we find altruism and cooperation in human populations? Looking at the question from a purely evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense to help those who share your genes, but what about others in society you have nothing in common with, let alone a family link? They’re the competition! Psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff suggest that religion might be one explanation for why altruism persists in large social groups.

In The Human Spark, we focus a lot on the sociality of human beings, especially in comparison to our predecessors. Take a look at these articles to learn a bit more about how a cultural process such as religion can interact with evolution.

  • Lenedwin

    I am not a strictly religeous person in the formal sense. I empathize with the platitudes but have no time for the dogma. Having said this I have come to the conclusion, after many years, that Evolution will not do. Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ negates itself. The first chapters present the theory but if one reads on you will find that chapter 6 lays out just about all the objections to it that you can think of. In other words the anti-evolutionists were beaten to the post by Darwin himself. Evolution within a species is evident. We call it adaptation or ‘breeding’ We can see how this has worked in our domestic animals and crops. All dogs from the Great Dane to the miniture Poodle are related to the wolf and can theoreticlly interbreed. But to suggest that the whale and the sea urchin have a common ancester is pushing things too far. Evolutionists will say that there has been 4 billion years in which to achieve this. This is a fallacy. Geologists can point to at least 4 catastrophic events within the last 200 million years or so that wiped out over 90% of all living things. The last,65 million years ago, wiped out all living things; the dinosaurs included. There is a 12 million year break in the fossil record in which no fossils are found. Then low and behold in the next strata up crops fossils of modern animals. Very strange. And to think that all land animals emerged from the ocean is likewise rediculous. The urgent need for all living things is survival. They have to get better and better at what they are doing or perish. So if I were a creature living in the sea I would have to get better at doing this. Remember I can’t let my guard down I have to seek food every second of the day in order to live. To relax would mean extinction. So species have to continuously adapt to there circumstances; in other words get better at doing what they’re doing. They didn’t (and don’t)have the luxury of experimentation. “I say you chaps there’s a non-watery place over there lets see if we can find food and live on it”. How many fish had to flip flop on the beaches before one of them developed lungs? And because of the previous argument, why would it? And if it did, what would it eat? Darwin had a problem with the eyeball. He couldn’t imagine it being anything else because it’s so beautifully designed. What would it look like at the mid-point in it’s ‘evolution’? No one can tell you. Humanoids have been traced back a few million years and the skulls all have eyesockets so the eye has remained more or less the same for this period.

    What all this is pointing to I can’t suggest. The above are just observations which seem to need something other than Evolution to explain them. Or perhaps a revised, more complex, form of the theory can be developed that will embrace them. I don’t know.

    That’s enough for now. I have other thoughts but I wont develop them today.

  • Jonathan

    I don’t see what religion has to do with cooperation and caring.
    Wouldn’t it be much more likely that because our ancestors lived in tight-nit groups, that it would have been a very favorable characteristic to find pleasure in being compassionate and helpful to those around. Those who were commiserative would have the advantage of a much more possible reciprocal response. Since those who had been assisted by the kind individual would be much more likely to lend a hand when it was needed, those generous individual would live longer and have a better chance to reproduce and pass the cooperative and compassionate trait on to their inheritors, us.

  • Brad

    I was an athiest for 24 years, my second wife said I was impossible to live with then. I also looked at blacks as the missing link. But I had a religous experience and now I believe in God. My mariage is 100% better and I know that I am no better than any man, that we are all equal. When I was an athiest I did not fear death, in fact I often looked foward to it, so I know it is not the life everlasting aspect of religion that made me calm down. I still believe in evolution and can answer almost every question of why we evovled the way we did. But I see no evolutionary advantage in having a better self esteem if you believe in a high power, I can only conclude that that is God’s touch.

  • Wesley

    I suggest that those of you who belive in religion, read “The God Delusion”. To those of you who have faith in a higher power (notice the separation of fatih and religion) I also suggest you read that book, but even as an atheist, I can understand one having the need for faith and a higher power of some sort. Those that follow the one thing that has separated humans throughout history in some of the most cruel, extreme, and ignorant ways, RELIGION, simply confirms the fact that we as humans may be the top of the food chain, but we still have a long way to go to truly evolve into an intelligent and caring species.

  • Ken Wilson

    It is true that religious fervor has inspired many to feel that they are better than their neighbors and this has resulted in much of man’s suffering. It is also true that each religion carries with it a unique set of principles to live by – which we can individually judge to see if it makes sense to us. But how do we have such a sense of right and wrong? How do we have a sense of justice? And what inner urge compels us to search for the answers to these questions? Those are difficult questions to answer for those who feel that there is no higher purpose to our lives. The animal kingdom has no such urges and desires. Humans are aware of their own existence and are trying to understand their past, present and future.

  • Richard Webb

    FORCES OF IGNORANCE! Ignorance is a refusal to recognize errors and consider other options. Even Albert Einstein marveled at the rules of God’s creation. Refusal to recognize gaping holes in the THEORY of evolution is tantamount to creating a cult religion based on nothing but blind acceptance of flawed doctrine.

    Follow the money! Are some scientists afraid their life’s work and big grants are based on faulty assumptions promulgated within an incestuous inteligentcia that missed or ignored the big picture?

    Only a desperate despot would scream “I’m right, I’m right — Don’t dare disagree with me”! Are we seeing the frantic rant of scientists desperately hanging on to frayed remnants of their beloved evolution theory that is useful for explaining adaptation, but certainly does not extrapolate to explain the origins of life?

    If we hope to understand the true origins of life, kids need to learn the FLAWS in current theory so as future scientists they will question the assumptions and re-evaluate the evidence and draw humanity closer to the truth and wonder of our universe.

    Go see Expelled, Ben Stein’s movie about evolutionary dogmatism. It exposes the ignorant and desperate attempt to cover up the REAL science that shoots holes in errant Evolution Theory.

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