BookTalk.org Hall of Fame
1235 times in 964 posts
Building on geo's statement that Wright reaches too far in the final two chapters, I think his section called "Is God Love?" in "Afterword" was unnecessary. I would simply answer, of course God is not love. To consider this question is to translate God into a feeling, which voids "God" of all specific meaning. This also ignores what Wright talks about in the next chapter, that love is one of the emotions built into us by natural selection. We should value love and even put it on top of the pantheon of emotions, but it is after all but one of the emotions we live by, only one of the ways natural selection has given us to increase the chances that we will survive to produce offspring. Fear and even disgust are useful emotions, too. These could reasonably be called "God" as well. The ultimate "why?" of love or any emotion is something we might not ever be able to understand, but that alone doesn't seem to justify calling it God. Similarly, whatever it is about the universe that we can't put our finger on--and I would say there's a lot--doesn't seem to lend itself well to the label "God."
However, the Appendix is a valuable discussion of why all human societies have religions. Wright says that, in the main, evolutionary biologists don't think of religion as being selected for its survival value. Rather, they think of its component emotions as being selected and of religion as being an offshoot of these, not having value in the Darwinian sense. Wright begins by pointing out that we really have no firsthand evidence of the way in which primitive religion developed. Lest we had the idea that his early chapters pertained to primitive religion, he tells us we are wrong; we call the observed hunter-gatherer religions primitive, but in fact they represent development of religion over many millennia. To see the development of religion in the true primitive phase, we'd need evidence from earlier phases of our evolution, phases when we were not even homo sapiens. The closest we can come to that is our relatives the chimpanzees. Wright tells us that we examine chimp society, as Frans DeWaal has done, we can see how the important ability to attribute causation could have begun with consequences chimps experience in dealing with other members of their troop. If one chimp takes something that another chimp of higher rank sees as belonging to him, for example, he learns a simple version of cause and effect. DeWaal has observed chimps reacting to a storm with an angry display, as though taking the storm "personally," as an act done to them by something else. Instances like these can explain how, as our ancestors' cognitive capacity grew and we began to observe larger causes around us in the world, we would still conceive of these causes socially, as it were. Everything is personified, anthropomorphized, even when natural forces are given the outward form of animals. this explains why it is so "natural " for God to be much like a more powerful human.
Wright also explains why natural selection makes us prone to accept and create us beliefs that are untrue, when looked at objectively or scientifically. It might seem that false beliefs would somehow be selected against, but in this case they are neutral or even valuable in that they may cement social bonds. What he says here is has been said by others, but it's worth taking a look at.
I liked the quotation from William James: "There is religious fear, religious love, religious awe, religious joy, and so forth. But religious love is only man's natural emotion of love directed to a religious object; religious fear is only the religious fear of commerce, so to speak, the common quaking of the human breast, in so far as the notion of divine retribution may arouse it; religious awe is the same organic thrill which we may feel in a forest at twilight, or in a mountain gorge; only this time it comes over us at the thought of our supernatural relations" (from The Varieties of Religious Experience).
Last edited by DWill on Mon Nov 01, 2010 7:54 am, edited 3 times in total.