In “Have We Evolved to Be Religious?” (Time , March 27, 2012), Jonathan Haidt opines,
I believe it’s because there was a long period in human evolution during which it was adaptive to lose the self and merge with others. It wasn’t adaptive for individuals to do so, but it was adaptive for groups. As evolutionary biologists David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson have proposed, religiosity is a biological adaptation for binding groups together and helping them enter a mind-set of “one for all, all for one.” Groups that developed emotionally intense, binding religions were able, in the long run, to outcompete and outlast groups that were not so tightly bound.
So that’s it, is it? Religion evolved to do what a good coach can do. And it didn’t stop there because … self-transcendence, it turns out, helps too.
Is there any evidence for the existence of this “long period in human evolution during which it was adaptive to lose the self and merge with others”? As opposed to the normal state of affairs in which one must learn to live and work peacefully with others, whatever one’s state of mind? The evidence is that Haidt believes it is so.
The mystic’s sense of the oneness of all things is demonstrably irrelevant to the advancement of a group. For that matter, the shaman’s sense of awe at unseen powers is an apprehension, not an adaptation, and it may or may not benefit the group.
None of which would matter in the slightest except for the conceit that Haidt’s is somehow a view from science. This is a loss science need not take.
Except for one thing: To the extent that science is merely naturalism (nature is all there is), any faith statement or speculation is acceptable except the view that the mystic or religious person may be in contact with a reality beyond time and space. Irrespective of evidence from his life. In fact, the evolutionary psychology approach to religion exists for no other purpose than to come up with a flurry of contradictory alternatives.
One way you can tell: What you won’t ever see there is a thesis on how man evolved to be capable of a revelation of the divine. All the knives would be out against that one. And that explains why the pseudo-discipline can never really become a discipline: There are possibilities it simply cannot engage with, and its purpose is to explain them away.
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