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Is Atheism the Next Stage in Human Evolution?

I was recently reading a section of Sam Harris’s book, The Moral Landscape. In one part of the book, Harris talks about how our brain is wired. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it seems that religious believers tend to be more fearful, paranoid, and value authority more than secular people. I also remember reading something similar to this when reading one of George Lakoff’s books about Democrats and Republicans. I am starting to think that maybe atheism is evolutionary.

In the past, there might have been an evolutionary reason for people to be religious. For example, religion creates a strong community. The down side to this is that this strong community also fosters a strong tribe mentality. As the world has become more interconnected, we are losing the need for tribes and are moving toward the view that we are all part of the same tribe.

As this now becomes more conducive to human survival, perhaps this view is becoming more prevalent on the biological level of the brain. Since atheists tend to value reason over faith, this could also be a biological adaptation. We no longer need to rely upon paranoia to protect us from harmful plants and animals, now we have science and reason to help us.

The only real problem with this theory that atheism is the next stage in human evolution is that atheists tend to have much less children than religious people. The whole Quiverfull movement kind of destroys my theory.

On the other hand, Socrates once viewed the mind/body problem from the other end. Perhaps, our biology can change by our behavior and attitudes. Maybe, we can re-write the wiring of our brains by thinking differently about the world around us. In this sense, evolution is less about biology and more about the propagation of new ideas. So all those people born out of the Quiverfull movement may become atheists and that new wiring might then continue to be propagated by education and genetics. I don’t really know if this makes much sense, but it is just a thought I was having. What do you think?

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  • http://thebrunettesblog.wordpress.com Ginny

    I agree. As I understand it, a huge amount of our genetic wiring consists of “adapt to the culture and environment you find yourself in.” We learn things as children, based on said culture and environment, and as adults those things are deeply engrained, as difficult to root out as intrinsically genetic propensities: but they were encoded in us by our culture, not by our genes.

    And in our culture, secularism is superior to religion in a number of ways (from a success standpoint.) We live in a world which rewards intellectual competence and scientific literacy, and secular people can use their brains freely, without having to do backflips to reconcile new ideas with their religion.

    People who raise their children in fundamentalist religious homes are looking at one of two outcomes: their child will see other ideas, which will come into competition with their parents’ (all of my Christian-raised friends, even the ones who are still believers, are more liberal than their parents); or they will isolate their child from the world, rendering them socially dysfunctional and their overall cultural impact nil. The latter case is a tragedy for the child, but not much of a threat to the rest of us.

  • Scott

    It seems the people that reproduce more often are the ones that are the most religious. Look at the damn Duggers having 19 kids. What I see happening is a kind of evolutionary class system. With the secular people being in smaller numbers but playing leadership roles. While the religious people are in much larger numbers and can be easily swayed by a secular person that pretends to be religious. I think this might be exactly what is happening today.

    I really have a hard time believing that many republicans are as religious as they claimed to be. I never thought of Bush as being religious, but rather as one to play it up to get idiots to follow him. He had a very specific agenda and was damn good and making it happen, unlike our current president.

    So what happens if everyone becomes secular? Well, very few people, with the exception of the warrior type personalities, will want to go to war. It’ll be easier to progress in terms of science. But I think most leaders are taking the easier route of having a public that is easily controlled by religion.

  • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

    I don’t think the Republicans are pretending to be religious, but I do think they probably step up their rhetoric a little to get votes.

  • david

    Atheism is the obvious evolution of a theory which can not be falsified. My concern is that our technological evolution far exceeds our emotional evolution and that religion will not allow us to evolve to this point without first annihilating mankind. Remember George W. Bush had his finger on the button, and more radical influences are in control of our government now. Mutually assured destruction does not preclude this action when virgins and other enticements await the believer in heaven. And we thought the communists were dangerous.

  • Sarge

    I am an atheist who has been in foxholes, been in aircraft where things have gone horribly “pear shaped” and the pilots had to work real hard and real fast to get the machinery and organic cargo on the ground before the laws of physics made their final statements.
    I have been on the ocean, seen wind and wave, lived in “tornado alley”,

    There have been times that I have wished I could fool myself into belief in a sky-daddy. Unfortunately, I subscribe to Bill Shakespeare’s advice, “…this above all, to thine own self be true…”, so rather than a prayer my potntial last words were something on the vulgar, obscene side. Blasphemous, even. ;-)

    But, I have a feeling that people will hold to religion as long as there is weather, things that go bump in the night, or men in suits who have MBAs who decide how dear your bread will be, and whether you will have a livelihood or property.
    As long as Ray Bradbury’s “Groon” makes its nightly appearance, I have a feeling there will be religion.

    I know several families in the “quiver” movement, and they kind of carry the seeds of their own downfall. It’s called teenagers.