Economics of God

From The Economist:

Religion cries out for a biological explanation. It is a ubiquitous phenomenon—arguably one of the species markers of Homo sapiens—but a puzzling one. It has none of the obvious benefits of that other marker of humanity, language. Nevertheless, it consumes huge amounts of resources. Moreover, unlike language, it is the subject of violent disagreements. Science has, however, made significant progress in understanding the biology of language, from where it is processed in the brain to exactly how it communicates meaning. Time, therefore, to put religion under the microscope as well.

Scientists in Europe have embarked on scientific quest for God. Even if religion or God are scientifically baseless, there can be numerous economic and social benefits. It is said that humans and chimpanzees are the only species that laugh; religion separates us from our cousins on the evolutionary tree. Really, a sticky 'meme' such as religion could not have survived if it did not confer any evolutionary benefits.
(the) long-term co-operative benefits of religion outweigh the short-term costs it imposes in the form of praying many times a day, avoiding certain foods, fasting and so on.

Indeed, research has shown the religion-based groups tend to survive longer as compared to secular groups, which are four times more likely to break up. The fear of the supernatural, or the after-life makes people cooperate. God is the ultimate stick and Heaven the ultimate carrot. We all know that incentives work!

As Dr. Wilson points out "... Secularism is very maladaptive biologically. We're the ones who at best are having only two kids. Religious people are the ones who aren't smoking and drinking, and are living longer and having the health benefits."

It is hard to separate religion from culture and group membership. Even there was a God, or not we want to belong to some group. Atheism can be intellectually and scientifically more honest, but can lead to impoverishment and even alienation in other ways.

7 comments:

Hirak said...

The comments section on the article is even more fun. Odd that the religious ones are the ones who leave the rudest comments.

Blogbharti said...

Pingback from Blogbharti [...]:
Hirak discusses and more than agrees with an article from the Economic Times, that goes on to show the advantages [...]

Edgar Dantas said...

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தருமி said...

//Dr. Wilson - Secularism is very maladaptive biologically.//

may be, so far.

but it appears with increasing non-accomodativeness of religions things may become just the opposite. let atheism be the elixir for all relgious maladies.

amen!

Hirak said...

True! That's what one hopes for. But, cultivating scientific temper and trying to explain the essential random nature of the world is hard.

Why do bad things happen to good people? It is much easy to digest if you say, "It was God's will". Why a benevolent God would want to harm a good person? "To have more faith in him", or that " true treasures are in heaven."

Now contrast that with what really is the case, "Shit happens!"

தருமி said...

Unholy shit, at that!

Ashutosh said...

When people ask "Why do bad things happen to good people?" and answer "It's God's will", they are basically not answering the question but pushing it under the carpet. More importantly, under the carpet, that questions sprouts its own little sub-questions ad infinitum ("Why does God behave this way?" and other kinds of unanswerable dilemmas). I would rather be satisfied with one unknowable rather than an infinite number of them. Sadly, that's just me.