Atheism and Religion

There is and always will be a valid debate regarding "nature vs. nurture". It is this author's estimation that the events of the last century in regard to racism, the holocaust, and civil rights, all of which have genetic undertones, have had much to do with the rejection of individual genetic differences and the promotion that all humans are potentially equal. As a result, in this presentation, there will be an emphasis on inherent qualities and how they interact with the environment.

From the evidence, let's say, it appears as though the mind is what the brain does. As the brain is compromised, damaged, or poisoned so is the mind. There are several indications that there are specific areas of the brain that function for specific activities. At one time, psychologists could administer a battery of tests to determine an individual's capabilities in a variety of areas. Low test scores in specific sub-tests would identify coinciding areas of the brain where damage has taken place. Today we use direct brain scans which are much more accurate in finding lesions. When specific areas are damaged, such as with stroke victims, we know that other areas of the brain will attempt to take over, but the result is never as good as the original. Science has shown us that blood rushes to specific areas of the brain in all of us when we think of certain things. This suggests that these areas are the places in the brain where this thinking is taking place.

There are many who maintain that all humanity is potentially equal in capability, and that inherent determinants have nothing to do with the brain. However, the evidence of inherent characteristics can be seen in similarities between identical twins raised apart, for instance. Family traits, including everything from talents to criminal histories, also indicate evidence of inherent characteristics. Inherent characteristics are evident in our virtually universal obligatory social nature, and operations of learning and motivation which are similar in all of us.

Throughout any population, the variation of most characteristics can be recorded by the many bell-like shaped graphs of scores- against-numbers-of-people. This common feature of variation is present in virtually every measurement of human activity and form. Standardized testing suggests that it is only rarely that individuals scoring at a point in a graph of variation do anything other than continue to score at that relative point when tested throughout their life. There is something that maintains their rate of maturation (level of capability) within the population during their maturational process.

As long as there is a variation of a measurable characteristic in a population due to inherent capabilities, there is the opportunity to "shape" at least some of the members of a group through sexual mate selection. This is accomplished when a small range of that variation is socially sought after as appealing, such as height, jumping ability, or intelligence. Through sexual mate selection guided by social values specifically encouraging enhancement of some characteristic in the mothers and fathers, there evolves a segment of their progeny with that enhancement. The brain with what might be called domain specific paths is highly sensitive to evolutionary factors of both a social and individual nature. The concept that specific paths in areas of the brain are dedicated to the representation of particular aspects of what one perceives as reality has finally inched its way into being applied to religious ideology.

At this point, it would be safe to identify religious abstraction as "supernatural concepts", including "supernatural-like experiences". This doesn't mean that there are genes for these concepts, but that the design of the brain leaves one with a propensity for interpreting experiences and concepts in these terms. An alcoholic who is never in contact with alcohol will never become an alcoholic; just as, a person with musical talent will never realize their talent without music. This would also be true of a person with inherent religious propensities. One should also recognize that a propensity has to be developed and reinforced as socially advantageous and, as well, must not be contradicted by personal experience. The religious experience of the atheist is contradicted by their personal experience.  This can be exemplified by the following example: the theist and the atheist can look at the same thing, as a friend and I were both enjoying a sunny afternoon in a backyard, and both drew support from this same experience for our very different concepts.  We were both in awe, but one felt it had to be created, while the other saw no indication of a creator.

The theory that concepts (memes, pronounced like "genes" with an "m") are following evolutionary steps is very appealing to those who have studied the history of humanity with (religious) ideologies in mind. The idea that concepts that appeal to those working parts of our brains for which we have a propensity, reinforced by our obligatory social nature and the causal physical evolution, are the concepts which we will embrace also makes sense against the evidence.

Although the theories of memetic evolution fill books, a short treatment is possible here. For instance, extinction through warfare of those who hold a specific set of ideas is one of the major contributors to memetic evolution. Any aspect of humanity that would technologically advantage a group, or make it stronger, or larger, would have a positive evolutionary influence by preventing their extinction through genocide. One could also consider the impact of greater trust among similarly thinking humans. This would lead to greater success, and could be an evolutionary factor as well.  So, now we have arrived at an anatomical aspect of the evolution of religious and secular thought. The crux of this theory is that we all tend to lean toward the available philosophy or religion that most compliments the domain specific paths of our individual biological brains.

Is the atheist, like the individual who is blind from birth, merely in possession of a brain that is deficient of the specific paths sensitive to the religious experience? Intelligent humans are all capable of seeing the same evidence, yet the theist will disregard the atheistic notion due it's contradiction of their personal experience. In this light, some might see atheism as a disability of conceptualization; however, on the other hand, this might not be bad.  Biological evolution often proceeds with the disabling of an inherent characteristic.

In consideration of the inherent nature of religious propensities, it should be noted that a modern philosophy, like realistic idealism, must consider religion as a necessary ingredient of human nature and should analyze its form to determine how it would best serve humanity. It would be wise to consider and assess the characteristics of religion rather than dispel them as a part of an obsolete social mechanism to which many atheists are becoming alienated. For instance, we can consider "reverence" in general terms as advantageously applicable to atheists and theists alike.

Reverence can be considered as composed of 1) identification, 2) dedication, and 3) humility.  Psychologically speaking one can see the evolutionary advantages of these qualities: "identification" with a group, when strengthened, builds a larger, potentially more successful group. "Dedication" brings a life into focus and gives meaning and purpose to intellectual pursuits to advance technologies. "Humility" is not quite as obvious, but can be comforting in times of individual trouble and doubt enabling more team effort. This also has other subtle advantages enabling one’s intellectual advancement by accepting new information.

More on Reverence and Faith from A Measure Of Truth