I've been reading through the responses to The World Question Center's Edge Annual Question: What do you believe even though you cannot prove it? While many of the responses have been interesting reading, the response from Dr. Randolf Nesse, a Psychiatrist, was particularly insightful and thought-provoking. He postulates that faith is a selective advantage:
I can't prove it, but I am pretty sure that people gain a selective advantage from believing in things they can't prove. I am dead serious about this. People who are sometimes consumed by false beliefs do better than those who insist on evidence before they believe and act. People who are sometimes swept away by emotions do better in life than those who calculate every move. These advantages have, I believe, shaped mental capacities for intense emotion and passionate beliefs because they give a selective advantage in certain situations.
I am not advocating for irrationality or extreme emotionality. Many, perhaps even most problems of individuals and groups arise from actions based on passion. The Greek initiators and Enlightenment implementers recognized correctly that the world would be better off if reason displaced superstition and crude emotion. I have no interest in going back on that road and fundamentalism remains a severe threat to enlightened civilization. I am arguing, however, that if we want to understand these tendencies we need to quit dismissing them as defects and start considering how they came to exist.
For the full article, follow this link: http://www.edge.org/q2005/q05_print.html#nesse
I may post more about some of the other interesting responses.