Can Science Deliver the Benefits of Religion?

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The claim that humans evolved from non-humans is among the best established in science. It is backed by overwhelming evidence from diverse sources and fits into a rich and elegant picture of the biological world, with modern humans appearing around 200,000 years ago, more than three billion years after the origins of life on earth. Yet, according to a Gallup survey, nearly half of Americans reject evolution, instead endorsing the view that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”


Why this resistance to human evolution? Religious commitments play a role, to be sure, but pointing to religion isn’t enough to explain why human evolution, in particular, engenders such a chilly reception in Americans’ hearts and minds. After all, a view of the solar system with humans at its center was eventually displaced (if ungracefully), and people aren’t nearly so troubled by the idea that plants evolve. There’s something special about human evolution—something that many find existentially upsetting, even untenable.

Research in experimental psychology offers a host of compelling explanations for why this could be. Perhaps humans are innately predisposed to creationism. Perhaps religious beliefs are “natural” and contemporary scientific commitments the psychological anomaly. There is something to be said for these claims, but if creationism—and the rejection of human evolution—is the belief toward which our species is naturally predisposed, we’re faced with an equally perplexing mystery: How is it that some people manage to embrace human evolution, and, indeed—to borrow Darwin’s phrase—to find “grandeur in this view of life”?

 

Written By: Tania Lombrozo
continue to source article at bostonreview.net

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  1. For starters, understanding evolution requires wrapping your head around some pretty abstract concepts, such as probability, geologic time, and what the biologist Ernst Mayr called “population thinking”: evolution isn’t a process that occurs at the level of individual organisms changing over time;..

    That is probably one of the main reasons why so many people reject evolution. The illusion of a static unevolving reality and the so-called lack of transitional species always seems to come up in creationism vs evolution debates.

    If you’re not forcefed religion from an early age, I see no reason as to why a real and scientific view of the world shouldn’t be sufficient emotionally speaking.

  2. If religion has benefits, science can detect them, whether or not it can provide alternative routes to it. Until these benefits are scientifically confirmed, this article’s title question doesn’t need to be answered, or even asked. All attempts to provide evidence of benefits of religion have been inconclusive. Wake me up when we can be sure they go beyond “professing the same views as, and meeting with, other people pays in the long run, and for reasons that don’t paint our species in a very good light”.

    • In reply to #2 by Jos Gibbons:

      If religion has benefits, science can detect them, whether or not it can provide alternative routes to it. Until these benefits are scientifically confirmed, this article’s title question doesn’t need to be answered, or even asked.

      It works both ways. If you want to study religion scientifically you can’t start out with the assumption that it can’t possibly provide any benefits. You need to be open to evidence in either direction, that religion can be harmful or helpful.

      • In reply to #3 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #2 by Jos Gibbons:

        If religion has benefits, science can detect them, whether or not it can provide alternative routes to it. Until these benefits are scientifically confirmed, this article’s title question doesn’t need to be answered, or even asked.

        It works both ways. If you want to…

        Where do you see in Josh’s comment the assumption that religion cant provide any benefits?

        • In reply to #5 by JoeT:

          Where do you see in Josh’s comment the assumption that religion cant provide any benefits?

          Firstly, it’s Jos, not Josh. I don’t use a weird pseudonym; I just have a weird name.

          Secondly, thank you for challenging Red Dog on that point. I don’t assume religion can’t provide benefits, but I’ve found sociologists’ debunking of the arguments that it does convincing enough to not be convinced by said arguments, which is why I called the evidence inconclusive.

          Thirdly, Red Dog does make a good point too: if anyone wants to play the “but religion has benefits… I think” card, they need to look at the con side of it too. Indeed, even if we conclusively established that religion has some benefits, that wouldn’t on its own make it good. We might even be willing to forgo those benefits (should science be unable to replicate them) for some greater good.

          • In reply to #14 by Jos Gibbons:

            In reply to #5 by JoeT:

            Where do you see in Josh’s comment the assumption that religion cant provide any benefits?

            Firstly, it’s Jos, not Josh. I don’t use a weird pseudonym; I just have a weird name.

            Secondly, thank you for challenging Red Dog on that point. I don’t assume religion can’t provide…

            I agree with you. But, in the 30 years I spent teaching in a post-school tech, I saw many young people turn their lives around using religion. Not that I’m saying that I liked what they became, obsessed with God, preaching, goody-goodies, or quiet,submissives, nearly always smug, and controlled by thir pastors, but I have to concede that it was better than being dope-heads, low lifers, facing a limited lifespan.

            I don’t know the answers, but I do know the questions.

  3. It can’t replace religion.

    Many people are in unspeakable pain and suffer awful circumstances , there survival hinges on their belief.

    There’s nothing that can replace that. Science can’t promise a second chance.

  4. Let us say science could not deliver the benefits of religion:

    1. smug conviction you are superior to everyone else.
    2. false conviction you are protected by divine beneficence.
    3. community of people who think like you.

    But surely those benefits are not worth lying to your children, your self and eveyone you meet.

    • No didn’t say that.

      Some people got it real bad, and some may not have the ability , to make up their own minds. Despair is as real as hope , and many people have little or no reason to be hopeful and every reason to despair..

      In reply to #8 by finchfinder:

      Pauly01 No.6. Are you saying that believers survive better than non-believers? (their survival hinges, not there), The truth can be painful. Face up to it.

  5. There’s something special about human evolution—something that many find existentially upsetting, even untenable.

    Yes, many but not all. Probably information through education is the key, and the Americans are not known for being highly educated.

  6. In reply to #6 by Pauly01:

    It can’t replace religion.

    Many people are in unspeakable pain and suffer awful circumstances , there survival hinges on their belief.

    There’s nothing that can replace that. Science can’t promise a second chance.

    Correct, science cannot offer a second chance, scientists are not in the habit of making up stories.

    My condition, haemophilia, is incurable and, at times, very painful but, thanks to science, things have improved vastly. In fact no haemophiliac born today should suffer anything like as much as my generation and we have science and medicine to thank for that.

    My doctors have never lied to me and I respect them for that as I would rather know the truth and what my chances are and my peers feel the same way. On the other side, I have had some really “useful” comments from religiots, such as “there is always someone worse off than yourself” or “faith will see you through.” The first statement I have heard many times from preachers and I find it particularly smug and odious, why should I feel better to think that someone is in more pain than me, I am not a sadist. The opposite would be true, I could get some pleasure from knowing no one had it as bad. The second is just a plain and simple lie, said because the preachers know, even if they wont admit it, that there is nothing they can do.

    In the fifty plus years of my life it has gone from no treatment other than whole blood in cases of excessive loss, to the modern recombinant Factor VIIIs whose efficiacy is such that Alex Dowsett, a severe haemophiliac, has competed in and completed the Tour de France. That is the sort of thing that gives hope, not blind faith but solid facts showing how much good science can do.

    As for can science deliver the benefits of religion? What benefits, had it not been for the scientific regression and stagnation caused by the post-Constantine repression of science we would be a lot further on.

  7. This article is using belief in the US as an example in discussing humanity while ignoring that belief in Europe is collapsing. Aren’t we all the same humans they are discussing in this article?

    I would say that what is happening in Europe is proof that where people are free to not believe they choose not to. There is far more societal pressure in the States to believe, that is the obvious factor they are missing here.

    We see the articles on this site every day about officialdom coming down on some atheist or other in the US. Schools, the military universities workplaces. It is endemic.

    The writers of this article need to get a passport and look at the rest of the world. We don’t all live in America.

  8. If born into and brought up within the comforture of a religious tradition it’s probably quite difficult to come to terms with the simple, salient, incontrovertible fact that: “We’re not fallen Angels but risen Apes.”

    I suppose it’s a bit like being a spoilt child; it’s very hard to grow out of.

  9. Why this resistance to human evolution?

    I think it’s because some humans are taught from birth that they are fundamentally privileged when it comes to living things. This kind of speciesist snobbery leads to minds that just cannot stomach the notion that they are simply members of an unusual animal species as opposed to fundamentally special beings, a notion that religions tend to support with gusto.

  10. Why this resistance to human evolution?

    Because they want/need to think that they are extra special. This is that basis of all fundamentalism, religion, sexism, nationalism, racism, and in this particular case, specism. (if there is such a word).

  11. I’m sure one day science will come up with a drug that can make you instantly hate people for being different but until then we should just be satisfied with its limited abilities to provide water, healthcare, farming, infrastructure, transport, communicaitons, eductation, quality of life, engineering and power

  12. In reply to #6 by Pauly01:

    It can’t replace religion.

    Many people are in unspeakable pain and suffer awful circumstances , there survival hinges on their belief.

    There’s nothing that can replace that. Science can’t promise a second chance.

    On the contrary, many people got a second chance thanks to science. Think of all those who’ve had heart transplants, for example. Or artificial limbs. Or AIDS treatments. Or who can live past the age of 40, which used to be the norm not too long ago. Nobody got a new heart, a new limb, fought AIDS or lived a single day longer by praying. Furthermore, science can’t promise a second chance because oftentimes the outcome of a treatment is not sure. Religion, on the other hand, promises something that doesn’t exist or, to be kind to the religious, that they have no way of knowing (afterlife). So the best that religion can offer is a lie, a pacifier/binky/soother for the fears of those who are scared of reality. I’ll take science over religion any day of the week.

  13. My browser wont let me reply the usual way

    In reply to #21 By Korben

    Lets try to isolate the cases where inflated egoisim plays a lesser role in a palpable wish to believe. My honest opinion is that if a person has led a full life , had many experiences, then that should be good enough. People die that’s just a fact trying to make the self revevant past this I don’t agree with.

    But there are unique scenarios

    People suffering chronic disability

    Dieing Children

    Where someone dies in violent or seriously unjust circumstances

    Chronic poverty and impoverishment etc , etc

    On the contrary, many people got a second chance thanks to science. Think of all those who’ve had heart transplants, for example. Or artificial limbs. Or AIDS treatments. Or who can live past the age of 40, which used to be the norm not too long ago. Nobody got a new heart, a new limb, fought AIDS or lived a single day longer by praying. Furthermore, science can’t promise a second chance because oftentimes the outcome of a treatment is not sure. Religion, on the other hand, promises something that doesn’t exist or, to be kind to the religious, that they have no way of knowing (afterlife). So the best that religion can offer is a lie, a pacifier/binky/soother for the fears of those who are scared of reality. I’ll take science over religion any day of the week.

  14. It’s a silly question in many ways as it is not comparing apples with apples.
    Whatever the perceived benefits of religion, they are entirely subjective.

    Is the belief in an afterlife a benefit or a hindrance?
    Is the idea that you will be forgiven all of your sins a benefit or licence to piss in the face of civilized society?
    Is having someone pray for you a benefit or not?
    Is having a pastor / vicar etc to confide in a benefit?
    Is thinking that your family is dancing around in heavan or burning in hell a benefit?
    Is being able to make up any fact that you want in order to make you feel warm and cozy inside a benefit?
    Ask 100 people get 100 different answers.

    I think the closest science can get to delivering the benefits of religion is in the form of intoxicating, mind altering hallucinogens. Tripping away the night thinking your dog is secretly your guardian angle and watches you while you sleep or that your rubber plant is channeling a message from a Napoleon is about as close as it can get.

    In almost every single way the benefits of science brush aside the benefits of religion, but they can never deliver the same.

  15. Quote:

    The claim that humans evolved from non-humans is among the best established in science. It is backed by overwhelming evidence from diverse sources and fits into a rich and elegant picture of the biological world.

    What’s your evidence?

  16. Science provides tested information and understanding. Religion provides “faith-thinking, self delusion and dogma. Ignorance provides gaps in knowledge. – BUT it is the application of these in the real world, which has effects on communities. Many of the decisions on action and activities are political or social, and based on political or social structures.

  17. What a quaint, parochial article. Straight out of the 1950s, say, or perhaps the United States.

    Religion began its decline in genuine human utility around 600BC when its ragbag of rules and regulations, just so stories and social inventions of abstract authority and the like were successfully spun out into thriving disciplines of their own.

    Its main delivery of coherent super-tribes with the division of labour needed for agriculture, was religion’s crowning glory. Its unwitting (memetic) evolution of the right psychological tricks to get maximum work out of individuals was essential for this labour intensive (but reliable) mode of living off a fixed piece of land. The mutual dependence of it all needed justice and punishment to counter the demotivating effect of the human parasites. That punishment and reward could happen beyond death was possibly the jewel in its inventive crown.

    I see no evidence that children raised without the concept of heaven crave it innately. In my experience, by simply telling the truth to kids (in my English culture) the normality of death is readily accepted. There is no need to soften the “blow”. The sense of sadness and loss is still there, but “birth, life and death” makes coherent sense. Progress rides on the back of death. Pleasures are never sustained. Disneyland palls. Sweetness and joy ride on the back of loss and suffering.

    I claim the greatest poetry is inaccessible to those without an expectation of total loss.

    (Please don’t mistake this for some type of fatalism either. We should strive everyday against the reckless unfairness of loss and suffering.)

    Please note that much of culture has been wired into kids before they even start school. Much of what is proposed in this village rag as innate tendencies are merely early cultural hooverings up.

    The one real problem it highlights is the incomprehension of deep time. More bed time stories of the long ago and the longerer ago would be hugely helpful here.

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