Maclean’s interview: Lionel Tiger

Anthropologist Lionel Tiger on faith and sexual behaviour, why religion comforts us, and how churches act as ‘serotonin factories’

Macleans interview: Lionel Tiger

Photographs by Stephanie Noritz

Montreal-born anthropologist Lionel Tiger, 72, best known for coining the phrase “male bonding,” has long been interested in bridging the gap between the natural and social sciences. In his latest work, co-authored with psychiatrist Michael McGuire, Tiger enters into the new field known as the cognitive science of religion. In God’s Brain, Tiger and McGuire argue that religious practice “brainsoothes”—alleviates the sharp edges of the human experience—far more than any other human activity.

Q: What do you mean by God’s brain?
A: One has to assume that religion was the creation of something and it’s not the elbow, it’s not the knee, it’s the brain. Or that the brain is the vehicle. What we’ve asserted is that people who believe in God essentially believe in a process that’s in God’s ownership, that is to say the brain itself. Our principal concern was trying to understand why this very strange behavioural syndrome recurs so consistently in so many communities with such regularity, complexity, often ferocity, but usually elegance and warmth.

Q: That’s how you became interested?
A: I thought it was an immense scientific question, and I was not content with simply saying it’s tradition, it’s culture, or fall into the trap of saying—as Richard Dawkins and others have said—if you believe in religion you’re a moron. It’s a very simple question, actually, but it’s a huge issue, particularly since it had now become such a public discussion with Richard’s book and other atheist polemics, and I thought the public was being badly served by bad analysis. As it happens we now have a host of data about what the brain does, and Mike McGuire, my co-author, was the guy who figured out what serotonin did in the brain. After his work on serotonin, the neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety, it seemed clear that brain function was deeply connected to social structure.

Q: The ubiquity of belief in all human societies, you argue, means religion is rooted in our brains. You see it originating about 150,000 years ago when we were coming out of Africa, and were smart enough to contemplate death?
A: Yes, we had developed enough cortical tissue to anticipate a whole series of things about the future. The utterly astonishing one, the defining feature of religions, is the notion of an afterlife. It’s really hard to deny that this is an act of marketing genius, if you were to look at this in a cynical sense. Nobody likes to die. The idea of an afterlife, for you and for loved ones, is very attractive. It seems to me wholly improbable—what’s the evidence?—and yet it works, it just works. If you’ve got a very bad idea in your head—death—which is causing stress, and you can put another idea which is a very good one in its place, then the level of serotonin—which fights depression and anxiety and makes people feel good about themselves and others—begins to build. And you begin an organization to sustain that. Since five billion humans seem to accept that there is a heaven or reincarnation or something after death, then I have to say this is something that comforts the species.

Q: The three ways you argue that religion soothes people—socialization, ritual and belief—how do they interact with each other?
A: You can’t have belief without some sort of ritual providing regularity and reinforcement. And if you think about rituals, again they’re utterly remarkable. People gather on a Sunday and they’re told that they’re really awful, they are virtually doomed to hell, they’re sinners. However, if they perform this ritual again next week and if they accept its importance in their lives they will be saved, as it were, until next week. The Catholics have done it in a brilliant manner with the confessional, and it’s dazzling how that works. But the point is that it’s a place to go for the individual and for the group, and it unites the individual to the group in an agreeable, warm-hearted way, unlike, say, paying taxes.

Q: It’s clear how socialization works, and how ritual supports belief, but are you also saying that the nature of religious belief means it long outlasts secular imitations?
A: Yes, those fail—all of them so far. All of the great religions came into being during the transition from hunting-gathering to agriculture and pastoralism—hence “the Lord is my shepherd.” Later alternatives to a religious effort to deal with, to regularize, new crises, new ways of life—Marxism was one which basically failed because it had a very poor theory of human nature—couldn’t equal religious systems. There’s no good music, the buildings are office buildings like Queen’s Park, no answers to ultimate questions. There’s no glory to it. And so religion in the churchy sense has endured. Now the major national distinctions are not about economics but about religion. The Chinese may change that, although I know that they are very interested in finding a moral replacement for Communism. I was invited to a meeting in Beijing two years ago sponsored by the government which wanted to see if there was something else they could teach people in China other than to get rich or that Mao was a great leader. I think they’re still struggling with that.

Q: Despite the fact we are hierarchical animals, humans also have egalitarian impulses. You believe the religious variety—king and peasant bowing before the same God—has enormous appeal to us.
A: It has a profound effect on believers. When you go into a Catholic church, you’re a Catholic and nobody much questions—though they will subsequently if you want to marry their daughter—your equal importance in the eyes of God. And that’s a far more important feature of religion than we’ve ever estimated, partly because humans are so intensely hierarchical that we can’t even think of situations in which there isn’t a hierarchy. The idea of being equal before God doesn’t translate into human society. The Marxists said the state would wither away and there would be a community of equals, believers in Marxism if you will, but they couldn’t manage it because the party became an interest group and condemned the rest to poverty. The idea among humans of there not being a hierarchy is a very, very powerful one.

Q: You point to chimpanzee studies that show it’s not just humans that crave a decent social order.
A: We were very interested because it’s quite clear that the chimps, when things are quiet after breakfast, sit around and the dominant male, who normally tries to whip people into shape, is very quiet and just sits there and maybe people come up—“people,” forgive me, animals come up and groom him, and the kids play and the females interact with each other. It’s a time of social consolidation—everyone is part of the group. I was just at an Anglican service in the Caribbean. What was wonderful was the music because of course it had been Caribbeanized; the hymns had a beat and there were drums. And you could not help but feel enriched by it. Now, if you took it as a cognitive experience—and the sermon had all to do with veils and whatever—it was kind of incomprehensible, but what you did get was a sense of people hanging around, playing music for each other, being together, holding each others’ hands after the service was over. And unquestionably, if you were to do a brain assay—as Mike was able to do with chimps—as they left the church you’d see that they were thriving with serotonin, that there was no cortisol bothering them, things were good neurophysiologically, oxytocin was flowing, all the things that we now know are associated with pro-social, pro-survival activity.

Q: That’s why you call churches “serotonin factories.” You hint about possibly developing the brain equivalent of bodily exercise. Serotonin pills as a religion replacement?
A: I’m not sure we’ll ever learn to manage brain secretions in any manner, and it may be that we don’t want to, but at least we now know that the feeling of oceanic identification with others in an assembly—a church assembly or whenever—is not magical, it’s neurophysiological. We can identify the juices. I think that’s fantastic, actually. And Mike’s work on serotonin did generate Prozac and a whole array of medications.

Q: Despite increasing secularization, especially in the West, most people have not become flat-out rationalists. Do you think that for many environmentalism is a religion?
A: That’s absolutely right, and that’s interesting because it is finally the fruit of pantheism, a very, very old religious idea. For many people, not using more than four sheets of toilet paper is an act of moral purification.

Q: Perhaps the biggest conflicts between secularists and believers (and within faiths) arise from reproductive issues—abortion, stem cells, sexual behaviour. What lies behind religion’s profound interest in sex?
A: The deep sense of legitimate interference into sexuality that religions have reflects their rootedness in the basic biology of the species. That is to say—as we can see with some of these utterly daft politicians, or Tiger Woods, who think that sex is a sort of lyrical entertainment without social structures surrounding it—everyone is somehow afraid of sex because it’s so powerful and so wonderful and all the nerve endings are in just the right place and ready to be fired off practically until death. Religions understand that they have to mix in. And many believers welcome the guidance among the turmoil.

Q: That’s because religion eases stress, and what causes more stress than sexuality?
A: Well, precisely, and mate selection. I hope that in the book we were respectful of the fact that it’s not just mad Puritans that are interested in this; it’s a more general kind of issue about human affairs. We can’t just assume that any effort by religious people to intervene in private sexuality is one of those bad things that we’re now rid of, without acknowledging the complexity of the reproductive urge and its relationship to the future and to social probity, and to taking care of kids. I just read an article by an orthodox Jewish woman about how restrictive their sexual rules are—for example sex only 10 or 12 days of the month—but that people in this system are in fact very happy. And not only are they happy but they will have seven, eight, nine, 10 children. So in that regard, it’s working biologically in terms of reproduction.

Q: From the outside, then, it’s not religion’s strangeness you see, but its naturalness?
A: I’ve been on panels a couple of times with Richard Dawkins and invariably we come to the point where Richard will go on about how terrible religion is, and I’ll say, “Richard, are you a naturalist?” And he says, “Well, of course I am.” And then I say, “Would you agree, as you’ve in fact argued in your books, that over 90 per cent of people have some religion?” and he finally says, “Yes.” “How can you be a naturalist and assume that the great majority of the species is not natural? That doesn’t make any sense.” As a social scientist I wanted a deeper explanation for this otherwise remarkable activity. When you think of the cost of religion—the buildings, the tax exemptions, the weekly offering—it’s not trivial, it’s simply not trivial. If only out of respect, one has to pay attention to this.


Maclean’s interview: Lionel Tiger

  1. This is a fabulous "basics" explanation of why the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States is melting down (but will recover), and China will blow up. We are "living in interesting times!"

  2. Gosh this is depressing. Believers, the delusional mob will continue to infect all cultures. Sure its nice to be in a druggie high (serotonin) but it isn't reality and contributes to social strife. I'm with Dawkins hoping for an intellectual evolution in which truth is the goal rather than fantasy. Humans are overpopulated, we contribute to the loss of habitat and water for all species yet religions continue to encourage the masses to believe in a fictional after life. IMO that is dangerous and insulting.

    • Everyone has (or practices) a believe of some kind. Thinking about tomorrow and hoping that everything will be alright, or that my kids will grow up to be good persons is a belief. The byproduct of such beliefs and hopes is serotonin. Religion (if it is true religion, which corresponds to reality and our innermost nature) does not aim at serotonin production, it just happens naturally. However, most importantly we become what we worship, and I would rather worship Holy, Glorious, ineligible and Intelligent Being (whom we could know to some extent and who knows us) than anything else.

    • Linda, I understand your frustration. Humans are taking over and destroying the planet and I would like to see “an intellectual evolution in which truth is the goal”. The global population and its growth rate pose tremendous challenges, not only now, but, even more so, in the future. I feel, it is most unfortunate that we cannot rationally address this problem and that we must leave the fates of so many individuals to Nature when carrying capacities are eventually exceeded. Failing to deal with population growth, we will constantly be challenged with issues concerning quality of life and this is the reason I am replying.

      The intellectual pursuit of knowledge or solutions to environmental problems depends on us maintaining our quality of life and will not be possible in a dysfunctional society.

      As a scientist, I don’t think Lionel Tiger is trying to promote religion as right or wrong but simply saying that there is a neurophysiological response to religious gatherings and postulating religion has been hardwired into human genetics, like Noam Chomski postulates humans are hardwired for speech. Personally, I think that “religion” has been part of our tribal hardwiring evolution – an extension of the parental teaching attributes of mammals that provide additional survival values to the species by structuring the civil interactions of the group and strengthening their cohesion. Regardless of all the valid Dawkinsian examples of the shortcomings of religions, there is no doubt religion has played a role in governing the ways individuals harmoniously interact at the tribal level as well as in larger more complex societies.

      The problem that I see for secular societies is maintaining the moral fiber necessary for a sustainable harmonious society. Initially, I think, Christian morals complimented our capitalist trading system and they are still evident in our altruistic, civil Canadian values. Nevertheless, we are seeing in our children an increasing lack of respect for others and this goes right up to the lack of civility displayed by our political leaders. But, still, we are far better off than the USA where I am gravely worried about the current fractionation that may be leading to civil unrest.

      Laws are no good if individuals have no respect for others or for their laws and I fear we are losing moral ground with every new “free” generation. If Canada is not to deteriorate like the US and maintain its social cohesion, we need to take a serious look at what our moral values must be and then make every effort to ensure they are instilled in our children – for their own sake.

      I realize that to achieve this in our free and diverse society, we would face many challenges. But, if I’m right, I hope this at least starts some conversations.

      • I'm sorry to sa,y but I find our youth more thoughtful, mature, educated and empathatic then most give them credit for.

    • I'm much more depressed by the believers in communism despite its murderous oppression and believers in the faith of man made global warming, both control freak initiatives on a global scale. The only religion in that totalitarian league at present is Islam.

  3. 17. Comment #466769 by SecularSuz on March 5, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    I'm sorry, this is completely unrelated to this article. But I have to say it! This guys head is just so adorable! His face just makes me want to run to him and say, 'grandpa!' squeeze him tight in a big hug and give him a kiss on the cheek. I mean, come on? Isn't that the sweetest, cuddliest head you've ever seen? *giggles*

  4. Very enlightening and hard to disagree, eh believers?

  5. I do think people underestimate the power of religion due to a form of reductionist thinking – merely looking at the direct, observable aspects of religion it is hard to see what is going on. However, religions are social institutions with many competitors, that have been subject to selective pressures for centuries (much like species). While they seem static to observers, they have also evolved over time. Once upon a time indulgences or "buying cardinal's votes" were common practices in the Catholic Church, for instance.

    Long-standing institutions like this are deeply interwoven into society, and may have impacts that are unobserved but important. In a sense it is similar to the idea of complexity theory within the environment. Global warming is a subtle process, that does not produce noticeable effects, until certain breaking points are reached (for instance if the continental drift shifted course).

    Human societies also have critical breaking points. A birth rate that is too high or too low, for instance, can cause demographic chaos. A shift in the balance of altruism and selfishness (we ultimately need both) can create either a crime-ridden Hobbesian wasteland or a bland unchanging national nunnery. Or, if you want a more tangible example, just think of the impact of women's rights/sexual liberation (which are good things, but surely their assertion has had some unintended side-effects) on the divorce rate and the proportion of single parent families.

    For that reason, like the interviewee, I'm not convinced that secular humanism is an adequate alternative to religion in the long haul. People need to have a tie to future generations (the people born after they die), ESPECIALLY, as rates of child birth are declining, eliminating direct connections. People need an incentive to be at least somewhat altruistic – not merely when other people are watching or when there are legal sanctions, but when people are not watching and the activity involved is legal but unethical.

    This is why I think religion will survive, albeit in a different form. It will probably involve some sort of Deism mixed with lots of eco-pinache and new age colouring.

  6. To quote the author" People gather on Sunday, and they're told that they are awful, they are virtually doomed to hell, they're sinners. However, if they perform this ritual again next week and if they accept its importance in their lives they will be saved, as it were until next week".

    What kind of strange understanding of Christianity is this? Certainly has almost nothing to do with what Jesus Himself taught. That type of activity may assuage some form of guilt, or encourage self righteousness but does not *save * anyone in the biblical sense. Christianity as taught by Christ Himself is simply a relationship with God, which should bring truth and reality to all of our dealings both with God and man. Yes, real Christians like to be with other Christians, but that has no bearing on our *salvation*.

    • "They will be saved, AS IT WERE, until next week," says Dr. Tiger. The "as it were" clearly indicates that he is using "saved" somewhat tongue in cheek. He is not using it in the sense that an evangelical preacher might use the word; he is talking not about the afterlife but about the serotonin rush which comes with religious activity. Moreover, you demonstrate his point by speaking of Christian salvation at all: Christianity has to posit that we, as individuals, are doomed; this is possible only because of death; the fear of death is stress-inducing; and thus Christianity (like most other religions) presents a belief system by which we can alleviate said stress. Now, it turns out that Christian soteriology might be 100% right, but that would not change the fact that it reduces the stress generated by our anticipation of death.

      • I did not become a Christian because I was afraid of death (I was ) but because my life was a mess and I needed help. Some conversions may take place because of the fear of death, but most come about because we need LIFE, and don't have it. The idea of getting a serotonin rush with religious activity does not make much sense to me in real life. Religious activity for its own sake is anything but life giving much of the time. There is so much more to the message than this man is grasping, but I'm glad he sees some value in religion.
        Outside of the context of traditional religious activity, my faith reduces stress in my life at every level and I have not even been close to dying yet!

  7. The more one looks at religion in a historical, evolutionary context, its power and influence appears frightening. In my view, the good that it has produced, still does not outweigh the damage and hatred it has created between populations that continues to be dangerous to our survival. Religion appears to divide just as much as it unites. And think about it…it all seems to stem from our fear of death. Have we really advanced as a species?

  8. Mr.Tiger's comments are very insightful. I wish he would have gone into the subject much deeper.

    The problem with the likes of Mr.Dawkins is the fact that they do not wish to go deeper into the unknown. Biology (and genetic research) explains so much after the fact, by trying to explain the facts in hindsight. What Mr.Tigers is searching for is something beyond all of that. Good on him! And good for us.

    • Lionel Tiger and Michael McGuire do go into it more deeply in their book God's Brain published by Prometheus.

  9. I am intrigued by his comments on Marxism and other secular attempts to replace religion. I have increasingly come to believe that ultimately Marxism, etc., can succeed if and only if they subvert already existing religions. That is, instead of challenging religion straight on, Marxism must transform religious language and practice from within, offering distinctly Marxist (and thus ultimately allegorical) interpretations of such religious motifs as the crucifixion, the resurrection, etc., and religious practices such as Eucharist, so that the very act of speaking in such motifs participating in such practices becomes ultimately a Marxist act. (Or, if one does not like "Marxist," insert "anarchism," etc., or whatever other secular ideology to which one subscribes). What is needed, ultimately, is a revolutionary Fifth Column within the various religions themselves.

    • Brooke, as an atheist, raised in a religious household, I don’t agree that free democratic societies need to subvert religions to attain a society that is fairer, which is what I think you are alluding to. Fairness can be achieved by society continually demanding a stronger democratic voice and continually working to make their representatives and the system more accountable and reflective of the electorates’ wishes. This can be achieved by inspirational political leaders that truly have the people’s interest at heart, such as Tommy Douglas, Diefenbaker and Manning – from different ideologies but each honestly dedicated to the people, not special interest groups. Others will appear and will need to be recognized and supported.

      Evolution rather than revolution is how we should strive to change our systems to avoid social suffering and preserve the cultural assets we have developed so far. The pillars of society are its moral code, its governance system, its knowledge base and its economic system, which structures the trade of goods and services and, consequently, peoples’ time. As a democracy we have the ability to control and change all of these pillars, if we have the collective will. Religions do not pose a threat to these pillars unless we create division though a degradation of our civility that is based on a system of ubiquitous mutual respect. When civility breaks down, fractionating tribal instincts take over, communication is lost and distrust leads to heightening tensions and to deepening fractionation.

      Taking an anti-religious stand would simply be to take our belief system and repeat the Dawkinsian historic short falls of human belief systems, aka religions. Our democratic system currently operates well in our current complex society. The commonalities of human needs and wishes for a fair society and the desire to leave something for our offspring transcend religious ideologies.

      Instilling a moral belief system and perhaps using some of the other proven socialization and ritual techniques of religions to go beyond our national anthem and Canada Day to bring Canadians closer together for serotonin rushes is an interesting idea. However, rather than using these to subvert the system to Marxism (hopefully we can agree to progress without revolutionarily changing the system) I would say we openly solicit the conversation about what moral values are important to our secular society, as I have suggested above in my reply to Linda, and perhaps then proceed beyond this to discuss the use of spiritual techniques that can help us be a stronger more cohesive secular society.

      In my opinion, religions are still providing our society with moral services and I think that, however much anyone disagrees with “religion” or other’s religions, a sustainable secular society needs a core moral belief system. As I state in my reply to Linda above, I am concerned about the moral degradation that seems to be happening with each new generation, where I might add, individuals are “freed”, individualized, often separated from their families and communities and “anonymitized” in their urban environments. These social separation and individualization processes put individuals in a self-oriented moral realm where competition and personal well-being are the preoccupations. I think that perhaps in this environment, the importance of the traditional moral values of respect and social altruism are not understood as being important and consequently not taught to their children. This might explain why the more competitive US system is currently showing greater fractionation than we are in Canada.

      Recognizing the fundamental importance of basic morality for our secular society might be the most important realization we ever come to. If we can work together, including with our religious groups, to devise a steadfast moral infrastructure for our secular system then we have evolved to next level and perhaps we can leave a strong, stable society to our future generations.

    • British historian Catherine Merridale tackles this dilemma to some degree in her book "Ivan's War". The Red Army in WWII was the first officially atheist army in history. The Soviet Union lost on average 6000 soldiers a day (killed) for the four years of the war. Yet neither Stalin nor his communist ideologues were naive enough to think communism could supplant religion in the minds of 12 million peasants who made up the bulk of the Red Army. Thus he eased up on the Eastern Orthodox Church from 1941-1945 and even let priests conduct services for soldiers going into battle. The NKVD & Red Army did a study of language skills amongst these troops in 1941 and concluded that "the majority" had vocabularies consisting of "less than 300 words". That's a tough crowd to try and preach ideology to.

      Anyway, your post is a good one and I agree 100% with it.

      • Nice article, got great excellent points here. Thanks a lot for your work. Thanks for informative sharing. I really liked the way writer has thrown some light on unhidden facts. I like this very much.

    • Marxism resulted in 100 million dead and hundreds of millions oppressed in countries run like prisons, the Soviet Union, East Germany and Mao's China.

      It is amazing how anyone can promote marxism as some kind of template for human decency. It should be as despised and beyond the pale as nazism. It is as offensive to the millions of Canadians who have escaped its clutches as it would be to promote nazism in a public forum.

      This is the result of marxists infesting academia and indoctrinating young minds. There should be no more professors singing the praises of marxism and communism than there are tenured professors who are unapologetic nazis. Instead, universities are riddled with them.

  10. L. Tiger is on the mark re. the peace and brotherhood that real Christians realise but he seems to reject out of hand the idea of a creator. One of the central concepts of faith in God is that we do not know God because we are incapable of fathoming such power and intellect. Mr. Tiger is slightly less hubristic than Dawkins but carried away with his own intellectuality just the same. Can a mosquto grasp the function and technical detail of a 747?

  11. Religion enslaves and controls the masses. Without religion the estabilshment would loose their ability to put fear into man. In the name of religion, men have killed more peple than mother nature has done in 3000 years. Behind all religion is hidden the truth " We want to contol you".

  12. Theism has outlived its anthropological purpose. Now we can think.

    Atheists, being a moderate proportion of the USA population (about
    8-16%) are disproportionately less numerous in the prison population

    Japan (the most atheistic nation in the G-8) has the lowest murder rate
    while the United States (the most Christian nation in the G-8) has the
    highest. Japan used to have much stronger religious faith, and a state
    religion, and guess what: Japan was remarkably aggressive and militaristic
    when "Shinto" was at its peak, and during WW2, when its Emperor was
    regarded as a God.

    Louisiana, with America's highest church attendance rate, has twice the
    national average murder rate.

    • Why leave out the highest murder rate of any belief system – atheist communism that slaughtered one hundred million in a matter of decades and denied hundreds of millions the basic freedoms of speech, movement, association etc.?

      Try closing the Canadian border, instituting a thugocracy and killing 10 to 20% of the population while treating the rest like prisoners and slaves to get the flavor of a real atheist monopoly.

      Western atheists live on the fumes of Christian moral order and imagine it has something to do with themselves. Instead, they're just benefiting from herd immunity.

  13. I'm a firm believer that "GOD" is created in the "image" of man…..in spite of what the bible says……

  14. I suspect that Tiger has got the wrong end of the stick with this book. It's like someone asking the question "why do people get colds" and telling stories like "colds remind us to take time at home every so often, they exercise our immune systems so we're better able to survive worse diseases, they support the facial tissue and decongestant industries…" But the reason we get colds has nothing to do with our best interests, and everything to do with the needs of cold viruses to get propagated.

    There doesn't have to be any advantage to the individual to being religious, in order to explain religion's ubiquity in human brains. Religions tend to create conditions that REQUIRE "brainsoothe", such as imposing guilt so that one can atone for it later. It is in the religion's best interest that humans propagate them. Religions don't have to be good for their hosts. They just have to be good at causing their hosts to pass them on.

  15. Religion may well do the things that Mr. Tiger says it does. But that is beside the point, much like a drunk man being happier than a sober one. Does he not care about the central question of the truth or falisty of religion?

    • I think he's already made up his mind about that, but not (unfortunately) on the basis of reason.

      • In fact, the author uses his reason far more than atheists do. He's reasoned from his observations that Man is better off and better with religion.

        Considering the life that the communist atheist systems of Soviet Russia and Mao robbed from a hundred million and inflicted on the survivors, atheists owe more "s'plaining" and apologies than the people they attack.

  16. >>A: One has to assume that religion was the creation of something and it's
    >>not the elbow, it's not the knee, it's the brain. Or that the brain is the
    >>vehicle. What we've asserted is that people who believe in God essentially
    >>believe in a process that's in God's ownership, that is to say the brain
    >>itself. Our principal concern was trying to understand why this very strange
    >>behavioural syndrome recurs so consistently in so many communities with such
    >>regularity, complexity, often ferocity, but usually elegance and warmth.

    ""Life is but a momentary glimpse at the wonder of
    this astonishing Universe and it is sad to see
    so many dreaming it away on spiritual fantasies"
    a. g. mulcahy.
    Why do we feel the need to avoid facing the world as it actually is? Why must we keep alienating ourselves from the real physical world— and then explain that alienation by assuming there is something "out there" that we long for:):). Is it just that we really don't want to live in the world as it is –too challenging, too stressful?

    Here we are once again trying to make a mystery out of the fact that religions of one sort or another sprouted up everywhere.Surely early man's emerging intelligence would require a world view that made sense to them. Would it not be understandable that we humans would try to make sense of the natural phenomena that challenged our daily lives? How do you explain the roar of thunder and the fearsome lightning without a knowledge of static electricity? Faced with a dearth of scientific evidence but well experienced with human nature, I'd suggest they would attempt to personify the universe with some kind of anthropomorphic symbolism. King becomes SuperKing, invisible ( conveniently)and powerful.

    Early man did have mysteries to solve, but we have a world that needs our full attention. Let's stop wasting our energies on our ancestor's problems and get on with our own.

  17. This guy Tiger is too intelligent to realize his stupidity.

    He has his own metaphysical (religious) presuppositions and clothes them in the words of science and secular reason to hide the fact that he is pulling the wool over everyone's eyes …. intelligence arises from dumb matter, free will arises from deterministic physics, man is no more than a smart animal. Of course, Tiger is smart enough to be above all of that. His religion is the one true religion and the rest of us are just dumb.

    Don't be fooled – he is selling a religion…. and an illogical one at that.

    • Although you haven't said so outright, Alan, I reckon you believe you know the (one true) religion. I hope you've carefully examined all the competition, especially the fairly recent one which says: thou shalt observe the world, its patterns and regularities, do experiments, argue freely, and try your best to figure things out.

      • Actually that's a fairly old one. There is a reason that science progressed in the West and stagnated everywhere else during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

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  18. "Religion is the Opium of the People"

    Sorry Lionel Marx beat you to it. Try something original!

    • Dave,

      First, as an aside, I hope you've seen the whole paragraph that contains that famous quote. It's not, as many take it, a barb tossed at the stupidity of the masses, but rather, an expression of empathy for the oppressed (Marx was good at that).

      But your remark about the quote obscures an important distinction (you may already be aware of the distinction, but couldn't resist the temptation to be cute): while Marx, operating in a time of relatively limited knowledge, made many grandiose claims (claims demonstrated to be a poor fit to human nature), Tiger (among many other modern investigators) are making more moderate claims based on verifiable evidence.

  19. I find it interesting that religion is only talked about in Judio-Christain terms. I find that many adherents of those faiths don't consider any other group, or if they do, others faiths are thought to beyond the pale. When looked at diligently how do other religions fit Mr. Tiger's theories?

    • Exactly; not all religions believe in an after life, making his theories rather narrow in scope.

    • This is a great post, thanks to you I got this information. I appreciate your work, thanks for taking this opportunity to discuss this, the post is really helpful and it have so many new valuable things to learn. Thanks for sharing this article. Pretty good post.

  20. Evolutionary psychology and naturalism *readily* accepts that religion has some sort of "natural" foundation given that, as this article points out, religious behaviour and feelings stem from our brain. But everything else we do does too: find me one human behaviour or belief that *doesn't* come from our brain.

    To say that religion is across many cultures and people is not to say that the religion held by each of those individuals is identical; sometimes the beliefs contradict. This means that not all religious beliefs are correct, and all *could* be wrong.

    Also, to say that religion is "natural" is not to say that its metaphysical claims are true. If religious claims are false, then is it better to belief the truth or is it better to go to church and be lied to in the name of serotonin?

  21. For some reason, I really like how he answered the questions. Very factual and straight to his point. Great post.

  22. I agree with Alan.

    This guy Tiger is too intelligent to realize his stupidity.

    He has his own metaphysical (religious) presuppositions and clothes them in the words of science and secular reason to hide the fact that he is pulling the wool over everyone's eyes …. intelligence arises from dumb matter, free will arises from deterministic physics, man is no more than a smart animal. Of course, Tiger is smart enough to be above all of that. His religion is the one true religion and the rest of us are just dumb.

    Don't be fooled – he is selling a religion…. and an illogical one at that.

  23. Some day we will be able to study and understand the religious impulse in the way Lionel Tiger suggests. For laying out a road future scientists might take he certainly deserves some credit and our interest.

    The distinction between studying a phenomenon and "supporting" it would seem a first principle of science. And where is it written that something that is "natural" or even "hard-wired" cannot be mitigated to make human society better? Many scholars study human violence, for instance, with the specific aim of controlling and "managing" it.

    So much for Tiger's good intentions.

    The actual content of his work seems a mite thin and speculative – even commonplace. I'd have to read the book, of course, but I think any one of us could come up with a better "explanation" of the role religion might have played as an evolutionary mechanism.

    A key point he didn't say is that religions evolve over time, adapting to the needs of different people in different circumstances (as another scholar recently reminds us) – so much so, in fact, that some of the basic rationale starts to shred and a new role needs to be imagined.

    Then there are some downright strange comments, like Catholicism being a religion that promotes equality among its flock. If this is ever true, it's only where the flock has rejected the inherent hierarchical nature of the Church and overthrown it.

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  24. These are really very depressing views on life, death and religion

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