« Life In Outer Space Fantasies | Main | Understanding The Anthropocene »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Dave said, "But to believe that humans are ignoring scientific warnings about Earth's future because religious faith is dragging us down is ridiculous."

I agree. Believing that proposition is along the same lines of absurdity as accepting the economist's explanation I heard a short while ago: Americans are shopping less, eating out less, etc., because of worries about the upcoming election. Even my Flatlander brother had to laugh at that.

After reading the "Philosophical Pessimist" post and comments, I looked up Zapffe's "The Last Messiah" and appreciated his take on religion: "The human yearning is not merely marked by a ‘striving toward’, but equally by an ‘escape from.’ And if we use the word in a religious sense, only the latter description fits. For here, none has yet been clear about what he is longing for, but one has always a heartfelt awareness of what one is longing away from, namely the earthly vale of tears, one’s own inendurable condition. If awareness of this predicament is the deepest stratum of the soul, as argued above, then it is also understandable why the religious yearning is felt and experienced as fundamental. By contrast, the hope that it forms a divine criterion, which harbours a promise of its own fulfilment, is placed in a truly melancholy light by these considerations."


I'm new here and look forward to reading more, Dave. And I'll check out Mitch Diamond's work too...love the phrase "During the fall from unconscious frog-like grace..."


I’d have to say I'm mixed on this one. Even though E. O. Wilson's suggestion that humans should rise above religious belief is just plain stupid (we can't, won't, and spend five minutes in a country church for a quick lesson), and despite his blaming human failures solely on religion (also ridiculous), he's touching on an aspect of religious belief that I think is being overlooked here – specifically, the social aspects of religion.

A primary function of any religion is to bind members of a social group together. Diamond seems to me to be looking at the individual’s perspective, and I think there is definitely validity there, but I worry it might be too introverted in nature. An introvert is used to seeing the world from within the confines of their consciousness, but extroverts work more fluently within group beliefs – their consciousness adapts more readily and comfortably within social structures. Groups come together and hash out belief systems, then those systems become a litmus test for acceptance and status within the group.

There are a lot of people who believe something just because that’s what their tribe believes, and that extends in deep ways to religious belief. I'm not sure conscious anxiety is even a prime motivator in many cases over the social one. Does Diamond's theory account for this?

Climate change is rejected by many fundamentalist Christians because a stance on the issue has been added to the accepted belief system of that group. Taking a stand against that belief risks rejection from the group, and this is unacceptable to many on an unconscious level individually and within the group socially. Wilson has a point, therefore, but his implying that religion is the sole cause of rejection of the science is wrong. In fact, there are many different ways various groups, and not just overtly religious ones, have added the climate issue to their own tribal dogma.

I'd agree that individuals seek religious answers in grappling with issues caused by consciousness. NOT having conscious answers to very scary daily concerns do cause one to search for comforting answers. As a species, I think we HAVE to have beliefs based on faith, and it doesn't have to fit within the definitions of established religions to qualify as faith. We all have to put our faith in something. We'd go mad otherwise.

One added feature of religions. We seek to gain control over issues where we specifically lack it – disease and rain, for instance. Religion eases conscious anxiety by creating methods to address it.


Another simpler perspective on religion goes like this-

Humans evolved higher intelligence in terms of being aware of the vast complexity and array of forces in their known universe.

With this relatively higher intelligence, humans were able to appreciate these real world events, particularly natural events such as clouds, waves, lightning, volcanoes etc, but were unable to understand them.

Humans could see that some other humans had greater powers of cognition and interpretation. Or appeared to have such qualities. These qualities were interpreted as evidence that some humans were hybrids who had a foot in heaven and a foot on earth ie Jesus. So they were able to have intimate knowledge of the creator as well as understandings of human events as well.

Established religion built up around certain charismatic individuals ie Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed etc as a way that humans could find a personal connection and comfort with these human god-heads.

And so this process went on in an un-scientific world up until and into the current age of science. Here were the answers that confused and ignorant humans could finally use to gain some understanding of these external phenomenon. But religious humans were often not comfortable with the answers of cold logic and science- they wanted a personal connection.

Now we have these mass religions that have not receded with the age of reason(?). Theses religions still connect the universal truths with the PERSONALITY of these charismatic individuals from the past ie Jesus. They still push a cult of human personality as the key to the the reality of the universe. This human image that comes to mind when religious believers contemplate reality is very comforting and provides all kinds of psychological crutches for lost individuals. But it is false superstition from the past.

So now when most humans think of the creator of the universe- they see and accept a human face.

Probably total BS but whatever.



I think on the individual level this process of consciousness suppression that stems from the compensating mechanisms of religious behavior works in tandem with social harmonizing on the group level. Since the concept of self, with all of its associated beliefs and behaviors, appears to be directly influenced by the beliefs and behaviors of one's social group on an unconscious level, the compensating mechanisms that are manifested from religious behavior on the individual level would constantly interact, be influenced by, and ultimately reinforce group level compensating mechanisms which then take the form of normative religious behavior for the entire group.

So in essence, the constant need to compensate for consciousness through religious behavior on the individual level manifests into group level religious behavior as humans interact within the group. At least that is my preliminary take on it, I need to read Diamond's book to get more context.

Mitchell Diamond


In addition to Dan's comments, I would look at The Bonobo and the Atheist by Frans de Waal as well as his Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved. de Waal shows how morality, a primary mechanism for modulating social behavior, evolved long before humans, and we inherited those features from our primate predecessors. It's true that religion improves social cohesion, but if primates and 1000s of other social species already had adequate, working social cohesion mechanisms, why did humans need religion for this purpose? There's a more rudimentary explanation necessary that integrates social cohesion, anxiety reduction, and all the other reasons given for religion, and it has to start with individual cognition. It's in the brain.


Fascinating stuff! The need to zone feels like weakness but not a day goes by without my succumbing to it.

I had put it down to being fatigued by reading about all the bad stuff going down in the world or sometimes just being physically tired, but maybe it "is" (italics) my incessantly chattering (un)conciousness that I seek to hide from through drink, or exercise, or a film (pick your poison), for example.

Religion has never really tugged at me but the insight in this piece reveals to me why it might be, as someone once said, the opiate of the masses.


@Mitchell Diamond: would it be too much to provide a short synopsis of your hypothesis here? If you're worried about undercutting book sales, okay, but it might also help give others greater reason to buy the book. And congratulations and kudos on writing it! I read Dave's link to your site. I'm almost there on grasping your main points, but the link reads more as introduction than synopsis. Thanks again.

@Dan: all great points. Thanks as well.


@Mitchell Diamond: well, duh, I could have clicked on this via Dave's link:

But, if you have anything else to say, I'd love to hear it, and I'm sure others here would, too. Thanks again. (The link to buy the book is also there under the 'Home' link.)

Mitchell Diamond

This is the link to the first chapter of Darwin's Apple. It gives a full overview/synopsis. Thanks for your interest!


@Mitchell Diamond

Look forward to purchasing and reading your book. In regards to self publishing, was this due to the fact that most publishers would not touch the content of your work because it seemed "too gloomy?" I know publishers generally look for hopeful conclusions (obligatory hope) even from works that tend to be, in their minds, depressing. This brings to mind a post by George Mobus over on his blog Question Everything a couple of months back about his work in systems science. He apparently has already completed work on a book looking at the human psyche. In his words:

One of the most critical subsystems of the HSS (human social system) is, of course, the biological (and psychological) human subsystem. We are just one subsystem integrated into our cultural cocoons. This one I have already made a stab at. My whole series on the topic of “sapience”, and the subsequent book that I have completed were an effort to analyze the human psyche in an effort to discover why we consistently fail to learn from prior experiences and fail to make good judgments in our endeavors to flourish (e.g. global warming as a result of our persistent demand for power). If you have read any of that work you know that my conclusion was fairly discouraging. I have not yet decided what to do with the book. I have shopped around for a publisher but most responses include comments about how gloomy the conclusion is — where is the hopeful message at the end? Moreover, it might be that it more properly fits into a deeper analysis of the biological human subsystem, that is I should hold it back until the context for it has been better established. I still ponder that idea.

Full post here:


I would love to see what he has written, but it looks like his only recourse is self publishing. I don't know the details involved in this process but it seems to me that besides owning the rights to your own work, it allows you to publish your work free of meddling from publishers who want something more hopeful.

For anyone who wants to take a closer work at George's work, I highly recommend his site:


A good start to some content would be his series on human sapience.


Mitchell Diamond


My inability to find a publisher is because I'm not a professor, science writer, or have any "standing" that otherwise qualifies me to pontificate about this difficult subject. I'm pretty sure publishers I sent it to gave Darwin's Apple a cursory glance at best, and from the bio that I'm asked to provide, they didn't see anything that would assist them in marketing the book. They weren't going to put any effort into something that they didn't see a profit in. You really can't blame them. It would be nice to think that they would evaluate the book based on its content, but that would require them to think deeply about what I propose. Not going to happen, or even if they were inclined to like it, they realize that the public will have a hard time embracing it for reasons you suggest. Not just that it doesn't have an optimistic approach, but it challenges people to think very differently about themselves in ways that aren't intuitive to them. You guys are easy marks ;-) because you're already predisposed to seeing the world differently. You read DOTE regularly. That's why I approached Dave in the first place. I anticipated a sympathetic ear, and you didn't disappoint. Of course, you are also smart enough to recognize when ideas are based on scientific fact regardless of implications. (Enough brown-nosing)

I anticipate that getting this into the zeitgiest will be a long, slow slog and may never actually happen in my lifetime. Consider this excerpt from the last chapter of Darwin's Apple.

The 1989 book by Professor of Psychiatry Sim Liddon titled The Dual Brain, Religion, and the Unconscious,

drew upon William James’ assertion that religion was an 'invasion' from the unconscious. He adduced that strong emotions caused a shift from reason and conscious awareness to feelings that arose from the unconscious. This is reflected in the brain’s two modes—the Gestalt or symbolic mode and the rational, thinking mode. Based on this dual brain model, Liddon realized that religion is the feeling of the spiritual and was expressed by means of the non-linear holistic brain. Religion, he said:

is experienced primarily as feeling, rather than as an element in a rational structure. The image is felt as it reflects its connotative feelings, and expresses in symbolic form the feeling aspect of one’s inner life. In such a case awareness lacks the assumptions of time, natural cause, and separateness of items in the world, which disrupts what we ordinarily experience as conscious awareness. As an “invasion” from the unconscious proceeds, the image within one’s focal awareness becomes primarily a symbol of feelings, and the influence of structured understanding recedes into the background.

Liddon’s approach was, like Jung, psychological, and it wasn’t his purview to draw a broader stroke by addressing religion and the dual brain from a biological or evolutionary perspective. Like most people, he gave precedence to consciousness as the primary driver rather than the unconscious being predominant and consciousness arising secondarily. He also lacked all the research that had accumulated since his book’s publication, although he did appreciate and include in his book the significance of Roger Sperry’s split-brain experiments, which helped establish much of his thesis. Nevertheless, he was on the right track and realized that consciousness receded under the force of religious emanation giving way to emotion.

My point is that Liddon was on target, and if people had paid attention, a cogent theory of religion might have been much farther along. But no one knows about Liddon's book or paid much attention to it (he passed away many years ago), and he was a professor. So I strive on and, if you find Darwin's Apple compelling, I urge you to spread the word.

Gail Zawacki

Mitch, are you familiar with Varki? How about Reg Morrison, http://regmorrison.edublogs.org/1999/07/20/plague-species-the-spirit-in-the-gene/

I wonder if you have thoughts about the way either of those two authors approached human evolution and our tendency towards faith/denial?


Mitchell Diamond

It's amazing how much writing is out there that I never found in my copious research, but Morrison and Varki are certainly relevant. From the quick synopses and reviews, I find Morrison strikingly aligned with Darwin's Apple. To wit, "Precisely what we believe is immaterial; what matters is the kind of behaviour that belief generates." Dave and I say essentially the same thing. Also, "the most genetically advantageous behavior usually lies far beyond the scope of instant rational computation...An automatic override device [what Darwin's Apple calls a compensating mechanism] that cuts off rational thought at a moment’s notice and draws directly from a reservoir of pretested genetic behavior." Morrison nails it.

I have more of a problem with Varki. His focus on the denial of our mortality is too narrowly focused and misses the wider scope. Maybe he talks about theory of mind arising from our heightened sense of self (and therefore non-self), but he apparently strayed from there (where he should have drawn his line in the sand). Thanks for posting about this!

The comments to this entry are closed.