I had read books critical of Richard Dawkins’ best seller The God Delusion but not the book itself in case — terrible thought — it undermined my convictions. Courage gripped me and I bought and read it over Christmas. A fitting time, I thought, to ward off heresy. It is a longish book. I read every word and quickly. So I have to say that it is well written and entertaining. Thus I reread The Dawkins Delusion? (McGrath, 2007) as an immediate antidote.
One of the things that worries away at evolutionists like Dawkins is ‘why God?’. Why has every society since the apocryphal Adam thought fit to develop a view that something greater than themselves was pulling the strings. As Dawkins diplomatically and subtly puts it: “Though the details differ across the world, no known culture lacks some version of the time-consuming, wealth-consuming, hostility-provoking rituals, the anti-factual, counter-productive fantasies of religion.”
In the evolutionary world of random mutation and natural selection there would seem to be no utility in a god, gods or an afterlife. What possible survival purpose could it serve, therefore, to justify its development as part of the human condition?
The premise of the difficulty for Dawkins and his fellow travellers, of course, is that there is no god or afterlife of any description. It is a pure invention of human beings to which no other primate has developed an attachment. There is no evidence of great apes worshipping a King Kong-like idol. No, we are alone in our delusion. But why, that is the question.
If you are a Darwinian everything must have a purpose. As Dawkins puts it: “Nature cannot afford frivolous jeux d’spirit.” Survival is the name of the game and natural selection will favour those who don’t waste their time and energy in worshiping false idols. There must be a purpose to religion which aids survival. But what is it?
“Everybody has their own pet theory of where religion comes from and why all human cultures have it,” says Dawkins. Antonio Damasio in Looking for Spinoza suggests that religion may help people cope with anxiety caused by the tragedies and vicissitudes of life and thereby aid in survival. It’s a theory; though I, for one, can present a counter theory. Belief in God offers the distinct and worrying prospect of not winning the prize. Atheists, on the other hand, can take a carefree approach to transgressions in the sure and certain knowledge that the non-existent afterlife offers neither reward nor penalty. That sounds stress-relieving to me.
In any event, Dawkins doesn’t think the evidence is strong for this particular theory. He also doesn’t favour popular ‘group selection’ theories which suggest, for example, that societies – tribes – which had deities tended to form closer bonds and fight more fiercely than their godless opponents, who were duly reduced in number.
Dawkins favours a theory that religion is a by-product of something else. The something else is the need of children to trust their elders if they are to survive. Please read the book if you think I am making this up.
“Natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents tell them…But the flip side of trusting obedience is slavish gullibility. The inevitable by-product is vulnerability to infection by mind viruses.” You guessed it. Religion is such a virus. To which Dawkins and atheists generally are clearly immune.
I am not immune; I admit. Ergo, call me slavishly gullible if you like. Nevertheless, I am not so gullible as to swallow Dawkins’ imaginative theory. But it is a theory, and if you don’t like this one Darwinians have many others of varying complexities and intrigue. Occam’s razor comes to mind. Perish the thought that humans everywhere have always had religious beliefs simply as a result of there actually being God.
And, finally, I come to a point of existential import. We’d all better hope that atheists are wrong. Because if they are right there is a good chance that natural selection will ensure that those with strong religious beliefs will outpopulate – in one way or another — those whose beliefs are weakening or non-existent. No names no pack drill, but I heard one religious leader the other day express passing doubt in the existence of God, and it wasn’t the grand mufti of Egypt or that of Saudi Arabia, or the Ayatollah Khamenei, or the UK’s radical Islamic cleric Anjem Choudary, or anyone from the Religion of Peace™.
Maybe religious fervour itself offers no inevitable natural-selection key to survival and predominance. However, we should be under no (genuine) delusion that religious zealots, pound for pound, are likely to be bested by those whose faith is enervated, never mind by those believing that religion is a fairytale.
Churchill’s observation (The River War, 1899) might be apropos: “were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it (Islam) has vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.”
Even more replete as we are now with religious milksops and atheists we’d better invest in R&D and big walls just in case natural selection is in process of doing us in.