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The Evolution Of Religion


Mriana
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The Evolution of Religion

 

One idea is that religion is related to evolution, in that belief confers some survival advantage. Another idea is that as with other supernatural beliefs, religion is appealing because it offers answers to things that otherwise seem inexplicable (and before modern science, a lot of things were inexplicable, from the stars in the sky to stormy weather to human illness and death). But throughout history, just feeling better by having an explanation for things would not necessarily confer much of a survival advantage.

 

A new simulation program by Dow tries to answer the question by delving into how a system rooted in passing along false or unverifiable information (that is, beliefs rather than plain-as-day facts) can spread and stick.

 

Dow's simulation looks at whether religion exists because it is good for the individual.

 

In early runs of the simulations, religion doesn't survive most scenarios, explains Massimo Pigliucci in his blog. To spread virtual religion in the simulation, non-believers have to help. The complex reasoning for why this might be so — which Pigliucci explains more fully — is that religious people inspire trust, and so the community tends to help them.

 

Dow says his simulation, which he calls evogod, "shows that a central unifying feature of religion, a belief in an unverifiable world, could have evolved alongside of verifiable knowledge. ... The evogod simulation shows how a capacity to create religious ideas can evolve by social selection. It reveals a selection process that can increase genetically inherited capacities to communicate unreal, unverifiable information."

 

So they are saying religion is genetic? If this is true, is it possible to breed it out of ourselves? I don't know. I think I prefer the meme theory more.

 

Pigliucci:

 

The success of religion may be the fault of non-believers (or, if you look at it the other way around, thank god for the atheists!)

 

UGH!

 

At least that is one interpretation of a recent individual-based simulation study of social evolution conducted by James Dow at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, and published in a recent issue of the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation (vol. 11, no. 2 2).

 

The first interesting result from the simulations is that under most tested scenarios religion actually does not survive! This is presumably because there is an obvious cost (in terms of sheer Darwinian fitness) to buying into fanciful notions about how the world works. How is it possible, then, that practically every human society has gotten the religious virus? The most surprising result of Dow’s study is that religion spreads only if non-religious people help it by supporting the religious!

 

How is this possible?

 

The simulation’s structure was not designed to address the question of what mechanism could induce non-religious people to help religious ones, but some possibilities have been suggested nonetheless.

 

According to Dow, “if a person is willing to sacrifice for an abstract god then people feel like they are willing to sacrifice for the community” (the so-called “greenbeard” effect). This is a social version of a well-established evolutionary idea known as the “handicap principle,” where males who can parade useless and costly attributes (be they peacock's feathers or Ferrari sports cars) are more likely to attract females because they are sending the indirect signal that their genes are so good that they can waste energy and resources just to please the female. It attempts to induce the female to imagine what sort of offspring they might be able to produce if only the female would consent to ...

 

As bizarre and irrational as this sort of scenario may seem, there is independent empirical evidence, for instance from studies of Israeli kibbutzim, that religious people do tend to receive more assistance than less religious ones from the rest of the community, again perhaps because they inspire trust.

 

Ironically, of course, this trust originates not because the religious provide more truthful information about the world, but precisely because they display a high degree of commitment to delivering non-verifiable information!

 

The virus and meme theories sound better. We can rid ourselves of a virus or a meme.

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Religion helps you survive because you murder all the people who don't believe in it. It's been tried many times in the last few thousand years.

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Like the Muslim "kill all infidels" dealie?

Hopefully one day, the world will stop being so superstitious.

Then we can finally stop killing each other over who's god is better.

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