Time to abolish the study of God

November 20, 1998

Should theologians believe in god ("Do academic theologians have to believe in God?", THES, November 13)? Should psychiatrists be mad? Religions are systems of irrational beliefs and to suggest that the people who study these beliefs should believe in them is as idiotic as suggesting that psychiatrists should be schizophrenic or psychotic. A recent survey of scientists in Nature showed that only 7 per cent believed in "god", and 72.2 per cent did not, with the remainder expressing doubt or agnosticism. In the United Kingdom I suspect the non-believers would be an even higher percentage.

On a scientific level we understand the reasons for religions. They provide a system of identifying "out-groups", so that any inhumanity to such groups can be rationally "justified". Religion was essentially a by-product of consciousness. This is because conscience is a product of consciousness. When a cat torments a bird, we can be pretty sure the cat has no concept of what it is like to be the bird. But when we want to take over the land/property/resources of other people, we do know, because of being conscious, what it will be like for our victims. But if we can identify them as being different - and this is what religion does - then our conscience is satisfied.

It is thus obvious that religious beliefs will be favoured in the sense of conferring an advantage on the believers. This may be cultural, but is as likely, or more likely, to be genetically determined.

We know all religions are myths. It is time to abolish theology in universities. The study of religion should move to departments of psychology and neuroscience, if not to psychiatry. Perhaps when genetic engineering has progressed a bit further, we will need to consider whether religious beliefs are such a threat to humanity that a little judicious genetic engineering to get rid of them will be justified.

Chris Lote

Reader in physiology

University of Birmingham

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