Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Religion and evolution are often percieved as the two very different sides to one issue. For years people have believed that they cannot both be religous and suscribe to evolution. However, religion and evolution are much more related than people might believe. So much so that some academics argue that religion is a direct result of evolution. Now this is a pretty significant and heavy statement. The irony in the idea that evolution has created a tendancy in our brain to create a sacred meaning that leads to our actual disbelief of what caused it is tremendous. Can this actually be possible?

This idea is discussed in Jonathen Haidt’s Ted Talk on Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence. Haidt explains how grouping ourselves can be beneficial to the individual by analyzing the tendancies of different beings and presenting the ideas of other academics. This talk inspires questions regarding the achievements that could be possible if people were not so worried about survival of the fittest in the singular sense but instead in the plural sense. This is a wonderful thought but clearly we cannot be too united. The emphasis placed on the individual is a very important aspect of progress, or so capatalists think. Imagine a world in which everyone worked for the better of the community or the motherland. Would the world then not be perfect? Well there arises some key issues. Namely, as Haidt explains free loaders would take more than their share of the benefits and the rest of the community would be left behind to perish (if you didnt catch the reference, motherland was supposed to provoke thought of Soviet Russia). But as you’ll see there is an easy fix to the free loader problem. So then what? Does that suggest that there’s a middle ground? Some sort of balance between looking for individual gain and trying to bring everyone in a group up through a joint effort. Is their indeed an evolutionary benefit that supports &group selection& or is it simply a mistake in our hardwiring that leads to humans associating themselves into groups for which they sacrifice individual improvement? These are the types of question that Haidt is looking to inspire in his audience of academics.

It is important to note that Haidt is a social psychologist speaking at a Ted conference where ideas are ment to be provocative and inspire contemplation. Throughout his career Haidt has focused on morality and its effect on real life topics such as politics. However, Haidt’s goals have been met with serious criticism. Sam Harris, a &new athiest& claims that Haidt’s ideas justify human sacrifice for the common good of a group and Social psychologist John Jost claims that Haidt &mocks th eliberal vision of a tolerant, pluralistic, civil society, but, ironically, this is precisely where he wants to end up.& So what is Haidt trying to do here? Innocently introduce an idea to his peers or try and persuade the world?

In honor of our current reading of Rewriting, I suggest that we view Haidt’s talk more as a written piece of work. Notice how he incorporates or works with the ideas of other and previous academics. Can his doing so be considered stealing their ideas or is he innocently presenting a new idea  and bouncing off of these previous theories? Notice how he structures his entire talk and his arguments. How does he break away from the 5 paragraph format? Does he use any of Joseph Harris’s techniques? Is it effective and persuasive?

Take all of these questions into consideration before watching the video and think of them as your mind is blown. I would suggest taking notes seeing as it is not as easy to look back in a video and you need to pay specific attention to his use of language. Enjoy……


*sorry I dont know why it is underlining a lot of the text


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8 Responses to Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

  1. There is another way in which religion and evolution are more closely linked than one might realize. If you look at the creation story, the 6 days in which God created the world could be representative of huge amounts of time. Each day representing a different stage in the evolution of the universe and life on earth. While I am not religious, It is very possible to see how someone could remain religious and believe that the early parts of the bible are trying to demonstrate a more scientific explanation. There is a progression from “let there be light” to the creation of earth, to plants, to fish, to mammals etc. Just a thought.

    • I’ve always wondered how one could truly believe in both. That is a very interesting thought and possibility. That would seem to work well for both parites. However, I was hoping to focus on the possibility discussed in the post. But a very interesting thought

    • gatorade15 says:

      I believe that most religious individuals would agree with the general order in which certain organisms came to be (as noted in the article we read in class; most people successfully placed major events in correct chronological order, just not by the correct magnitude). The time farm in which evolution places certain events is one of the things that bothers religious minded people, because the multi billion year timeline directly contradicts the bibles 10,000 something year timeline.
      To connect your post to the article, we can look at how the Bible itself would aid humans in becoming more prosperous. The Bible contains stories, and most of these stories present some situations in which humane, selfless, and morally correct actions prevail and bring happiness and success. This, I believe, is where religion, manifested in these biblical stories, helped humans prosper, and also is a point that Haidt is trying to make in his talk.

  2. glowcloud says:

    I would say you can absolutely see some of the techniques that Harris discusses, in particular the “coming to terms” method of incorporating quotes (in this case in the form of actual quotations as well as images and audio clips) to build his own argument. At the same time I do think there are occasions in which he introduces a quote but doesn’t totally explain why he has decided to use it.

    • I agree. I thought that his paraphrasing of Darwin’s work was more appropriate than say his quoting of Glen Gray. At times his quotations were simply used to describe something that he himself was not fully able to describe. Namely, Steven Bradley’s supposed encounter with jesus simply explained what Haidt could not. So for that reason I believe he was a little unoriginal

      • Haidt actually directly says that Gray “basically describes the staircase” in a passage. This seemed more like the use of other academics words that Harris made examples against. For Haidt was not describing his perception or the perception of Gray but simply using his words to describe transendance.

      • gatorade15 says:

        I agree with both vikingsfootball33 and glow cloud that Haidt does rely heavily on other academics to describe certain ideas that he himself didnt. However, I think that Haidt didn’t do this he lacked the ability to explain the ideas, but simply because it was more time efficient to use another individuals words and summarizations of ideas so that Haidt could move on to the topic his talk was about (stairway to self-transcendence). By doing this, he allows himself more time to talk about and elaborate on his own ideas about religion and spirituality as the driving force behind evolution. He also protects himself from not citing his sources and using the information as his own, and not doing that could have landed him in a lot of trouble.

  3. gatorade15 says:

    Thank you for the very interesting video Vikingsfootball33, it was great to watch. I feel that this particular video and the ideas contained can bring an entire new light on our class discussions regarding evolution. Most people tend to think that religious ideas have no place in evolution based discussions, however Haidt turns this idea completely on its head. In our first discussion religion was even pinned as one of the reasons people oppose evolution. When Haidt described how religious ideals may very well be a product of group based natural selection, I was pretty shocked. But it makes sense if you think about it. He explains that a group of individuals working to together for the greater good of the group will actually thrive and prosper while the selfish “taking” individuals will eventually be driven away by the powerful group. Religion, or spiritual beliefs, brought humans together by creating entities or ideas that each member of the group loved and believed in. These people then became less self minded and more group minded. By working together in this group, individuals actually increase their chances of survival by augmenting their total strength and resources. Group workers could drive away selfish individuals by using their strength in numbers. So religion could potentially be the reason that humans evolved to be the intelligent, powerful, [mostly] selfless creatures today. This leads us to another question though. If religion was potentially the force that brought people together as a group, why, today, are some religious groups pinned as destructive and detrimental to everyone around them?

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