Monday, May 07, 2007


In today's Guardian, Madeleine Bunting addresses some of the questions that have emerged recently in the science/faith debate.

"The durability and near universality of religion is one of the most enduring conundrums of evolutionary thinking, one of Britain's most eminent evolutionary psychologists acknowledged to me recently. Scientists have argued that faith was a byproduct of our development of the imagination or a way of increasing the social bonding mechanisms. Does that make religion an important evolutionary step but now no longer needed - the equivalent of the appendix? Or a crucial part of the explanation for successful human evolution to date? Does religion still have an important role in human well being? In recent years, research has thrown up some remarkable benefits - the faithful live longer, recover from surgery quicker, are happier, less prone to mental illness and so the list goes on."

This is not in line with all available research by any means. A study of religiosity and happiness in 2000, using the Francis Scale and the Depression-Happiness Scale, found no significant correlation between the two measures.

But what if the opposite were the case? What if religious belief was shown to be associated with unhappiness, depression and ill-health? It might make an evolutionary explanation of religion more difficult, impossible even. But perhaps that's because faith is not about advantage or explanation. Christian faith embraces a way of the cross, a way of dying to self. It isn't supposed to 'work' or make you happy in the way that the latest therapy might. Nor does it explain the world in the way that many scientists propose.

Job, Jesus, and Simone Weil. Religious geniuses? Yes. Happy bunnies? I don't think so.

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