Religion and the New Atheists

Posted by Beetle B. on Fri 04 November 2016

You cannot understand religion by looking at the individual. You must look at the collective.

The Lone Believer

Critics of religion often share the notion that it is a set of beliefs about supernatural agents. Understanding religion this way is trying to understand football fans’ rituals by looking at the mechanics of the game. To understand religion, one needs to understand:

  • Believing
  • Doing
  • Belonging

The New Atheist Story: Byproducts Then Parasites

For Dennett and Dawkins, religions are memes that underwent Darwinian selection.

Religion itself evolved for the needs of society as society got bigger and more sophisticated. It was useful in ensuring “good” behavior even when no one was watching.

Religions helped groups cohere and cooperate while solving the free rider problem.

Sosis’s study of communes in the US in the 19th century:

  • Communies: People working and living together without having kinship.
  • 20 years after founding: 6% of secular communes survived. 39% of religious communes survived.
  • In religious communes, sacrifices (no alcohol, etc) correlated with longevity. In secular communities, there was no correlation.
  • Sosis believed that laws and constraints were more effective if one could make them sacred. In secular societies, every sacrifice needed to be explained or justified.

The New Atheist’s rejection of rituals is a rejection of an important tool: Cooperation without kinship.

tags : trm, morality, Haidt