A reader writes:

In contrast to James Dow and other adaptationists like him, my late professor at Harvard, Stephen Jay Gould, argued for a non-adaptationist origin for religious thought: our brains got big for lots of reasons having nothing to do with religion, and big brains think big thoughts about death, meaning, and the afterlife. I find Gould's "explanation" far more satisfying than James Dow's, mostly because it's so simple. I would ask Dow why it is so extraordinary or unlikely that we humans simply want to know how we are here and whether we have a purpose. Why is it so odd to argue that religion is simply a natural byproduct of consciousness?

But it hardly matters what Dow's software purports to demonstrate. He starts with assumptions that he sets out to "prove": that there is a genetic predisposition to pass on unverifiable information or that religion is socially beneficial. What he doesn't do -- something he must do for this be of any real scientific merit -- is determine if his assumptions do better than other assumptions, i.e., could his software rule out the possibility that religion is successful simply because we are smart and curious, likely to believe what others say because we trust them for good reason, and likely to want to believe that we won't die when we die?

To answer your question, no, it isn't helpful at all.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.