Evolutionary basis of religion

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Chance Offline
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Evolutionary basis of religion

Posted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 11:54 am



I would argue that everything about our species is a product of our evolution. I'm not sure how a thinking person could see anything about humans, be it our technology, problems giving birth, sexualities, art, literature, diseases, etc. as anything other than a product of natural selection and other evolutionary processes and how they've shaped us.

So that brings us to religion. There seems to be no end of fighting between people of different religions and people who have no religion. What, then, is the evolutionary basis of religion? Since it is a part of our species, and as far as we know unique to our species (maybe elephants have a religion of sorts, not sure), there has to be an evolutionary basis for it.

I think I was listening to a Dawkins audiobook or maybe just a video of him on YouTube but he spoke of the "causative agent" idea. When our ancestors were roaming the African grasslands, it would not behoove them to ignore a rustle in the bushes lest they soon because the next meal for a pride of lions. Instead, those who assumed the rustle in the bushes were due to a real, tangible causative agent were more like to flee quickly enough to survive. Thus, natural selection shaped humans to favor those who were willing to apply a causative agent to the unknown.

Fast forward 70-100k years or so. Now we have societies and tend to live along the banks of water ways to more easily allow trade. Floods and other natural disasters are devastating to us, and since we are ignorant to actual causes of these events we invent deities to explain the unknown. We begin to develop religions around these deities to appease them and try to make the bad stuff go away. But of course it never does. So we move from god to god, goddess to goddess, and gradually whittle our way down to just one god because we are still faced with the unknown.

More than 2000 years later and what do we see? Because of the 'programming' in our DNA, leftovers from our ancestors trying to avoid being eaten, we still tend to apply causative agents even when we know exactly what causes things like natural disasters. We still throw our hands into the air and cry out "why?!" when a tornado tears through a town or a hurricane floods New York. We still question what we did to deserve this. All the while we are slaves to this programming in our DNA.

So now I'm thinking maybe skepticism, agnosticism, atheism are all mutations diverging us away from the tendency to apply causative agents.

Anyway, I'm sure this post is rambling but I had a free moment during the school day and thought I'd write.

Feel free to discuss.


yoshikinto Offline
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Re: Evolutionary basis of religion

Posted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 8:30 pm



I get what you're saying but I have some issues with some of this.
Chance wrote:I think I was listening to a Dawkins audiobook or maybe just a video of him on YouTube but he spoke of the "causative agent" idea. When our ancestors were roaming the African grasslands, it would not behoove them to ignore a rustle in the bushes lest they soon because the next meal for a pride of lions. Instead, those who assumed the rustle in the bushes were due to a real, tangible causative agent were more like to flee quickly enough to survive. Thus, natural selection shaped humans to favor those who were willing to apply a causative agent to the unknown.
Making the connection between a rustle in the bushes and the possibility of danger is different than deciding what was in the bushes. And specific beliefs are taught, they aren't part of our genome. Even if religion were a result of evolution, I don't it's fair to say that it's related to our fight or flight response.
Chance wrote:Fast forward 70-100k years or so. Now we have societies and tend to live along the banks of water ways to more easily allow trade. Floods and other natural disasters are devastating to us, and since we are ignorant to actual causes of these events we invent deities to explain the unknown. We begin to develop religions around these deities to appease them and try to make the bad stuff go away. But of course it never does. So we move from god to god, goddess to goddess, and gradually whittle our way down to just one god because we are still faced with the unknown.
That's the thing. We developed religions, it wasn't selected for (until later on where you were killed for being a nonbeliever).
Chance wrote:So now I'm thinking maybe skepticism, agnosticism, atheism are all mutations diverging us away from the tendency to apply causative agents.
This would make our present situation very unlikely. The number of atheists is growing pretty quickly and I can't think of an evolutionary mechanism that would be causing that currently. And if it were due to a mutation, that would mean that all of a sudden all these kids just happened to start being born with the same mutation since it's clearly wasn't an allele that was being passed down from those before us.
Chance wrote:More than 2000 years later and what do we see? Because of the 'programming' in our DNA, leftovers from our ancestors trying to avoid being eaten, we still tend to apply causative agents even when we know exactly what causes things like natural disasters. We still throw our hands into the air and cry out "why?!" when a tornado tears through a town or a hurricane floods New York. We still question what we did to deserve this. All the while we are slaves to this programming in our DNA.
I think "why?!" is the important part here. That's what we've retained as a result of evolution. That's what allowed us to continue to learn and advance as a species even when our bodies stopped changing significantly. And indirectly that has contributed to the existence of religion. Our advanced reasoning and communication allowed for religion to arise. And our "need" for answers and drive to understand the world contributed some motivation, but I don't think anything changed on a genetic level that directly led to the creation of religion.

I think all of our wants and needs have an evolutionary basis but that doesn't necessarily mean that there's a direct connection between evolution and the means by which we satisfy our wants and needs. For example, we want/need sex and food but we probably don't have genes for hiring prostitutes or making cupcakes.
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TVOham Offline
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Re: Evolutionary basis of religion

Posted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 11:58 pm



I don't think Chance was talking about biological evolution here. Most of your arguments (such as atheism resulting from mutation) relate to biological evolution, which I think would be silly. I think he's referring to more of a cognitive evolution
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sxetnrdrmr Offline
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Re: Evolutionary basis of religion

Posted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 8:55 am



TVOham wrote:I don't think Chance was talking about biological evolution here. Most of your arguments (such as atheism resulting from mutation) relate to biological evolution, which I think would be silly. I think he's referring to more of a cognitive evolution
yep, that's a very good way to describe it.

I have always believed in what Chance is saying here. I also would add to his "out loud" though train that as we developed the technology to allow our selves more free time - meaning, we started to be able to have some time to just sit and think rather than running from, or to, prey, we started to "look to the stars" more and wonder about things that are bigger than us. Like the forces of nature, which were definitely the first "deities" in any area. Religion was a rough type of science - that of early humans trying to explain things that the science OF THE TIME could not. The STORY of creation was just like the STORY of the Earth being flat...both have now been deciphered, or are still in the process of being deciphered by current scientific methods.

We cling to the stories because they remind us of our connection to the past, and bring us "warm fuzzies" - which for a lot of people science does NOT :wink: To me, this is where the negatives start creeping in, and religion starts to take on some qualities that it was never meant to have. All of the "humanistic" elements of greed, power etc start to influence and filter in, and then we have much of what drives more progressive people away from it today...the fighting, "I'm right, your wrong" mentality that makes it not so warm and fuzzy

I think you see a more recent advent of Atheism because people are seeing less and less "magic" in things that are smaller or bigger than the eye can see due to current scientific breakthroughs, as well as the dissatisfaction with the negative human elements It is a Cognitive Evolution.
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TVOham Offline
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Re: Evolutionary basis of religion

Posted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 9:25 am



Science is explaining all of the previously unexplainable. That's why atheism is on the rise.
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Chance Offline
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Re: Evolutionary basis of religion

Posted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 9:45 am



We always need to keep this in mind: everyone is born as an atheist. It takes a conscientious effort to convert people to anything else.


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Re: Evolutionary basis of religion

Posted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:42 am



Chance wrote:We always need to keep this in mind: everyone is born as an atheist. It takes a conscientious effort to convert people to anything else.
this is the most important topic brought up yet. Religion is a CONDITIONED element of our existence, not an INHERENT one.
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