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Renewal of the Mind

The Evolutionary Case for Belief Ian Huyett

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 ESV

Introduction 1. Happiness 2. Longevity 3. Efficient Causes of the Above A. Serotonin B. Physical Health 4. Itself An Adaptation A. Genetic Basis B. Why Adaptation Matters C. Evolutionary Emergence 5. The Truth of Theism A. Grindes Fear B. Sensus Divinitatis C. James Pragmatic Theory of Truth D. Will to Believe E. Atheist Epistemology 6. The Essence of Will

Introduction The past decade has seen a renaissance of investigation into the role that theistic belief may play as a beneficial evolutionary adaptation. Esteemed founder of sociobiology E.O. Wilson maintains that religious belief is itself an adaptation1 and religious practices confer biological advantage2. Dean Hamers 2005 The God Gene - grounded largely in the work of devout Catholic geneticist Robert Cloninger - examined the role that a specific gene, part of a much larger polygenetic structure, might play in predisposing humans to religious belief. Norwegian biologist and health official Bjrn Grinde, perhaps most interestingly, takes matters a step further by arguing that the evolutionary benefits of faith are such that they constitute a case for believing in God. Although Grinde is, to my knowledge, the only writer since William James to propose in explicit terms the position I will detail here, he also expresses what is likely the - unfortunate standard theist reaction to this research: a fear that it will lay bare and discredit the nature of faith. I submit to you that this reaction is a misguided one. After all, if Grindes fears are valid and the compelling data on faiths evolutionary utility of which, you will see, there is a plethora is an argument against the truth of Gods existence, one might expect famed atheist Richard Dawkins to make some use of it. Dawkins, after all, is an accomplished evolutionary biologist and an intelligent man by all accounts. Yet the worlds leading critic of religion in the face of the myriad studies I will present peculiarly rejects outright the notion that faith confers any advantage whatsoever. Rather, he insists, religion capitalizes on evolutionarily beneficial behaviors without offering any benefits itself. Faith is not an evolutionary adaptation at all, Dawkins maintains; it is merely a selfishly self-replicating mental malignancy a virus of the mind. Its my opinion as I imagine it would be William James, were he alive today that Dawkins, in his cleverness, chooses to ignore the wealth of research into the evolutionary psychology of religion because he recognizes that it actually forms a strong case for theistic belief. I will present this case here.

1 2 Edward O. Wilson: On Human Nature - Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 1991

1. Happiness In 2006, the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research released a paper titled Deliver us from evil: Religion as insurance3. Clark and Lelkes, the papers authors, sought to study faiths efficacy as a buffer against stressful life events. To do this, they amassed data from hundreds of separate studies on the subject. Presenting their paper at the 2008 Royal Economic Society conference, they announced confidently that Believers are happier than atheists. The irreligious, they found, are not only broadly less satisfied than their theist counterparts, but suffer more psychological damage from divorce or the death of a partner. Conversely, they reported that people become happier the more they pray and/or attend worship4. This means that increases in happiness associated with worship attendance and prayer are separate. For example, a 1998 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry followed 542 elderly patients who developed depression after being hospitalized for medical reasons. It charted their rather understandable despair and compared it to their intrinsic religiosity: the extent to which their faith actually held day-to-day importance through, for instance, personal prayer. It found that those with strong intrinsic religious faith recovered over 70% faster from depression than their desacralized peers. Among patients whose physical illness was not improving, the intrinsically religious recovered over 100% faster5. The influence of extrinsic religiosity on our happiness is, of course, no less considerable. A 2000 study in American Psychologist found that, of people who regularly attended religious services, 47% were very happy as opposed to 28% who attended less than monthly6. Studies of extrinsic religiosity are, in particular, sometimes labeled as dubious because benefit can easily be alleged to originate from some other source. Writer Warren Davies, of
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A skeptical reader will doubtlessly be unimpressed by this last statistic. Having once opposed religion as adamantly Im presently defending it, I can understand that, when not verified by observed results, the ability of theistic belief to comfort the dying seems almost a point for the other side. In the second and third chapters of this part, however, I will demonstrate not only that faith promotes actual physical recovery, but that it does so even independently of its ability to reduce depression.
6 Myers, D. G. (2000). Funds, Friends and Faith of Happy People. American Psychologist. 55(1), 56-67.

psychology blog Generally Thinking, offers us a prime example of such an allegation in his discussion of this last study. To his credit, Davies shares my initial reaction to the 19-point disparity: to laugh at Sigmund Freud who said that When a man is freed of religion, he has a better chance to live a normal and wholesome life. Davies aptly points out that Freud, had he actually used the scientific method instead of generating sweeping hypersexual narratives out of the air, might have known better. Davies then offers a disclaimer, however: Could this be divine intervention? Alas, these studies cant inform us as to whether there is a God, only that people who believe in one tend to be happier. There are variables that need to be controlled for religious people have communities that provide social support, and a belief system that provides structure to their lives and may alleviate some fears to a degree, such as the fear of death. Davies first point will be the focus of the fourth chapter - I believe studies like these can, in fact, tell us that there is a God. His next point, however, Ill begin to refute now. Unfortunately, its common for critics to assume that any benefits we see in studies of faith are merely the result of some correlate to which religion is ancillary. The per capita religious person, a skeptic might point out, is more likely to be a woman. Or they might argue that, as Davies implies, religious people are benefiting from interactions they could just as easily have through a community sports team or a book club. Yet researchers can and have controlled for these factors and when they do, the results become even more convicting. A 2010 The Telegraph column was aptly titled Dawkins and Hitchens are wrong: Religious people are actually much nicer than atheists7 after a five-year study by David Campbell and Robert Putnam showed just that8. Says The Telegraphs Toby Young: The authors were initially a little skeptical of these findings, but after controlling for a huge range of factors women are more religious than men, for instance their conclusions proved to be robust. Not only did the authors control for ones number of friends, but they discovered that, in their own words: 8

While having more friends is, for civic purposes, better than having fewer friends, what matters most is having friends within a religious congregation. The demographically-controlled data was striking. It showed that, compared to those who never attend religious services, worship-attending Americans volunteer for the poor and elderly 25% more, for school and youth programs 21% more, 13% more for neighborhood or civic groups, and 8% more for healthcare. Religious people are more likely to help someone find a job, donate blood, spend time with a friend in need, attend local meetings, vote in local elections, and work for social or political reform. Not only do religious Americans disproportionately donate to charity, they even donate more to secular charities than do secular Americans. It seems, then, that you can become happier not only by becoming a theist yourself, but by having theist neighbors. Moreover, the desire to donate blood is, empirically, a symptom of religion; if religion is as Dawkins says - a virus, then it is a dangerous virus indeed. 2. Longevity Confront an atheist with the well-documented association between faith and lifespan, and youll have put him in an interesting position. To avoid directly crediting theism with increasing longevity, he may grant that religion promotes the sorts of healthy behaviors that prolong life. Yet by conceding that religion actually offers some benefit to those who practice it, hell have ruled out Dawkins virus of the mind approach entirely. In addition, hell have left himself open to another attack. While its true that religion promotes long life by encouraging healthy behaviors, faith itself - again - retains a powerful effect no matter how many of these behaviors we control for. A 1998 study in the American Journal of Public Health scrutinized 1,931 elderly residents of Marin County, California and followed up with them 5 years later. Broadly speaking, persons who attended religious services were 36% less likely to have died during the follow-up period. After the authors controlled for age, sex, marital status, chronic disease, lower body disability, balance problems, exercise, smoking status, alcohol use, weight, depression and two indexes of social functioning and social support - those who attended religious services were still 24% more likely to be alive9.

Oman, D., and Reed, D. 1998. Religion and mortality among the community-dwelling elderly. American Journal of Public Health 88: 1469-1475.

If the elderly residents of Marin County dont sound like a persuasive cross-section, consider a seven-year follow-up on the 1987 National Health Interview Survey of 28,000 people. Researchers were aware of the association between infrequent or no religious attendance and mortality and hoped to learn more about it. They controlled for education, income, marital status, number of friends, number of relatives, smoking, alcohol use, and broad indexes of health and behavior. They found that people who never attended religious services had an 87% higher risk of dying during the follow up period giving the religious, on average, about seven additional years of life. Specifically, those who never attended were twice as likely to die from respiratory disease, diabetes, or infectious disease. The research team also reported that, in particular, blacks and women can enjoy especially longer lives if they are religiously active10. It should be no surprise, then, that centenarians people who live to be 100 disproportionately report being deeply religious. In fact, the New England Centenarian Project reports that almost all centenarians have a strong theistic faith11. 3. Efficient Causes of the Above 3A. Serotonin In a 2003 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Jacqueline Borg and her colleagues asked their subjects, males aged 20-45, to complete a personality test called the Temperament and Character Inventory and then measured their serotonin binding potential, which limits the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin circulating in the brain. They found that binding potential was inversely associated with self-transcendence the dimension of the personality test most related to religious faith and specifically with a subscale called spiritual acceptance. No correlations were found to any of the other six dimensions of personality on the Inventory. In other words, religious people have higher levels of serotonin12.

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Many Americans are likely familiar with the function of serotonin thanks to, ironically, television commercials for antidepressants - which often act by reducing the brains serotonin binding potential. While dopamine is sometimes called the brains stick punishing, in a sense, detriment by withdrawing from the brain, serotonin is called the brains carrot rewarding benefit by increasing in the brain. Geneticist Dean Hamers The God Gene focuses on VMAT2, which works to increase serotonin levels in the brain and is one of many genes that may predispose people to theistic belief13. Hamers book discusses two poignant, opposing examples that illustrate the neurotransmitters power. In Walter Pahnkes Good Friday experiment alternatively called the Marsh Chapel Experiment 10 students at Harvard Divinity School were given a placebo. Another 10 were given psilocybin - a compound that acts as a, perhaps exaggerated, mimic for serotonin. Together, the twenty students listened to a passionate Good Friday sermon about the life of Christ, then answered questions on a psychometric designed to measure spirituality. While the placebo group scored 14% per capita, the group that took the psilocybin scored an average of 64%.


Hamer, Dean H. The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired into Our Genes. New York: Doubleday, 2004. Print.

After 25 years, subjects were given the same set of questions. While the control groups average score had not budged, the independent groups score had actually gone up one point to 65%. All reported enduring, positive changes in well-being. The experience had affected the students in ways that persisted for a quarter of a century. If these results sound severe, consider Hamers contrasting example. One common method of determining a genes function is to create knockout mice rodents engineered such that said gene is rendered inoperable. To better understand the function of VMAT2, Hamers colleagues created mice without it14. The VMAT2 knockout mice showed little interest in suckling or eating they were inactive, spending most of their time lying on the cage floor and suffered premature death. If these studies offer us any practical advice, its clearly to pursue behaviors associated with higher, rather than lower, levels of serotonin. Hamers serotonin-challenged mice were, in a sense, rodent atheists. Their unfortunate fate was a murine macrocosm of the heightened vulnerability that atheists have to psychological damage - and the comparatively low effort that secular people devote to secular charities. I would certainly not advise anyone to go out and take psilocybin in order to have spiritual experiences - any more than I would promote antidepressants as a long-term solution to depression. On the contrary, the reliance of so many on substances like these is a consequence of our being designed for something more like the transcendence of Marsh Chapel yet living in a society constructed for atheist mice. As of 2011, roughly 15% of men and 25% of women in the United States take prescribed psychiatric medication a majority of which are antidepressants15. Its difficult to believe that our creator be He a conscious deity or a naturalistic evolutionary force designed nearly all of us to have sufficiently operative eyes but so few of us to produce have enough serotonin to function socially without artificial drugs. 3B. Physical Health We know that the gap in longevity between theists and atheists is largely not caused by differences in alcohol use, chronic disease, depression, education, exercise, income, lower body disability, marital status, number of friends, number of relatives, smoking, social functioning, or weight among other things. Theistic faith appears to offer a longer life both by promoting beneficial behaviors in many of these areas and offering a more direct benefit that transcends

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them. At present, the best explanation for this phenomenon may be that faith acts to prolong life by lowering blood pressure and bolstering the immune system. In 1998, Koenig and colleagues published a 6-year study of 4,000 older adults in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. It examined the effects of church attendance, studying the Bible and prayer on blood pressure. After controlling for age, sex, race, smoking, chronic illness and body mass index, researchers found that participants who attended church once a week - and prayed and/or studied the Bible once a day or more were 40% less likely to have diastolic hypertension. Blacks and the recently elderly could expect religion to offer them especially lower blood pressure perhaps explaining a similar pattern in the National Health Interview Survey. Of subjects who had been prescribed blood pressure medication, religious people were more likely to actually be taking their medication, but this could not, however, explain the differences in blood pressure observed16. Another study by Koenig, published in the same journal, followed a sample of 1,718 older adults over a period of six years. It measured their levels of plasma interleukin-6, or IL-6 - a substance found at elevated levels in people with AIDS, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes, among other things. The study found that frequent religious attendance predicted for lower IL-6 levels in 1986, 1989, and 1992. Researchers suggested that their findings may partly account for the more robust health that religious people are known to enjoy. Moreover, they noted: Religious attendance was also related to lower levels of the immuneinflammatory markers alpha-2 globulin, fibrin d-dimers, polymorphonuclear leukocytes, and lymphocytes. While controlling for covariates weakened most of these relationships, adjusting analyses for depression and negative life events had little effect17. Its a fascinating pattern that, in studies of religion and physical health, controlling for depression does little to make the disparity between unbelievers and the faithful go away. Though weve seen that religion acts to stave off depression - and that atheists are more likely to succumb to it - faith appears to offer a benefit to physical health distinct even from its protection against misery. We again see this pattern in a 2009 study by Dalmida and colleagues of 129 predominantly black women living with HIV. Researchers took blood samples from the
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participants and charted their spiritual well-being, religious well-being, and depression while controlling for demographic variables, HIV medication adherence, and HIV viral load. Predictably, there was a strong inverse association between spiritual well-being and depressive symptoms. As you also may have guessed, there was a positive association between immune cell percentages and both measures of faith. Interestingly, however, depressive symptoms did very little to account for immune cell percentages. Though faith reduced depression in the patients, it also seems to have bolstered the immune system in some other way.18 4. Itself An Adaptation 4A. Genetic Basis In a 2008 presentation at the University of Cambridges Faraday Institute, Dr. Justin Barrett of the University of Oxford Centre for Anthropology and Mind cited research indicating that children are innately predisposed towards seeing purpose in the world. In one study, for example, six and seven year olds - asked why the first birds existed - answered to make nice music and because it makes the world look nice. He argued that ethnographies of certain cultures show that children believe in God even when religious teachings are withheld from them19. Said Barrett: The preponderance of scientific evidence for the past 10 years or so has shown that a lot more seems to be built into the natural development of children's minds than we once thought, including a predisposition to see the natural world as designed and purposeful and that some kind of intelligent being is behind that purpose. If we threw a handful on an island and they raised themselves I think they would believe in God. Studies of theistic beliefs heritability are on Barretts side. The Minnesota Twin Study put the heritability of overall religiosity at between 41 and 52 percent. It found that intrinsic religiosity had a concordance of 37% for identical twins who share 100% of their DNA and 20% for fraternal twins - who share 50% of their DNA. A survey of the Australian Twin Registry and Virginia 20,000 found that, on selftranscendence, a psychometric created by Robert Cloninger of The God Gene fame, male identical twins had a 40% concordance, while male fraternal twins had an 18% concordance. Faith had an even clearer genetic component among female twins who had a 49% identical concordance and a 26% fraternal concordance.
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That is, the more genes you share with a religious relative, the more likely you are to be religious yourself. Its this research that has inspired scientists like Dean Hamer to find specific genes VMAT2, for example that are involved in predisposing us towards a sense of divinity. These studies do not tell us that working to spread theistic belief is a fools errand on the contrary, they reveal the great value in doing so - and discredit those who deny it. They show that, in the words of E.O. Wilson, religious belief is itself an adaptation that confers biological advantage. It would be arrived at on an island and cannot be reduced to a cultural virus let alone a damaging one caused by indoctrination. 4A. Why Adaptation Matters When it can be shown that evolution has predisposed us towards a particular pattern, we have two striking reasons not to create from scratch a new pattern that disregards it. The first, of course, is that the mechanisms put into place through evolution to steer us in a particular direction may result in us being healthier and more fulfilled when we adhere to that direction. The second is also the reason those mechanisms were put into place: because the direction, in and of itself, holds utility for us. Consider, for example, being part of a community. That we are happier when we belong to a community is one reason to do so. Moreover, the reason we are happier when we belong to a community is because our ancestors who did survived more often than those who did not. The more final benefits that a community offers are a second reason to belong to one. While we may enjoy telling ourselves that our intelligence makes us non-animals, exempt from natural laws, the fact is that someone who chooses to entirely forego the evolutionary pattern will get none of its benefits. In the words of Ecclesiastes, a man has no preeminence above a beast20. Richard Dawkins avoids this problem by insisting that religion capitalizes on evolutionary adaptations without being one itself. He tells us that faith is grounded in benefit and not the other way around. If this were the case, however, it would be possible to get religions benefits simply by making a list of the beneficial things that theists do - and doing them without the theism. Yet not only has theism itself retained a powerful effect no matter how many behaviors weve controlled for socializing and not smoking, for example - but if such a list is possible, atheists apparently tend not to do the things that would be on it.


Ecclesiastes 3:19

Surely, if something like this list could be made, a well-read21, high-IQ22 demographic like atheists would be the ones to make it. However, while atheists certainly say that they are getting these benefits without theism, the data indicates that they are not. They are, by all indications, less happy and healthy than believers in the aggregate. Atheists are no more an exception to the rule than the rest of us at the end of the day, they cannot reap even the earthly fruit of theism without actually subscribing to it. In ones personal quest for religious truth, the possibility of an afterlife certainly warrants consideration. However, while arguments about the nature of consciousness may be too complex to influence the average agnostics scoreboard, the evolutionary utility of theism should be a clear point for God especially when compared to atheisms evolutionary utility of zero. An evolutionary case for theism goes beyond theory and offers a replicated treatment: affirmed by observed results in actual practice, shown to improve ones quality of life here and now. 4B. Evolutionary Emergence Because he does not believe that evolutionary pressures selected for faith itself, Dawkins specifically points to agent detection your inclination to assume that a rustle in the bush is a living thing as a helpful evolutionary adaptation on which religion is parasitic. Unfortunately, few researchers have attempted to measure agent detection let alone see if religiosity is associated with it. However, we can reasonably expect agent detection to be correlated with measures of anxiety. After all, anxiety functions to increase caution in threatening situations: anxious people, for example, more carefully answer math problems23 and have a heightened sense of smell24 - as predator-weary animals are wont to do. Yet not only are measures of anxiety and faith uncorrelated, but a 2009 study by Ellison showed that frequency of religious attendance and belief in an afterlife were inversely associated with feelings of anxiety - and positively associated with feelings of tranquility25. Not only is this data inconvenient for Dawkins virus narrative, but it discredits the claims of atheist would-be-psychologists that religion is an expression of underlying fear. Not only is faith
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not indicative of anxiety about mortality, but a religious perspective on mortality is specifically indicative of serenity. On the subject of death, its those who do not believe in an afterlife or attend church that tend towards the greatest fear. In fact, Ellisons study points to what may be the most promising evolutionary mechanism for the emergence of faith what Bjrn Grinde has called the collision between animal emotions and human intelligence. An insight from the Christian tradition elucidates what Grinde means: in Day-Age Creationism that is, an understanding of the creation story as encompassing billions of years death came to all men26 is thought not to reference the beginning of biological death, but the dawn of a new awareness of and sadness over death through our human intelligence. This happened, after all, when Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge of whom God had said when you eat of it you will surely die27; die has been interpreted as become mortal. In Grindes analysis, theisms primary evolutionary function was to give us a ground of meaning that transcended our mortality and offer a destiny beyond it. Theism, then, liberated us from fear releasing energy for the other functions of life. Those that lacked it went the way of Hamers atheist mice. Its most probable that a mechanism like Grindes operated in conjunction with others to produce a predisposition to faith. E.O Wilson has argued, for example, that religion acted to facilitate group cohesion. When our ancestors lived in small tribes as they did for tens of thousands of years more cohesive tribes presumably outcompeted less cooperative groups. Religion may have been a powerful force in promoting this sort of teamwork. Another theory is that religion set up cultural structures centered around community ritual and social hierarchy that provided new opportunities for social advancement, particularly for members of the tribe who were clever but not as physically imposing as their competitors. While not necessarily increasing ones chances of survival, this structure could have facilitated sexual selection providing increased reproductive opportunity. 5. The Truth of Theism 5A. Grindes Fear While the evolutionary utility of theism naturally seems like an argument for theism to me, some - like Bjrn Grinde - fear that it will lay bare and discredit the nature of faith. Perhaps this is partly an aesthetic difference: while many people feel that discussing the chemical processes involved in love, for example, is debasing, the image of an electrical storm launching oxytocin

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Romans 5:12 Genesis 2:17

across synaptic gaps has always struck me as an affirmation - rather than devaluation of love. Im convinced, however, that Grindes Fear is largely an irrational misinterpretation. By what measure, I ask, does showing that there are benefits to a belief discredit or lay bare the nature of that belief? Try to apply Grindes Fear to almost anything other than theism, and it will quickly become apparent that there is none. Take a 2011 study by Hammond and Sibley, which reported that women are happier in relationships with men who score high on Benevolent Sexism a view of women as the weaker sex deserving of male protection28. When this study was released, do you imagine that modern feminists who condemn Benevolent Sexism rejoiced, and announced that the nature of sexism had been laid bare and discredited? Alternatively, consider the Paleo Diet a modern approximation of what humans ate for the majority of our evolutionary history. Preliminary research on the diets benefits is promising; supposing it continues to yield positive results, should we anticipate that critics of the diet will use them to proclaim that the Paleo Diet has been debunked? Better yet, suppose I told you that all the studies Ive provided have actually been about atheism rather than theism. Imagine it were found that atheists lived longer, happier lives, and that evolutionary pressures selected for those with the most atheistic beliefs. Theists would no more presume that such research discredited atheism than atheists would quietly avoid the subject. On the contrary, atheists would write books, put up billboards, and generally dance in the streets at this ultimate validation of their worldview. Moreover, I believe this would be an appropriate reaction. Granted, it certainly could be argued that religion is unlike these other beliefs because it makes claims about matters beyond the immediately perceivable world. Yet insofar as theistic faith is different, it is because a sense of faith is precisely what we would expect a God involved in our creation to include. The God of the Bible, after all, has put eternity into mans heart 29. Atheists often characterize theism as unexceptional: a pedestrian myth distinguished only by its frequency from an array of equally ludicrous superstitions. Carl Sagan, for example, wrote that theisms popularity is no different than several people of your acquaintance, including people who you're pretty sure don't know each other, all tell[ing] you that they have dragons in their garages.30 Similarly, Richard Dawkins has criticized agnostics as inconsistent for not also

28 29 Ecclesiastes 3:11 30 Sagan, Carl (1997). "The Dragon In My Garage". The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In the Dark. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-40946-9.

being agnostics towards the existence of invisible unicorns31. The Invisible Pink Unicorn has become a common satirical meme in atheist culture. Yet I submit to you that theres something not altogether honest about metaphors like these. Firstly, you might agree that Sagans dragon and Dawkins unicorn are deprived of some weight as metaphors for God by virtue of being specifically garage-dwelling and pink, respectively. If so, then you ought to share my suspicion that atheists really find something more fundamental and explanatory about the concept of God than those of dragons or unicorns. Whats more, atheists and theists alike actually hold theism to a much higher standard than the array of myths that atheists would have us equate with it. Supposing it were found that those who believe specifically in Invisible Pink Unicorns tend to have stronger immune systems and live seven years longer than those who do not, and so on, we might take a closer look at the concept of Invisible Pink Unicorns than we presently do at God under the same evidence. If we want to learn anything from research into faiths evolutionary utility, then, perhaps we should do what atheists suggest and approach it with the same fairness we would accord gnomes. 5B. Sensus Divinitatis 16th century theologian John Calvin proposed that There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty. He called this sensus divinitatis naturally inborn and in the very marrow of human beings32. Calvin may not have known about serotonin, VMAT2 or the other specifics of its mechanics - but he understood that our experience of God, like our experience of smell, is rooted in biological processes. By denying that faith is a product of our biology in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, Dawkins avoids another trap in sensus divinitatis. The beliefs of any person about the world outside his own mind atheists not excepted - are derived entirely from sensory data brought about by his biology. Supposing we decide the genes and neurotransmitters that make up our sense of touch, say, are unreliable, what right do we have to continue trusting our other senses?


Dawkins, Richard (2006). "The God hypothesis: the poverty of agnosticism". The God Delusion (Trade paperback ed.). Kent: Bantam Press. pp. 5253. ISBN 978-0-593-05825-1. Retrieved 2007-07-20. 32 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 43, 45-46.

Of course, an atheist will grant that his sensory data might be entirely false. Hell concede that he could be immutably trapped in a simulation in which his is the sole consciousness, his thoughts and actions never to have any effect on anything or be observed by anyone. Yet he believes that this metaphysical solipsism is not the case. By this, I mean that if he did become as convinced of said metaphysical solipsism as he presently is that conciousnesses outside his own are real, his thoughts and actions would consequently be different than they were before. Ultimately, however, he chooses to believe the claim that this metaphysical solipsism is false because, regardless of whatever unattainably abstract properties it might possess, it offers him more benefit than the alternative. Present the benefits of theism to an atheist, and he might object that you are arguing for tricking oneself into believing in God to get these benefits. Yet this criticism is only valid if you have likewise tricked yourself into believing that I have written these words and that you are reading them. I say, rather, that someone who finds a God that most of us sense through faith less real than a chair that most of us sense through sight has tricked himself into exempting an idea he does not like from common sense. Having tested and approved my own common sense, I can say confidently at the time of this writing that I rank as a 1 a strong theist on the spectrum of theistic probability posited in Dawkins The God Delusion. To quote Carl Jung as Dawkins does I do not need to believe [that God exists], I know as certainly as I know this chair33 exists. If I have tricked myself in any sense, it was only to return home to the common sense that I tricked myself out of in the first place. 5C. James Pragmatic Theory of Truth In the late 19th century, American philosopher William James noticed something curious about his peers. The philosophers of his day - whom James called intellectualists believed that only knowledge of ones own consciousness could really be called true. Moreover, when push came to shove, they believed that no other claim had the potential to ever be called true. Supposing you discover that your mind is imprisoned in a simulation and escape, after all, this new place in which youve actually been residing might itself be a simulation, and so on. Yet these intellectualists continued to appeal to the concept of truth in a way that implied it might include some other things beyond Descartes single certainty. In response, James often credited as the founder of Pragmatism proposed an account of truth more in line with the way the notion of truth is actually used. He suggested that the

If Ive drawn inadequate metaphors by substituting theism with other properly basic beliefs in my writing and the chair, it is because neither of them is likely to be as important to the healthy functioning of your immune system.

truth value of a set of claims is determined by the extent to which the claims cohere and are verified by observed results in actual practice. Positing that two basic views of truth could be held, James said that those who were not satisfied by the requirements of his pragmatic theory were appealing to an essential truth. For example, doubting some claim on the grounds that metaphysical solipsism might instead be true would be an appeal to essential truth. Said James of this concept: Essential truth, the truth of the intellectualists, the truth with no one thinking it, is like the coat that fits tho no one has ever tried it on, like the music that no ear has listened to. It is less real, not more real, than the verified article; and to attribute a superior degree of glory to it seems little more than a piece of perverse abstraction-worship.34 5D. Will to Believe James supposed that theism offered benefits, namely A new zest which adds itself like a gift to life, and takes the form either of lyrical enchantment or of appeal to earnestness and heroism. An assurance of safety and a temper of peace, and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections35. Though James did not have access to the wealth of evidence for these benefits that we do, its clear that his personal experiences of faith have been affirmed: theism does all these things. As a pragmatist, James saw these benefits as relevant to the truth of theism. This perspective might be unfairly characterized by intellectualists as believe in theism whether it is true or false or believe in theism and it will become true. Yet James understood his position to be this: access to evidence for whether certain beliefs are true sometimes depends on first accepting those beliefs. Imagine, for example, that you are about to give a speech before a large audience, and nothing in your experience of public speaking suggests that you are up at the task. Because public speaking requires confidence, it is rational to adopt an otherwise unsupported belief in your own public speaking ability. Adopting this belief may be necessary to reveal, through the observed result of a successful speech, the truth that you are actually a talented public speaker. It would be wrong to characterize this example as one of a false claim being made true through belief. After all, it cannot be false that you are a capable public speaker, since youve

Philosophical Review (1908). "The Pragmatist Account of Truth and Its Misunderstanders," The Meaning of Truth, New York (1909).

just given a worthy speech. Rather, adopting the belief has provided you with the evidence for its truth. If public speakers who adopt confidence in their abilities for this reason as many certainly do - are tricking themselves, then the concept of trickery would seem deprived of negative meaning. Likewise, atheists refuse to seek a relationship with God until Gods existence has been proven outside the relationship. In James account, this is akin to refusing to engage in friendship with others until theyve first proven themselves as your friends. If the nature of theistic knowledge is relational, then atheists take a rather unscientific approach by deciding against it without testing it in earnest. Wrote James: Religion says essentially two things. the best things are the more eternal things, the overlapping things, the things in the universe that throw the last stone, so to speak, and say the final word. The second affirmation of religion is that we are better off even now if we believe [religion's] first affirmation to be true The more perfect and more eternal aspect of the universe is represented in our religions as having personal form. The universe is no longer a mere It to us, but a Thou. We feel, too, as if the appeal of religion to us were made to our own active good-will, as if evidence might be forever withheld from us unless we met the hypothesis half-way. 5E. Atheist Epistemology As you may have inferred, I personally subscribe to James account of truth. If you wish to present an evolutionary argument for theism, however, then what is centrally important is not agreeing with either the pragmatic or essential view, but differentiating between them. When one begins to distinguish between appeals of both varieties, it becomes apparent that many atheists do not have a consistent account of truth, but cherry-pick between James and the intellectualists as it suits their nonbelief. Consider a common theist objection to atheism - that atheists, because they do not believe in God, have no reason to be moral human beings36. Overwhelmingly, atheists respond to this complaint with appeals to pragmatism. More rigorous atheists, for example, sometimes


It should be noted that, since it at least attempts to speak to the meat and potatoes of actual practice, this claim is rooted in something of a rudimentary pragmatism. I believe the frequency of this complaint suggests that the laity, so to speak, are capable of taking to heart and applying in discussion something like what Ive been presenting here.

advocate valuing concepts like peace, charity, and the pursuit of truth on utilitarian grounds, arguing that these values maximize happiness and reduce suffering3738. Perhaps more ironically, however, many atheists simply cite the innateness of their sense of morality its being naturally inborn and in the very marrow, so to speak - as a reason to be moral. Ask an Atheist, for example, proudly states that While theists believe that god will punish them for immoral acts and reward them for moral acts, atheists have no motivation to be moral other than their own innate sense of morality39. Similarly, University of Massachusetts Amherst philosophy professor Louise Antony writes in the New York Times: We moralistic atheists do not see right and wrong as artifacts of a divine protection racket. Rather, we find moral value to be immanent in the natural world40. The problem for atheists in both cases is that theyre likely to respond to your extolling the benefits of religion by appealing to intellectualism. That is, theyll assert that the benefits of theism are not relevant to its truth value. Ask them why they value this concept of truth, however, and theyll give you a pragmatic answer: on utilitarian grounds, or because they innately enjoy pursuing it. Return to the utility or innate nature of faith the next moment, and theyll exempt it from the standard by which they purport to asses everything else. 6. The Essence of Will I intend to follow this pamphlet with a second one, which will apply towards Christianity specifically the arguments that Ive here applied towards theism broadly. In case youve been at all persuaded by what Ive written here, however, I feel obliged to briefly speak to this point in these closing remarks. Should you decide to take William James advice and will to believe, remember G.K. Chestertons relevant criticism of George Bernard Shaw: The worship of will is the negation of will... If Mr. Bernard Shaw comes up to me and says, 'Will something', that is tantamount to saying, 'I do not mind what you will', and that is tantamount to saying, 'I have no will in the matter.' You cannot admire will in general, because the essence of will is that it is particular.41
37 38 39 40 41 Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. New York: Lohn Lane, 1909. Print.

Ralph Waldo Emerson William James godfather - greatly admired the Bhagavad Gita, a central text of Hinduism, because he found in it an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions that exercise us. Emerson, then, understood the particular nature of will and applied it to his will to believe. If I admit to an atheist that something of an epiphany prompted my present theistic beliefs especially if I note that it was essentially an emotive conversion first and only a reasoned one later he might suggest that if I had been an Indian, this wouldve been the moment I became a Hindu. Not only do I freely admit that this couldve been the case, but I maintain that this wouldve been a step in the right direction though Id like to think, of course, that through experimentation I wouldve eventually ended up at Christianity. If someone is moved to adopt theism whether by reason or an experience of God Id of course find it ideal if he quickly settled upon my own religious outlook. I certainly think, however, that hed be taking a much surer step towards doing so by becoming a Hindu than by adopting a vague deism or panentheism. A scientist does not ignore all the work already done in his field. If one is seeking a relationship with God, it does no good to reinvent the wheel by starting from scratch with open-ended abstractions. Rather, one should stand on the shoulders of giants and begin by earnestly engaging with a religion that is, an accumulated body of knowledge that has already faced for generations whatever issues you might seek to resolve. Someone who adopts theism but does not become religious is akin to the public speaker who deprives himself of the evidence that he is up to the task by not believing he is. He is like the man who demands evidence of any friendship before he will participate in it, and so remains friendless. Whats more, he is behaving like the theist equivalent of the atheist who will not meet God halfway and if one is going to be a functional atheist regardless, theres little point in becoming a theist in the first place.

I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink,

and find satisfaction in all their toilthis is the gift of God. Ecclesiastes 3:10-13 NIV