Monday, May 14, 2007

Manufacturing belief

Manufacturing belief | Salon Books: "Wolpert is an eminent developmental biologist at University College London. Like fellow British scientist Richard Dawkins, he's an outspoken atheist with a knack for saying outrageous things. Unlike Dawkins, Wolpert has no desire to abolish religion. In fact, he thinks religious belief can provide great comfort and points to medical studies showing that the faithful tend to suffer less stress and anxiety than nonbelievers. In Wolpert's view, religion has given believers an evolutionary advantage, even though it's based on a grand illusion.

He has a theory for why religion first took root. He thinks human brains evolved to become 'belief engines.' Once our ancient ancestors understood cause and effect, they figured out how to manipulate the natural world. In essence, toolmaking made us human. Similarly, early hominids felt compelled to find causes for life's great mysteries, including illness and death. They came to believe in unseen gods and spirits.

Wolpert sees human incredulity all around him -- not just religious faith but all sorts of modern superstitions. His book targets astrology, psychics, homeopathy and acupuncture. Wolpert has participated in public debates with maverick scientist Rupert Sheldrake about telepathy and other paranormal experiences. He dismisses Sheldrake's theory -- that 'morphic fields' can transmit thoughts through space and time -- as nonsense."


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