Author Topic: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?  (Read 1510 times)

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Offline haudace

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So not all, but I'd say most missionaries fall into the worthless category. They're doing it to please their imaginary friend. 


Worthless? I am not too sure about that. Nature has a way to surprise us by how it makes things happen. As far as I am concerned, I like to err on the side of caution and consider religion a byproduct of our evolution. Religiosity proliferated in our species because it must have had some kind of advantage, otherwise it would have been weeded out.

I am not saying religions are correct, just that we need to acknowledge their widespread existence and their nature. The signal is too strong and not so trivial. The reason might not be immediately obvious (social cohesion perhaps?), but I am not willing to ignore this is a characteristic that was naturally selected and ingrained in most members of our species. Unless this is recognized, it makes the messaging about secularism, skepticism and heck atheism extremely resisted and not received by the other side.
« Last Edit: December 12, 2018, 05:43:10 PM by haudace »

Offline haudace

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2018, 06:10:34 PM »
Colonialism and Imperialism was a bad thing and most of the period we think about in regard to missionaries was during that time frame. They were the early foot soldiers that lead the way for the greater infiltration and invasion. I think any time you have large populations migrating into other populations you have significant issues. Once we got beyond the speed of the horse it only exacerbated matters. Unfortunately the human animal is a violent animal and one that is prone to not liking others not like themselves.

I am not following, this really confuses me a lot. Does this make John Allen Chau guilty of the same? All I am seeing here is association fallacy or a red herring?

Note the church in Rwanda participated in the genocide of Tutsis. Does this mean every priest in the world is a genocidal maniac?

Offline CarbShark

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2018, 06:13:47 PM »
Yeah, worthless. Maybe at one point it served an evolutionary function like pinky toes or tits on guys, but for the last 3000 years or so, worthless.
and Donald Trump is President of the United States.

I'm not a doctor, I'm just someone who has done a ton of research into diet and nutrition.

Offline haudace

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2018, 10:36:24 PM »
Yeah, worthless. Maybe at one point it served an evolutionary function like pinky toes or tits on guys, but for the last 3000 years or so, worthless.

Depends on how you look at it. Evolution isn't over for the human specie and it is also under no obligation to follow any of our standards. We are no different than the other organisms on this planet who are subject to it. The future is fair game. Pinky toes may disappear, or they may turn into an useful appendage/organ. Same things for those mammary glands on males. But I actually think those serve a purpose. Their absence implies the female does not have mammary genes as well, meaning human infants wouldn't be able to breastfeed. I can even imagine possible scenarios where religion could come back in full force following catastrophic events (meteor strike, virulent disease, war etc...). Religion can definitely be a rallying agent and an enforcer of social cohesion - just look at Saudi Arabia.

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2018, 10:49:39 AM »
One of the great differences between natural selection and intelligent design is that with evolution you often get useless features as a ride-along on the genes. In his wonderful book The Panda’s Thumb, Stephen Jay Gould explains that that the panda evolved a sort of “thumb” that allows it to strip the leaves off of bamboo, but that it also has a similar “thumb” on its hind feet which serves no purpose whatsoever. There was no evolutionary pressure to confine the “thumb” to the fore paws alone. Nipples on a man are a similar thing: they serve no purpose but there was no pressure for men not to have them; they are a useless mirror of the nipples on women because that’s how genes work.

Religion arose as a useless and even damaging side-effect of our development of theory of mind: we learned to attribute volition as a way of anticipating danger, but we mistakenly attributed volition to inanimate objects and events, and we got religion, which serves no useful purpose and is now causing us to destroy ourselves. Possessing theory of mind is beneficial enough that even the disaster that is religion has not killed it. But the existence of religion does not mean it evolved for any beneficial purpose.
Daniel
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Offline Billzbub

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2018, 11:06:20 AM »
One of the great differences between natural selection and intelligent design is that with evolution you often get useless features as a ride-along on the genes. In his wonderful book The Panda’s Thumb, Stephen Jay Gould explains that that the panda evolved a sort of “thumb” that allows it to strip the leaves off of bamboo, but that it also has a similar “thumb” on its hind feet which serves no purpose whatsoever. There was no evolutionary pressure to confine the “thumb” to the fore paws alone. Nipples on a man are a similar thing: they serve no purpose but there was no pressure for men not to have them; they are a useless mirror of the nipples on women because that’s how genes work.

Religion arose as a useless and even damaging side-effect of our development of theory of mind: we learned to attribute volition as a way of anticipating danger, but we mistakenly attributed volition to inanimate objects and events, and we got religion, which serves no useful purpose and is now causing us to destroy ourselves. Possessing theory of mind is beneficial enough that even the disaster that is religion has not killed it. But the existence of religion does not mean it evolved for any beneficial purpose.

I was composing this same post in my head as I scrolled down to find that you already said it, and better than I would have.  Religion happens because humans have hyperactive agency detection.  I can see how the agency detection helped us survive, and I also see how it was practically inevitable that it would cause religion and superstition.  This is why studying the mind is so important.  Metacogs unite!
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Offline John Albert

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2018, 02:43:26 PM »
Religiosity proliferated in our species because it must have had some kind of advantage, otherwise it would have been weeded out.

This is not necessarily true. Evolution doesn't "weed out" traits unless they're so detrimental to the life of the organism as to prevent it from passing on its genes. Religious thought might be proliferating in humans for no better reason than our neuroloplasticity and biochemistry allows us to derive comfort from learning and participating in a shared delusion. So we continue to participate, despite it being an impediment to our species' productive interaction on a worldwide scale.

The natural process of evolution won't allow us to move past religion unless religion itself becomes a detrimental trait. If that were to happen, the selective pressure might cause some population to develop some kind of clear genetic inhibition to religious thought. In that case, evolution could "weed out" the predilection for religion on a genetic level.

Or perhaps some epigenetic mechanism might emerge out of cultural factors, that somehow intervenes to end religion.

Or maybe—and this is a terrifying thought—some future technocracy might discover a genetic mechanism to inhibit religion, and engineer areligiousity into its offspring.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2018, 07:16:59 PM by John Albert »

Offline haudace

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2018, 09:09:22 PM »
Religion arose as a useless and even damaging side-effect of our development of theory of mind: we learned to attribute volition as a way of anticipating danger, but we mistakenly attributed volition to inanimate objects and events, and we got religion, which serves no useful purpose and is now causing us to destroy ourselves. Possessing theory of mind is beneficial enough that even the disaster that is religion has not killed it. But the existence of religion does not mean it evolved for any beneficial purpose.

Are you sure that you aren't just imbuing human morality to natural phenomena. Religion may seem destructive to the individual but it is definitely not destructive to whole populations - objectively speaking. The mere fact that there are billions of religious people should be very telling. The signal is too strong to ignore. Religion is abhorrent to us skeptics only because it's the enemy of self actualization. On the other hand, evolution doesn't give a 'strong expletive' about self actualization. A perfect example of the latter is the evolution of sexual cannibalism among some specie.

Religiosity can be an unifying force to population making it the best thing that has ever evolved (as far as we know) before secularism came on the scene. Religion and secular memes will continue to compete according to the rules of natural selection. I sincerely hope secularism will prevail. I have absolutely no reason to presume natural selection will see my side of things though.
« Last Edit: December 16, 2018, 09:07:04 PM by haudace »

Online Awatsjr

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #8 on: December 14, 2018, 11:53:19 AM »
I'll bet secularism has existed along side of religion since the beginning. There was someone going "Naw."

Offline John Albert

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #9 on: December 14, 2018, 03:35:53 PM »
I'll bet secularism has existed along side of religion since the beginning. There was someone going "Naw."

It's true that atheism has existed at least since classical times. In ancient Greece, disbelief in the gods was a capital crime. In ancient Rome, refusal to worship the state deities was considered a form of treason.


Religion may seem destructive to the individual but it is definitely not destructive to whole populations - objectively speaking.

Except in the cases when religion is destructive to whole populations. Just off the top of my head, I can think of numerous occasions where religions have lead entire populations to mass murder/suicide, or other irrational behavior that brought about their own certain demise.

We know that bad religions usually end up killing themselves off, or being exterminated or disbanded by external forces. So it seems to follow that the religions that have survived the longest are the ones best designed to meet the needs and inclinations of their original social group, and those able to adapt to changing social and economic circumstances.


Religion is abhorrent to us skeptics only because it's the enemy of self actualization.

Speak for yourself!  :P

I find religion abhorrent because the entire endeavor is based on promoting nonsense to manipulate people.


Religiosity proliferated in our species because it must have had some kind of advantage, otherwise it would have been weeded out.

This is not necessarily true. Evolution doesn't "weed out" traits unless they're so detrimental to the life of the organism as to prevent it from passing on its genes. Religious thought might be proliferating in humans for no better reason than our neuroloplasticity and biochemistry allows us to derive comfort from learning and participating in a shared delusion. So we continue to participate, despite it being an impediment to our species' productive interaction on a worldwide scale.


Religiosity can be an unifying force to population making it the best thing that has ever evolved (as far as we know) before secularism came on the scene. Religion and secular memes will continue to compete according to the rules of natural selection. I sincerely hope secularism will prevail. I have absolutely no reason to presume natural selection will see my side of things though.

The "unifying force" argument doesn't quite seem to track with what we know of social species in the wild. Most other social animals have developed the instinct to stick close to their own groups without any need for religion. And we humans can do the same thing, also without the need for religion.

But religion also puts roadblocks in the way of social inclusiveness. Because it places irrational beliefs above question, it also tends to ostracize some members for bad reasons, like daring to criticize its more irrational beliefs.

I tend to regard religion as a mostly survival-neutral byproduct of our human brains sporting a large frontal lobe capable of complex, abstract thought. It probably developed through a combination of our innate curiosity about the natural world and cognitive discomfort with difficult questions, combined with our willingness to follow charismatic egotists who can provide ready answers.
« Last Edit: December 15, 2018, 07:06:44 PM by John Albert »

Offline Noisy Rhysling

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #10 on: December 14, 2018, 07:11:58 PM »
I'll bet secularism has existed along side of religion since the beginning. There was someone going "Naw."
I didn't need any instruction to doubt religion, and I'm sure I'm not unique. Problem is that it could fatal to profess non-belief.
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Offline daniel1948

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #11 on: December 15, 2018, 10:19:47 AM »
Institutions survive because they are good at survival, not because they benefit their component parts. Religions survive because of a defect in the human brain that makes it susceptible to irrational beliefs, and because until quite recently the church authorities would order the church enforcers to torture you, and if need be, kill you, if you acted against their interests.

Since the Enlightenment, church authorities have been slowly losing their political power and religions have slowly been losing their hold over the population. As a reaction, some churches have effectively increased their hold over their members and are making strong, and sometimes effective, attempts to regain political power, but more and more people reject religion.

It’s too bad we are so rapidly destroying the environment that supports our civilization, because if civilization persisted another 500 years (which I doubt it will) it’s possible that religion would die out due to its own stupidity.
Daniel
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Offline John Albert

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #12 on: December 15, 2018, 06:28:39 PM »
The problem with religion is that it's inherently political instead of scientific. Science is the business of discovering empirical truth, whereas politics is the business of manipulating people's attitudes and beliefs.

It's certainly true that the cognitive functions of our brains aren't logical by nature. Logic, mathematics, and critical thinking are disciplines that require effort to learn and regular practice to maintain.

But is it really appropriate to consider that a "defect"?

We're already imbued with the most advanced cognitive abilities of any living being on the planet. The fact that we've achieved the ability to perform such abstract thought is a wonder in itself.

It's entirely possible to train ourselves to think more rationally and to be suspicious of emotional manipulation tactics. We could teach epistemology and critical thinking, starting at the elementary school level.

But our schools are administered by politicians, and we value our unreasonable beliefs as a human right. Teaching our children to think critically would make them less susceptible than their parents to political manipulation, and would empower them with the tools to mount reasonable arguments against their parents' irrational beliefs systems. Nobody wants that.
« Last Edit: December 15, 2018, 06:43:04 PM by John Albert »

Offline haudace

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #13 on: December 15, 2018, 07:15:32 PM »
I'll bet secularism has existed along side of religion since the beginning. There was someone going "Naw."

It's true that atheism has existed at least since classical times. In ancient Greece, disbelief in the gods was a capital crime. In ancient Rome, refusal to worship the state deities was considered a form of treason.

The atheism you are describing is not the same atheism as it is understood in modern times. In fact, Christians in Ancient Rome were persecuted for being atheists by rejecting Roman deities.

Religion may seem destructive to the individual but it is definitely not destructive to whole populations - objectively speaking.

Except in the cases when religion is destructive to whole populations. Just off the top of my head, I can think of numerous occasions where religions have lead entire populations to mass murder/suicide, or other irrational behavior that brought about their own certain demise.

We know that bad religions usually end up killing themselves off, or being exterminated or disbanded by external forces. So it seems to follow that the religions that have survived the longest are the ones best designed to meet the needs and inclinations of their original social group, and those able to adapt to changing social and economic circumstances.

I have to admit I didn't communicate what I meant very well. Religion is indeed unifying within a somewhat homogeneous population. Religion brought destruction to external populations whose philosophies were in direct conflict with the invader and competed for the same resources (arable land, material wealth, people's minds, political power etc). This is not inconsistent with what we have learned about evolution.

Now on your point about self destructive religions, I was just watching a video clip about an insect, armored ground cricket, that squirts its foul tasting blood to fend off aggressors. There is a hilarious side effect though, the insect becomes attractive food to members of its own specie who cannot resist the smell. They hunt it down and consume it whole. I believe it's on netflix, second episode of season 1 (Africa - narrated by David Attenborough). My argument here is that it's not unreasonable to find both negative and positive effect of traits in nature. I would consider those to be outliers, rather than the norm.

By the way, secular states are waging war in the middle east, but that doesn't mean secularism is wrong.

Religion is abhorrent to us skeptics only because it's the enemy of self actualization.

Speak for yourself!

I find religion abhorrent because the entire endeavor is based on promoting nonsense to manipulate people.

That nonsense will inhibit those manipulated from reaching their full potential, wasting efforts on misleading ideas/concepts styming progress. You are kind of agreeing with me here about the self-actualization thing.

Religiosity proliferated in our specie because it must have had some kind of advantage, otherwise it would have been weeded out.

This is not necessarily true. Evolution doesn't "weed out" traits unless they're so detrimental to the life of the organism as to prevent it from passing on its genes. Religious thought might be proliferating in humans for no better reason than our neuroloplasticity and biochemistry allows us to derive comfort from earning and participating in a shared delusion. So we continue to participate, despite it being an impediment to our specie's productive interaction on a worldwide scale.

Do you believe this held true for the last 10000, 20000, or 150000 years? Quote: "Religious thought might be proliferating in humans for no better reason than our neuroloplasticity and biochemistry allows us to derive comfort from earning and participating in a shared delusion".

I do agree with your point that evolution doesn't necessarily weed out traits unless they're detrimental to life. I also do not prescribe to the notion that natural selection is completely random. I do not think a trait will make an appearance so strong without some kind of environmental pressure causing an organism/population to adapt. I think laws of nature in place forces evolution phenomena to behave like an expert economist. If religion is so widespread within a population, there is a reason for it most likely a non trivial one. There are simply too many religious people. The religious feeling is almost instinctual and religious people cannot shake that feeling. I really do think it's biologically ingrained for most individuals.

Here's a couple of NCBI paper linking religiosity more closely to biology:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3125629/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12289962
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5646707/

The above articles are indicative of a pattern to which we as skeptics need to pay attention when we are evaluating religiosity.

Religiosity can be an unifying force to population making it the best thing that has ever evolved (as far as we know) before secularism came on the scene. Religion and secular memes will continue to compete according to the rules of natural selection. I sincerely hope secularism will prevail. I have absolutely no reason to presume natural selection will see my side of things though.

The "unifying force" argument doesn't quite seem to track with what we know of social specie in the wild. Most other social animals have developed the instinct to stick close to their own groups without any need for religion. And we humans can do the same thing without the need for religion. And while religion generally promotes adherence to the immediate ingroup at the exclusion of outsiders, it also ostracizes some insiders for various reasons including skepticism.

Well, we don't particularly know what animals are thinking. A century ago, no one could have imagined some animal specie capable to mourn their dead (elephants). Heck, no one thought animals capable of culture, language or tool use not so long ago. As we learn more about animals, more and more attributes that were thought unique to humanity are found in the wild, at the very least in rudimentary form. Not very surprising really recognizing that evolutionary processes are economist, one would find they do not reinvent the wheel unless they absolutely have to.

Ostracizing outsiders is not inconsistent with evolution. For instance, lion pride will not tolerate other lions seen as outsiders. They will aggressively eliminate any competition.

https://youtu.be/IS2zFbpOQxE?t=184

I tend to regard religion as a mostly survival-neutral byproduct of our human brains sporting a large frontal lobe capable of complex, abstract thought. It probably developed through a combination of our innate curiosity about the natural world and cognitive discomfort with difficult questions, combined with our willingness to follow charismatic egotists who can provide ready answers.

That could very well be what happened at the beginning but that must have changed over the course of millennia.

Edits: for phrasing.
« Last Edit: December 16, 2018, 09:03:14 PM by haudace »

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Is Religiosity Hereditary? Did It Evolve Through Natural Selection?
« Reply #14 on: December 16, 2018, 09:54:40 AM »
The problem with religion is that it's inherently political instead of scientific. Science is the business of discovering empirical truth, whereas politics is the business of manipulating people's attitudes and beliefs.

It's certainly true that the cognitive functions of our brains aren't logical by nature. Logic, mathematics, and critical thinking are disciplines that require effort to learn and regular practice to maintain.

But is it really appropriate to consider that a "defect"?

We're already imbued with the most advanced cognitive abilities of any living being on the planet. The fact that we've achieved the ability to perform such abstract thought is a wonder in itself.

It's entirely possible to train ourselves to think more rationally and to be suspicious of emotional manipulation tactics. We could teach epistemology and critical thinking, starting at the elementary school level.

But our schools are administered by politicians, and we value our unreasonable beliefs as a human right. Teaching our children to think critically would make them less susceptible than their parents to political manipulation, and would empower them with the tools to mount reasonable arguments against their parents' irrational beliefs systems. Nobody wants that.

The “defect” is that our brains cannot distinguish between valid pattern recognition and paradolia, and that without training are not even aware that the problem exists.
Daniel
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"Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think long and hard before starting a war."
-- Otto von Bismarck

 

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