Devils advocate time!

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jake-the-peg | 08:31 Wed 05th May 2010 | Religion & Spirituality
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I think you'll all agree that religion is universal - I don't think I've heard of a single civilisation however isolated that hasn't come up the notion of God and life after death in some way shape or form.

It's therefore pretty reasonable to suggest that humans have an innate sense of religion.

If God and religion is a myth - what possible evolutional advantage could be served by this inherant belief in something that is not true?

If there is no evolutional advantage is this evidence of God? the equivilent argument to vestigal limbs - vestigial knowledge?


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The ability to reason presents us with a profound evolutionary advantage, once one understands and implements the method consistently and across the board. The choice not to reason presents the greatest challenge to this stage in human evolution. Attempts to reason present an insurmountable challenge until one learns how to reason effectively and efficiently.

Thinking is hard. Here’s the reason we do it . . . and what happens when we stop:

I like this one: “You keep believing, I'll keep evolving”
I don't think it's part of evolution in the sense that we never gained any advantage from it - it's come simply as a by-product of developing such an advanced brain, in the same way that music, art, literature and all the other esoteric stuff that's not concerned with the day to day buisness of survival, but is also common to all people, has come.

It's now part of our nature to question and seek explanations for everything, and religion satisfies that need, as does science of course.
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But the evolutionary advantage gained by our ability to reason must surely be severely reduced if there is a tendency to reach an incorrect conclusion.

Humans have been resorting to prayer for thousands of years - why has this behaviour not evolved out by now if it is ineffective?
I'll put my head on the block and disagree on the innate sense of religion. As we grow up, religion is imparted on us at some stage no matter what our parents believe. Someone is going to tell us in our younger life that if you're naughty you won't go to heaven, and someone is bound to tell you that God loves you. As our mind develops we start to wonder about life, death and many things inbetween. In an effort to desparately clutch onto something, religion is often choosen as a crutch in our final stage of life.

There is no doubt that nowadays there are more people who don't believe in any type of Deity than ever before. As our knowledge advances there will gradually be more and more atheistical doctrine.
There are many vestiges of evolution that are slow to be weeded out, wisdom teeth for example. Nature it seems only looks at the overall score when deciding which version of the gene gets to stay and which must go.
The 'funny' thing about intelligence is that it accommodates a large variety of aberrations precisely because, overall it does offers such a distinct advantage to the survival of the host species.
And so as this unlikely marriage of technology and superstition comes to fruition we can only hope that reason will prevail before we blow ourselves to smithereens.
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OK lets try another tack at this then

Reason is based on axioms, statements so "obviously" true that they cannot be questioned.

However the history of such axioms is far from reliable.

In mathematics the parallel postulate stood for years before it was seriously questioned and we got a whole load of non-cartesian geometries which it then turned out were needed to understand General relativity and the shape of the Universe.

In physics up to recently pretty much everybody would have agreed that something can't be in two places at once - then the world of Quantum mechanics exploded all of that and the whole notion of something phically existing in one location fell apart as did the idea that something has an existance independant of it's observer.

So the whole history of rational inquiry about the nature of existance has a background of being wrong at a rather fundamental level.

The work of Godel and Turing and Russell placed limits on reason and shows us that there are things that it impossible to discover by rational thought, by logic.

Does this not mean that clinging to the idea of rational thought stands in our way and that deeper understanding can only come if we put that aside?
I don't think that humans have an innate sense of God and the afterlife per se, I believe it is a natural response to having a brain that is capable of abstract thought, complex, conflicting emotions and animal impulses, coupled with being placed in an environment that is extremely complex and full of wonders.

Humans will always try and find explanations and 'reasons' that the world is the way it is and where it, and we, came from, many modern scientists spend their lives doing just that and, as theories go, the God theory is tricky to disprove even today let alone 10'000+ years ago. As for the afterlife, death is such an important event that it is no surprise that superstition and ritual will surround it, and the belief in an afterlife helps to ease the pain felt by the living when faced with their own or a loved ones death. It is living in groups and group efforts that have helps humans evolve into what we are today and with living in groups comes social order and ceremony, it is not surprising that the primitive beliefs crystalise into religion the world over.

So, was there an evolutionary advantage to shared group beliefs about the nature of existance? Probably, the theory fit, it didn't increase our chances of being eaten by a sabre toothed tiger, made us feel better and helped us all to get along. Then, cilvisitation marched on, and we are where we are today, a belief in God or the afterlife won't kill you, can make you friends, feel wanted and secure but it doesn't mean in is correct.

/// So the whole history of rational inquiry about the nature of existance has a background of being wrong at a rather fundamental level. /// Yep, and God is one of the wrong ones.

You appear to be postulating the theory that in order to get to the 'truth' we need to abandon rational thought and embrace irrationality. Correct me if I'm mistaken but what I believe you're suggesting is that because there are some things in reality that we don't yet understand, we should not rule out the existence of God.

Your premise for this theory appears to be the apparent irrationality displayed by quantum physics.

While it is true that quantum physics challenges our current concepts of reality at a sub-atomic level, all it really says about reality is that it appears to be very peculiar indeed. We have only just started to scratch the surface of the sub-atomic world and yet you seem to be advocating the idea that because we don't understand it now, we'll never understand it.

When mankind started looking into the night sky and discovered other planets, they were bamboozled by the fact that they appeared to occasionally change direction for a few days then continue on their way. This observable phenomenon was first recorded by the ancient Greeks and wasn't fully understood for many hundreds of years until Johannes Kepler used Tycho Brahe's meticulous observations to prove that the planets orbit the sun in ellipses.

It may well take many generations to start to make sense of the sub-atomic world. If so, it makes not one jot of difference to the God hypothesis which your are postulating.

The sub-atomic quantum world may well be a mystery at the moment but it is the very reason you are able to type your thoughts on this matter into a computer. It's the underlying reason why microprocessors work. It is one of the most demonstrably 'provable' theories in physics.

Just because we discover something that doesn't yet make any sense to us does not mean that it never will. To throw your hands in the air and succumb to irrational explanations is not an answer, and option or a solution.

By the way, your argument is called "The God Of The Gaps Theory".
According to [url=
Markers of Religious Conviction[/url], "religious conviction is marked by reduced reactivity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a cortical system that is involved in the experience of anxiety and is important for self-regulation".

This neurological observation further suggests that religion could be a genetically determined evolutionary trait and that some of us simply lack it.
Ack - excuse pisspoor tagging.
jake, Perhaps I am misreading your intentions here, but . . .
if you're attempting to use reason to disprove reason, haven't you in effect shot yourself in the foot before you've even got your gun out of the holster?
//If God and religion is a myth - what possible evolutional advantage could be served by this inherant belief in something that is not true? //

None, but the fear of death is such that for some people it's preferable to cling to a futile belief rather than concede to their mortality. Religion destroys both the desire and the ability to reason.
And like that... he's gone.

Jake-the-peg has now done this on numerous occasions.

Seriously Jake, if you're not going to even attempt to justify your arguments then why bother posting?
As nearly as I can tell, Jake is a busy man, what with his extry leg and all. For myself, I'm grateful that he took the time to give us something to think about. I don't imagine extry legs come cheap and being the Devil's advocate must keep him pretty busy indeed . . . when he's not making the most of the Devil's part of the bargain, that is.

Jake, when you get a moment, come back here with that ball. Someone's apparently not done playing with it yet!

Wait up! I think I just seem him take a penalty shot on the telly!

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