Jump to content
Robittybob1

Did religion or beliefs give early man an evolutionary advantage?

Recommended Posts

Ajb said "To me, the general arena of the paranormal is fascinating, but not because I think that any of this is real. I think the paranormal gives us great insight into the human mind in the sense of what imagination we have and how easily our senses can trick our brain. It also shed some light on deep ingrained fears and hopes. All of which are tied to our evolution and our social constructs.

"

 

To which I replied "How does it fit in with evolution? Why would the humans with these imaginary tendencies have a selective advantage?"

There are genes and memes? Discuss the evolution of religion here please.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I cannot speak for Ajb, but to me it seems he is arguing that the brain structures that are involved in religious behaviour (which, in turn may e.g. be tied to creativity and imagination) are providing a selective advantage. Not particular beliefs themselves.

Edited by CharonY

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I cannot speak for Ajb, but to me it seems he is arguing that the brain structures that are involved in religious behaviour (which, in turn may e.g. be tied to creativity and imagination) are providing a selective advantage. Not particular beliefs themselves.

I am not sure what I am arguing!

 

Maybe the advantage of a religion, whatever it is, is that it binds the tribe together. This willingness to believe in 'higher powers' maybe part of this social bonding. Of course it has been exploited by leaders for their own power.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am not sure what I am arguing!

 

Maybe the advantage of a religion, whatever it is, is that it binds the tribe together. This willingness to believe in 'higher powers' maybe part of this social bonding. Of course it has been exploited by leaders for their own power.

That still sounds like it isn't "in the genes". It is late here so I'll try and research the topic tomorrow.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am not sure what I am arguing!

 

Maybe the advantage of a religion, whatever it is, is that it binds the tribe together. This willingness to believe in 'higher powers' maybe part of this social bonding. Of course it has been exploited by leaders for their own power.

 

I apologize for misrepresenting your argument, then. I would say that social cohesion exists in many forms in nature while religiosity seems to be a far more limited. Social bonding, for example does involve a number of behavioral as well as biochemical cues.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

!

Moderator Note

Since the topic here is evolution and not religion, per se, this has been moved here.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It is a good question. Why did social groups with "religious" beliefs prevail over groups where these beliefs were less formed?

 

I feel it may be connected to warfare and conflict.. It is always the case in conflict that a leader is required to focus energy in times of emergencies.

 

Religion allows potential leaders to showcase their qualities . If they pass the test of devotion to these imaginary folk then their other qualities may also become apparent.

 

It is also a respectable reason to dispense with their services and pass the baton to a new leader (ritual murders of chieftains have been discovered in Europe).

 

Religion and warfare seem intertwined. In our (mine at any rate) distaste for religious beliefs we should not overlook the system of resolving issues by armed conflict we are still wedded to and which is surely a far more pressing "problem".

Edited by geordief

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I apologize for misrepresenting your argument, then.

I don't think you completely misrepresented my argument. For sure, it takes a lot of imagination to construct a belief system, and abstract thinking, planning etc were certainty evolutionary advantages for our ancestors.

 

I think that religion and the paranormal reflects something about us, rather than pointing to something 'supernatural'.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Two advantages to a shared belief in certain forms of access to an all-governing spiritual realm: it provides a way of limiting exploitation of a resource and thus avoiding a Hardin's Common Tragedy; it provides a way of randomizing exploitation of stochastically variable resources and thus maximizing it within those limits.

 

So a tribe with a sound and deeply coherent set of spiritual beliefs mediated by its wisest and most capable individuals would have the means of more often avoiding suboptimal equilibria enforced by debilitation (starvation, disease, etc), and would instead be more often presenting its neighbors with a people closer to the maximum strength and health of human population a given level of technology on a given landscape could support.

 

The underlying circumstance is this: the world is very complex, deeply patterned, and these patterns incorporate randomness. Whatever one's terms or approaches to these patterns may be, they are functionally equivalent to what we call spirituality or they are too shallow.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

First, i'd like to agree to agree with ajb that the study of the supernatural (more precisely the myths surrounding it) is fascinating and can tell us a lot about the human condition.

 

In terms of the evolution of religiosity, two points:

 

There is an assumption that an evolved trait is beneficial, but it's enough that the trait is not detrimental to survival.

 

Religion is being treated as a homogeneous concept but even today we could could be talking about several different concepts. I imagine the differences were more pronounced in earlier times.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I believe I remember seeing a study (which I will try to find later if I have time), that involved teaching apes (I forget what kind, unfortunately) and human children a series of steps to open a box containing a prize of some sort. Some of the steps were entirely superfluous to opening the box.

 

They then gave a clear version of the box to each group so that you could see that certain things were completely disconnected from opening the box. The apes quickly figured this out and skipped steps they didn't need to perform in order to get straight to the prize. The human children rigidly stuck to the process they'd been taught even though there was apparently no reason for doing some of it.

 

I wonder if there's a bit of ingrained dogmatism in the way we learn things and if this might not actually be a bit of a learning advantage, in that it would allow us to mimic some fairly complex behaviors without fully understanding the reasons why we're doing everything.

 

Someone eats shellfish and gets sick. Everyone teaches their children that it's bad to eat shellfish. Ten thousand years later, the behavior still persists being passed down from generation to generation even if the original reason has been lost.

 

I could see learning of complex behaviors by rote as being both a contributor to the development of religion as we know it as well as a reason that humans are successfully able to adapt to such a wide variety of environments where there may not be a particularly safe way for every member of the next generation to relearn the lessons that led to the development of each survival strategy the group has picked up.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To which I replied "How does it fit in with evolution? Why would the humans with these imaginary tendencies have a selective advantage?"

There are genes and memes? Discuss the evolution of religion here please.

 

Religion used to be a set of rules people followed religiously to keep them safe. For instance we don't eat animal a because it is poisonous . It became filled with it isn't raining because we angered god a or b and completely went out of control.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Religion used to be a set of rules people followed religiously to keep them safe. For instance we don't eat animal a because it is poisonous . It became filled with it isn't raining because we angered god a or b and completely went out of control.

 

I agree. Religion is a method of interacting with the universe, one which anthropomorphizes natural phenomena. By treating nature as a person, hopefully it can be bargained with, placated, and reduce events of probability (storms, drought, famine, disease). Religion used to be intrinsically linked to the ruling classes, who would favor a group of priests. There is an advantage to keeping social cohesion, mankind, the naked ape, survives much better in socialized groups than he ever could as a loose collection of individuals. Religion is practiced worldwide. I would be amiss not to speculate positively that religion has contributed to an evolutionary advantage, in lieu of rational thinking and a commitment to ethics, and decent government.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think it all started because some early humans began imagining predators in the shadows, and the ones who were right more often gained prestige. Humans would listen to the warrior who can predict where the tiger is lying in wait. It would lead to more predictions about things they couldn't see, and again, the human who gets it right most often seems like a magic person, someone to be listened to and followed. Imagining something you can't see was a huge advantage in long-range planning, which leads to cooperative efforts at a better future for the tribe.

 

While religion may have given early humans an advantage in some areas, I think it also was a detriment to critical thinking skills, something it took us a few thousand years to develop because of religious indoctrination. Once we started looking at the universe critically, and stopped accepting truths on faith, it's only taken us a few centuries to reach the stage we're at now.

 

Perhaps religion is like training wheels for humans. Once you've grown past the need, it's time to take them off, otherwise they're going to hamper your bike-riding development.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

. There is an advantage to keeping social cohesion, mankind, the naked ape, survives much better in socialized groups than he ever could as a loose collection of individuals.

If (as seems indisputable) social cohesion gave an evolutionary advantage then ,if religious beliefs and practices can be linked to improved social cohesion (and there were not alternative ,competing methods of fueling social cohesion then the case for religious practices providing an evolutionary advantage would be very strong.

 

Can that link be made?

 

Is Phi's speculation about imagination a separate issue ?(kind of like the distinction between superstition and organized religion)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is Phi's speculation about imagination a separate issue ?(kind of like the distinction between superstition and organized religion)

 

If you don't accept that religious teachings are "divinely inspired", then it was imagination that gave rise to religion. I mentioned nothing about superstitions, only about predictive imaginings turning into doctrine.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

If you don't accept that religious teachings are "divinely inspired", then it was imagination that gave rise to religion. I mentioned nothing about superstitions, only about predictive imaginings turning into doctrine.

I don't see the link between the practice of individual making (rewarded) successful guesses and the formation of doctrines (presumably shared by the group).

 

Isn't that where group behaviour becomes important? Any group behaviour at all is better (in evolutionary terms) than behaviour based on the individual (if that is even possible at that stage of human existence)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I believe I remember seeing a study (which I will try to find later if I have time), that involved teaching apes (I forget what kind, unfortunately) and human children a series of steps to open a box containing a prize of some sort. Some of the steps were entirely superfluous to opening the box....

 

I came across a similar study (also forget where) in which some kind of primate was punished for opening a box or some such. A newly introduced monkey was stopped from opening the same box by the old monkey. And so on they added monkeys all being stopped from investigating the box, but they also took out the first monkeys so that there were none there that had actually experienced the punishment. Interestingly, and if i'm remembering correctly, some of the monkeys were quite violent when encouraging new monkeys not to open the box.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't see the link between the practice of individual making (rewarded) successful guesses and the formation of doctrines (presumably shared by the group).

 

Isn't that where group behaviour becomes important? Any group behaviour at all is better (in evolutionary terms) than behaviour based on the individual (if that is even possible at that stage of human existence)

 

It's not important enough to me to argue if you truly think I'm off-topic. Enjoy, let me know if you want me to hide my post.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Religious beliefs and practices may not be easily defined. It is not my thread. I doubt the OP will scold you for being OT even if he thought you were.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

.....

 

Perhaps religion is like training wheels for humans. Once you've grown past the need, it's time to take them off, otherwise they're going to hamper your bike-riding development.

That is one of the areas for discussion. If after millions of years of selecting for the "religious" genes are you suggesting evolution will now take us back the other way.

The topic came up in the TK thread where some feel they have the power to do TK and even premonitions, which I understand are the result of these religious genes (beliefs).

I would have preferred the continual evolution along the religious path rather than going back.

But you are not really saying going back either but I suspect you are in favour of replacing it with a belief in science. For to change the genetics of the whole population is an enormous task but to replace what is being believed in doesn't seem impossible.

 

I don't disagree with that either for I consider myself both religious and scientific

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've just come to this thread so if this has been addressed please forgive;

 

Phi for All, wrote; "I think it all started because some early humans began imagining predators in the shadows, and the ones who were right more often gained prestige. Humans would listen to the warrior who can predict where the tiger is lying in wait. It would lead to more predictions about things they couldn't see, and again, the human who gets it right most often seems like a magic person, someone to be listened to and followed. Imagining something you can't see was a huge advantage in long-range planning, which leads to cooperative efforts at a better future for the tribe."

 

This insightful passage touches on several aspects of this topic that have been addressed by the likes of S.J.Gould, Richard Lewontin, D.S.Wilson, Richard Dawkins and others. Despite the heat between the Gouldian camps (the individual is the unit of selection) and the Dawkins camp (the gene is the unit of selection), they do agree that spandrels in biology are real and that Wilson's group selection ideas are not supported by the evidence. Dawkins addresses the possible evolutionary advantages of religious thought in the God Delusion (as well as elsewhere) with the passage on the moths drawn to a flame - we observe the strange suicidal behavior of moths flying into the flame of a candle but that is just a version of the moth's evolutionary adaptation to orient to a bright nocturnal light (the moon) gone wrong. In that chapter he suggests that religion is a spandrel and he imagines it arising in a way like Phi for All suggests but instead of hunters exchanging knowledge he posits how children learn as a means by which religion may have risen (any typos mine):

 

"My specific hypothesis is about children. More than any other species, we survive by the accumulated experience of previous generations, and that experience needs to be passed on to children for their protection and well-being. Theoretically, children might learn from personal experience not to go too near the edge of a cliff, not to eat untried red berries, not to swim in crocodile infested waters. But, to say the least, there will be selective advantage to child brains that possess the rule of thumb: believe, without question, whatever your grown-ups tell you. Obey your parents; obey your tribal elders, especially when they adopt a solemn, minatory tone. Trust your elders without question. This is a generally valuable tool for a child. But, as with the moths, it can go wrong."

 

Religion -all religion- requires adherence to the tenets of religion and those are mandated (and invented) by the ones in control of it. To Dawkins, our brains - our childish brains- evolved to submit to authority and that willingness to submit translates into the spandrel of religion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

....

 

Religion -all religion- requires adherence to the tenets of religion and those are mandated (and invented) by the ones in control of it. To Dawkins, our brains - our childish brains- evolved to submit to authority and that willingness to submit translates into the spandrel of religion.

So that reminds me more of an instinct. Humans needed to be instinctively "willing to submit to authority". That then I presume is something to do with how our brains are wired (embryology).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

 

This insightful passage touches on several aspects of this topic that have been addressed by the likes of S.J.Gould, Richard Lewontin, D.S.Wilson, Richard Dawkins and others. Despite the heat between the Gouldian camps (the individual is the unit of selection) and the Dawkins camp (the gene is the unit of selection), they do agree that spandrels in biology are real and that Wilson's group selection ideas are not supported by the evidence.

There are a lot of different ways modern religion could be a spandrel in evolutionary terms. The underlying mechanisms that facilitate religion would be adaptive, possibly more adaptive than Dawkins would care to admit. I like the spandrel theory, one possible link is the idea of HADD's (Hypersensitive agent detection devices).

 

The idea that humans possess mental modules which favour the assumption of the existence of agents in a given scenario. Human hears a rustle in the jungle, assumes there is a lion, takes preemptive measures, even if the vast majority of times there is no lion, evolutionary speaking it pays to assume the presence of an agent, as the safety measures cost far less valued against the loss of being eaten. This mathematical imbalance would lead to humans evolving to assign agents to events and scenarios even when they don't exist. The speculation is such a mental module predisposes humanity to believing in God.

 

The high cost of failing to detect agents and the lowcost of wrongly detecting them has led researchers to suggestthat people possess a Hyperactive Agent Detection Device, acognitive module that readily ascribes events in the environ-ment to the behavior of agents (Atran, 2002; Barrett, 2000).This inclination toward agent detection is likely one founda-tion for human belief in God (Barrett, 2004).

 

Gray and Wenger discuss this idea, linking it to the evolution of moraility in their excellent article, extending HADDs into the evolution of moral reasoning.

The research reviewed inthis article suggests that God may be more accurately char-acterized as “God of the Moral Gaps,” a supernatural mind introduced into our perception of the world because of the underlying dyadic structure of morality. Seen in this light, God stems not only from agent detection but from patient detection as well, both of which arise from a persistent need to maintain the moral order of a universe consisting of moral agents and patients.

 

To understand the later quote fully you'll need to read the article in full which covers a lot of ground and it would be pointless for me to summarise it.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/32966805/Blaming-God-for-Our-Pain

 

This is just one of a half dozen theories on the evolution of religion, I will post up on the others shortly.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"To understand the later quote fully you'll need to read the article in full which covers a lot of ground and it would be pointless for me to summarise it."

 

I have read this before. Very interesting and thank you for posting it but (IMO) it doesn't actually address the question here. It doesn't give an answer to how religion may be adaptive. It makes a good case for the nature of religious thought; that God -or gods as he is careful to say- can be characterized as "God of the Moral Gaps" but it doesn't propose any mechanism for how religion may have arisen.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • 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.