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God. A Question of Adaptation

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Message Carter stroud

Atheism versus religion has become topical of late. Celebrated intellectuals engage in verbal fisticuffs over the existence or nonexistence of God. I find the contest a fool's errand. Arguing over the existence of a literal God ignores questions about the God that cannot be denied, how that myth should function. God, as a concept, evolved as a universal artifact in virtually every society. To deny the concept denies history as well as some fundamental human need. "God" addresses mysteries and ineffable questions that the intellect cannot fathom through means other than art. As such, it plays a vital part in the strategies people use to adapt. When it produces the epiphany of brotherhood, it serves the interests of survival.

Given the uncertainties surrounding concepts not supported by reproducible facts, constructs based on "God" easily become a playground for charlatans. A priesthood that uses literalism to turn blind faith into fact for its own purposes exploits believers. Theology becomes fantasy turned to the service of an elite. A science that denies mysteries and the ineffable may function as another priesthood. The fact that God mythologies have been used to justify the vilest behavior does not negate the need for a universal belief system. The ideas that reside in the nervous system may have no mass but they carry the burden of civilization.

Arguments for or against God are not likely to change anyone's mind. Neither side adds ideas useful to survival. I see natural selection as the means of reconciling the conflict. The concept of God evolved as a means of adapting to a problem that plagued humanity throughout history--tribalism. The construct of a common father enlarged the scope of the tribe. The tribes grew bigger and stronger through religion and nationalism. Unfortunately, so did problems when those groups sought hegemony.

Rather than deny God or deify dogma, we should be assessing which beliefs will serve survival. Does our chosen God help or hinder our adaptation to reality? This may be seen as the religion of Darwin. What happens on the ground matters, not dogma. Murder remains murder even if you say your god approves it. Natural selection may not take sides but it is not neutral. That algorithm favors efficient use of energy, which requires a set of values that make the best use of resources and of individual skills that follow from divisions of labor based on merit.

Many of our failures and misunderstandings occur, in part, as a consequence of natural selection's failure. I term the failure Natural Selection's Paradox: Natural selection does not distinguish short-term from long-term adaptations in the short term. The success of short-term adaptations can use up the resources needed for long-term survival. The failure is so obvious and so simple that it has eluded science. Survival requires a long-term ethic, a God that addresses the failure of natural selection and does not leave us at the mercy of the paradox.

The obvious consequence of the paradox manifests itself through adaptations to the wrong thing, such as energy-wasting technology that destroys the environment that our genes require. Our genes define the limits of our ability to adapt.

Another consequence of the paradox I term the outlaw gene: the exploitation of other peoples' labor. One can acquire energy in two ways. We can use divisions of labor based on merit where all share in the product or we can steal other peoples' labor. The permutations run from equality to slavery and in simpler times spawned tribalism. The methods of obtaining energy from others run from brute force to deception. Class stigmatization provides the most efficient means of socializing people to their status in the food chain. Survival of one tribe may justify exploitation of other tribes. The tribal dynamic runs from ancient associations and races to modernity's money tribe.

"God" as the answer to the self-destructive consequences of tribalism and the outlaw gene only functions through the application of a transcendent value. Belief in a literal God has not succeeded. Only "survival of the species' as a first principle will serve. Only that time frame and the breadth of empathy embraced by this value can bring peace to the global community. Survival of the species also provides the basis for addressing adaptations to the wrong thing.

Richard Dawkins observed in The Selfish Gene that genes must reproduce themselves, and therefore carry on a war to beat the competition. Mark Ridley observed in The Cooperative Gene that divisions of labor often provide the most efficient way to acquire energy. Cooperation requires a social contract, which depends upon the genetic dispositions Matt Ridley observed in The Origins of Virtue. I observe through the concept of the outlaw gene that the short-term efficiency of stealing other people's labor may turn off the cooperative gene cluster and its instincts. [1] "God' only has value if He speaks to us as a brotherhood that seeks survival of all generations. If we borrow from the future, we mortgage our children to a world without resources. We can commit no greater sin under the genetic imperative observed by Dawkins.

To keep the faith, humanity must believe that we can survive without making other people and the earth pay the price. We are what we adapt to. If we continue to adapt to our own artifacts, like money, instead of the environment that designed our genes, we will create an environment to which we can no longer adapt.

[1] For a complete discussion of these and related matters read my book, Natural Selection's Paradox: The Outlaw Gene, the Religion of Money, and the Origin of Evil, and my blog,

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I practiced law for 30 years as a city attorney. I taught elementary school before that. I became concerned with the many adaptations to our environment that I could not believe could be sustained. How could so many rational people adopt clearly (more...)
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