Saturday, February 12, 2005


Dabney commented on her blog
about a recent article in the NY Times about the evolutionary and biological significance of religion/faith/spirituality.

I recently had a conversation on this topic with my teenage son. Teenagers, as we all know, question everything so we had a nice conversation about several of the concepts in the Kristof NYT article.

Quote #1. "And faith may give people strength to overcome illness - after all, if faith in placebo sugar pills works, why not faith in God?"

This seems to be wishful thinking. Placebos affect subjective symptoms such as pain and nausea. There has never been a reproducible effect of placebo on a hard endpoint such as death from cancer.

Quote #2. “Evolutionary biologists have also suggested that an inclination to spirituality may have made ancient humans more willing to follow … leaders who claimed divine support.”

This seems much more plausible to me. Regardless of one’s views on religion and spirituality, a fair reading of the history of humanity shows that some type of religion has developed in every, or at least nearly every, society. A reasonable conclusion from this observation is that religion has a benefit to society. In looking further at history, I think there is also a pattern that religion tends to result in more uniformity and conformity. Putting those two thoughts together, one possible explanation is that human societies need a degree of structure such as that provided by religion to be successful. I do not think that one need limit this view to ancient humans. Perhaps the presidential election of November 2004 was a recent example of how this concept works.