You’ve Been HADD

Thanks again to Marc and Mark for letting me bog here for the past few weeks. It has been great fun.  Just another couple of items before I go.

I wrote a piece recently in The National Catholic Register on the upcoming Court term. The article focuses mostly on decisions that affect religious liberty.

Also, this piece purports to explain to us the real origins of religion. It is not supernatural or transcendent at all of course; scientists are here to make us recognize what we think of as divine reality are only misfired genetic cues. We want to attribute agency to things, so for things that don’t have a clear agent (the weather, natural disasters), we invent one: God. The scientists have even come up with a name for our disorder: HADD, the hypersensitive agency detecting device.

Not to worry if you don’t like that explanation, however: the folks in white lab coats tell us religion could simply be an adaptation of “normal” evolutionary drives like cooperation. People who were religious were better playing with others, and so had a better chance of surviving.

Of course, all this is quite beside the point, and very old hat. Historian Christopher Dawson was complaining in 1931 that “[a] theory is not regarded as ‘scientific’ unless it explains religion in terms of something else – as an artificial construction from non-religious elements.” But as he also explained in his work, religion is something else entirely, a mode of being and experience that cannot be reduced to a byproduct of something else.  One would have thought these points would be retired by now.  As Russell Saltzman explains in First Things, one thing the scientist don’t consider as a spur to religious thought is our common experience of death. The sense of existential loss of ourselves and others opens a potential meeting space for the divine, and may be the true precursor to religious experience.

Besides, arguments like this always seemed to beg the question. Even if religious feelings “evolved,” why wouldn’t that also be consistent with them being true? I tend to think a God would use our natural development and capabilities to bring us to Him, at least in part.

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