Sapolsky on religion, and human behavior

Via today’s Morning Heresy blog by Paul Fidalgo, this item from Robert M. Sapolsky, a short video on a site called Big Think, called Atheism vs. Religion: Which Is the Healthier Viewpoint?.

His thesis is that religious belief, in eternal life, in a caring god, etc etc., serves an evolutionary advantage to calm the nerves of a species that has become intelligent enough to realize we’re all going to die.

[Religions] are a wonderful method for reducing stress. It is an awful, terrifying world out there where bad things happen and we’re all going to die eventually. And believing that there is something, something responsible for it at least at least gives some stress reducing attributes built around understanding causality. If on top of that you believe not only that something out there is responsible for all this but that there is a larger purpose to it, that’s another level of stress reducing explanation.

My attendant thoughts: Believing in religion is easy, and comes naturally; understanding the world as it is, is hard. Religion may in fact be healthier for communities/groups/tribes/cultures, but it requires acceptance of certain kinds of group illusions, and the concomitant inability to perceive reality as it is.

Sapolsky, a professor at Stanford, has a big new book out, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (which I have sitting on my to-read table), and apparently he’s doing a publicity circuit. He was also on the Bay Area’s NPR station, KQED, a couple days ago, for an hour-long discussion with Michael Krasny on his nationally-syndicated Forum, and can be streamed here: Robert Sapolsky Tackles Best and Worst of Human Nature in ‘Behave’.

I have to say, seeing his photo there and on Wikipedia, I’m a bit boggled that he’s two years *younger* than me. Perhaps he cultivates the look.

(Sapolsky’s Wikipedia page also led me to this list of Emperor Has No Clothes Award recipients, given by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Interesting list!)

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