Monday, September 05, 2016


It's often said by religious people (of differing strokes) that one of the "evidences" of God in our Universe is that Humans tend to be altruistic and that this wouldn't be so if they had come about via natural selection (survival of the fittest etc.) This claim is wrong on many counts, not least of which because it betrays a lack of understanding of what natural selection is actually selecting for (i.e. populations of genes and not individuals) but also falls foul of confirmation bias in the sense that the people who say it always assume that because altruism is "good" that it must therefore be associated with their particular God (i.e. what about cancer?)

Last year, a study done by the University of Chicago set out to establish whether or not having a religious upbringing made children more or less altruistic. Putting aside the obvious errors in the argument above, you would have thought that if the claims of religion are actually true then religiously inspired children should be more altruistic than their non-religious peers, interestingly the study found the opposite. A religious upbringing appears to be associated with less altruism than a non-religious one. Children of religious parents were less likely to share and had a higher propensity for punitive responses and to judge.

I've never really thought about this before, it's interesting to think that there may be a correlation between certain cultural practises and how we treat other people, previously I've always assumed that good people are going to do good things and bad people are going to do bad things. But, as Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg adds to this sentence, "but for good people to do evil things, that takes religion", he may well now have some proper evidence to support this claim.

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