Re: Foreword by Richard Dawkins
Yes, and this problem well illustrates the gulf we have between nature and culture, with analysis of religion occurring within the framework of culture.
The meme theory which Dawkins first presented in The Selfish Gene
aimed to bridge culture and nature through the premise that the core evolutionary principle of cumulative adaptation is universal to living systems, including cultural evolution. So the ‘certain grandeur’ that Darwin saw in a tangled bank applies equally well to how the complex idea of God evolved within human culture.
Of course the problem is that the cultural idea of God is explicitly used to argue that evolution is untrue, so Dawkins has a political reaction against how religion promotes alienation from nature. But maybe if he steps back from this reaction, and instead applies the tools of evolutionary philosophy to the God meme, Dawkins could reach a broader audience with a constructive message about how human spirituality can evolve today within a scientific framework.
Many atheists do not want to concede that religion is adaptive, or that reform of religion could make it even more adaptive, but that is the obvious conclusion from its universal presence.
Human psychology and politics cannot form views on the basis of knowledge alone, and must rely on beliefs. There are far too many decisions where the data is not adequate to determine the best course of action, so we fall back upon principles and values which are essentially religious in nature.
In my comments on the chapters of Barker’s book, your point about why religion is adaptive has been my main theme. If it is true that the God of the Bible is unpleasant, maybe that is because the ecological and cultural niche in which He evolved was equally unpleasant? Predators are unpleasant, using the anthropomorphic term from Dawkins and Barker, because if they were nice they would go extinct. Similarly, we should ask what was it about the historical context of the Old Testament that enabled a capricious patriarchal deity to become the object of adoration.