Jump to content
Itoero

Religion as evolutionary trait

Recommended Posts

1 minute ago, DrP said:

Good point - it seems we evolved to be this way you stated and has been discussed in the thread. You aren't denying that people are easily duped though are you?

Certainly not. Lucky for us we got the not-easily-duped gene, eh?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 minutes ago, Reg Prescott said:

The first thought that came to my mind was: If it is indeed the case that religion is an advantageous evolutionary trait, why did it not spread through the entire human population as natural selection theory would lead us to expect? How come Itoero and Beecee, just to name two, seem to have been spared the rigors of biological determinism that afflicts only the poor unenlightened? 

Imroving social cohesion used to provide evolutionary succes when we, for example,  spread through the world. But this is very different now. Natural selection is now different then it used to be when we were spreading through the world maybe 2 million years ago. There are many factors that play a role for whether you religious or not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
37 minutes ago, Reg Prescott said:

Certainly not. Lucky for us we got the not-easily-duped gene, eh?

Not here I am afraid - I was a staunch believer for at least 40 years. I understand all to well how easy it is to fall for such nonsense and how hard it is to change your belief.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Reg Prescott said:

Now I'm left to puzzle over why brainwashing would be necessary if "they" were already genetically determined to succumb to religious silliness...

Did anyone say that? Very few things are genetically determined. A few diseases maybe. I'm not aware of any characteristics of personality that are determined by genetics. They can produce an increased tendency to certain types of thought or behaviour. 

For example, there is a genetic component to psychopathic behaviour but not everyone with the corresponding genes becomes a psychopath: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-neuroscientist-who-discovered-he-was-a-psychopath-180947814/

 

2 hours ago, Reg Prescott said:

The first thought that came to my mind was: If it is indeed the case that religion is an advantageous evolutionary trait, why did it not spread through the entire human population as natural selection theory would lead us to expect?

Because even traits that are much more valuable don't necessarily spread through all of the population uniformly. And in many cases there are trade-offs that mean that restrict the spread (for example, in countries with malaria not everybody has sickle cell disease).

So, let's say that religiosity has some social benefit, say social cohesion (*). But it is possible that a lack of religiosity also has a benefit, perhaps a more practical or analytical approach to problem solving. Then in a population, there will be situations where one of those is more useful than the other. Overall, then, we would expect evolution to produce some sort of reasonably optimal mix of character types in the population, depending on what challenges it has had to face.

(*) There are all sorts of other reasons it might exist. For example, it could just be a side effect of our need to find patterns in nature (important for identifying edible vs dangerous plants and animals) and our imagination and story telling capabilities (which in turn, could be just a. side effect of some other brain function).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To the above posters:

It wasn't so long ago that western, white, male, scientifically inclined investigators decided to rank the races in order of intelligence by way of measuring skull capacities. The outcome -- surprise surprise -- was that whites are the smartest and blacks the dumbest. Who would've guessed, eh? (American Indians lay somewhere in the middle).

One can easily imagine them afterwards pouring themselves a few drinks, slapping each other on the shoulders, and celebrating their own superiority -- a conclusion that was never in any doubt even prior to commencement of the inquiry. But now it had been scientifically proven.

But that was then and this is now. We've learned from our mistakes and we no longer engage in such prejudicial silliness these days. Or do we?

What I see here is apparently a group -- a cohesive group -- of overzealous scientistic atheists sitting around the campfire, concocting evolutionary Just-So stories, slapping their mutual shoulders and celebrating the fact that their own finely honed critical faculties allow them to defy -- while the weakminded succumb to -- the tyranny of those imperious genes that determine, or at least predispose, the human race to religious gullibility. After all, it's been scientifically proven.

Some things never change, eh, chaps? 

As for Just-So stories, take this for example...

 

16 hours ago, Strange said:

So, let's say that religiosity has some social benefit, say social cohesion (*). But it is possible that a lack of religiosity also has a benefit, perhaps a more practical or analytical approach to problem solving. Then in a population, there will be situations where one of those is more useful than the other. Overall, then, we would expect evolution to produce some sort of reasonably optimal mix of character types in the population, depending on what challenges it has had to face.

 

Is it possible? Well, why not? Lots of things are possible: flying elephants, world peace, and Scotland winning the World Cup, for example; none of which are precluded on logical grounds alone.

It's also within the bounds of possibility, I suppose, that this is just some fanciful, self-congratulatory yarn that you've spun.


@ Itoero -- I took a look at the Wiki page on "religious behavior in animals" that you linked on the previous page. Fascinating stuff in and of itself: chimpanzees dancing at the onset of heavy rain, elephants waving branches at the moon, etc. Strangely, however, dogs chasing their own tails (clearly a precursor to Muslims circling the Kaaba), parrots on a perch (an obvious adumbration of the stylite movement), not to mention the praying mantis, were omitted.

Seriously though, folks, as far as this pertains to religion, I can't say I'm impressed. It seems those imputing religiosity (or proto-religiosity) to our furry friends have neglected one rather essential element: intentionality (in its philosophical sense).

Suppose you were presented with two dudes down on their knees reciting the Lord's prayer. One, you're told, is a devout Christian; the other an atheist actor. How would you tell which is which? 

Wouldn't it take more than outward behavior to make the distinction?

Raymond Tallis' superb "Aping Mankind" provides a much needed antidote for what Tallis labels Darwinitis, that is, the misapplication of Darwinian-type explanations; what both he and I see as the dismaying tendency nowadays to fabricate facile Darwinian-type explanations to account for... well, just about everything in the human sphere.
 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
18 minutes ago, Reg Prescott said:

Is it possible? Well, why not? Lots of things are possible: flying elephants, world peace, and Scotland winning the World Cup, for example; none of which are precluded on logical grounds alone.

It's also within the bounds of possibility, I suppose, that this is just some fanciful, self-congratulatory yarn that you've spun.

I was simply pointing out that there are often multiple factors at play in evolution, which all get balanced out (such as in the prevalence of sickle cell disease in areas where malaria is endemic).

It wasn’t intended to be “self congratulatory” (and I’m not sure why it would be taken that way). But if there is an evolutionary benefit to religiosity (and I don’t know if there is actually evidence for that) then there may also be evolutionary benefits to other personality types, including those that have lower religiosity. 

Another possibility is that there are both advantages and disadvantages to religiosity. Another is that has neither and is not selected for or against by evolution  

I’m sorry if you found that tentative hypothesis to be controversial. Perhaps you have some evidence for or against it? (I don’t, it was merely a suggestion)

Edited by Strange

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 hours ago, Reg Prescott said:

The first thought that came to my mind was: If it is indeed the case that religion is an advantageous evolutionary trait, why did it not spread through the entire human population as natural selection theory would lead us to expect? How come Itoero and Beecee, just to name two, seem to have been spared the rigors of biological determinism that afflicts only the poor unenlightened? 

That's like asking: "We evolved from apes, so why are there still apes?"

It's creationlogic.

Edited by Itoero

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 hours ago, Reg Prescott said:

The thread began with the suggestion that religion may be an evolutionary trait, conferring upon the bearers the advantage of social cohesion; an important feature enjoyed also, we're told, by many animals -- besides religious dolts -- such as African wild dogs, lions, wolves, whales, dolphins, chickens, penguins, crows, monkeys, and apes.

!

Moderator Note

Yes, that is the topic for discussion

 
Quote

The implication appears to be: "Gotta feel sorry for these religious dummies, eh? But, hey, it's not their fault: they got bad genes"

!

Moderator Note

I think it would be a mistake to take that as the characterization. The question is simply whether religion is an evolutionary trait.

I am moving this to evolution, since the discussion is about evolution, so leave religion details out of it.

I think one might consider if religion is simply a subset of a certain way of thinking; i.e. religion is simply one manifestation of  trait (belief in anything mystical, including superstition) rather than the trait itself.  

Discuss.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
29 minutes ago, Itoero said:

That's like asking: "We evolved from apes, so why are there still apes?"

It's creationlogic.

I don't see the analogy, I'm afraid. Perhaps you might elaborate.

What you suggested in your opening post, Itoero, is that religiosity is an evolutionary trait (in whatever species you have in mind) -- an adaptation I think is what you have in mind -- due to the advantage it confers on the bearer vis-à-vis the conspecific rivals who lack it.

Now, if this were indeed the case, selection theory would lead us to expect -- given all the usual qualifications, ceteris paribus, all else being equal, etc -- that, given the beneficial nature of the trait in question, it is likely, though not inevitable, that this trait would spread through the given population or entire species, eventually reaching fixation.

There has been no mention of a speciation event.

Now, my question was: if your conjecture is correct, why has this not happened? I, for one, lack the trait. It appears you, and several other posters, do too.

How does this connect to your analogy above?
 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 9/12/2018 at 2:09 PM, Itoero said:

Several studies show religious thought strengthens social cohesion.http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/03/religious-cohes.htmlhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4958132/http://science.sciencemag.org/content/322/5898/58

This imo means religion is an evolutionary trait. Strengthening of social cohesion is important for many animals like african wild dogs, lions, wolves, whales, dolphins, chickens, penguins, crows, monkeys, apes...It leads to evolutionary succes.

Our complex language enabled the origin of real religion, many other animals have religious thought/behavior  but lack our complex communicationsystem which prevents the origin of real religion.

What do you think of this?

 

While it is true that virtually all human cultures have or had some form of supernatural myths prevalent in their culture I would argue that there is a meaningful distinction between what people actual believe vs casually entertain. It is not uncommon for my to buy young people in my family Christmas presents despite the fact I am an Atheist and at no point in my life was ever Christian (Jewish mother). The use of totems and and spirit animals while seemingly religious in nature were also a mechanism to pass on useful craft and hunting skills during a time  when oral and traditions were all people had. Giving stories flare makes them easier to tell around a camp fire and that is how knowledge was passed down in many cultures. Whether or not the individuals in those cultures honestly believed the stories verbatim is debatable just as not everyone who buys Christmas gifts believes Jesus did for our sins. In my opinion when analyzing religion throughout human history there needs to be a distinction between those who were using myths as idioms to pass along useful information about the environment/world and those who were true believers prepared to kill others or die themselves in the name of the supernatural. If we study the later group I believe we'd find Religion (true fervent belief) to only exist in very large societies and is generally associated with the power structure which dominates those large societies. Egypt, Greeks, Mayans, and etc had established religions they killed and died for. 

How does or did that impact evolution isn't clear. To my knowledge no formal religion that individuals killed or died for existed during human evolution. What religion existed in Homo Heidelbergensis as they evolved into Homo Sapiens?  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, Reg Prescott said:

Now, if this were indeed the case, selection theory would lead us to expect -- given all the usual qualifications, ceteris paribus, all else being equal, etc -- that, given the beneficial nature of the trait in question, it is likely, though not inevitable, that this trait would spread through the given population or entire species, eventually reaching fixation.

But there are many traits, especially those which have only marginal benefits, that do not spread through the entire population.

For example, blue eyes are more common the further north you go in Europe. This may be because there is some evolutionary advantage (or it may be a side effect of some other change, eg. lighter skin), but if so it hasn't eliminated brown eyes.

There are a variety of traits in a population. Some people are more or less religious. Some are more or less artistic. Some are left or right handed. There may genetic and even evolutionary advantages (and disadvantages) to some of these. But they haven't become universal.

To consider the opposite case, there are inherited disorders which cause serious disability or death and so should be selected against. But evolution has not eliminated them completely.

4 minutes ago, Ten oz said:

How does or did that impact evolution isn't clear.

To take your example of buying presents, it could be that acts like that strengthen familial (or clan) bonds and makes it more likely that people will aid the survival of others in their family/clan/tribe/nation... (No idea how one would go about gathering information for this)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@ Strange

 

You make some good points above. There is a difference, though, as I see things.

 

Whether or not blue eyes (and the other traits you mention) confer an evolutionary advantage on the bearer remains unclear, as you note yourself.

 

Itoero, on the other hand, is asking us to entertain the hypothesis that religiosity does confer an advantage. Now, if this much is stipulated, we must examine the theoretical consequences (with blue eyes on the back burner for now).

 

With Frank Sinatra and Brad Pitt in mind, however, I can't help but sympathize with the "blue eyes conduce to reproductive success" hypothesis. Wish I had 'em, dammit.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 minutes ago, Strange said:

To take your example of buying presents, it could be that acts like that strengthen familial (or clan) bonds and makes it more likely that people will aid the survival of others in their family/clan/tribe/nation... (No idea how one would go about gathering information for this)

I buy presents for birthdays, graduates, and anniversaries too. The act isn't specific to religious event. I think an argument could be made that religion has co-opted traditions and events celebrated in societies. I imagine gifting presents far predates religions. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

And is it really plausible that the complexities, subtleties, and intricacies of religiosity can be captured in one trait?

 

Seems a tad simplistic to me.

Edited by Reg Prescott

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, Reg Prescott said:

Whether or not blue eyes (and the other traits you mention) confer an evolutionary advantage on the bearer remains unclear, as you note yourself.

 

Itoero, on the other hand, is asking us to entertain the hypothesis that religiosity does confer an advantage. Now, if this much is stipulated, we must examine the theoretical consequences (with blue eyes on the back burner for now).

I don't see much difference between the hypotheses that blue eyes, lighter skin, musical ability, religiosity, mathematical ability, etc. might have an advantage (and possibly also disadvantages).

 

6 minutes ago, Reg Prescott said:

And is it really plausible that the complexities and intricacies of religiosity can be captured in one trait?

Good point. I don't know if people have studied how the different aspects (eg. belief in a fairly concrete or personal god versus some more abstract spiritualism) vary through the population (and what other characteristics they might correlate with).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Reg Prescott said:

don't see the analogy, I'm afraid. Perhaps you might elaborate.

You seem to think since religion/religious thought evolved in via natural selection, everyone should be religious. You have a wrong deterministic view on evolution.

I  think it's correct that religious thought improves social/group cohesion. When we lived in Africa and started to spread through the world, social/group cohesion was very important to create shelter, provide food/water, make cloths…..When you lived in a group you strongly increased your chance of having offspring.

Now there are many factors that decide if you are religious or not. Natural selection works because the natural environment changes 'constantly'.  A couple million years ago the environment was very different then now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, Itoero said:

You seem to think since religion/religious thought evolved in via natural selection, everyone should be religious. You have a wrong deterministic view on evolution.

No, I don't think that. The idea strikes me as manifestly preposterous.

 

You're the one who suggested -- in your opening post -- that religion is an evolutionary trait.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 minutes ago, Reg Prescott said:

No, I don't think that. The idea strikes me as manifestly preposterous.

 

You're the one who suggested -- in your opening post -- that religion is an evolutionary trait.

So, you have done a lot of disagreeing so far :) but what do you think the reason for religiosity is?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Reg Prescott said:

Now, my question was: if your conjecture is correct, why has this not happened? I, for one, lack the trait. It appears you, and several other posters, do too.

I think it might be due to your life experiences and development. I reckon you do have the propensity as a human being to have been religious if you were subject to the right circumstances. The right respected family member believing, the right chain of coincidences happening at the right times to make you wonder... we are all human and all have the trait (I assume) to either believe or not believe depending upon our experiences and studies in life. That is what I 'think' anyway

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
26 minutes ago, Strange said:

So, you have done a lot of disagreeing so far :) but what do you think the reason for religiosity is?

Ha! Well, if I knew the answer to that I'd be writing books and getting filthy rich rather than squandering my youth with you fine people :rolleyes:

 

That said, given the speed that religious ideas spread, not to mention the complex web of intentionality thereby implicated, a genetic explanation would appear vanishingly unlikely.

 

Mormonism takes over the world in 200 years or so? I don't think natural selection works that fast, does it?

Edited by Reg Prescott
butter fingers

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, Reg Prescott said:

Mormonism takes over the world in 200 years or so?

Moronism maybe - I don't think the world is that gullible though, lol.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Just now, DrP said:

Moronism maybe - I don't think the world is that gullible though, lol.

Oh, I dunno. They're at every major intersection here where I live (Taiwan) waiting to pounce on the weak and infirm. Owning a Ferrari might help. They only use bicycles.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Just now, Reg Prescott said:

Oh, I dunno. They're at every major intersection here where I live (Taiwan) waiting to pounce on the weak and infirm. Owning a Ferrari might help. They only use bicycles.

Yea - but you get cooks everywhere.  A monk came up to me last week in Canterbury high street. He was French - he didn't look like a monk - he just had jeans and T-shirt. He said he was a Hare Krishna. We were having a fairly pleasant discussion (I have been wanting to talk to religious types since my conversion to atheism) and I was defending that we can know some things almost for certain, like gravity, it never fails or has never been shown to fail. We were actually having a good conversation until his mate popped up just blatently suggested that there was no such thing as gravity at all....  I ignored him, laughed and said to his friend that the guy was either joking or really dumb - he smiled and I walked off - I just didn't have the time, energy or the will to argue against a person that denies the very reality around him.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 minutes ago, Reg Prescott said:

Mormonism takes over the world in 200 years or so? I don't think natural selection works that fast, does it?

Religiosity is about the the degree to which people are likely to have religious beliefs (of any sort) not specific beliefs. No one is suggesting that there is a different genetic  contribution to Christianity versus Buddhism, for example. 

The specific religious beliefs people have will be largely determined by the culture they grow up in, plus other aspects of their personality. 

So the spread of Mormonism is a cultural effect not an example of evolution.

As an analogy, some people are very musical. Depending where (and when) they grow up this might be expressed as opera or rock and roll. The spread of western pop music round the world didn’t require a genetic change, it just “piggy backed” on the existing (genetic) interest in music. 

You are obviously a smart guy so I am surprised you put forward this argument. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@ Strange

 

Well, forget specifics then. Just consider the rate at which the non-religious convert to religion -- any religion.

 

No, I don't have statistics, but whatever they are, it's gotta be faster than natural selection can keep pace with. Happens overnight sometimes. All it takes is an encounter with a burning bush, say, or an epiphany on the road to Damascus (I jest slightly). Or maybe even a half-hearted grumbling agnostic prayer gets answered. One minute religiosity is -- at least outwardly -- absent; next minute you're handling rattlesnakes.

 

I suppose you could argue that a "latent gene" suddenly got activated.

 

Once again, strikes me as far too simplistic. I'd incline towards an argument of the form: stuff happens and we adjust our beliefs accordingly.

 

Far less simplistic, eh?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.