By Mail Today
Religion is often seen as being at odds with the science of evolution, but according to a growing area of research, it may actually be a product of this fundamental biological process.
Fear of incurring the wrath of God, or a range of gods, may have played a key role in the development of our species, according to a leading expert in the evolution of human co-operation. He argues that belief in a divine being who will punish bad behaviour may have allowed humans to co-operate in a way our relatives in the animal kingdom do not.
Professor Dominic Johnson, an expert in evolutional relations at the University of oxford, believes this may be why fear of God is such a dominant future in world religions.
He suggest that rather than being an opposing theory of the world to the ideas of evolutions by natural selection put forward by Charles Darwin, religion is actually a product of it.
The ability to anticipate rewards or punishments arising from our behaviour would clearly have been favoured by Darwinian natural selection, because it promoted survival and reproduction, 'he said. 'I argue this extended to the anticipation of supernatural reward and punishment.'
According to him, God fearing people were better able to avoid raising the ire of their fellow man, lowering the costs of real world sanctions, and raising the rewards of co-operation. 'It offers a striking twist on the old science and religion debate-religion is not an alternative to evolution, it is a product of evolution.'
Professor Johnson added the reason why fear of punishment has become such an important force in religion rather than other aspects like love and altruism, which are also promoted in the major religions like Christianity, is mainly due to the way our brains are wired.
Psychological research has demonstrated that negative events tend to have a more potent impact on our thinking and behaviour than positive ones.
As humans began to live in more social groups, this led to a greater ability to understand each other's intentions. Professor Johnson said: 'When humans evolved the capacity for complex language and theory of mind- the ability to know what otehrs' know-our behavour became increasingly transparent and selfish behaviour and social transgressions risked increasing costs from reputational damage.
'The looming threat of super naturall punishment deterred selfish behaviour and increased cooperation, and this was a good thing for individuals as well as society'. He said that all of the major religions emphasise the importance of moral to avoid incurring the anger of a god.
In Christianity, those who are faithful and ask forgiveness of God will be granted entrance into heaven, while those who do not will be sent to hell. The Old Testament and Hebrew bible depict a far more vengeful God that actively punishes mankind for its transgressions. Hindus believe that if they are sinful during their life they will be reincarnated as an undesirable. Even the Romans and ancient Greeks believed in gods that were responsible for natural disasters.
Professor Johnson claimed that pagan belief systems often feature spirits with powers of retribution and many indigenous cultures believe ancestral spirits watch over their activities.
He added: ‘When we do something selfish or wrong even if we are alone and could never be found out, we nevertheless find it hard to shake a sense that somehow our actions are observed and disapproved of by someone or something. 'It's not logical. It's not rational. But it turns out that such a belief is common to religious and nonreligious people alike.'In fact, it seems to be ubiquitous across history and across cultures- part of human nature.'
Source: Mail Today, New Delhi