Wilson gives a telling example: The Jains of India seem to have bizarre religious habits. They won't kill any creature, even cockroaches. They sometimes fast virtually unto death. They have been known to refuse contact with non-Jains. The Jains would easily satisfy Dawkins' view of religion as a senseless delusion. And yet Wilson points out that the Jains are basically the Jews of India: they are one of the most successful economic communities in the world. The reason, he suggests, is that religious practices that seem weird and impractical to outsiders actually cultivate deep bonds of trust between Jains. This economic solidarity is crucial for a diaspora trading community that has built economic networks throughout Asia and around the world. What seems like a pointless delusion turns out to be eminently practical. From the evolutionist's perspective--and in terms of the only currency that counts for a biologist--Jain practices have demonstrated "survival value."
Richard Dawkins was given a chance to respond to Wilson's article. How does he counter one of the most trenchant challenges to his book, one that is all the more crushing as it comes from a fellow atheist in an atheist publication? Dawkins concedes that "religious belief may have a positive survival value." He sheepishly notes that his book is not about religion and evolution, and that the Darwinian perspective is tangential to his theme.
Now he tells us. Essentially this evolutionary biologist is confessing that in his recent work he has ventured to write about subjects in which he has no expert knowledge. When Dawkins tackles history, philosophy and theology, he usually makes a fool of himself. Not that his atheist admirers recognize this: many of them are even bigger fools. But it is Dawkins who is their leader, and that's why writers like Wilson and I take the trouble to point out his blunders. As I put it during the Cal Tech debate, "This is what happens when you let a biologist leave the lab."
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