I said earlier that Dawkins is good when he’s on his home turf. I just read the section where he is talking about religious belief as a by-product of evolution — i.e., the unfortunate offshoot of a useful aspect of humanity. In this case, he believes our tendency to believe what we are told.
I disagree with him. For one thing, a significant fraction of humans refuse to believe what they’re told as anyone who has worked with kids can tell you. For another, the Jesuit line about “give me the child for seven years and I will give you the man” is demonstrable bullshit. The communists believed this and would educate kids in the glories of communism from the time they were two months old.
Didn’t work. The human mind is too mushy and flabby to be programmed like that.
I think, if anything, religious belief flows out of our comfort with ritual, with familiarity, with generational continuity. When I go to synagogue, I feel a kinship with my younger self, with my dad, with my dead-grandfather. There is comfort in knowing that I’m reciting the same Aleinu prayer or the same levitical blessing that Jews all over the world have recited for the last 2-3000 years. That’s powerful. And if you want to put it Darwinian terms, there is a survival value in doing what previous generations did, since it obviously worked for them — they bred us. There is survival value in doing the things we’ve done before, since it obviously worked for us — we’re still here.
I also think there’s a connection to our almost pathological need for explanations, our refusal to believe in randomness. We don’t want to believe that crops failed or someone died because … it just happened. Humans are biologically programmed to look for a cause to every effect — see the recent green vaccine controvery. A lot of the time, we lump that cause under the aegis of God.
Of course, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. In physics, certain phenomena were or are lumped under electromagnetic effects because you can use E+M to do whatever you want. That does not mean it doesn’t explains some things.