The Christianity Today website posted a story this week detailing the findings of an Oxford study on the inclination of humans toward religious belief. The Cognition, Religion and Theology Project was aimed at improving the scientific and philosophical rigor with which religion is studied. The study revealed a plethora of information regarding the natural inclination of humans to be religious. Among other findings were the following little gems:

  • There is an innate tendency to believe in the supernatural or attribute supernatural characteristic to people or things among children.
  • People tend to look at the world around them as having a purpose or specific function. This is the case regardless of the persons presence in a scientifically advanced society or not.
  • Children and young adults find it easier to remember religious ideas.

The whole article can be found here:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/august/goodreligion-aug11.html

It is not the primary focus of this post. The interesting thing that is mentioned in this article is the pains that the project directors went through to make the point that the study doesn’t prove the existence of God. Instead the directors indicated that both sides of the “does God exist” question could use the findings to argue their position. I tend to agree that both sides would simply integrate the results into their position. However, my inclination is that the findings show better for the God exists crowd (though I am biased). By this I mean that if the results had proven that people are innately non-believing, it would support the atheist side far more effectively.

The most interesting thing to glean from this discussion comes out when one of the directors argues that famed evolutionary biologist and new atheist guru, Richard Dawkins, would likely say: [that he] “would accept our findings and say we’ve got to grow out of it.” This hypothetical quote from the admitted atheist director of the project does a good job of portraying a bias and exposing a set of philosophical incongruities in the new atheist position.

From the new atheist position, the basic argument is: “religious tendencies are a product of natural selection that at some point in time furthered the genetic advance of the species.” I am not pulling this idea out of thin air. It is in fact one of the central tenets of the evolutionary ethics. Notions of right, wrong and religion evolved because humans living in society together needed such things to advance society, which helped with safer and more consistent breeding, which fulfilled the cold-hearted evolutionary mandate to reproduce. TA DA! Right, wrong and God are a product of Darwinian evolution. Personally, I don’t buy it.

There are a few problems with the response that we simply need to “grow out of it.” The biggest of these problems is that by deciding we need to grow out of religion specifically is a value judgment. Why religion and not morality? If right and wrong are only products of a biological system, why should we keep them? Nietzsche argued that once a man realizes that right and wrong are merely a matter of instinct, they are no longer bound to those ideas. Certainly the thinking is mirrored in the new atheist position regarding “growing out of religious belief.” However, they do not apply the logic consistently across the board…yet. If we realize that all beliefs are a product of biology and nothing more, then we can pitch them because they are of no real value.

Nietzsche argues that a man who realizes the meaninglessness of the world, and specifically right and wrong, can act in any way he chooses. All others are merely a herd. A man who realizes that he need not act according to herd instinct can do whatever he pleases.

We see this played out in the extreme amongst the Nazis in WWII. They selected the genetically inferior and eliminated them based on the notion that they were merely cleansing the gene pool. Certainly it wasn’t wrong because we are all animals and it was a Darwinian act of fixing the short circuit in “survival of the fittest” mandate caused by notions of traditional morality. Interestingly, this is the reasoning behind the science of eugenics. Cleanse the gene pool of unwanted waste through science. It is a founding set of ideas behind Planned Parenthood, which initially set out to eliminate the poor and minorities through the provision of free birth control. (I only mention it to make the point that it wasn’t just “over there” that is sort of thing took place.)

Admittedly, I am bringing this case to the extreme to make a point. The blind eye that the new atheists turn to their foundational assumptions regarding right and wrong is a significant philosophical inconsistency. It is one that they simply accept because they feel the need to attack and tear down without considering what will take the place of the institutions they are destroying. It will come back to bite us all later if it is victorious in the arena of ideas. The evolutionary biologists, who label ethics a product of biological fluke, are standing on a mountain composed of Western Christian values that they don’t want to lose and really don’t want to acknowledge. This is why religion needs to be tossed, but things like “human life has value” has to stay around. Their assumption that this value has more validity is based on an inconsistent philosophical assumption. In fact, if one goes by Darwinian thought, “life is cheap but persistent” is the rule. Survival of the fittest doesn’t leave room for “do the right thing even when you don’t want to” or “preserve the weak and innocent.” In the end, they have made themselves the arbiters of what out to stay and what needs to go. However, they have no authority for the long haul.

Nietzsche argues that the death of religion will result in a period of time when morals and values will remain, despite being remnants of the old ways. Over time, they will disappear as man realizes that they have no real authority. For a read on the appearance of the world without the basic value assumptions brought about by Christianity, check out the large countries where religion has been outlawed and eradicated by Marxism. As terrible as the atrocities committed by religious people over the centuries has been, they pale in comparison to the great atheists of history: Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. Hundreds of millions of people have been killed by atheist regimes in the 50 years since they came about. Even moving away from western countries, with their Judeo-Christian foundations, reveal very different attitudes regarding the sanctity of life, rights for women, etc.

Religion is the authority behind right and wrong. We cannot eliminate one and hope to preserve the other. Specifically, Christianity has made the Western world possible, and is the hidden source of the value assumptions of the new atheists who are crying for it to be purged.

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