Dinesh D Souza, The Greatness of Christianity: Table of Contents
Cf. Dinesh D’souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, at Amazon
“The vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply” —Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
THE CONTINUED GROWTH OF RELIGION worldwide has not gone unnoticed by leading atheists. Some of these nonbelievers, most of them Darwinists, express candid puzzlement at religion’s enduring vitality. These Darwinists are convinced that there must be some biological explanation for why, in every culture since the beginning of history, man has found and continues to find solace in religion. Biologist Richard Dawkins confesses that religion poses a “major puzzle to anyone who thinks in a Darwinian way.”
Here, from the evolutionary point of view, is the problem. Scholars like anthropologist Scott Atran presume that religious beliefs are nothing more than illusions. Atran contends that religious belief requires taking “what is materially false to be true” and “what is materially true to be false:’ Atran and others believe that religion requires a commitment to “factually impossible worlds.” The question, then, is why humans would evolve in such a way that they come to believe in things that don’t exist.
Philosopher Daniel Dennett states the problem clearly: “The ultimate measure of evolutionary value is fitness—the capacity to replicate more successfully than the competition does.” Yet on the face of it religion seems useless from an evolutionary point of view. It costs time and money, and it induces its members to make sacrifices that undermine their well-being for the benefit of others, who are sometimes total strangers.
Religious people build cathedrals and pyramids that have very little utility except as houses of worship and burial. The ancient Hebrews sacrificed their fattest calves to Yahweh, and even today people slaughter goats and chickens on altars. Religious people sometimes forgo certain foods—the cow is holy to the Hindus, and the pig unholy to the Muslims. Christians give tithes and financial offerings in church. The Jews keep holy the Sabbath, as Christians keep Sunday for church. Religious people recite prayers and go on pilgrimages. Some become missionaries or devote their lives to serving others. Some are even willing to die for their religious beliefs.
The evolutionary biologist is puzzled: why would evolved creatures like human beings, bent on survival and reproduction, do things that seem unrelated and even inimical to thoseobjectives? This is a critical question, not only because religion poses an intellectual dilemma for Darwinists, but also because Darwinists are hoping that by explaining the existence of religion they can expose its natural roots and undermine its supernatural authority. Biologist E. 0. Wilson writes that “we have come to the crucial stage in the history of biology when religion itself is subject to the explanations of the natural sciences?’ He expresses the hope that sometime soon “the final decisive edge enjoyed by scientific naturalism will come from its capacity to explain traditional religion, its chief competitor, as a wholly material phenomenon.”‘
So how far have these evolutionary theories progressed in accounting for the success of religion? “The proximate cause of religion might be hyperactivity in a particular node of the brain?’ Dawkins writes. He also speculates that “the idea of immortality survives and spreads because it caters to wishful thinking.” But it makes no evolutionary sense for minds to develop comforting beliefs that are evidently false. Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker explains, “A freezing person finds no comfort in believing he is warm. A person face to face with a lion is not put at ease by the conviction that he is a rabbit.” Wishful thinking of this sort would quickly have become extinct as its practitioners froze or were eaten.