[ExI] de Waal

Keith Henson hkeithhenson at gmail.com
Thu Feb 22 01:29:27 UTC 2018

Frans de Waal (who should be universally recognized on this list)
spoke yesterday at San Diego State University.

It was, as you would expect, an interesting talk.  However, I was left
with the impression that de Waal is just as mystified as the rest of
us about the origin of religions.  Not the recent state kinds, but
where the human tendency to have religions came from in the first

In some ways, it is trivial to answer.  All characteristics of living
things come from evolution.  Evolution depends on selective
reproductive success.  So at some time in our evolutionary past, the
trait for religion (or something linked with it) must have been
valuable to our genes.

At this point in the argument, I usually throw in an example such as
capture-bonding.  The direct selected effect is what we saw in the
Patty Hearst kidnapping long ago and the more recent Elizabeth Smart
case in SLC.  The indirect effects of capture-bonding selection are
things like battered spouse syndrome, fraternity hazing, and army
basic training.

It has been said that evolutionary psychology is a bunch of just-so
stories.  That's not really the case, it has sound underpinnings, but
if you can't do a "just-so" evolutionary story for how some trait came
to exist, then the chances of the trait having an evolutionary origin
is not good.  A fair number of theories have gone down that way.

The tendency toward religions is not universal, it is around 50%.
It's a bit hard to relate the religious tendency percentage to the
number of people capable of capture-bonding, but my totally crude
estimate is close to 90%.  That would mean that the selective force
for religious tendency has been selected to roughly the same degree as
the tendency for people to display capture-bonding.  We can put rough
numbers on the selective force if we use the data from the Yanamano.
There around 10% of the women per generation were captured from
neighbors.  So whatever droved the selection for religious tendencies,
it was roughly the same as that that drove selection for

With me so far?


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