Uses of religion

Submitted by Matthew on 25 April, 2012 - 9:02

While it was good to read the interview with Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association (Solidarity 242), it was disappointing to see Ira Berkovic falling into the trap of a formulaic denunciation of Richard Dawkins’ supposed views on religion.

Dawkins does not “conceive of religious belief as merely a stupid, wrong idea”. As he explains in The God Delusion, the ubiquity of religion strongly suggests that it either has survival value or, his preferred theory, it is linked to psychological propensities that have survival value. In other words, religious beliefs are a by-product of things that have survival value.

He gives as an example of such a by-product the tendency of moths to fly into a flame. Moths have evolved in a world where for hundreds of millions of years the only light at night has been the Moon, by which they can navigate. Candle flames, a recent phenomenon, are brighter and nearer, overwhelming the moth’s navigational sense.

Dawkins thinks that religions may have spread through the valuable tendency of children to obey their parents and elders, thus avoiding many dangerous situations. Why the elders would believe many untrue things about the world also needs explanation, and Dawkins and others have come up with some plausible suggestions.

Nowhere, however, does Dawkins suggest that religious beliefs are “merely a stupid, wrong idea”. The criticism of Dawkins and other high-profile atheists on these incorrect grounds suggests that many religious leaders are rattled by his actual arguments.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.