Case Studies in Earth & Environmental Science Journalism

Did evolution contribute to the human tendence towards religion?

Questions to Ponder and Discuss


Background information:

Charles Darwin, (originally published 1859). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, ed. Joseph Carroll. Broadview Press, Toronto, 2003, excerpt.

Charles Darwin (originally published 1874). The Descent of Man. Prometheus Books, New York, 1998, excerpt.

Richard Dawkins, 1989. “Why are people?” and “Memes: the new replicators” from The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Daniel Dennett, 1995. “Is Nothing Sacred?” from Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. Simon & Schuster, New York.

Daniel Dennett, 2006. “The births of religions” from Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Viking, New York.

James W. Dow, 2005. “The Evolution of Religion: Three Anthropological Approaches,” abstract and summary, Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, 18(1):67-91.

Scientific & Technical Information.

Scott Atran and Ara Morenzayan, 2004. “Religion’s evolutionary landscape: Counterintuition, commitment, compassion, communion,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27:713-730 (without peer commentary).

Pascal Boyer, 2003. “Religious thought and behaviour as by-products of brain function,” TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences 7(3):119-124.

Ernst Fehr and Simon Gächter, 2002. Altruistic punishment in humans. Nature 415:137-140.

Andrew B. Newberg and Bruce Y. Lee, 2005. “The Neuroscientific Study of Religious and Spiritual Phenomena: Or Why God Doesn’t Use Biostatistics,” Zygon 40(2):469-489.

David Sloan Wilson, 1975. “A Theory of Group Selection,” PNAS 72(1):143-146.

Popular Articles.

James Gleick, November 20, 1983. “Breaking Tradition with Darwin,” The New York Times.

Ben Cullen, 1998. “Parasite Ecology and the Evolution of Religion,” from The Evolution of Complexity ed. Heylighen, Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht.

Martin Gardner, July-August, 1999. “The religious views of Stephen Gould and Charles Darwin – Special Issue: Science and Religion: Conflict or Conciliation?” Skeptical Inquirer.

Frans B.M. de Waal, July-August, 2002. “‘The whole Mass a Paradice”: is religion an adaptation that enables groups to function as single units?” Natural History.

Natalie Angier, December 24, 2002. “A Conservation with David Sloan Wilson; The Origin of Religions, From a Distinctly Darwinian View,” The New York Times.

Pascal Boyer, March, 2003. “Why Is Religion Natural?” Skeptical Inquirer.

Steven Pinker, October 29, 2004. “The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion,” presented at the annual meeting of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Interview with Paul Bloom, November 22, 2005. “Wired for Creationism?” The Atlantic Monthly’s Atlantic Unbound.

Paul Bloom, December 2005. “Is God an Accident?” The Atlantic Monthly.

Edward O. Wilson, January 15, 2006. “Let’s accept the fault line between faith and science,” USA TODAY.

Leon Wieseltier, February 19, 2006. “The God Genome,” a review of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel C. Dennett, The New York Times Books.

Michael Shermer, September 18, 2006. “Darwin on the Right: Why Christians and conservatives should accept evolution,” Scientific American.

Steve Paulson, January 31, 2007. “God and gorillas,”

Robin Marantz Henig, March 4, 2007. “Darwin’s God,” The New York Times.

Sean Aqui, March 7, 2007. “The Evolution of Religion,” Culture.

Nicholas Wade, March 20, 2007. “Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior,” New York Times.

Terry Gross, March 28, 2007. “Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and author of ‘The God Delusion,’ on his atheism, creationism vs. evolutionary biology, and the logical unnecessity of a sentient God,” FRESH AIR NPR WHYY.

William Saletan, April 1, 2007. “Morality: All in Your Mind,” Washington Post.

Article from Interviewee

Robert E. Pollack, 2006. Question #3 from “The Religious Obligation to Ask Questions of Nature and the State: Bonhoeffer on the Protection and Dignity of Human Life, in the Context of DNA-based Genetic Medicine Today,” Tenth Dietrich Bonhoeffer Symposium, Berlin, April 30, 2005. Union Seminary Quarterly Report, 60.

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