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What happens when we die?


Reasons for religion
Francis Crick Scientist
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I think there are two reasons for religions. I mean, there… there’re a number of reasons. One is that people do have a curiosity about the world, and they like to understand, you know, how did it start? Where does it come from? Why are we here? How far back in time does it go? All those sort of questions on the one hand and also, the… religions also have a moral say, they say you should not do this or you should do that, often for rather arbitrary reasons, when you look into it. But some of these are founded on, well, on… on quite deep biological reactions, and some of them are rather arbitrary, like particular food habits or something like that always strike one as rather… rather arbitrary. And you have to ask why it is… what’s their value? Because they… wouldn't have… there has to be something in-built in man that is… has some selective advantage otherwise religions wouldn’t have… wouldn't have prospered the way they’ve done. And one reason is that it gives solidity to a society. A shared set of beliefs binds people together, and there’s a lot of… of… in… in our early evolutionary histories when we’re hunter-gatherers and later on when we became agriculturalists and so on, there was much, really, warfare between one lot of tribe and another tribe. And anything that… anything that consolidated the acting together of members of the tribe probably gave them survival value. Now, these things are not known for sure, they’re only speculations, but they… there has to be an explanation in the long-run. If it turns out that most of these religious ideas are really false, there has to be an explanation as to why they appeal to people so much. And it must be an explanation in terms of natural selection and what the selection advantage is. Now, I don’t say what I’ve just said is the explanation, but it may be somewhere along that sort of lines.

The late Francis Crick, one of Britain's most famous scientists, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. He is best known for his discovery, jointly with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, of the double helix structure of DNA, though he also made important contributions in understanding the genetic code and was exploring the basis of consciousness in the years leading up to his death in 2004.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: religion, evolution, tribe, natural selection

Duration: 1 minute, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: 1993

Date story went live: 08 January 2010