Andy Thomson is a psychiatrist. He gave a talk at the Atheist Convention 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia (USA). PZ Myers thinks that Thomson's explanation of religious belief is just what he (PZ) believes.
Not me. The talk is far too adaptationist for my liking. The entire lecture is based on evolution by natural selection—the Darwinian explanation.
[Darwin's] idea gives us the only workable explanation we have for the design and architecture of the human mind.No it isn't the only workable explanation. I believe that our present mind is also due, in part, to accidents of evolution some of which might have nothing to do with design. Some of them might even be maladaptations. The architecture of our brain is a product of evolution but not all of that evolution is adaptation by natural selection.
We have got to stop trying to explain everything as an adaptation or the consequences of an adaptation. Many, but not all, people are prone to superstitious beliefs. Much of that is due to culture and it can be changed. Our brains are not perfect. They can be tricked into believing all sorts of silly things and believing in God is just one of them. It does not deserve a special evolutionary explanation.
At some point in the near future, religion will be only a minor problem in most Western industrialized nations. Will we have psychiatrists giving lectures about how are brains are adapted to be atheists?
Of course not, just as today we don't have psychiatrists and psychologists giving lectures about how the human brain is adapted to prefer slavery or the inferiority of women. Perhaps they would have if they had lived 1000 years ago.
Watch the video starting at 27 minutes. You'll see Thomson praising research that locates thoughts like "God's Love" and "God's Anger" to specific parts of the brain. These are the same parts of the brain used in other thoughts. Presumably, they are the same parts of the brain used when thinking about being abducted by UFO's or believing in Santa Claus. That's not a big deal, is it?
So when Thomson says, that this data, "Supports theories that ground religious belief in evolved adaptive mechanisms," he could just as easily have said the same thing about UFO abductions ("The evidence support theories that ground belief in UFO abductions in evolved adaptive mechanisms.")
What is the alternative? Did anyone think that these thoughts would map to a special part of the brain that was used exclusively for thinking about God's Love?