Religion as an Evolutionary Adaptation?

How can I rebut the argument that God/gods are just a psychological evolutionary adaptation that helped humans explain their environment and maintain stable civilizations?

  1. In evolutionary history/natural selection, we select for traits that help the species survive and not for truth. This is evident in the fact that the overwhelming portion of humanity believes in the supernatural. Your evolutionist friend will agree this proposition.
  2. Because our species does not necessarily select for truth, then our rationality and experience cannot be trusted.
  3. Accordingly, our belief that religion is a mere psychological adaptation is no more trustworthy than our belief in the supernatural.
  4. Human evolution selected for belief, therefore belief is helpful to our survival.
  5. Your friend should therefore believe for the good of humanity.

That claim itself is only a theory that cannot be proven. If you prove that God exists the claim cannot possibly be true. This is of course because the premise that God doesn’t exist would be false.

It would be a possible explination of all world religions if God doesn’t exist, but it certainly cannot prove anything. It’s like saying atheism is false because all athiests only believe God doesn’t exist because they refuse to believe they aren’t the sole authority of their own life.

Look at the society and civilizations that have developed false gods and belief systems. Take Greco-roman gods. They were petty, bickering, vindictive. Look at the Iroquois creation story. Skyward was inhabited by flawed, unfaithful being who resemble X-men characters. Buddha had gods that predestined people, no free will. The main Hindu god, the three forms he takes are incomplete without the three consorts and all the little gods. These gods created out of psychological need are artistic representations of man and his world. They are flawed and incomplete like man. Their solutions are worldly and not necessarily just. Love, justice, service don’t factor into these philosophies.

Our God, by contrast, is perfect, eternal, and other attributes that the human mind, left to it’s own devices couldn’t possibly imagine. We couldn’t make this stuff up on our best day. God is so far outside our experience that to reveal Himself, He has to incarnate Himself as one of us, and raise our human condition to one where we share in God’s divinity.

“Would you consider taking a step out of your frame of thinking for a moment? Do you think it is possible for humans to know the truth? If not, why should we believe your idea here or attempt to explain anything at all, scientifically or otherwise? But if so, is it possible for religious beliefs to be true?”

Then go from there.

On their own, no. But because Jesus assumed flesh, dwelt among us and taught God’s ways which are not man’s ways, we can know the truth now.

If we did not know Jesus, that breath of God within us, called a soul, would still look to return to that source from whence we came. Buddha spent his life in search of enlightenment. The Greek spent his life in search of knowledge. The Roman sought out success. The Iroquois sought out the success of future generations of Iroquois. The question isn’t why should we but why wouldn’t we?

Sure. Each of these religions that I have spoken of have a seed of truth in them that was moved by their God given souls. But Christ brought us the complete truth.

Truth in general, I mean. Since we have reason, we can know truth. I’m sure Aristotle knew a whole lot of truth, even though Jesus had not come yet.

If we did not know Jesus, that breath of God within us, called a soul, would still look to return to that source from whence we came. Buddha spent his life in search of enlightenment. The Greek spent his life in search of knowledge. The Roman sought out success. The Iroquois sought out the success of future generations of Iroquois. The question isn’t why should we but why wouldn’t we?

Sure. Each of these religions that I have spoken of have a seed of truth in them that was moved by their God given souls. But Christ brought us the complete truth.

I don’t disagree. :wink:

I’m just trying to offer a thing to say to that person who seems more focused on scientifically explaining things away than considering religious beliefs, in themselves, on their own merit, not on where they may or may not have come from. Yes revelation is eventually necessary, but we can also have natural theology which simply uses reason, but will rule out atheism because it can prove the existence of God.

Wouldn’t this strenghten the point that religion is merely for survival? I don’t see how it helps rejecting the idea that God isn’t a human creation.

Religion is for survival…? I wonder how many martyrs would agree.

Aristotle said, ‘‘I know that I know nothing.’’ Yes he knew the truth, that he did not know it all. Jesus said of Himself, ‘‘I am the way, the truth and the life…’’ He knows it all and He’s the only one that does. He also said that, ‘‘A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.’’ This is extraordinary among the great scientists and philosophers who measure their success by the success of there protégé and the possibility they will be surpassed by them. Jesus is saying that at your best, you’ll be like me.

While nature can set one on the path to finding God, nature as theology is self limiting and limited to primitive belief systems. Despite this, these primitive cultures, (druids, native American and other aboriginal tribes) universally seek out communication with the Highest God. The Greeks and Romans had oracles. Native Americans used psychedelic mushrooms to induce altered states in which to find God.

Beyond these cultural comparisons, for those who know the truth, no explanation is necessary. For those who really don’t want to know the truth, no explanation is possible.

I think in CS Lewis somewhere there is an argument along these lines. Without guidance from God, random superstitions may arise and over time develop into religions. How the do we know that ours is not in fact the result of such a development? But Lewis reminds us that man is made in God’s image. We are thus born with the ability to recognise the truth, or at least things that contain an inkling of the truth. All religions thus contain some elements of truth but some contain more than others.

Moving on to atheists, they reject the inner truth and replace it by one of science. Religious people too can be scientific of course, but they see nature and its inner laws and consistencies as evidence of God’s creation. Atheists however, despite being confronted with the same depth of beauty, go into denial and wave their arms claiming it’s all random and just science.

But if they reject being made in God’s image, they are rejecting that they have any innate ability to recognize the truth. How then are we expected to believe them?

The beauty of mjs2001’s argument is that if believers are right, the position that religion is a human creation for survival is the worse position. If people who argue this position are right, they defeat themselves, because by their own argument, belief is the more beneficial position to humanity, and the position that religion is a human creation for survival is still the worse position.

I think though the argument is better refuted by saying: No one believes in God in order to maintain a stable civilization or to explain their environment. We believe because we really have known the love of God in our lives, and we really have experienced for ourselves God acting in our lives. Our faith doesn’t come from our own epistemical efforts; we were led to it.


I agree with you, but what I tried to show is that by proving that religion is beneficial, doesn’t mean it wasn’t invented. It isn’t enough to say it is good for you. No atheist or theist would conclude something is real because it is good, obviously.
But this may be a start to check why this is good, and then switch to philosophy.

That in itself is not a comprehensive argument.

Humans have many other evolutionary abilities that these days we chose to supress because the evolution occurred before civilization and civilization has changed the context.

For example you could say evolution equipped us to eat with our fingers. In fact if we hadn’t been able to do so we would probably have starved. Why then do we today use a fork and knife?

You could thus say (mind you I’m not saying this, but just showing what an atheist might say to this) that belief in the supernatural or even God might be of evolutionary advantage to a caveman, and has thus come to be hard wired into our brains, but in the modern context that belief is no longer required and we should learn to suppress such thoughts.

That’s the difference between a philosopher and an economist.

A philosopher would not accept that something is real purely because some effect can be observed that would be observed were it real.

Economists do precisely this all the time :slight_smile:

For example I could say, (1) If the moon were made of cheese I would be able to see it. (2) I can see the moon. (3) Therefore the moon is made of cheese.

Replace some of the words by the latest fad in monetary theory or whatever and you’ll see how this is real and how important political decisons are being made on the most insubstantial evidence.

In history, the kings of old were advised by philosophers. Today’s rulers are advised by economists. You can see where this is taking us.

Darwin’s Wager?

I would ask, if such is the case, then how is it that you yourself became free of the effects of evolution and can somehow see from a 3rd person perspective that this is the case?

I hope this has helped

God Bless

Thank you for reading

I wasn’t comparing reality with observability, rather reality to goodness.
That something is good doesn’t suffice to prove it is something that is outside of us.

Okay so after reading over the thread and digesting everything that was given this is what I’ve come up with so far:

Some argue that mankind’s religious urge is a product of evolution, as if some men came up with the fantastic idea of the divine to comfort them in the cruel world. And for a time this idea helped them to survive and maintain stable societies. But I do find it very strange that the people who assert this argument usually use it in a way to disprove the divine. If anything, I would say it lends evidence to the divine.

Firstly it’s not so much an argument but a theory. If it was true that religion merely sprung out of the mind of primitive man as a survival mechanism, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the object of their worship doesn’t exist. For instance, one could imagine an ancient chieftain telling small children not to wander in the forest or else a large hairy monster might eat them. He could be lying, but even if he is, bears still exist.

The thing, however, I find truly odd is that out of all our survival instincts the unbeliever claims that it is this urge to be religious that has no true fulfillment. We naturally desire food, sex, and health. Can you imagine if none of those things existed? Man yearns for food but there is no such thing? I believe the only argument that existed from the start was this:

  1. Religion is caused by a religious instinct.
  2. All instincts naturally point towards a real thing like hunger to food.
  3. Therefore, the religious instinct must point towards a real thing such as the divine.

And yet the unbeliever expects us to believe that our religious instinct was a lie, an illusion. As if one day some few men came up with this fanciful idea and over time it were these fools that survived alone. The pattern of my evolutionary instincts provides me with evidence that my religious instinct must be geared towards some truth as well. It is here, that the unbeliever’s argument begins to push the other way, shattering his claim.

If one was to accept this argument/theory of the unbeliever, they would find themselves in a mess, teetering on the edge of insanity. For if we are to even doubt such a large instinct like religion, what would keep us from doubting other instincts? Perhaps our very power of reasoning, being a product of evolution, has been a hoax as well. If we are to doubt religion than we might as well doubt rationality. Your very arrival at this claim that religion is untrustworthy is untrustworthy. And so opens the pit of materialism.

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