The Dawkins Delusion - Chapter 5 - The Roots of Religion

I have to admit that reading Richard Dawkins book again has become quite a chore. It wasn't very good the first time, and it is even worse the second time. Chapter 5 sets out to answer the question, "what pressures or pressures exerted by natural selection originally favoured the impulse to religion (pg. 163)."

Richard explains that, "Darwinian benefit is not restricted to the genes of the individual organism (pg. 165)", but there are three other alternatives, group selection, parasitic properties, and replicators. Group selection could be based on something like in-group loyalty (pg. 170). Parasitic properties are when an individual "may be working on the manipulative influence of genes in another individual (pg. 165)." Replicators are units of cultural inheritance that are passed on like genes. Richard affectionately calls these "memes."

Dawkins admits that religion needs an evolutionary explanation because of its universality, and his analysis of alternatives has led him to the conclusion that religion is a "by-product of something else (pg. 172)." He is not committed to any one explanation of the "something else" but he puts forward some ideas. Richard argues that religion is a by-product of "falling in love (pg. 185)," combined with the evolutionary advantages of children's unquestioning belief in adults (pg. 174) and persisting in irrational beliefs instead of vacillating (pg. 187). Once religion is produced as a by-product of falling in love it is then replicated by memes.  He is quick to point out the speed at which religions springs up (pg. 206), the speed at which the origins of a religion disappear (pg. 206), the susceptibility to religion (pg. 206), and the similarities of all religions (pg. 206).

It is hard to know how to respond to these kinds of arguments since they are all speculative. There is no hard evidence that the properties of falling in love would lead to religion as opposed to some other cultural phenomenon. He is trying to say that monogamy is irrational, but what does he mean by that? It may be irrational to our sex drive, but it is not irrational to the survival of the human race. He is really just talking about the trade offs that we make everyday. This is definitely not a breakthrough argument. Children's obedience also does not have a direct effect relating uniquely to religion because it still does not explain how religion began in the first place. A children's obedience applies to all ideas not just religious ones. Why did religion stick as opposed to the millions of other ideas?

It is very difficult to know what to talk about when it comes to memes. Memes are really just ideas that replicate through society. Ideas are believed for a variety of reasons, but in general the ideas that have been around the longest are more likely to be true. Ideas the are false may be believed for periods of time but eventually fall to the wayside. Since the religion meme has been around the longest of all, it is most likely to be true.

This chapter had barely anything in it that was worthwhile. In the end it did not provide any good answers or speculations to the rise of religion in a natural selection world.


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