Saturday, March 22, 2008

New round of materialist theories of spirituality in the works

The Economist reports recently on a large study to try to understand religion from a materialist perspective:
“Explaining Religion”, as the project is known, is the largest-ever scientific study of the subject. It began last September, will run for three years, and involves scholars from 14 universities and a range of disciplines from psychology to economics. And it is merely the latest manifestation of a growing tendency for science to poke its nose into the God business.

Religion cries out for a biological explanation. It is a ubiquitous phenomenon—arguably one of the species markers of Homo sapiens—but a puzzling one. It has none of the obvious benefits of that other marker of humanity, language. Nevertheless, it consumes huge amounts of resources. Moreover, unlike language, it is the subject of violent disagreements. Science has, however, made significant progress in understanding the biology of language, from where it is processed in the brain to exactly how it communicates meaning. Time, therefore, to put religion under the microscope as well.

To get some idea what you can expect,
For example, Jason Slone, a professor of religious studies at Webster University in St Louis, argues that people who are religious will be seen as more likely to be faithful and to help in parenting than those who are not. That makes them desirable as mates. He plans to conduct experiments designed to find out whether this is so. And, slightly tongue in cheek, Dr Wilson quips that “secularism is very maladaptive biologically. We're the ones who at best are having only two kids. Religious people are the ones who aren't smoking and drinking, and are living longer and having the health benefits.”

Okay, so, no worries Jason, we and our kids will bury you decent.

But that's not why we're religious.

See, materialist efforts to explain spirituality start from the assumption that there isn't really a spiritual world, that there isn't really any divine revelation. No one developed a spiritual life in response to anything that is actually out there.

Far from it, the materialist theory of religion, like the Big Bazooms theory of human evolution, will accept any fool theory as an alternative to that.

Which is why I don't have much time for it.

I used to be a warden at an Anglican church. There was nothing very unusual in people having genuine religious experiences that changed their lives that cannot be accounted for by some sociological or neurological theory. They encountered the Divine, and started to say things like "I forgive my enemies" because "No longer I, but Christ lives in me."

And if people don't want to study that, they don't want to study religion or spirituality.

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