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The Science of Sociobiology Critiques the Truth-Claims of Religion

E.O.Wilson has written:

...we have come to the crucial stage in the history of biology when religion itself is subject to the explanations of the natural sciences...sociobiology can account for the very origin of mythology by the principle of natural selection acting on the genetically evolving material structure of the human brain.

If this interpretation is correct, the final decisive edge enjoyed by scientific naturalism will come from its capacity to explain traditional religion, its chief competitor, as a wholly material phenomenon. Theology is not likely to survive as an independent intellectual discipline. But religion itself will endure for a long time as a vital force in society.Wilson, EO, On Human Nature (London: Penguin, 1995edn) p192

(For background see Richard Dawkins and E.O.Wilson against the possibility of the truth of religion.)

Dawkins regards religion as one of many ‘viruses of the mind,’The title of a lecture he gave to the British Humanist Association in 1992.something which has pervaded human affairs, but, having no truth-content, should be done away with. Wilson does see religion’s utility, although he regards it as nothing more than a survival-strategy which has become embedded in our genes.

The first, trite rebuttal to this is to point out that if some of our beliefs about reality are to be described as Darwinian gene-schemes, then others are not exempt. Neo-Darwinism itself could be regarded not as a fact about reality, but as an evolved survival-strategy. If we doubt humans’ capacity to derive truths, as opposed to following evolutionary strategies, then the ‘fact’ that Darwinism has, according to Wilson, ‘point for point in zones of conflict, defeated traditional religion,’Wilson, 1995, 192does not make Darwinism any the more true. If this defeat were a fact, it would only show that at a particular juncture Darwinism was more adaptive than religious belief.

It is much more reasonable to suppose that humans do have the power to elicit conclusions about their environment largely independent of their genetic inheritance (though quite strongly influenced by their culture). This brings us to the second point, which is that the sociobiological case for very strong control of genes over culture simply cannot be sustained for humans. The proportion of the human genome which separates us from the early savannah-dwelling H.Sapiens is 0.01%, (see the paradox of the development of modern humans) and we know next to nothing of how so few genes could exert such an enormous effect on culture as to programme us to be modern humans. Moreover our present experience of the rate of cultural change suggests that gene changes could not possibly account for the pace at which human culture changes, or respond at an adequate rate. John Bowker has made a very careful analysis of the claims of sociobiology in respect of religion,Bowker, J, Is God a Virus? (London: SPCK, 1995) pp1-118, especially 37-46. For a more recent demolition of the adequacy of sociobiology as an explanation of humanity see Rolston, H, Genes, Genesis and... and concludes that critical realism is sustainable both for science and religion. We can make inferences about the universe as it happens to be, and about its God, beyond what is programmed in our genes.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate and Dr. Michael Robert Negus
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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