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Is Believing In God Evolutionarily Advantageous?

Posted March 23, 2014 by dustproduction in Open

commented on yesterday
by NoetPoet

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27

Religious Belief Through the Lens of Evolution.

Everywhere you look around the world, you find examples of people altering their behavior because of concerns for supernatural consequences of their actions. They don't do things that they consider bad because they think they'll be punished for it.
- Dominic Johnson, professor, University of Edinburgh

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129528196

  • 27 Comments  
  • NoetPoet Jul 24, 2014

    The very derivation of the word "spirit" tells you everything you need to know about spirituality and metaphysics: it is all derived from our experiences with material reality.

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Jul 24, 2014

    Let's add to this the age old notion of "spirituality." Those that use the term rarely know its origins:

    The term spirit means "animating or vital principle in man and animals".[web 1] It is derived from the Old French espirit,[web 1] which comes from the Latin word spiritus "soul, courage, vigor, breath",[web 1] and is related to spirare, "to breathe".[web 1] In the Vulgate the Latin word spiritus is used to translate the Greek pneuma and Hebrew ruah.[web 1]

    The term spiritual, matters "concerning the spirit",[web 2] is derived from Old French spirituel (12c.), which is derived from Latin spiritualis, which comes from "spiritus" or "spirit".[web 2]

    The term spirituality is derived from Middle French spiritualite,[web 3] from Late Latin "spiritualitatem" (nominative spiritualitas),[web 3] which is also derived from Latin "spiritualis".[web 3]

    One only has to look at the Wiki to see that the term take several form.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirituality

    "Waaijman points out that "spirituality" is only one term of a range of words which denote the praxis of spirituality.[11] Some other terms are "Hasidism, contemplation, kabbala, asceticism, mysticism, perfection, devotion and piety".[11]"

    Waaijman, Kees (2002), Spirituality: Forms, Foundations, Methods, Peeters Publishers

    Let me challenge those that use the term to explain where they learned about the concept.

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Apr 08, 2014

    Sigmund Freud believed that magical thinking was produced by cognitive developmental factors. He described practitioners of magic as projecting their mental states onto the world around them, similar to a common phase in child development.[12] From toddlerhood to early school age, children will often link the outside world with their internal consciousness, e.g. "It is raining because I am sad."
    Wiki.

    "Magical thinking springs up everywhere. Some irrational beliefs (Santa Claus?) are passed on to us. But others we find on our own. Survival requires recognizing patterns—night follows day, berries that color will make you ill. And because missing the obvious often hurts more than seeing the imaginary, our skills at inferring connections are overtuned. No one told Wade Boggs that eating chicken before every single game would help his batting average; he decided that on his own, and no one can argue with his success. We look for patterns because we hate surprises and because we love being in control."

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200802/magical-thinking

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Apr 08, 2014

    Speculations about ancient "thinking" is extremely difficult at best since language shapes not only how we think but what we think. We might guess but anything beyond that is better left to those historians with a working knowledge of the times.
    Luckily we have no need to imagine such things in order to foster an understanding of this topic.
    Let's instead examine the processes of our own current thought.
    Our conscious experience was, and still is, rooted in a form of magical thinking, as opposed to scientific thinking, and for good reason; our need for an explanation to the mysteries of life is driven by our large and curious brain. But we lack(ed) the tools to create informed ideas about the world and our perceptions of it.
    Therefore magical thinking in all of its forms, magic, religion, superstition and so forth, served as a bridge, much like it does to this day.

    "Magical thinking is the attributing of causal relationships between actions and events where scientific consensus says that there are none. In religion, folk religion, and superstition beliefs, the correlation posited is often between religious ritual, prayer, sacrifice, or the observance of a taboo, and an expected benefit or recompense. In clinical psychology, magical thinking can cause a patient to experience fear of performing certain acts or having certain thoughts because of an assumed correlation between doing so and threatening calamities. Magical thinking may lead people to believe that their thoughts by themselves can bring about effects in the world or that thinking something corresponds with doing it.[1] It is a type of causal reasoning or causal fallacy that looks for meaningful relationships of grouped phenomena (coincidence) between acts and events.

    "Quasi-magical thinking" describes "cases in which people act as if they erroneously believe that their action influences the outcome, even though they do not really hold that belief".[2]"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_thinking

    "Bronisław Malinowski's Magic, Science and Religion (1954) discusses another type of magical thinking, in which words and sounds are thought to have the ability to directly affect the world.[11] This type of wish fulfillment thinking can result in the avoidance of talking about certain subjects ("speak of the devil and he'll appear"), the use of euphemisms instead of certain words, or the belief that to know the "true name" of something gives one power over it, or that certain chants, prayers, or mystical phrases will bring about physical changes in the world. More generally, it is magical thinking to take a symbol to be its referent or an analogy to represent an identity.

  • NoetPoet Apr 04, 2014

    (Part 4)

    “Well phrased, but there is still an issue. One can not overlook the symbolically mediated behavior apparent in certain cultural manifestations as mentioned above. These creative dimensions reveal a transition into a more self-reflective form of psychology. Within your key points there are a few flaws.”

    I addressed the issue of symbolically mediated behaviour in my most recent posts, but I’ll just reiterate my key point about this: those symbolically mediated behaviours are not as frivolous as they might first appear. Nothing says “don’t mess with me” quite like a big tattoo, and nothing says “I’m important” quite like elaborate jewellery and fine clothes. Even transitions to a more self-reflective psychology are just another evolutionary strategy: observe, for example, the emphasis that Pick Up Artists place on “Inner Game” (self-improvement).

    “In some cases. What about the art that was discovered in the blombos caves 100,000 years ago? These cave paintings are nothing more than geometrically engraved patterns on pieces of an iron rich mineral called "orche". The theme of geometry wheter simple or complex emerges in many arachaeological sites and artifacts. If a bowl, for instance, we're intended for strictly survival purposes, why carve detailed patterns into the surface, if the bowl is intended to be used for just a utiltarian purpose?”

    Asking me to divine the thoughts of people who lived 100,000 years ago is like, well, asking me to divine the thoughts of people who lived 100,000 years ago. That said, I can offer some reasonable guesses at what these geometric patterns were supposed to be. Perhaps they were the doodling of a child, or an adult who had an unusual (for his time) preoccupation with patterns that he/she kept seeing in their natural environment (a prehistoric John Nash, if you like). Perhaps they were mnemonic devices used by the people who made them to “unpack” or jog their memories about important survival strategies or hierarchical considerations. Perhaps they were ritual objects used to worship spirits, a naïve attempt to negotiate with and appease the forces of nature by demonstrating that they recognised underlying patterns in the natural world. Perhaps the symbols on a bowl indicated that certain items were meant to be carried in that bowl, or that the bowl was used in rituals (which, I want to emphasise, *do* have a utilitarian dimension)? Who knows?

    “Agreed to an extent. However there are some forms of paleolithic mythology which extend beyond worldly survival. What about eschatological beliefs and fertility goddess worship? You don't think some myths or folklore could've been created out of pure entertainment purposes?”

  • NoetPoet Apr 04, 2014

    (Part 5)

    Any parts of paleolithic mythology which extend beyond worldly survival can be explained as:
    1) An attempt by intelligent creatures to calm their fears about the uncertainty and terror of death;
    2) Means of reinforcing survival-conducive behaviour codes and existing social hierarchies
    3) Naïve interpretations of subjective experiences such as hallucinations, dreams, OBEs and drug trips; or
    4) A combination of the above
    5)
    Eschatological beliefs can be explained as means of dealing with the fear of death, as a way to encourage obedience (e.g. the Catholic teachings about Judgement Day), and also as a naïve abstraction/imputation of the idea of personal death onto the world itself. Fertility god/dess worship makes perfect sense in the context of a species which 1) grows its own food, which is only a viable proposition if the produce is fertile, and 2) wants to do everything it can to ensure its own ability to reproduce (the fact that such attempts are based on a naïve misunderstandings of reality is beside the point). Myths could have been *created* simply for entertainment, but the minds of illiterate hominids trying to survive in the wild can only retain so much information: unless those entertaining myths contained some practical value, they would have soon been deemed useless and selected against (discarded).

    “I'm confused. How is this directly geared towards survival? The transmission and integration of information doesn't nesecarrily mean it will be useful to survival. I'd say dancing, at least in the middle-upper paleolithic era was more ritualistic in nature, and moreover was a phenomena created out of free time when there wasn't a pressing need to gather food and survive.”

    I am not saying that transmission and integration of information = greater survival chances. What I’m saying is that efficient and effective means of communication are going to be more useful for transmitting information which is conducive to survival. Since much of our communication occurs through body language even today, it makes sense that dance would be an effective means of communicating key information. I agree that dance probably did start off as a ritualistic exercise (and that novel forms of dance like the Moonwalk came much later), but this is still fully consistent with the idea that dance was initially used to convey important information: the business of survival in the wild is very demanding, so early humans would’ve had to have a very good reason to take time to develop and perform dance rituals. However we should also remember that dancing is not unique to humans: birds do mating dances, and dancing is an excellent way to “flex your muscles” and demonstrate your physical and creative prowess to prospective mates.

  • NoetPoet Apr 03, 2014

    (Part 3)

    “In no way do I negate the notion that organisms are geared to survive and procreate. However, I feel that humans represent such a dramatic shift in the regular systems of biological organization that there is more to be said about these behaviors. We may have evolved out of the need to thrive and exist, but "purpose" seems to have been adopted in humanity, which is far more abstract than basic survival. I'm not saying that we are "truth machines" as stated prior, but i'd say we've surpassed the need to simply survive, and can enjoy the luxuries of just fucking around.”

    Humans really aren’t a dramatic shift – although it is evolutionary advantageous for us to *think* that we are! We really are just a composition of biological mechanisms, strategies and components that have been around far longer than we have; it’s just that we take some of them to an unprecedented level of sophistication. It is easy to see how notions of “purpose” could incrementally evolve in an intelligent social animal from “I need to survive and breed” to “I need to master my environment and attain a good social status” to “I need to appease/control the personal forces which seem to govern the world around me” to “I need to find a deeper communion with reality so that I can overcome my fear of death and powerlessness”. We never surpass the need to simply survive; it’s just that we eventually acquire enough resources, complexity and free time that we can afford to pursue more novel (and potentially rewarding) forms of exploration.

  • NoetPoet Apr 03, 2014

    (Part 2)

    “What about those who shared a contradictive philosophy to the currently held reasoning of the time? There are philosophies beheld by our ancestors who's own ideas led to risk of persecution. If those people we're so concerned with immediate survival, why risk death in the face of an opposing assumption. I'd make the conjecture it was fueled by a sense of higher purpose.”

    I would say that those holding a contrary philosophy did so because they thought (perhaps misguidedly) that it gave them some major advantage over the herd, that their ideas were actually the next logical step in cultural evolution. For all the grandiose claims that such people and their supporters might make about “higher purpose”, are they really so different to or more extraordinary than the male Peacocks who go to all the trouble of growing a burdensome array of brightly-coloured feathers?
    “What about jewlery, acessories, body modifications? I'd say most of these artistic manifestations emerged out of the availability of free time. Culture was created when there wasn't an immediate threat to one's survival.”

    Jewellery isn’t really all that new or unique to humans. Male bower birds build nests out of blue trinkets to impress potential mates, because blue trinkets are hard to find in nature. Jewellery basically does for humans what blue trinkets do for bower birds: it shows that the male who acquires them is good at providing resources (because if you can provide something so useless and rare then surely you can provide resources for survival and comfort), and for a social animal it therefore has value as a status symbol which advertises the wearer’s genetic fitness and/or high ranking in the social hierarchy. For an animal which relies so much on thinking, both jewellery and body modifications can act as powerful psychological reinforcers of group identity and strength, both to others and to those who wear them.

    Free time helps – as do surplus resources – but culture is actually an excellent evolutionary strategy for an intelligent social animal trying to maximise its chances of individual and collective survival. Culture is really just a set of learned behaviours, ideas and perceptions held in common by a group of people and passed down the generations of that group; it does not necessarily require things like opera or surrealist art etc.

  • NoetPoet Apr 03, 2014

    (Part 1)

    “True. But this evolutionary advancement is so radically different than the traits that preceeded it. Written art, whether glyph or alphabetical, can create immortality, metaphorically speaking, but doesn't reflect, in all cases, a manifestation driven out of the need to survive. In certain cases it can be solely introspective, or a poetic expression of that person or society.”

    How is it radically different? It contains the same basic components of art, i.e. figures drawn on a surface in an organised sequence so that they convey information to someone who knows how to interpret them. The only real differences with writing are that 1) writing systems restrict their users to a narrow set of figures, which 2) are meant to convey specific and unique pieces of information, which can 3) be combined in particular ways to convey more complex pieces of specific information. In other words, the only real differences with writing are that is both more restricted in structure and can convey more complex specific meanings than art.

    The evolution of writing – from pictures to pictograms and then to composite characters or letters – is self-explanatory imo. An early agricultural society – i.e. the kind of society that has tended to invent writing – needs an information recording and transmission system adequate for dealing with unprecedented social complexity (e.g. in terms of trade, marriage arrangements, codified laws, herd and crop management). Such societies also develop and require complex religious institutions and teachings to hold them together, and writing can also be useful in facilitating these. Combine this new technology of writing with human’s natural awe and ignorance about the workings of nature and increasing availabilities of surplus resources, and it is not surprising that something as novel as writing can also be applied to things like poetry and introspection. However even novelties like poetry and introspection can have practical benefits because they open up new avenues of thought and investigation which can in turn yield selective advantages. And because our evolutionary strength lies in our intelligence and social nature, it is not surprising that people who excel at seemingly useless creative pursuits like poetry and music can be more attractive to potential mates.

  • Live4theMystery Apr 03, 2014

    Writing – a more sophisticated and refined version of art, at least insofar as transmitting specific information is concerned. It makes sense that something as complex as writing did not emerge until humans started living in settled agricultural societies which were able to reach a critical threshold in size and thus complexity.

    True. But this evolutionary advancement is so radically different than the traits that preceeded it. Written art, whether glyph or alphabetical, can create immortality, metaphorically speaking, but doesn't reflect, in all cases, a manifestation driven out of the need to survive. In certain cases it can be solely introspective, or a poetic expression of that person or society.

    Philosophy – is to myth-making what writing is to art. As societies grow more complex and become more focused on competing with each other (rather than competing with predators), necessity dictates that further selectively-advantageous innovation must increasingly be found in more organised, abstract and deeper modes of thinking.

    What about those who shared a contradictive philosophy to the currently held reasoning of the time? There are philosophies beheld by our ancestors who's own ideas led to risk of persecution. If those people we're so concerned with immediate survival, why risk death in the face of an opposing assumption. I'd make the conjecture it was fueled by a sense of higher purpose.

    What about jewlery, acessories, body modifications? I'd say most of these artistic manifestations emerged out of the availability of free time. Culture was created when there wasn't an immediate threat to one's survival. It's these properties which are no more than expressions of language that have been erected out of symbolism and interactions. In no way do I negate the notion that organisms are geared to survive and procreate. However, I feel that humans represent such a dramatic shift in the regular systems of biological organization that there is more to be said about these behaviors. We may have evolved out of the need to thrive and exist, but "purpose" seems to have been adopted in humanity, which is far more abstract than basic survival. I'm not saying that we are "truth machines" as stated prior, but i'd say we've surpassed the need to simply survive, and can enjoy the luxuries of just fucking around.

  • Live4theMystery Apr 03, 2014

    "Social interaction and intelligence are to humans what fast running speed is to a cheetah or keen vision is to an eagle, i.e. they are our key evolutionary strengths, our major selling points in the Marketplace of Life. So anything which facilitates and enhances these key strengths, particularly at the group level, is going to conducive to our survival and procreation."

    Well phrased, but there is still an issue. One can not overlook the symbolically mediated behavior apparent in certain cultural manifestations as mentioned above. These creative dimensions reveal a transition into a more self-reflective form of psychology. Within your key points there are a few flaws.

    "Art – a means to record useful information about certain types of predators and prey so that it can be utilized later on, including by future generations."

    In some cases. What about the art that was discovered in the blombos caves 100,000 years ago? These cave paintings are nothing more than geometrically engraved patterns on pieces of an iron rich mineral called "orche". The theme of geometry wheter simple or complex emerges in many arachaeological sites and artifacts. If a bowl, for instance, we're intended for strictly survival purposes, why carve detailed patterns into the surface, if the bowl is intended to be used for just a utiltarian purpose?

    "Myth making – a way to make sense of the environment in which a tribe lives, which better enables them to record practical information (e.g. hunting strategies, medicinal knowledge, bloodlines) and abide by common codes of behaviour that facilitate more effective co-operation."

    Agreed to an extent. However there are some forms of paleolithic mythology which extend beyond worldly survival. What about eschatological beliefs and fertility goddess worship? You don't think some myths or folklore could've been created out of pure entertainment purposes?

    Music and dance – go hand-in-hand with myth-making. Since the human brain is naturally geared to seek out and appreciate patterns, anything which features a lot of patterning (e.g. music and dance) is going to appeal to humans and offer an effective way to interpret and transmit information. Dance in particular is effective for this because it utilizes and integrates both the mind and the body.

    I'm confused. How is this directly geared towards survival? The transmission and integration of information doesn't nesecarrily mean it will be useful to survival. I'd say dancing, at least in the middle-upper paleolithic era was more ritualistic in nature, and moreover was a phenomena created out of free time when there wasn't a pressing need to gather food and survive.

  • NoetPoet Apr 03, 2014

    “Our minds may have evolved out of the need to survive and reproduce, but several other interesting effects emerged from that thousands and thousands of years ago, such as art, myth making, philosophy, writing, dance, music, and so forth. So we're wired to physically survive, nonetheless we still have evolved into this set of qualities which are unassociated with survival directly.”

    Those “interesting effects” actually have a lot to do with human survival and procreation. Social interaction and intelligence are to humans what fast running speed is to a cheetah or keen vision is to an eagle, i.e. they are our key evolutionary strengths, our major selling points in the Marketplace of Life. So anything which facilitates and enhances these key strengths, particularly at the group level, is going to conducive to our survival and procreation.

    It is easy to see how each of the interesting effects you mention could have arisen because they conferred a selective advantage on groups who adopted them:

    Art – a means to record useful information about certain types of predators and prey so that it can be utilized later on, including by future generations.

    Myth making – a way to make sense of the environment in which a tribe lives, which better enables them to record practical information (e.g. hunting strategies, medicinal knowledge, bloodlines) and abide by common codes of behaviour that facilitate more effective co-operation.

    Music and dance – go hand-in-hand with myth-making. Since the human brain is naturally geared to seek out and appreciate patterns, anything which features a lot of patterning (e.g. music and dance) is going to appeal to humans and offer an effective way to interpret and transmit information. Dance in particular is effective for this because it utilizes and integrates both the mind and the body.

    Writing – a more sophisticated and refined version of art, at least insofar as transmitting specific information is concerned. It makes sense that something as complex as writing did not emerge until humans started living in settled agricultural societies which were able to reach a critical threshold in size and thus complexity.

    Philosophy – is to myth-making what writing is to art. As societies grow more complex and become more focused on competing with each other (rather than competing with predators), necessity dictates that further selectively-advantageous innovation must increasingly be found in more organised, abstract and deeper modes of thinking.

  • Live4theMystery Apr 03, 2014

    "I think something that both believers and non-believers tend to overlook is that humans are not truth machines: we have not evolved to be able to fully understand and face reality. Rather, our evolution has conditioned us to be able to know things and hold beliefs that maximise our chances of survival and procreation. Put another way, humans are biologically predisposed toward adopting "expedient truths".

    I agree in part with what your saying. To believe one's eyes, ears, and fingers are the ultimate instruments of metaphysical conjecture is irrational. The world isn't what it appears to be. For instance, a mantis shrimp can perceive 12 independent channels of light due to a greater retinal diversity of cone cells. Our minds may have evolved out of the need to survive and reproduce, but several other interesting effects emerged from that thousands and thousands of years ago, such as art, myth making, philosophy, writing, dance, music, and so forth. So we're wired to physically survive, nonetheless we still have evolved into this set of qualities which are unassociated with survival directly. Everything in life whether as complex as a human, or as miniscule as a microbe is geared towards stimulus, survival and proliferation. Yet higher unordinary qualia seem to be produced as a side effect which becomes built into the evolutionary machinery. How do some of these right brained traits maximize our chance of survival?

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Mar 28, 2014

    I just came across an interesting book that addresses self deception, "The Folly of Fools:The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life " by Robert Trivers.
    In part, the reason we self deceive is to make it easier to lie to others believably.

  • Anonymous Icon

    Jim Centi Mar 27, 2014

    NoetPoet,

    After your last comment, I realize that you are someone that I could enjoy having a beer with.

  • NoetPoet Mar 27, 2014

    I think something that both believers and non-believers tend to overlook is that humans are not truth machines: we have not evolved to be able to fully understand and face reality. Rather, our evolution has conditioned us to be able to know things and hold beliefs that maximise our chances of survival and procreation. Put another way, humans are biologically predisposed toward adopting "expedient truths".

  • Live4theMystery Mar 27, 2014

    Okulicz-Kozaryn, A. (2010). Religiosity and life satisfaction across nations. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 13, 155-169.

    It's not about the belief in God. It's the overarching sense of community that creates the feeling of connectedness amongst those within it. I'd agree that in certain oppressed countries this is likely to be absent. And you're right happiness is a quality that's measured through self report in surveys. There's just an overwhelmingly vast amount of statistical information indicating this claim, which creates reason to wonder. I'm with you, in respect to the way this information is gathered, regardless it's something which still needs further exploration

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Mar 27, 2014

    Re: typically tend to be happier and show an increased chance of success.

    I would like to read that research if you can supply a link. It appears to fly in the face of the cultures of some religious but politically oppressed countries. But then happiness is relative and usually self reported, which discounts the finding.

  • Live4theMystery Mar 26, 2014

    Psychologists have discovered that those with spiritual or intstitutionalized forms of ideological belief systems which require "God" typically tend to be happier and show an increased chance of success. So through that happiness, one could infer it's more conducive to survival, in the sense that your actions coincide with a healthier lifestyle routine. For instance, often those indoctrinated by religious assumptions are less likely to lead drug addicted lifestyles.

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Mar 25, 2014

    "The pathogen stress theory is also hard to swallow in a way that evolutionary psychology arguments often are—especially for those who fancy the idea that we are in control of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. The next time someone tells you about their religious beliefs, try convincing them their firmly held convictions spring from an unconscious disease-avoidance mechanism. Or, alternatively, try telling a liberal acquaintance that their beliefs about openness and inclusion are only as deep as the good luck that has allowed them to live in a relatively disease-free zone."

    http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/bugs-like-made-germ-theory-democracy-beliefs-73958/

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Mar 25, 2014

    edit "The "opposite" of theism is "

    Allow me to express this notion again: the opposite of theism is NOT anti-theism, or atheism. This is the theistic trap that humanist, and others fall into.
    If it were not for this centuries old tradition of the local cultural narratives, theism might be more accepting of the right to individual and personal beliefs.

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Mar 25, 2014

    I will also add this point in anticipation of the matter of "atheism" being raised here.

    I consider the term "atheism" to be a label, invented by theists. We are all atheism to a point; non believers in the gods of others.
    The oppose of theism is therefore not atheism, but humanism.

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Mar 25, 2014

    Allow me to play the devil's advocate here for a bit.

    It can, and has been argued that the religion and spirituality are different. There are serval discussion that make this point so I will be repeat it here. Many that argue in favor of spirituality also argue against a scientific understanding or explanation of the universe, the world, and human nature, and I'm going to suggest that to do so is irrational.

    Consider for a moment neurotheology,

    "While other theological, philosophical, and scientific approaches have also tried to tackle these "big" questions (understand ourselves, a relationship to a God or the absolute, and the nature of reality itself), it would seem that neurotheology holds a unique perspective. It is one of the only disciplines that necessarily seeks to integrate science and theology, and if defined broadly, many other relevant fields."

    http://www.npr.org/2010/12/15/132078267/neurotheology-where-religion-and-science-collide

    Some will say that neurotheology is a pseudo-science, but this is not the point here. It at least shares a perceptive, as IONS does, that science has a role in creating a further understanding of the "big" questions.

    This then becomes a sustainable discussion, an interactive and dynamic conversation, that is inclusive and has merit because its approach is open.

  • NoetPoet Mar 24, 2014

    *eidt, in Part 2 near the end of the first paragraph, it should say "it is consistent with a behavioural strategy based on constructive paranoia, which is *generally* more conducive to survival and procreation".

  • NoetPoet Mar 24, 2014

    (Part 2)

    Another example from Jared Diamond's book "The World Until Yesterday" highlights how seeing the world in an animistic fashion can lead to behaviours which might seem bizarre and pointless to us, but actually make good sense if you assume - as pre-scientific people naturally do - that the world is made up of personal entities like you and me. Diamond talks about a New Guinea highlands tribe which prohibits people from throwing stones into a certain river because it will anger the river spirit and cause a flood. Now if, like most pre-scientific people, you assume that the rest of the world is made up of conscious personal entities with feelings and emotions (and if you think about it, that's actually a pretty reasonable default assumption if you don't have any scientific understanding or education which would allow you to know otherwise), then it's reasonable to think that if I get angry and retaliate because rocks are thrown at me, then so would the river. At some point in the past, a tribe member has presumably thrown a rock into the river and the river has flooded a short time later, and so the tribe deduced through post-hoc reasoning that the river flooded because it was angry about having rocks thrown at it. The fact that this sequence of events may have only happened once is beside the point, because it is easy enough to believe that the river, like people, doesn't always respond to provocation but will retaliate if pushed too far.Therefore, it is easier - and more conducive to survival and successful procreation - to err on the side of caution and totally prohibit people from throwing rocks into the river.

    *Providing the basis for a sense of unity amongst groups of people. Humans are social animals, meaning that we need social interactions and relationships with other humans in order to survive and procreate. Belief in the same god/gods can strengthen the sense of a tribe/group's members 'being on the same team' and thus make them more inclined to look out for each other's wellbeing. This is particularly true if their god expressedly commands that one be of service to, and inflict no harm on one's fellow group members. It is also particularly true if believers are required to demonstrate that they belong to the faithful by performing elaborate and costly sacrifices to a certain god/s.

  • NoetPoet Mar 24, 2014

    (Part 1)

    I would say that belief in god/s most definitely provides evolutionary/selective advantages. However this doesn't mean that belief in god/s is therefore true!

    Some of the ways belief in god/s provides an evolutionary advantage include:

    *Boosting morale and resilience of believers during times of hardship, because believers are convinced that their suffering is all part of some grand dIvine plan and/or that their god is testing their faith. In harsh conditions, the boost to morale that such faith confers can often mean the difference between giving up and dying or having the determination to survive long enough to pass on one's genes.

    *Strengthening a person's belief in their own right/duty to acquire territory, breeding partners, and resources, which makes such a person bolder and more aggressive in acquiring these. The belief in one's 'god-given' right to such things is especially potent when combined with the morale-boosting belief in wartime that 'god is on our side' of a conflict.

    *Providing the basis for a code of behaviour which maximises the survival chances of both the individual and the group. Examples of this are the Jewish religious prohibitions on shellfish and pork: eating these foods is considered an offense to Yahweh, but it just so happens that these foods are also more likely than most to cause food-poisoning. I think it is probable that the Jews prohibited these foods because they saw how dangerous eating these foods could be and deduced that their god mustn't like people eating them. Whether it happened this way, or whether the Jews realized these foods were dangerous for non-supernatural reasons and then attached religious prohibitions to them later as a matter of expedience, the end result was still the same: less risk to tribal members (particularly children) of food poisoning and therefore a greater chance of ensuring that their genes were passed on.

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Mar 24, 2014

    This applies to spiritualism as well, as the report states

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