Zygon, the Journal of Religion and Science, has been around for years. While often overly academic and arcane, it does have good, informative articles written by knowledgeable, smart people. Zygon Watch will alert Common Ground readers from time to time about such articles.
August 21, 2010. Evolution Theories of Religion and Their Relevance to Religious Belief (Peterson, G. R. (2010), ARE EVOLUTIONARY/COGNITIVE THEORIES OF RELIGION RELEVANT FOR PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION?. Zygon®, 45: 545–557).
When a writer like Daniel Dennett or Richard Dawkins talks about how religion can be explained by evolution, does it mean anything about the validity of belief in God? Mainly no. according to Gregory R. Peterson. “Put forward naively,” he writes, “the origin of a belief tells us nothing about whether that belief is true: that one is motivated to hold a certain belief does not make that belief false.”
Peterson usefully reviews and analyzes three major lines of evolutionary approaches to the study of religion:
- the sociobiological study of religion (and altruism)
- the cognitive study of religion where it is assumed that there is an “underlying psychological mechanism that explain how and why religious beliefs and practices arise,” and
- neuroscientific analyses of religious belief and behavior “in terms of localized brain activity, with an aim of finding neural correlates.”
None of these threaten religious belief or theology, Peterson concludes, but they can and do add to an understanding of what being human means.