Originally Posted by Ciaran
Anyone care to offer some thoughts or explain religion in Darwinian terms?
Or in other words, according to evolution, why does religion exist?
Good question. I'm a believer in evolution, but I don't think that it has played a part in the development of religion. And maybe we should agree here that religion and a belief in God (or gods) are not the same thing. At least, to me they're not. So anything I say here is does not relate to God in any way, just to religion.
I've just finished reading Daniel Dennet's 'Breaking the Spell' about (as the blurb has it) religion as a natural phenomenon. I'm not sure if anyone would have read it as he's one of the infamous four horsemen of the apocalypse, referring to the 4 usual suspects brought up in any conversation about the 'new age' atheists, the others being Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens.
He doesn't believe that there is a gene responsible for religion per se, and neither do I. Dawkins has brought the subject up on occasion, using Marx's 'opiate of the masses' comment to suggest that there may be something akin to a sweet tooth that would need religious experience to satisfy it.
It is possible that there may be something akin to Chomsky's Universal Grammar that doesn't 'teach' us how to learn a language (from childhood) but gives us the ability to recognise structure and order in a linguistic sense. Perhaps this Universal Religiosity gives us the ability to recognise a shared consciousness in a religious sense. But if this was genetically passed on, as Dennet constantly asks, 'Cui bono?' Who benefits? Where is the evolutionary advantage? I don't see one, especially in such a small time frame.
I think Dawkin's idea of a cultural replicator comes closest to tying in Darwinian evolution and religion without resorting to the discredited idea of Cultural Darwinism. His calls these replicators 'memes' and they act as genes, but in a social rather than biological manner.
I believe that man in his early days (sorry, not 6,000 years ago...) would have almost automatically believed in a super natural world and with a realisation of his own mortality coupled with rituals developed in the burial of group members would have resulted in a proto-religion very early on.
Dawkin's memes would then 'spread the word'. Whether a belief in gods sprang from this, or developed in tandem, is debatable (from my viewpoint). Or maybe, from a Christian perspective, the religion became associated with God.