Evolution and religion

February 10th, 2009  |  by  |  Published in Research News  |  3 Comments

David Panisnick

David Panisnick

As scientists celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, David Panisnick once again revisits the creation/evolution debate and considers the evolutionary origins of religion.

The Honolulu Community College professor teaches a religion course on creation and evolution every spring at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. The course also examines the biological origins of mysticism and enlightenment, morality and guilt, sacrifice, hierarchy and purity rituals.

The notion that the Bible is God’s literal word is a modern American idea stemming from the 1920s, he says. Europeans have no trouble reconciling Christianity and evolution. Nor do Catholics, who teach that the Bible is allegorical.

Panisnick’s students review the 1987 Supreme Court ruling that creationism is not science, that it is religion and thus has no place in the science classroom. “In court, science always wins,” he says. “The last version of creationism, intelligent design, seems to be starting to fade. I don’t know if anything will take its place.”

The course considers how Christians have responded to Darwin over time, but Panisnick’s favorite part comes when he flips the question and applies Darwinian principles to religion.

“Religion is 60,000 to 100,000 years old. Applying Darwin’s law of natural selection, if certain beliefs last thousands of years, they must confer some kind of advantage to the people who have them,” he proposes.

Whether it’s Christian faith in an all-knowing god or Confucian belief in the presence of ancestral spirits, the sense that someone is watching can affect behaviors in ways that contribute to keeping a community together, he explains. Kosher dietary laws make perfect sense in a world without refrigeration. Even religious intolerance can afford protection—a little xenophobia might have protected Native Americans from diseases introduced by westerners to disastrous effect.

The question for modern theologians (and policy makers) is whether tenets that proved advantageous 3,000 years ago still apply today. That’s why Panisnick encourages students to consider a double major combining religion and biology.

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  1. Kam says:

    March 11th, 2009at 10:36 am(#)

    Evolution is not a fact it is just a theory. Nothing supports it, God created the universe. We did NOT evolve from monkeys. First of all if we did then how come there are still monkeys? If evolution were true then the monkeys would have to evolve into humans but they have not. Second, the fossil record does not support evolution because there is no missing link. Evolution is garbage and it leads to corruption just look at hitler as an example. Hitler beleived in evolution and killed so many people because he believed he was speeding up the process of natural selection. It is sad seeing how many people believe in evolution. There is no way that animals are humans could have evolved. Look at an animal or plant cell. They are so intricate that there is no way that by chance they just formed. The chances of evolution occur is 0%. The theory of evolution is like taking all the pieces of a watch and putting them in a book and shaking the book up and having a watch form with all the pieces perfectly in place. IT CAN’T BE DONE! God created the earth, and he is our Savior! :)

  2. Eugene Gauggel says:

    March 12th, 2009at 5:40 am(#)

    The Hindus and Buddhists accept reincarnation as a theory about how we evolve. When we die to one life form we come back into another one according to our merits and demerits. Hopefully, we will gain more merits than demerits, and thus rise to higher life forms. A poem by Rumi says,
    “I lived as a mineral for thousands of years then died and became a plant.
    I lived as a plant for thousands of years then died and became an animal.
    After thousands of years as an animal I died and became a human being.
    Tell me, What have I ever lost by dying?
    The next time I die I shall soar among the angels and
    When I die to the angelic realm,
    where I’ll go you cannot even imagine.”
    O ka maluhia no me oe: My peace be unto you

  3. g. black says:

    May 9th, 2009at 11:43 am(#)

    One of the proofs that there is a Real Devil, is the fact that people still believe that ridiculous evolutionary fairy tale in this enlightened and scientific age. people who know not God are Truly Blinded by Satan.