scilogs Biology of Religion

Religulous - Who's ridiculing whom?

from Michael Blume, 16. May 2009, 10:58
In the sad and ongoing "Culture Wars" between religious and secular worldviews, extreme proponents of religions and atheisms are misusing science, especially distorting evolutionary studies - instead of using them to better understand each other.

As an example, take the movie poster to "Religulous", a product of Bill Maher aimed at ridiculing religious people, calculating that some infuration would make good advertisement.

But if we ponder the poster for another second, we see the deep and telling flaws in this way of abusing evolutionary theory.

Just let's imagine we would observe complex, ritual behavior with chimpanzees. Would we just ridicule them, pointing at these "dumb animals"? Would we reeducate or hit them until they stop?

Of course not! We would observe their behavior with curiosity and respect, sending out our best scientists to explore it. We would examine the natural history, the biological functions and possible benefits of the trait - knowing that natural selection normally doesn't result in costly, dysfunctional "delusions".

Curiously, some self-declared "enlightened" people seem not to be able to show the same respect and curiosity to their fellow homo sapiens. They don't understand religious behaviour - so they ridicule it. They fear possible consequences of belief systems and conflicts - so they chose to abstain from serious, scientific inquiry, which could help understanding and coping with human religiosity and religions in a constructive way. Misusing evolutionary studies, they are breaking with the most basic rule of bio-logic: That traits evolve by evolutionary success of genetic sequences passed on to next generations. They even ignore loads of scientific studies on religion and demography, proving a positive effect of competitive religions to the average number of births to their adherents. The religious lifestyles of Amish, Huterrites, Mormons or orthodox Jews (to name just a few of many communities) might seem odd to some observers: But they are sure fostering stronger families and communities, higher fertility and thus evolutionary success!

Thus, beginning with David Sloan Wilsons famous remark on Richard Dawkins never-seen "Demonic Memes", serious scholars in evolutionary religious studies started to speak out openly against the anti-religious misuse of biology, advocating serious, empirical research instead. Science is not about debunking observable traits and phenomena, but about better understanding them!

Yes, Chimps deserve our scientifc curiosity and respect. And our fellow humans deserve it at least as well.



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