Evolution and Everything

Connor Wood wrote a piece titled Darwinism: It’s true. But it ain’t pretty, which I found via Leah at Unequally Yoked. In it, Wood suggests that evolution has left us with psychological drives that are inhumane, and that religion might be a useful corrective.

I’m not exactly sure how to react to much of it. Much of it is hung on the nail of evolutionary psychology. I’m not fit to pass judgement on the academic field, but what trickles out into the popular sphere has a low signal-to-crap ratio. Wood mentions that his exposure came as an undergrad. That makes sense, because he sounds like that friend everyone had in college who took two philosophy courses and suddenly understood everything. I’m hesitant to take him seriously.

This hesitation isn’t helped by some jumps he makes. Early on, he conflates evolutionary success with economic success. The fact that these are not the same should be obvious.

It doesn’t matter how many “large-screen televisions and other flashy toys” I have. If I don’t breed, I’m an evolutionary failure. I think the popularity of this this conflation – at least in America – comes from the Protestant work ethic. And that leads to a second problem.

Wood states that “Religion can offer a proud and defiant response to evolution,” but does it actually play out that way? There’s nothing magic about religion. It’s a human creation that is subject to the same drives and forces as the rest of human culture.

I think Wood has a heavily idealized view of the origins of religion. But even if we accept that Mohammad was the bold re-envisioner of human society that Wood makes him out to be, what has happened since then? Like the rest of our culture, religion has adapted to fit the needs of the people within it. And if Wood is right with his view of evolutionary psychology – (and to be clear, I don’t believe he is, and I’m not sure he believes it either) – then we should expect to see religion quickly come to serve those base drives that underlay human behavior.