Your Brain on Religion

Interesting article today on Salon, an excerpt from a book by D.F. Swaab, about to be published.

This is your brain on religion: Uncovering the science of belief

I especially agree with this, the first paragraph:

As far as I’m concerned, the most interesting question about religion isn’t whether God exists but why so many people are religious. There are around 10,000 different religions, each of which is convinced that there’s only one Truth and that they alone possess it. Hating people with a different faith seems to be part of belief.

But it’s not difficult to understand why religion exists.

The religious programming of a child’s brain starts after birth. The British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is rightly incensed when reference is made to “Christian, Muslim, or Jewish children,” because young children don’t have any kind of faith of their own; faith is imprinted in them at a very impressionable stage by their Christian, Muslim, or Jewish parents. Dawkins rightly points out that society wouldn’t tolerate the notion of atheist, humanist, or agnostic four-year-olds and that you shouldn’t teach children what to think but how to think. Dawkins sees programmed belief as a byproduct of evolution. Children accept warnings and instructions issued by their parents and other authorities instantly and without argument, which protects them from danger. As a result, young children are credulous and therefore easy to indoctrinate. This might explain the universal tendency to retain the parental faith.

It goes on with a fascinating exploration:

The evolution of modern man has given rise to five behavioral characteristics common to all cultures: language, toolmaking, music, art, and religion. Precursors of all these characteristics, with the exception of religion, can be found in the animal kingdom. However, the evolutionary advantage of religion to humankind is clear.

And he goes on to explain those reasons — nothing that would be new to anyone who’s read Daniel Dennett, and others.

Needless to say, religion isn’t about accurate perception of what is true about the real world.

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