[ExI] Why religion at all?

Aleksei Riikonen aleksei at iki.fi
Fri Jun 4 04:10:32 UTC 2010

On Fri, Jun 4, 2010 at 5:43 AM, Keith Henson <hkeithhenson at gmail.com> wrote:
> The capacity to be sucked into a religion is a widespread human
> behavioral trait.
> Evolutionary theory states that behavior traits as well as physical
> traits are subject to evolutionary selection.
> Some of these (like capture-bonding) have an obvious evolutionary
> selection path.  Religion is a little more complex to account for.  I
> make the case in an article I have quoted here before that the human
> capacity for religions is a side effect of millions of conflict
> events.
> In this context I make a case that the ability to hold a religion
> comes from the ability to be infected with a xenophobic meme where the
> function of the infection is to sync a tribe's warriors up for a do or
> die attempt to kill neighbors in times of ecological stress.
> If you look around, it's not hard to see the connection even today.

Such a specific explanation seems unnecessary, and very vulnerable to
Occam's razor.

I'd say the susceptibility to religion is more just a consequence of
young humans being programmed to acquire knowledge through listening
to their parents and other tribesfolk. I don't think those ancestral
tribes, whose young members were too critical of what they were told
and wanted to check the validity of everything on their own, fared too
well. And actually the too critical young ones probably were already
setting themselves up for low social status or even death, since they
could easily be seen as a threat to tribal chiefs who used all sorts
of bogus stories to justify their position of authority and so on.

A degree of uncriticality and conformity has most likely been an
adaptive trait, and has lead to all sorts of bogus stories
perpetuating themselves (and mutating to the sorts of memes that
confer some additional fitness, like that
our-tribe-is-more-deserving-to-live thing you mention).

Aleksei Riikonen - http://www.iki.fi/aleksei

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