E. O. Wilson, who is an important sociobiologist, has argued for a new order of enlightenment. He has said, “the mental processes of religious belief … represent programmed predispositions whose self-sufficient components were incorporated into the neural apparatus of the brain by thousands of generations of genetic evolution. As such, they are powerful, ineradicable, and at the center of human existence.” Wilson then suggests a way out: that scientific Humanism be modified to accommodate modern natural science. He believes that the energies now heating up those prayer meetings can be “shifted in new directions when scientific materialism is accepted as more powerful mythology… transition will proceed at a more accelerating pace. Man’s destiny is to know, if only because societies with knowledge culturally dominate societies that lack it.”
The sociobiologist’s argument runs something like this. Religions had survival value. There was a time in prehistory when belonging to a group offered more protection than not belonging. I suppose that those who stood up to be counted behind their leaders got the kind of preferential treatment that contributed to their survival, perhaps the distribution of meat, a better piece of land, or the benefits from the sacrifices of the altruistic few among them. Sociobiologists will tell us that there were special genes that determined the choices to belong to a group, and once those choices were made over the millennia, those genes increased in frequency. That is the reason why most persons today identify with one or another of the main religions. They carry more “church genes.”
To continue the argument, sociobiologists would say that knowing has greater survival value than faith alone. For example, what shaman could use insulin; where, in either of the Testaments, Korans, and the like, do we find the recipe for the smallpox vaccine, the cause for cholera, and the nature of electricity? Those who know are presumed to have the edge over those who do not know, and somehow, they will begin the long process of replacement of the “church genes” with the “unchurched” ones. I am convinced that such a replacement will be a long process. Those “church genes” must be very firmly implanted. Many humans would still rather believe than know despite the promise of eventual enlightenment. The scientific enlightenment that has changed the world has changed fewer minds: the belief in astrology and Ouija boards in predicting or controlling human destiny is stronger than ever; far too many rely on the portents of seances, the directives from biorhythms, yield to faith healers, snake oil, and the likes of Jeremy Rifkin. Many people simply do not trust scientists. They blame scientists for everything bad, from the spoiling of the environment to the Challenger and the Chernobyl catastrophes.
Nevertheless, there is still hope. Although w~ are fewer, we can make a difference in the way that the world will go, and an important aspect of our ability to sustain will come from the power to know and accept more about the realities of existence.