Evolution and the Faith Instinct


Jonah Goldberg provides some interesting perspective, playing off of the movie Avatar, on the “faith instinct” in humanity. Here were two paragraphs that I found striking via the combination of assertions:

Nicholas Wade’s new book, “The Faith Instinct,” lucidly compiles the scientific evidence supporting something philosophers have known for ages: Humans are hard-wired to believe in the transcendent. That transcendence can be divine or simply Kantian, a notion of something unknowable from mere experience. Either way, in the words of philosopher Will Herberg, “Man is homo religiosus, by ‘nature’ religious: as much as he needs food to eat or air to breathe, he needs a faith for living.”

Wade argues that the Darwinian evolution of man depended not only on individual natural selection but also on the natural selection of groups. And groups that subscribe to a religious worldview are more apt to survive — and hence pass on their genes. Religious rules impose moral norms that facilitate collective survival in the name of a “cause larger than yourself,” to use a modern locution. It’s no wonder that everything from altruism to martyrdom is inextricably bound up in virtually every religion.

I read the first paragraph and was thinking Van Til, so I wasn’t quite prepared to find someone using evolutionary theory as the basis for arguing for religious instinct! Just goes to show that the unregenerate mind can spin things in whatever way helps protect his autonomy. I can almost picture the scene when the wannabe Christian apologist finally, through force of argument and evidence, gets the unbeliever to admit that all humans have an innate sense of transcendence that reflects an universal religious awareness. The Christian can’t suppress the smile that comes from sensing imminent victory in the debate only to have it wiped right off his face when his unbelieving opponent says, “I guess a sense of transcendence developed as the product of natural selection—religion helps us adapt and survive so I suppose it is natural that we would evolve like this.”

It seems to me that anyone who has read Romans 1:18-21 could have predicted that outcome. Sadly, unregenerate man’s “faith instinct” always leads away from the true and living God. Only God’s grace made possible by the Cross work of Jesus Christ and applied by the Spirit through the gospel can transform the human heart from idolater to worshipper.

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