View by:  Subject  Theme  Question  Term  Person  Event

The Science of Sociobiology Critiques the Truth-Claims of Religion

E.O.Wilson has written:

...we have come to the crucial stage in the history of biology when religion itself is subject to the explanations of the natural sciences...sociobiology can account for the very origin of mythology by the principle of natural selection acting on the genetically evolving material structure of the human brain.

If this interpretation is correct, the final decisive edge enjoyed by scientific naturalism will come from its capacity to explain traditional religion, its chief competitor, as a wholly material phenomenon. Theology is not likely to survive as an independent intellectual discipline. But religion itself will endure for a long time as a vital force in society.Wilson, EO, On Human Nature (London: Penguin, 1995edn) p192

(For background see Richard Dawkins and E.O.Wilson against the possibility of the truth of religion.)

Dawkins regards religion as one of many ‘viruses of the mind,’The title of a lecture he gave to the British Humanist Association in 1992.something which has pervaded human affairs, but, having no truth-content, should be done away with. Wilson does see religion’s utility, although he regards it as nothing more than a survival-strategy which has become embedded in our genes.

The first, trite rebuttal to this is to point out that if some of our beliefs about reality are to be described as Darwinian gene-schemes, then others are not exempt. Neo-Darwinism itself could be regarded not as a fact about reality, but as an evolved survival-strategy. If we doubt humans’ capacity to derive truths, as opposed to following evolutionary strategies, then the ‘fact’ that Darwinism has, according to Wilson, ‘point for point in zones of conflict, defeated traditional religion,’Wilson, 1995, 192does not make Darwinism any the more true. If this defeat were a fact, it would only show that at a particular juncture Darwinism was more adaptive than religious belief.

It is much more reasonable to suppose that humans do have the power to elicit conclusions about their environment largely independent of their genetic inheritance (though quite strongly influenced by their culture). This brings us to the second point, which is that the sociobiological case for very strong control of genes over culture simply cannot be sustained for humans. The proportion of the human genome which separates us from the early savannah-dwelling H.Sapiens is 0.01%, (see the paradox of the development of modern humans) and we know next to nothing of how so few genes could exert such an enormous effect on culture as to programme us to be modern humans. Moreover our present experience of the rate of cultural change suggests that gene changes could not possibly account for the pace at which human culture changes, or respond at an adequate rate. John Bowker has made a very careful analysis of the claims of sociobiology in respect of religion,Bowker, J, Is God a Virus? (London: SPCK, 1995) pp1-118, especially 37-46. For a more recent demolition of the adequacy of sociobiology as an explanation of humanity see Rolston, H, Genes, Genesis and... and concludes that critical realism is sustainable both for science and religion. We can make inferences about the universe as it happens to be, and about its God, beyond what is programmed in our genes.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate and Dr. Michael Robert Negus
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

Topic Sets Available

AAAS Report on Stem-Cells

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Becoming Human: Brain, Mind, Emergence
Big Bang Cosmology and Theology (GHC)
Cosmic Questions Interviews

Cosmos and Creator
Creativity, Spirituality and Computing Technologies
CTNS Content Home
Darwin: A Friend to Religion?
Demystifying Information Technology
Divine Action (GHC)
Dreams and Dreaming: Neuroscientific and Religious Visions'
E. Coli at the No Free Lunchroom
Engaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
Evangelical Atheism: a response to Richard Dawkins
Ecology and Christian Theology
Evolution: What Should We Teach Our Children in Our Schools?
Evolution and Providence
Evolution and Creation Survey
Evolution and Theology (GHC)
Evolution, Creation, and Semiotics

The Expelled Controversy
Faith and Reason: An Introduction
Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century

Francisco Ayala on Evolution

From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions
Genetic Engineering and Food

Genetics and Ethics
Genetic Technologies - the Radical Revision of Human Existence and the Natural World

Genomics, Nanotechnology and Robotics
Getting Mind out of Meat
God and Creation: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Big Bang Cosmology
God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion
God the Spirit - and Natural Science
Historical Examples of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)
History of Creationism
Intelligent Design Coming Clean

Issues for the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies
Jean Vanier of L'Arche
Nano-Technology and Nano-ethics
Natural Science and Christian Theology - A Select Bibliography
Neuroscience and the Soul
Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
Quantum Mechanics and Theology (GHC)
Questions that Shape Our Future
Reductionism (GHC)
Reintroducing Teleology Into Science
Science and Suffering

Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (CTNS/Vatican Series)

Space Exploration and Positive Stewardship

Stem-Cell Debate: Ethical Questions
Stem-Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

Stem-Cell Questions
Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design...
Theology and Science: Current Issues and Future Directions
Unscientific America: How science illiteracy threatens our future
Will ET End Religion?

Current Stats: topics: >2600, links: >300,000, video: 200 hours.