Steven Pinker rings in (from the Harvard Crimson)
Published on Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Pinker: No Scientific Evidence for God
By YIYANG WU
CRIMSON/ JOSEPH L. ABEL
Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker spoke to an overflow
crowd of over 250 at the Science Center last night, arguing that human
religious beliefs are a by-product of evolution, but not an actual evolutionary
adaptation. "The only way religious belief could be an adaptation is if a personal,
intervening, miracle-producing, reward-giving, retributive god exists," Pinker
said, provoking laughs from the audience.
Pinker presented his evidence in his speech titled "The Evolutionary
Psychology of Religion: Does the Brain Have a 'God Module?'" The speech was hosted by the Harvard Secular Society as its first "flagship" event of the year.
Pinker began his argument by refuting what he called "three spurious
adaptationist explanations of religion:" the suggestion that people embrace religion
for its comfort, its sense of community and its ethical value.
Although he admitted that those three theories may be true, he questioned
their merit in explaining the universal, widespread popularity of religion.
Pinker furthermore dismissed the idea of religion as a "source of higher
ethical yearnings" and an unambiguous moral guide.
"The Bible is a manual for rape, genocide, and the destruction of
families...Religion has given us stonings, witch burnings, crusades, Inquisitions,
jihads, fatwas, suicide bombers...and mothers who drown their children in the river," he said.
Pinker continued by identifying the difference between evolutionary
adaptation and its by-products, and suggested that religion was of the latter category.
Religion, he said, "may be a by-product of certain features of our psychology
that may [have been evolutionarily] adaptable."
This includes the fact that religion can have practical benefits to both "producers" and "consumers" of religion.
Pinker concluded by suggesting that the battleground between religion and
science in the 21st century would be psychology, just as it had been cosmology in
the 17th century and biology in the 19th.
Sophia P. Snyder '07, who said she attended the lecture because she knew
Pinker to be an engaging lecturer from his Core class Science B-62, "The Human
Mind," found his scientific explanations of everyday behavior "typical."
"He always talks in class about how 'the mind is what the brain does' and
how the concept of the soul is being debunked by science," she said.
Kerry J. Dingle '05, president of the Harvard Secular Society, called this
lecture, which was held in conjunction with the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy, a "
"Science can't disprove religion