Sunday, December 23, 2007

E.O.Wilson on religion

The persistently interesting Bryan Appleyard writes a nice article on biologist E.O.Wilson in today's Sunday Times. The article ostensibly concerns Wilson's intriguing group-selection theories. However, at the end of the article Wilson attempts to defend religion on the following basis:

"Humans have an innate tendency to form religious belief. It has a lot of beneficial influences. It helps people adjust to their mortality and it binds communities tightly together."

The first claim, that religion helps people to deal with mortality, requires considerable evidence to substantiate it. Many religious people seem, on the contrary, to spend their lives in a state of anxiety about their mortality, precisely because they are religious, and precisely because they fear that God will pass judgement on their lives, and potentially dispatch them to Hell, or abandon them in some sort of limbo. The religious concept of sin condemns countless millions to guilt-ridden lives, which hardly seems like a good way of enabling people to deal with their mortality.

Wilson's second claim, that religion binds communities together, is certainly correct, and well-substantiated. Unfortunately, communities tightly bound together also tend to regard outsiders and other communities as enemies, hence religion contributes to the amount of suffering in the world by exacerbating the violent and war-like capabilities of humanity.


elberry said...

i like your line 'the persistently interesting Bryan Appleyard'. That's a fine and affable balance of tones there.

Attempts to defend religion in sociological or psychological terms tend to sound lame at best, like the time my father advised me to stay in touch with my university friends after graduation, because 'science' had shown that friends are useful for one's emotional well-being. It just seemed to miss the point of friendship.

Gordon McCabe said...

Exactly, Elberry. Everyone knows that the point of friends is to have someone to bail you out when your parents aren't around.

elberry said...

That is actually what i've used them for. i still owe two of them several hundred pounds from when i was between temp jobs.

Peter Gillespie said...

This is "high literature". We even managed to use the word affable. The subject is interesting and important and I found this thread through a Google Alert for E.O. Wilson.

Good luck with job hunting.