Did a ‘faith instinct’ help humankind survive?

The notion that we are hard-wired to have faith has gotten a lot of mileage the past few years.

It’s the melding of faith and science into one, big…something.

thumbs_headshotNYT science writer Nicholas Wade, who writes often on evolution, has a new book called The Faith Instinct that makes that case that natural selection — the bane of many people of faith — has actually fostered the religious impulse.

He’ll speak next Monday (Dec. 7) at St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Church in Briarcliff Manor. I have lauded the church’s speaker series many times.

Wade will speak at 7:30 p.m. Free and open to all. He replaces, by the way, Jonathan Alter, who will be rescheduled next year.

A description of the book from Wades’ website looks like this:


The Faith Instinct presents a novel approach to religion. It explores the evolutionary origins of religious behavior in early humans, and traces the cultural development of religion from its origins up until to the present day.

The book does not challenge the central belief of either atheists or people of faith, since it offers no opinion as to whether or not God exists. It’s about religious behavior and its value to the first human societies and their successors.

Based on evidence from anthropologists’ studies of religion, and new findings from genetics and archaeology, The Faith Instinct concludes that religious behavior was favored by natural selection because of the survival advantage it conferred on early human groups.

The religion of early peoples, who lived as hunters and gatherers, underwent a profound cultural transformation as the hunter gatherers formed the first settled societies. The form of religious observance shifted from all-night communal dances, to the spring and harvest festivals of early agricultural societies, to the forms of religion more familiar today. The Faith Instinct retraces the historical context in which Judaism, Christianity and Islam arose, and analyzes how religion has retained many of its ancient roles even in modern secular societies.