The John Templeton Foundation will be spending $4 million to answer this question:
Is there "evidence about whether belief in God confers an evolutionary advantage to humankind"?You'll find this in a recent British article published by Ekklesia, "Oxford centre to conduct scientific study of religious belief."
While it will be interesting to see what $4m will produce to answer these questions, the very question is a speed bump.
The study will not determine if God exists, what God would be like, nor even if there are soulish capacities in humans that hungers for God. Rather the study will focus on the biological makeup of the human species to see if there is a biological survival-advantage for believing in God.
Can you see how motivated this is on the side of the atheistic scientist? If they can show that believing in God is biologically disadvantageous, the general public would be gullible enough to believe them despite so many other evidences about the truthfulness of God and religious experience.
This, on my view, is good waste of money because they are asking an uninteresting question. The study assumes, if I'm reading the article correctly, that "philosophical naturalism" is the starting point (This view says that all that exists is the physical universe and all our experience is a result of what can be explained through physics, chemistry, and biology. In other words, there is nothing spiritual in existence.) What exactly do they expect to find?
Science cannot thoroughly explain beliefs, thoughts, ideas, beauty, love, emotions (they can find correlations in the brain, but not the emotion itself), meaning or anything that pertains to the soul. This study is putting science to the task of evaluating unscientific things. What if belief in God does not produce scientific 'survival' or 'advantage' in this study? Does that render God untrue? Or what if God gives us 'survival' or 'advantage' that is outside physical processes? Can science measure that?
Suppose we asked this question, "Does beauty (e.g. flowers, sunsets, rainbows, art, people, etc) give us evolutionary advantage?" Science would find little evidence for it. Beauty in this world appears superfluous. That we have a wide variety of sensual pleasures from taste to sight to hearing to touch cannot be explained as 'evolutionary advantagous' to our 'survival.' Yet, we'd lose a lot of meaning in this world if it wasn't for the aroma of sizzling bacon or the sound of Tchaikovsky's Fifth.
Or make a comparison with marriage. It is biologically advantageous for men to be with woman to procreate through marriage. This allows the species to survive. Yet, someone may argue we don't need marriage for that as we can all just sleep around and impregnate each other. Ah, but the social scientist says that broken homes or reckless parenting does not allow the children to have advantage. So we need intimate bonds to produce that. And then, of course, children are our future and they get to repeat the process.
So marriage on this view has nothing to do with real promises, covenants, love, or even a content quality of life (unless those qualities keep you from depression or disease which would extend your life). It only has to do with 'evolutionary advantage' or the outcome for physical survival. The real meaning of marriage disappears.
Expect with the Templeton study that the real meaning of religion disappears too.
Such is the plight of a civilization that only allows knowledge through natural science, and natural science only done a certain way. It leaves a lot of important elements out.
Regardless of what information this scientific study reveals about the physical aspects of religion in a persons 'evolutionary advantage,' I will predict that it will be far less meaningful than the evidence we already having showing there is a God who benevolently created all humans, showed up among us, and then rose from the dead. In fact, the 'resurrection of the dead' gives us advantage beyond anything science can conjure up, yet it cannot be explained scientifically so it doesn't count. See how quickly faith alone in science alone becomes narrow-minded?
When Solomon said that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, he was onto something. He knew real human meaning in this world comes through physical AND spiritual processes, experience, and relationships.
I'd be glad to accept $4m from the Templeton Foundation to tell them that.... of course, I'd share it with my faithful readers! ;o)