This blog is maintained on behalf of the Amy Foundation for the purpose of tracking the best Christian journalism we find on the Web. Our posts regularly identify those news articles or opinions in the mainstream media that represent good faith-based writing and example them for other Christian journalists.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Religion ... an evolutionary byproduct?

I recently listened to the book, The Language of God, by Francsis C. Collins. It reconciles Collin's evangelical faith in God with his prominent role in genomics. Because his story is so compelling, it has opened me to reading other religion and science commentary.

A lengthy, well-writen article appeared in the New York Times Magazine this week, written by Robin Marantz Henig, titled, Darwin's God. There is so much science here it reads at times like a modern textbook, yet the story is engaging. And most interestingly, I believe her article makes a strong scientific case for faith in God.

Henig poses the following question in her opening:

Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God — evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident? Is there something about the cognitive functioning of humans that makes us receptive to belief in a supernatural deity?
And if scientists are able to explain God, what then? Is explaining religion the same thing as explaining it away? Are the nonbelievers right, and is religion at its core an empty undertaking, a misdirection, a vestigial artifact of a primitive mind? Or are the believers right, and does the fact that we have the mental capacities for discerning God suggest that it was God who put them there?

In short, are we hard-wired to believe in God? And if we are, how and why did that happen?

She goes on to let the intellectual argument pay out over 11 web pages. Before I knew it, I was drawn in, looking for scientific proof for God. Of course, there isn't any, and that isn't the jest of the article. The jest is explaining scientific evidences that we are "hard-wired to believe in God."
Henig then wraps up the article by sharing an enlightening discussion with a scientist, Justin Barrett, who is both an "observant Christian" and "promient member of the byproduct camp" ("byproduct" refers to the theory that religion is a byproduct of natural selection). Here is what she writes:

And one prominent member of the byproduct camp, Justin Barrett, is an observant Christian who believes in “an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good God who brought the universe into being,” as he wrote in an e-mail message. “I believe that the purpose for people is to love God and love each other.”

At first blush, Barrett’s faith might seem confusing. How does his view of God as a byproduct of our mental architecture coexist with his Christianity? Why doesn’t the byproduct theory turn him into a skeptic?

“Christian theology teaches that people were crafted by God to be in a loving relationship with him and other people,” Barrett wrote in his e-mail message. “Why wouldn’t God, then, design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?” Having a scientific explanation for mental phenomena does not mean we should stop believing in them, he wrote. “Suppose science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me — should I then stop believing that she

What can be made of atheists, then? If the evolutionary view of religion is true, they have to work hard at being atheists, to resist slipping into intrinsic habits of mind that make it easier to believe than not to believe. Atran says he faces an emotional and intellectual struggle to live without God in a nonatheist world, and he suspects that is where his little superstitions come from, his passing thought about crossing his fingers during turbulence or knocking on wood just in case. It is like an atavistic theism erupting when his guard is down. The comforts and consolations of belief are
alluring even to him, he says, and probably will become more so as he gets closer to the end of his life. He fights it because he is a scientist and holds the values of rationalism higher than the values of spiritualism.
Read more>>

I have underlined a paraphrased version of the Great Commandment, found in Luke 10:27:

He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' ; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
While I am not sure this paraphase qualifies the article for the Amy Writing Awards, it is the type of articles I look for in terms of meeting the intent of the Awards, which is:
The Amy Foundation Writing Awards program is designed to recognize creative, skillful writing that presents in a sensitive, thought-provoking manner the biblical position on issues affecting the world today.

It is skillful, especially when writing for the New York Times, to use quotations to convey scriptural truths and equally skillful to draw in the reader (and your editor) with science-based controversy before presenting biblical truth.

If the paraphase passes muster, I will write Robin and encourage her to submit the article.


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