It is now almost 2006 well into the new millennium and religion appears to be as strong as ever, certainly stronger with regards to religious extremism; christian fundamentalists like Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell, and James Dobson, or the plethora of muslim extremists seem to be on the rise. Presumptions and prophecies that religion would die in the age of reason and rationalism have obviously been mistaken. Well, why is this so? Why does religion persist despite having been proven wrong time and time again with regards to it’s inherent supernatural explanations of the universe and life? Along these lines and inquiries Richard Dawkins wrote an essay with insightful observation. In it he asks why religion has evolved with humans and persisted through out the generations.
“My specific hypothesis is about children. More than any other species, we survive by the accumulated experience of previous generations. Theoretically, children might learn from experience not to swim in crocodile-infested waters. But, to say the least, there will be a selective advantage to child brains with the rule of thumb: Believe whatever your grown-ups tell you. Obey your parents, obey the tribal elders, especially when they adopt a solemn, minatory tone. Obey without question………Natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal leaders tell them. And this very quality automatically makes them vulnerable to infection by mind viruses. For excellent survival reasons, child brains need to trust parents and trust elders whom their parents tell them to trust. An automatic consequence is that the “truster” has no way of distinguishing good advice from bad. The child cannot tell that “If you swim in the river you’ll be eaten by crocodiles” is good advice but “If you don’t sacrifice a goat at the time of the full moon, the crops will fail” is bad advice. They both sound the same. Both are advice from a trusted source, and both are delivered with a solemn earnestness that commands respect and demands obedience.”
So as Richard Dawkins illustrates in this small excerpt from one of his essays, religion persists as a sort of adaptive survival quality misfiring.