There Will Never Be a World Without Religion

I am fully cognizant that the title of this blog will irritate some. Please be patient with me as I attempt to explain myself.

Michael Shermer has artfully pointed out in his writings that humans are “pattern seeking animals.” Psychological studies reveal that infants seem to be hardwired to seek out not just the facial features of their caregivers. They seek the entire face. In addition, many of us tend to see “faces” when we look at the lights, grill, and bumper of automobiles; animals and human faces in clouds; and the likeness of Christ in grilled cheese.

It should be no surprise, then, that on a much grander scale we tend to see highly complex patterns in the universe around us. The evolutionary function of the neo-cortex is not to provide perfect understanding of the universe: It is to solve problems thereby facilitating the survival of our species.

We sometimes forget that our ability to turn this problem solving skill onto the world at large is a side benefit of our evolution and not its primary adaptive function.

I teach a basic undergraduate statistics and research course. For many of my students, understanding the most basic principles of the scientific method requires some serious study. My observation has been that looking at the world with a scientific perspective does not come naturally for most. For eons we remained technologically stagnate until observation led to innovation.

Because of this, people will always look for patterns that explain life’s questions. Animistic tendencies (observed in chimps) cause us to project intentionality onto hurricanes (“God was judging New Orleans”) and other disasters.

When these cultural patterns are handed down by the predominant culture, extrication from them becomes difficult. Interestingly, some people seem to be able to shed their viral beliefs in god, yet they embrace acupuncture, “alternative medicine,” and other pseudoscientific notions. This makes me think that the real problem is not just a belief in god, per se. The true problem is a faulty mental structure that simply changes one pattern for another.

Thus, I sincerely doubt that our species will ever abandon religion altogether.

Even so, as Atheists, we can work to disseminate scientific thinking. After all, our purpose is not (or should not) be to deny a person the right to their beliefs or opinions. Our goal, rather, should be to promote a scientific understanding of nature, that, when held side by side with religious dogma, is obviously the more logical choice.

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Comment by Earther on December 5, 2010 at 12:08pm
Kevin, as an art teacher we have worked with the concept of Gestalt psychology which is similar to what you are describing. You can check out this link if you like: http://graphicdesign.spokanefalls.edu/tutorials/process/gestaltprin...

I am not sure how you feel about nurture vs. Nature yet I feel a great portion of the population would not believe in dieties if they were taught there are no dieties from childhood to adulthood. Nothing of course is 100%.

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