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Religion is impeding our cognitive development

An article in today’s Guardian wonders if, with the accession of the UK’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May, the Conservative Party might be “doing God” again. The writer ponders on the sort of God this may be, suggesting that recent shifts in government policy may reflect an evolution in the culture beyond getting fussed about people’s sexual behaviour, focusing more on issues of social justice. The article does not comment on the possibility that some, or possibly all, of these issues might articulate an effectively moral direction without any assistance from scripture.

Humanity is maturing, leaving the Bible behind with its atavistic obsession with controlling promiscuity (“Is God a silverback?”, indeed). The quiet determinations of science continue to reveal wonders in creation beyond the imaginings of our comparatively ignorant ancestors of two millennia ago, although there is no shortage of efforts to reverse engineer those imaginings for the amazement of the gullible. Witness the consternation of America’s Bill Nye (the “Science Guy”) when he recently visited a recreation of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky. It seems that the price of progress is still vigilance.

Back in the evolving world, we are about to witness a quantum enhancement in human intelligence that may exceed in its impact what the evolution of vision appears to have accomplished in the Cambrian explosion of 545 million years ago, according to this Financial Times feature on a stunning new exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum.

It is hard to see what formally organised religion might contribute to all of this going forward. It will not be enough to maintain a charade that a focus on good works, social justice and community cohesion is sufficient when any of those activities could as easily be pursued for their own sakes. What is more troubling is the potentially retardant effect of embracing the cognitive dissonance that comes with cherry-picking what is estimable from holy texts while accommodating in the darker recesses of our minds the egregious bits of a belief system that, to put it mildly, has outlasted its credibility.

What sort of brain do we wish to bequeath to our generations to come? If there is to be a new Cambrian-style explosion in what the human brain can do, it will not be aided by clinging on to the intellectually untenable while denying the means by which we may grasp new ways of knowing, and thinking, and becoming.

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