After recently hearing someone argue that we have a “god spot” or “god gene” which makes us religious, I was thinking about how troubling that kind of thinking was.
To quickly clear things up: we don’t have one. But even with the empirical evidence, this kind of thinking should not even make sense. Take something like sports, which goes all the way back to the origins of anatomically modern humans. As something that’s so old and important, does that mean we should have a “sports spot” in our brains? No; sports, much like religion, are a complex process that uses many different evolutionary aspects.
To use the (in)famous term, they’re spandrels: byproducts of evolution which form from other direct adaptions. There’s no reason to assume that a specific part of our brain is wired to play baseball or worship a certain religion, they’re possibilities that humans are capable of.
Which brings this to culture. Part of it is ideological on the part of those in power: as one article points out, genes are the new, old excuse for social problems. But part of it is a problem with our modernized culture. The irony is that things are so becoming so advanced that we start to assume that the technology is “natural” and thus our lives are “naturally” structured around it.
This is pure teleology, or the belief that contingent ends were based on natural purposes. As the idiot philosopher in Candide says, “noses were made to wear spectacles;” Of course people did not evolve finding glasses in the forest, it was a human invention. Likewise there is not necessarily a single part of the brain to explain complex behavior, it is various things expressed through our will.
And this is not to say that humans are mystical beings that can’t be reduced by science, what is saying is our lives are not necessarily designed for a natural purpose, whether through religion or technology.