Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is Belief in the Supernatural Natural?

Evolutionary biologist/political scientist Dominic Johnson argues that the answer is yes, as explained in this article in the New Statesman.
Johnson believes that the need to find a more-than-natural meaning in natural events is universal – “a ubiquitous phenomenon of human nature” – and performs a vital role in maintaining order in society. Extending far beyond cultures shaped by monotheism, it “spans cultures across the globe and every historical period, from indigenous tribal societies . . . to modern world religions – and includes atheists, too”.
[S]ome kind of moral order beyond any human agency seems to be demanded by the human mind, and this sense that our actions are overseen and judged from beyond the natural world serves a definite evolutionary role. Belief in supernatural reward and punishment promotes social co-operation in a way nothing else can match. The belief that we live under some kind of supernatural guidance is not a relic of superstition that might some day be left behind but an evolutionary adaptation that goes with being human.
Johnson is not the first but rather just the latest to make this argument.  Read the article to understand how belief in the supernatural may provide evolutionary advantages.  The argument is interesting in its own right, but it is also relevant to our class discussion on secularization later in the quarter.  If belief in the supernatural is, well, natural, then perhaps there will be limits to the secularization that has been predicted for centuries.

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