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volume II: Synopsis

section V: Applied Divinity

page 35: Religion

Religion is the art of peace, corresponding to the science of theology. We take religion to embrace all the knowledge that we acquire after birth, which together with our genetic knowledge, adapts us to live in a particular niche in the human world.

Religion is a bit like air, so ubiquitous that it is almost unnoticed. We notice the air when there is a storm or some other extreme event. We notice religion under similar conditions. So Reynolds and Tanner, writing on the social ecology of religion, concentrate their attention on the role of religion at the salient points in the cycle of human life, birth, death, disease and so on. Reynolds & Tanner, page 53. Charles Taliaferro

Here we give a much broader role to religion and imagine it to be almost indistinguishable from culture. My current feeling is that each of us has a personal religion which is everything we absorb from our environment after birth: spoken and body language, physical and social skills etc etc. Religion thus fits us into the natural and human environment of our birth. From this point of view, religion is the nurture which adds to nature to construct a complete human being. Tim Lewens

The formal content of religion is thus the psychological equivalent of the biological genome and has a similar function. We can understand the function of religion by analogy with the biological world. Tracy

From a formal point of view, religion works in the space of all possible configurations of the human mind (call this M), just as genetics works in the space of all possible genomes (G). Viewed simply as large objects these spaces are not very interesting. But when we observe the distribution of real genomes in G we begin to notice very detailed structure.

This structure arises from the evolutionary relationships between genomes. These relationships arise, in turn, because genomes are not arbitrary strings of data, they have meaning. When executed by its parent organism, a genome controls the growth and life of that organism and determines, at least to some degree, whether it will reproduce successfully (and so bring a similar genome into existence) or not.

The evolution of religion has led to similar structure in the space of mind, M. Archaeology and paleontology can tell us very little about what people were thinking long ago. We have to wait for the discovery of writing to read ancient thoughts and feelings and see the evolutionary history of the ideas we entertain now. This leads us into the fascinating area of comparative religion, where we observe the vast array of different human mental adaptations to different places, times and conditions. Religion, like the genome, is constrained and selected by the realities of survival. Michael Brady & William Harms

This abstract formulation of religions both explains and overcomes the sectarian problem, since by definition religion is common to us all. The similarities and differences of religions enable them to be classified in a manner analogous to the classification of biological species. As in biology, similarity points either to common descent, or to the evolution of common solutions to common problems.

The detailed study of life on earth shows that all organisms are fundamentally of one flesh, carbon based systems which have shared some common traits for three or four billion years. The history of religion is much shorter, and religious evolution is much faster than biological evolution. Nevertheless all religions have a common root in our human need to to survive and reproduce and our ability to learn, to communicate, and to cooperate in fulfilling this need.

We began with theology, thinking about the general nature of mind and communication, culminating in the biggest imaginable mind, the mind of God. The goal of such science, as of all knowledge, is application. We learn to act better.

Our visible industrial technology is concerned with shaping physical objects. Religion is concerned with shaping ourselves. It is very plain that industrial technology is evolving. This visible evolution is mirrored by the revolution in human consciousness that accompanies our new ways of life. This is the evolution of religion. Ideas such as human rights are part of the new religion, where older religions are in inclined to restrict rights to certain elites.

The application of theological insight to human action allows us to question our religion. What are the good and bad features of current religion? Is the book based approach flexible enough to deal with the current rate of change? Is this world a defective artifact blighted with original sin, or is it a creative divinity? Religious failures are the source of a large proportion of human pain. The aim here is to provide a theoretical foundation for the detection and correction of these errors. Jeremy Kelly, Ed Pilkington

Religious conflict echoes the struggle for existence imposed upon us by our exponential fertility and the limited resources of a finite world. On the whole, people will do anything to survive, including fight to the death. We have abundant experience of the tendency for powerful countries to go to war to extract the resources they want from the weak.

There are various ways to reduce this violence. We need limit our reproduction and consumption to match the carrying capacity of our environment. We need to get more value for the resources we do consume by imporved design. We need to recycle our materials and get our energy directlyu from the Sun. We need to allocate these goods fairly so that nobody is deprived. All these approaches are very complex, and it is the task of religion, informed by science, to chart the most peaceful course through the sea of difficulties that beset human survival.

(revised 27 May 2013)

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Further reading

Books

Click on the "Amazon" link below each book entry to see details of a book (and possibly buy it!)

Axelrod, Robert, The Evolution of Cooperation, Basic Books 1985 Amazon.com: 'This book is a must-read not only for students (broadly defined) of the social sciences, but also for politicians and bureaucrats, especially those in charge of military and foreign affairs. Axelrod's book is a tour-de-force in multi-method approaches. Although the author is a trifle repetitive and occasionally laborious, I think the profound content of the book far outweighs the minor inadequacies of its form. At the risk of sounding like a logical positivist, I would venture to say that Axelrod's approach offers hope for a bottom-up construction of cooperation in an uncertain world without a central authority.' Reeshad Dalal 
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Darwin, Charles, and Greg Suriano (editor), The Origin of Species, Gramercy 1998 Introduction: 'In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the conclusion that each species has not been independently created, but has descended, like varieties, from other species.' 
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Dennett, Daniel C, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Pheno, Penguin Viking 2006 Jacket: 'In this daring and important new book, DCD seeks to uncover the origins of this remarkable family of phenomena that means so much to so many people, and to discuss why--and how--they have commanded allegiance, become so potent and shaped so many lives so strongly. What are the psychological dnd cultural soils in which religion first took root? Is it an addiction or a genuine need that we should try to perserve at any cost? Is it the product of blind evolutionary instinct or rational choice? Do those who believe in God have good resons for doing so? Are people right to say that the best way to live the good life is through religion. In a spirited argument that ranges through biology, history, and psychology, D explores how religion evolved from folk beliefs anbd how these early "wild" strains of religion were then carefully and consciously domesticated. At the motives pf religion's stewards entered this process, such features as secrecy, and systematic invulnberability to disproof emerged. D contends that this protective veneer of mystery needs to be removed so that religions can be better understood, and--more important--he argues that the widespread assumption that they are the necessary foundation of morality can no longer be supported. ... ' 
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Lovelock, James, Ages of Gaia: A Biography of our Living Earth, W W Norton 1995 'This book describes a set of observations about the life of our planet which may, one day, be recognised as one of the major discontinuities in human thought. If Lovelock turns out to be right in his view of things, as I believe he is, we will be viewing the Earth as a coherent system of life, self regulating and self-changing, a sort of immense living organism.' Lewis Thomas 
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Noble, David F, The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention, Penguin Books 1999 Introduction: 'It is the aim of this book to demonstrate that the present enchantment with things technological ... is rooted in religious myths and ancient imaginings. Although today's technologists, in their sober pursuit of utility, power and profit, seem to set society's standard for rationality ... their true inspiration lies elsewhere, in an enduring, other-worldly quest for transcendence and salvation.'  
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Reese, William L, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion: Eastern and Western Thought, Humanities Press/Harvester Press 1996 'The present volume ... has many encyclopedic features, including analyses of the thought of all major philosophers and religious leaders. ... One of the key features of the volume is the extent of its cross references. ... The reader is thus encouraged to undertake his own explorations of the themes, movements and thinkers important in philosophy and religion.'  
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Reynolds, Vernon, and Ralph Tanner, The Social Ecology of Religion, Oxford University Press 1995 Jacket: 'No society exists in which religion does not play a significant part in the lives of ordinary people. Yet the functions of the world's diverse religions have never been fully described and analyzed, nor has the impact of adherence to those religions on the health and survival of the populations that practice them. . . . this extraordinary text reveals how religions in all parts of the world meet the needs of ordinary people and frequently play an important part in helping them to manage their affairs.' 
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Smart, Ninian, The World's Religions, Cambridge University Press 1992 Introduction: 'In undertaking a voyage into the world's religions, we should not define religion too narrowly. It is important for us to recognise secular ideologies as part of the story of human worldviews. ... Essentially this book is a history of ideas and practices that have moved human beings.'  
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Stove, Robert, Unsleeping Eye: A History of Secret Police And their Victims, Duffy & Snellgrove 2002 Publisher: 'The first history of secret police around the world. Many books have been written about spies, but few, about secret police. Robert Stove tells the story of Elizabeth I's Walsingham, Napoleon's Fouche, and the secret police chiefs of the Russian tsars, Lenin and Stalin, and Hitler. The book finishes with J Edgar Hoover. The interest lies in the strange personalities of these chiefs, who built their organisations and shaped them according to their own warped personalities. This book is distinguished, apart from its subject, by the fact that Stove (the son of Sydney university philosopher the late David Stove) is a witty and very fine writer.'back
Tawney, Richard Henry, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism: A Historical Study, Pelican 1998 Chapter 1: '[The subject of these lectures] is historical. It is the attitude of religious thought in England toward social organisation and economic issues in the period immediately preceding the Reformation and the two centuries which follow it.'  
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Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, The Phenomenon of Man, Collins 1965 Sir Julian Huxley, Introduction: 'We, mankind, contain the possibilities of the earth's immense future, and can realise more and more of them on condition that we increase our knowledge and our love. That, it seems to me, is the distillation of the Phenomenon of Man.'  
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Tracy, David, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism, Crossroad 1991 Preface: 'The major question this book addresses is a perplexing one. In a culture of pluralism must each religious tradition finally either dissolve in some lowest common denominator or accept a marginal existence as one interesting but purely private option? Neither alternative is acceptable to anyone seriously committed to the truth of any major religious tradition. The need is to form a new and inevitably complex theological strategy that will avoid privatism by articulating the genuine claims of religion to truth.' xi. 
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Links
Charles Taliaferro Philosophy of Religion (Standord Encyclopedia of Philosophy) 'Philosophy of religion is the philosophical examination of the central themes and concepts involved in religious traditions. It involves all the main areas of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics and value theory, the philosophy of language, philosophy of science, law, sociology, politics, history, and so on. Philosophy of religion also includes an investigation into the religious significance of historical events (e.g., the Holocaust) and general features of the cosmos (e.g., laws of nature, the emergence of conscious life, widespread testimony of religious significance, and so on).' back
Ed Pilkington Kentucky churchgoer tells of deep hurt after interracial mariage ban 'Stella Harville not welcome at Gulnare Freewill baptist church after ex-pastor votes to ban couples of different races' back
Jeremy Kelly Afghan woman freed from jail after agreeing to marry rapist 'President intervenes in case of 19-year-old woman who has spent two years in jail after reporting rape by a relative' back
Michael Brady & William Harms Evolutionary Epistemology (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) 'Evolutionary Epistemology is a naturalistic approach to epistemology, which emphasizes the importance of natural selection in two primary roles. In the first role, selection is the generator and maintainer of the reliability of our senses and cognitive mechanisms, as well as the “fit” between those mechanisms and the world. In the second role, trial and error learning and the evolution of scientific theories are construed as selection processes.' back
Tim Lewens Cultural Evolution (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) 'In the broadest terms, theories of evolution seek to explain why species are the ways they are. For many evolutionists, this means explaining the possession by species of characteristic adaptations. It also means explaining diversity within species. The general mark of modern theories of cultural evolution is their insistence on the significance of cultural inheritance—particularly various forms of learning from others—for both of these questions.' back

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