with Richard Dawkins, the provocative Wolpert is one of Britain's best
known atheists explainers of science. An eminent developmental
biologist at University College London, he believes it is "ethically
unacceptable and impractical to censor any aspect of trying to
understand the nature of our world."
Wolpert penned a book-length meditation on "the evolutionary origins of belief," published as Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Having pondered the subject, Wolpert sees no reason to modify his
reductionist, materialist, atheist view of the universe. Deconstructing
the belief engine will usefully explain how humans are different from
other animals. "I believe that religious beliefs are at least partly
genetically determined. How else can you explain the fact that there's
no society ever discovered that didn't have some sort of religious
"What makes us human," Wolpert explains, "is causal beliefs. What
makes us different from other animals is that we have a concept of
cause and effect in the physical world."
Wolpert believes that what made us human is technology: "It can be
summed up in Kenneth Oakley's definition, 50 years ago, that 'man may
be distinguished as the tool-making primate'." Once our ancient human
ancestors figured out how to manipulate the natural world. Toolmaking
made us human. Early hominids understood cause and effect and came to
believe in unseen gods and spirits as causes for life's great
mysteries, including illness and death.
But how does that get us to God? In an interview last year Wolpert
said "It was the mental concept of cause and effect which was critical.
Once you had that concept which enabled you to manufacture complex
tools, you then wanted to understand other things as well - why we got
ill, what happened when we died, why the sun shone or disappeared.
Those, too, must have causes. And that's the origin of belief."
Posted by Casey Kazan.
Related Galaxy Posts:
The Biology of Awe
Neurotheology -Is God Hardwired in the Human Brain?
Richard Dawkins, Darwin, & the Big Questions