Trying to understand and explain religion

Beyond Demonic Memes, Why Richard Dawkins is Wrong About Religion by David Sloan Wilson is an attempt by one biologist to understand another on religion. Both Wilson and Dawkins are atheists and both have tried to explain away religious belief.

Wilson makes a bias clear when he mentions the “unaccountable corporations and extreme income inequality” as having nothing to do with religion. This is a contrast to his plea that “We should be equally concerned about other distortions of factual reality.”

What Wilson describes is that the idea that evolution is now understood to not only be a matter of genetics. As organizations grow in size and complexity, their evolutionary pressures also expand to include more abstract concepts. War and religion are to be understood, in evolutionary terms, as pressures that involve a social group which is made up of individual humans who are, in turn, made up of living cells. What works for an individual cell may not work, in raw evolutionary terms, for the individual. What works for the individual may not work for the society in which he lives.

Wilson also describes the fact that not all we see is the direct result of an evolutionary pressure. Some of what we see may be a byproduct of something else. Sometimes what we see is only a small part of a whole that isn’t readily visible.

This is why the reference to “unaccountable corporations” is notable. Corporations are their own organisms as social entities. They have evolutionary pressures on them. Evolution is an accountability mechanism as expressed in the phrase “only the fittest survive.” For an evolutionary biologist to be so flippant about a social organism in the light of his own discussion about accountability mechanisms is a clear example of how a personal bias can distort perception.

“Extreme income inequality” is another notable indicator of bias that misleads. Labeling extremes is a value judgment and therefore highly subjective based on the measures one is using for comparison. An inequality should only matter if there is inequity and then it is the inequity that should be noted and not the inequality. When it comes to income, there is a floor defined by charity, both private and public, that is intended to ameliorate problems of inequity. That pins one side of the extreme. Therefore a complaint about “Extreme income inequality” becomes simply a complaint that how much income anyone should be able to achieve should be limited. Limiting ones income is an imposition of inequity.

What much of this misses, Dr. Sanity catches. God is a Window in our Humanity.

Because it seems to me that, only if He is real do the concepts of justice or truth live up to their meaning; and only then does the universe make sense. Only if God is real does the meaning of life take on a dimension that is worthy of the human mind.

The search for God is nothing more and nothing less than a search for and understanding of one’s own self.

For the biologist, atheist or no, the challenge is to find room for these psychiatric concepts in the concepts of evolution. Wilson describes the hypotheses being explored to meet this challenge. Perhaps the most important concept still needed is a grasp of the influence of the profession of a belief and the all too common academic anti-capitalist bias in trying to ‘explain’ and understand religion in human society.

There may be more out there that we just don’t get. That can give us hope – if we remain healthy.

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