Safety in numbers?


This morning I was listening to a Monocle podcast (don’t judge me) where they were interviewing Steve Jones, a UCL emeritus professor and author of a new book called ‘The Serpent’s Promise’. I haven’t read the book yet, but it examines the Bible from a scientist’s point of view. A disclaimer up front: I am not particularly religious nor am I Christian, so my comments below are purely from the point of view of a layperson. Here’s a review in the Telegraph.

Jones mentioned how organised religion originally came about when farming became an occupation for human-beings; it gave them something to do as a group. From a purely individualistic and rational, non-moral point of view he said that it made sense for individuals to become criminals to achieve what they want. But from a group’s vantage point, that behaviour is not to the group’s advantage and religion made that choice easier.

He then mentioned chimpanzees and how there is a group threshold (30 or 40) at which even they start killing each other and splitting off into different groups. For humans, that number is obviously much higher – thousands, even millions in many cases – but at some point even we, to put it frankly, start losing it.

When I think of the vast amounts of crime happening today in the name of religions of all kinds in many different parts of the world, that perspective somehow makes sense to me. I guess we can’t conduct ourselves the way we ideally should when we grow as a group beyond a certain number. That is absolutely not to rationalise it or condone it, just an observation. A very simplistic one perhaps, but there it is.

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