Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"we are unfolding"

"we have the same brain as our paleolithic ancestors. some scientists believe that the religious impulse is in the architecture of our brain, a by-product of evolution. (1) we believe in god because we are evolutionarily adapted to believe in what psychologists call an agent, something independent, purposeful, and outside ourselves that could affect us--possibly in a bad way. humans who assume that it is a lion causing that ripple in the grass, rather than the wind, tend to survive longer. (2) we believe in god because we are evolutionarily adapted to create narratives and explanations. the tracks in the sand mean that a deer recently passed this way. a pool nearby means the deer might be thirsty, and if it moves here and I move there, I could be eating its leg for dinner. life isn't just a matter of chance. life is about cause and effect. (3) we believe in god because we are evolutinarily adapted, as social animals, to understand that other people have minds. we cannot see what these invisible minds are thinking or planning, but we would be wise to anticipate whether they are friendly or angry. we believe there are invisible forces in the world, invisible minds in solid bodies.

"why not, then, a mind outside the body? why not an invisible agent involved in the story of our own life? although such an idea mostly describes theism, the message is the same for pantheists. we are predisposed to believe in a meaningful, interconnected world, as well as in something outside and larger than ourselves. we may choose to believe in these things because such beliefs help us deal with grief and despair, motivate us to cohere socially, and are generally more fun and interesting than not.

"other scientists say that religion is less a by-product of evolution than an actual adaptation, furthering longer life and more reproduction. for example, religious belief may have allowed our ancestors to marshal the placebo effect offered by shamanistic healing. although scientists are not sure how the human body responds to the idea of a cure and heals itself, we know that this happens on a regular basis. ritual healing may have been particularly important when there were fewer medical options. people who inclined toward a belief in shamans, spirits, and gods--who had more of the hardwiring that promotes religious experience--better survived injury and disease and thus had a reproductive advantage.

"from then to now, the hardwiring hasn't changed. we are, of course, running new software. we read. we write. we fly through the air strapped into plastic seats, drinking diet coke. I will never see the world the way a hunter-gatherer saw it. in terms of my relationship with the earth, I am sorry about that. I feel left out. I feel incompetent. but there you go. that's history...the universe is an irreversible emergent process. we are unfolding. we are moving forward along with everything else, changing and being changed. we carry with us our past and our genetic coding. we are who we were. but we can't go back either."

--from standing in the light: my life as a pantheist by sharman apt russell

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