[ExI] Evolutionary psychology and religion

hkhenson hkhenson at rogers.com
Mon Dec 10 05:16:12 UTC 2007

I post to other places sometimes.  Here is one from an EP group

Subject: [EP_group] Evolutionary psychology and religion
Reply-To: EP_group at yahoogroups.com

Attempting to inject more light than heat into this.

Evolutionary psychology makes the claim that *every* human
psychological trait is either the result of direct selection for the
trait in the EEA or a side effect of some trait that was selected.
(Plus a few corner cases that might have been fixed by random effects.)

That being the case, any wide spread psychological trait for speech,
religion, war, status seeking, drug addiction, etc. will almost
always be the result of direct selection for the trait or a side
effect.  Sometimes you can make a clear case.  For example, drug
addition just about has to be a side effect since lying under a bush
stoned on plant sap was a poor approach to passing on your genes in the EEA.

Since a substantial fraction of the human population has the
psychological traits for religions, we have a choice of this trait
being a direct or side effect of some trait that was selected.

I make the case for what we see as religions being a side effect of
directly selected psychological traits conducive to wars--which in
the EEA were a major mode of mortality.  (See Azar Gat on this subject.)

But I don't hold that case so strongly that a better argument could
not convince me there was some other directly or indirectly selected
trait that lies behind the common psychological trait we refer to as

*Some* trait leading to present day religions was selected directly
or indirectly in the stone age.

Whatever it was, it had to have fairly severe selection pressures,
i.e., genes for the trait did better on average.  As an example, the
selection for the ability to adjust to being captured was applied
(with dire consequences if it failed) to a substantial fraction of
women in each generation.  What we see today as Stockholm syndrome is
fairly clearly the outcome of women being captured (abducted) from
one little group to another. The result is that most of the present
population can be affected by Stockholm syndrome with the right
trigger conditions.

I might add that religion as the outcome of evolved psychological
mechanisms leads to some predictions that seem to be true.

Of course any *specific* religion is a meme (or complex of memes) so
there is certainly a cultural element (memes *are* elements of
culture) to the particulars of any religion.  But the general human
ability to "have" religions is virtually certain to be rooted in genetics.

The twin studies strongly support this view, showing strong
heritability for "religiosity."

I can support any part of this post with references if anyone is interested.

Keith Henson

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