September 06, 2008

Evolutionary Origin Of Religion

Professor Richard Dawkins takes a question from the audience regarding the evolutionary origin of religion and how religion could have been beneficial, Evolutionary speaking.

His answer is an interesting one and uses the moth as an example of another way detrimental actions could result as a byproduct of otherwise beneficial behavior . He says that like how the moth flies into candle flames as a byproduct of it's evolution produced guidance system, religion in humans could also be a byproduct of an otherwise beneficial trait, Like trusting and believing what we are told as children by grownups. There is no evolutionary benefit to moths flying into flames and killing themselves, Just like there is no evolutionary benefit to believing in invisible dictators, But there is an evolutionary benefit to the programing that produces those particular behaviours.

11 comments:

  1. Is it not also possible that atheism is a detrimental byproduct of a beneficial behaviour ie being religious. does the question and answer not work both ways? I mean after all they say people who believe in something greater than themselves are more mentally healthy. Using Professor Dawkins way of thinking could you not say that religion evolved as it is the most beneficial way to think about the universe. Atheists cannot see this of course because they are so enamoured by their beliefs. Atheism could be a byproduct of this where intellectualism gets in the way of the natural way of being. So making intellectualism and therefore atheism detrimental to human evolution. Maybe Professor Dawkins should be a bit more scientific and not be so blinded by his dogma.

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  2. Religion isn't the most beneficial way of thinking about the universe though, A quick look around the planet should make this clear.

    Anonymous you seem to just be making stuff up for no other reason than you want to repeat what Dawkins said, Except this time apply it to atheism.
    I must say, You done a piss poor job of it. it's the most contrived rehash i have ever seen.

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  3. To an atheist, being religious may not be the most beneficial way of thinking - but what belief system is going to think there is a better one than their own.
    I was not repeating Dawkins I was merely extending his logic to atheism. I mean religion seemed to have evolved from natural conditions and atheism did not come about until people began to question religion so maybe there is something in what I said. I am not sure I was making stuff up I was just expanding on Dawkins's logic. Or maybe atheism holds a special place in human understanding. Hmmm I wonder what Richard would say was the evolutionary origin of arrogance.

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  4. I would say atheism is a result of intellectualism, But it's not a byproduct in the same sense that religion is a byproduct of being credulous and obedient. Credulity and obedience didn't evolve so we could become religious, It evolved so we would listen to our elders, religion just took advantage of this. intellectualism evolved because thinking and understanding are beneficial traits, Atheism, or the ability to not be tricked by deceitful, greedy old men, Is inevitably what happens when someone thinks and understands.

    I would also ask what benefits religion provides. bear in mind though, You are up against the secular benefits of agriculture, medicine, space flight, So make sure you pick some good ones.

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  5. I would say atheism is a result of intellectualism, But it's not a byproduct in the same sense that religion is a byproduct of being credulous and obedient. Credulity and obedience didn't evolve so we could become religious, It evolved so we would listen to our elders, religion just took advantage of this. intellectualism evolved because thinking and understanding are beneficial traits, Atheism, or the ability to not be tricked by deceitful, greedy old men, Is inevitably what happens when someone thinks and understands.

    Well I am not sure I agree with what you say religion is a byproduct of. I would say it has developed because of our deep sense of wonder and reverence for nature etc much in the same way science and therefore atheism has developed.
    I would also question intellectualism as a beneficial trait - beneficial to what? in relation to evolution. We have seen a great trend in Europe and America where the so called intelligentsia are having fewer children whereas the great uneducated are having more and more children. Evolutionarily speaking this would suggest that being an intellectual is not a beneficial trait but a detrimental one.
    Does atheism have the ability to not be tricked by greedy old men? Do atheists not buy the increasing number of books aimed at cashing in on the supposed battle between science and everything else. Is it not possible that this battle has been created in the minds of these people to make a fast buck but then that would be very cynical. I have even heard of such a thing as the atheist pound.
    I think we all can be credulous and obedient regardless of faith.

    I would also ask what benefits religion provides. bear in mind though, You are up against the secular benefits of agriculture, medicine, space flight, So make sure you pick some good ones.

    How are agriculture, medicine and space flight secular? That is like saying brushing your teeth is secular as it is not proscribed by a religion. Agriculture and medicine predate the classical period and therefore most of western thought, space flight is more recent but what has it got to do with secularisation science has been around a lot longer than atheism has. In fact the only secular idea that may have flourished because of science is the advancement of atheism and the misappropriation of science for the atheist cause. Space flight would most likely have happened with or without secularisation but I guess that is open to debate.
    So in reply to your question including just things that happened before or despite of secularisation - agriculture, medicine, the scientific method, genetics and if I was being really bold scientific exploration itself.

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  6. You make a sound point, anonymous. The real way to look at your question, we would have to follow the memetic theory of Richard Dawkins. With the addition of a second replicator, we can see there is a conflict between genes and memes. Susan Blackmore postulated that the person that is focused upon passing his/her genes doesn't have as much time to pass his/her memes and vice versa. With memes giving a horizontal transmission of replication, we can see a great biological advantage of fewer children. I think Dawkins himself would agree that the atheism memeplex is a composition of beneficial memes and detrimental memes. The main difference is that there are clear biologically detrimental memes in the various religious memeplexes, while there are no atheist memes giving clear distinctions when its okay to slaughter large groups of people.

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  7. Joshua, I am not sure I understood what you were saying but I am not sure it answered what I was saying. Memes are too much of an abstract way of talking about peoples beliefs. I feel that everyone no matter the faith has the ability to do detrimental things to society. I would answer that the 'atheist memeplex' is the same 'memeplex' as the religious one. It is the urge in Humans to make sense of being alive? we all have this urge but some people dress it up differently.

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  8. First, I must argue that an atheist memeplex is rather different than any religious memeplex. As Dawkins mentioned adaptations of religion could include authoritative obedience. As the atheist memeplex is centric of authoritative speculation and skepticism, it can not be considered a relative memeplex.

    Yes, I agree, everyone no matter the faith has the ability to do detrimental things to society, but we have to look at probabilities. A belief grounded in authoritative obedience through claims of revelation can have a multitude a different results in society, most of which are benign. When you have someone like Cardinal Ximenes stating his revelation, it can result in otherwise morally sound men torturing and killing people in the name of their god. With an atheistic memeplex, to do the same style of acts is based solely upon an introspective view of morality. There are social infractions in every group, but the only way you can get a large group of people to follow suit is through some style of unity.

    For example...
    A Muslim says, “Allah instructed us toward jihad. We must all sacrifice ourself to slaughter the infidels.”
    An atheist says, “Let's kamikaze to kill all religious people to better serve our atheist cause.”

    Which is going to have more support? Granted that they will both have support, but the first will have more since they will feel obliged by divine instruction and not fearful of death due to faith. Each atheist has to decide for themselves if murder is justified in this reason, the religious has to decide for themselves if the person speaking has been given true revelation. Thankfully, in modern society, neither of these bold claims for genocide will have much success. In third-world religious despotisms, these claims still work and in modern societies, a little coy phrasing can still persuade some religious people to do immoral acts against society in the belief that it is god's will.

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  9. Well I think thinking in terms of memeplexes is a bit misleading. It gives one a false sense of psychology. I would say thinking in 'memes' regarding belief (even atheism - it is a belief there is no god) is dangerous as it can set one belief over another. All beliefs are the same. As an example there are many communists in the world who do not advocate sending people to the gulags. Yet one of the worst atrocitys in Human history were committed by communists. All beliefs are benign until they become absolute. If all muslims believed in suicide bombing then all muslims would be suicide bombers but in reality the vast majority aren't. The vast majority believe it is wrong however, some become this fanatical, because they start following an absolutist idea of islam. There are many theories about why something suddenly switches in people but few are to do with religion per se.
    Atheism does not have too much of this extremism yet but if it were to become more popular to the point where an atheist such as Richard Dawkins (not saying he would) came to power. They could outlaw calling children a catholic or muslim citing that it is abuse. What would happen then? The followers of such faiths may start doing it in secret, then the authority, believing that what the religious are doing is abuse could start taking kids away from them. This could cause friction in society and could end up in the demonising of these 'child abusers' it does not take long before they are second class citizens and then end up in prison or even worse. The problem here is the ideal takes over from common sense and rationality. Many Atheists already believe calling a child a catholic is abuse this to me is ridiculous but they believe it is so. This to me is how extremism starts. I believe the inventors of suicide bombing were the Tamil tigers who were not a religious organisation but a socialist one.
    So to me all memes are as dangerous as the next they are benign until they become absolute. In Atheism there is a strain that is very absolutist. How many believe that science has all the answers and anything that is not science is not worth knowing.
    Divine instruction really has nothing to do with it how many suicide bombers has judaism, christianity or buddhism produced. The closest thing we ever came to this in Europe were the various inquisitions but they were not as bad as some of the other things that happened in the middle ages that were done in the name of the king or indeed in the name of revolution in the case of the aftermath of the french revolution.

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  10. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Ruth

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  11. A little late for the discussion, but another suggestion for evolutionary advantage of religion is Stewart Guthrie's Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion. Guthrie suggests that in terms of survival it is better to see people who aren't there (false positives) rather than to miss people who are actually there. This is reflected in the universal phenomenon of pareidolia, the proclivity to see faces/human forms where they actually do not exist. I discuss the idea a bit on my blog as well.

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