Evolution selected our ability to love. Can it also actually love us, as religious believers feel that God loves them?
Let’s back up a bit. According to biologists, the roots of human love are found in the length of time that a human baby requires nurture and protection. While the offspring of other mammals become independent of the mother within months at most, a human baby is dependent for years. The main reason for its dependency is its big brain and its long learning curve.
So for children to survive, natural selection favored parents who bonded with each other and who would stick together for a number of years. Over the millenia, with our capacities for memory and imagination, we developed the ability—and the desire—to love not only another individual but also groups of people and other beings, in all kinds of nuanced ways.
One of those ways is spiritually. Monotheistic religions encourage believers to love a single, parent-like deity who also, they feel, loves them back.
But here’s my question: for those like me whose firmest conviction is in the reality of natural history and not in a deity, is it still possible to hold a justified belief in some form of cosmic or spiritual love?
On the face of it, probably not. Atheistic naturalists, humanists, and other secularists may find the universe inspiring and beautiful, but I’ve never heard them try to make the case that it cares about individuals in any way.
But there is this: we humans are capable of love in the first place because of evolution. Love is an evolutionary product. Plants don’t do it, most animals can’t do it, higher animals and humans can. So we have evolution to thank for the kindness and love that we humans and many animals give to and receive from others. During our lives and especially at times of sorrow, pain, or fear, we need to feel cared for and to care for others, and the history of life has cultivated in us not only these needs but the ability to meet them for and with each other. I feel a gratefulness of sorts for that.