Saturday, January 30, 2010

Is religion merely the product of evolution?

Today's Deseret News carries an article (pages E1 and E3) about a new science book. Written by a New York Times science writer, the book asserts that religion is a product of evolution. Nicholas Wade titles his book "The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures." Amazon.com offers this insightful review from Publishers Weekly:

"Longtime New York Times science reporter Wade deftly explores the evolutionary basis of religion. He draws on archeology, social science and natural science as he vigorously shows that the instinct for religious behavior is an evolved part of human nature because, like other human social traits that have evolved over many thousands of years, the practice of religion conferred a decided survival advantage to those who practiced it. Natural selection operates according to principles of survival and reproduction of offspring with heritable traits. Many of the social aspects of religious behavior offer advantages—such as internal cohesion—that lead to a society's members having more surviving children. More importantly, since religions have evolved as their societies have developed, is it possible, Wade asks, for religions to be reworked so that as many people as possible can exercise their innate religious instincts to their own and society's benefits? Sure to be controversial for its reduction of religion to a product of natural selection, Wade's study compels us to reconsider the role of evolution in shaping even our most sacred human creations."

In the Deseret News article, we learn about a "God gene" that is a product of evolution. Mr. Wade believes "faith has a source — not God, but rather a 'God gene' in our physical makeup [and] the gods (assuming they exist) simply enforce what the 'God gene' demands."

According to Wade, "the actual existence or nonexistence of God is beside the point. We are powerless to resist the tug of faith because it is part of our genetic makeup."

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Julie M. Smith cringes at the Constitution being "inspired"

Over at Times and Seasons last week, Julie M. Smith said: "I cringe every time a Mormon brings up the notion that the Founding Fathers were inspired." Likewise the phrase, "the Constitution is inspired." And while she can't explain "exactly in what sense the Founders and/or the Constitution ... are/are not inspired," she says "the usual LDS reading makes my neck tense up."

I have a couple of questions for Julie. First, have you seen the 1991 book, Latter-day Prophets and the United States Constitution, published by the BYU Religious Studies Center? The LDS viewpoint you scorn may have its roots in one or more of several dozen statements quoted in that book from a dozen Latter-day Prophets who all insist that the Constitution is "inspired."

Not flawless, "inspired." For instance, in all of my 40 years as a married member of the Church, I've never once heard a fellow Mormon claim that slavery or the right to vote should have remained as they were in 1787 because the Constitution is inspired. Not once.

Then there is the 1992 article, "The Divinely Inspired Constitution," written by a former BYU President and Utah Supreme Court justice who is currently an LDS apostle. Elder Dallin H. Oaks sees inspiration in what he calls "five great fundamentals" of the Constitution, the fifth of these being:

"The rule of law and not of men. Further, there is divine inspiration in the fundamental underlying premise of this whole constitutional order. All the blessings enjoyed under the United States Constitution are dependent upon the rule of law. That is why President J. Reuben Clark said, 'Our allegiance run[s] to the Constitution and to the principles which it embodies, and not to individuals.' The rule of law is the basis of liberty."

President Ezra Taft Benson has also quoted President Clark on this point:

"God provided that in this land of liberty, our political allegiance shall run not to individuals, that is, to government officials, no matter how great or how small they may be. Under His plan our allegiance and the only allegiance we owe as citizens or denizens of the United States, runs to our inspired Constitution which God himself set up. So runs the oath of office of those who participate in government. A certain loyalty we do owe to the office which a man holds, but even here we owe just by reason of our citizenship, no loyalty to the man himself." (Ensign, July 1972, p.59.)

"No loyalty to the man himself."

When we LDS say the Constitution is inspired, we are NOT demanding loyalty to any political leader. Cringing won't change it, the Constitution is inspired. I like how President Ezra Taft Benson put it during the bicentennial of the Constitution:

"I reverence the Constitution of the United States as a sacred document. To me its words are akin to the revelations of God, for God has placed His stamp of approval on the Constitution of this land." (Ensign, Sept. 1987, p.11.)

I do hope the tenseness in your neck gets better.

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