Right of Reply; Nicolas Walter

A director of the Rationalist Press Association responds to Paul Vallely's recent articles about atheism
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The Independent Culture
PAUL VALLELY includes in his criticisms of the views of non-religious people such as Ludovic Kennedy (daily book review, 3 February) and myself ("An organised faith in humanity", 30 January) the questionable statements that "human beings are hard-wired for religion as they are for language and music" and that "biogenetic structuralism now suggests that human beings are genetically programmed for music, language, dance - and religion".

What is the evidence? Has anyone actually discovered a "hard wire" or gene for religion? Even if almost all of us are programmed for language, and most of us for music and perhaps dance, are any of us programmed for religion? Even if most people in most places at most times seem to have supernatural and superstitious views, must all people in all places at all times therefore do so?

Even if everyone were religious, would this mean that religion is true, in any normal sense of the word? Many people believe in witches or ghosts, astrology or telepathy, reincarnation or resurrection, but does this mean that such beliefs are true in any sense at all? Even if religious people are happier and healthier, does this make them right?

What about the large and growing number of people who don't have any kind of supernatural or superstitious beliefs, and do quite well without them? Are we somehow genetically defective - spiritually tone-deaf or colour-blind, as it were?

Or rather, since we no longer hear imaginary voices or see imaginary visions, do we perhaps belong to the next stage in human evolution? Are we intellectually or morally inferior in any way to religious people, or are we actually superior?