As a biological phenomenon, religion is the product of cognitive processes that have deep roots in our evolutionary past. Some researchers have speculated that religion itself may have played an important role in getting large groups of prehistoric humans to socially cohere. If this is true, we can say that religion has served an important purpose. This does not suggest, however, that it serves an important purpose now. There is, after all, nothing more natural than rape. But no one would argue that rape is good, or compatible with a civil society, because it may have had evolutionary advantages for our ancestors. That religion may have served some necessary function for us in the past does not preclude the possibility that it is now the greatest impediment to our building a global civilization.
-Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation
If religion is an evolutionary byproduct which is no longer useful, why should we suppose that Sam’s atheism is any different? Indeed, it seems that if evolution can take us from rape being beneficial to socially condemned, doesn’t it stand to reason that the practice could make a comeback at a future date if evolution (whatever that is) leads us in that direction?
I would be the first to admit that the prospects for eradicating religion in our time do not
seem good. Still, the same could have been said about efforts to abolish slavery at the end of
the eighteenth century. Anyone who spoke with confidence about eradicating slavery in the
United States in the year 1775 surely appeared to be wasting his time, and wasting it
Indeed, it seems that we have little reason to think that rapists today aren’t merely misunderstood revolutionaries who want to drive us back to a more traditional time where men apparently clubbed women over the heads whenever they felt the urge to mate.
After all, if evolutionists are right with regard to our origins, rape is apparently the original “traditional marriage”.