Evolving Religion
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer

While updating the Web site for this week’s program about Charles Darwin, I remembered the above image, which I had come across on Flickr a while ago. It’s intended to show the evolutionary development of world religions; it seems that the author, an evolutionary biology professor, was unable to find a similar graphic anywhere and decided to draft his own.

If you click through to the Flickr page, you’ll see that the various symbols in the diagram are labeled to indicate which religion they refer to. You’ll also see an interesting discussion in the comments section — ranging from the placement of the relatively young Bahá’í faith, to whether Yoga should be included as a religion, to what the point of this diagram might be in the first place. As one commenter notes: “the world of ideas, ideologies and religions is a bit more complex than a genealogical tree.”

Darwin's "Tree of Life"

So what is the point of attempting to represent the complexity of world religions such a simplified way? The author writes:

I was thinking the above exercise might be a great way for young kids to learn about the diversity of religions, and how new religions are created all the time.

Looking at the image now, it seems even more interesting when placed next to Darwin’s sketch of the “tree of life" (seen at right). Some consider Darwin’s theory of evolution, represented in his illustration, to be an assault on religion. But as we learn in this week’s program, it’s not quite that simple — at least it wasn’t for Darwin. And here’s an example of the same model being used to map out world religions, perhaps with the hope of increasing religious tolerance.

What do you think, are religion and evolution mutually exclusive? Is approaching religion from an evolutionary perspective helpful?

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