Does natural selection favor religious people?
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01-07-2013, 05:24 PM (This post was last modified: 01-07-2013 11:46 PM by Carlo_The_Bugsmasher_Driver.)
Does natural selection favor religious people?
It's no secret that humans have worshipped deities for the last 50,000 years of their existence. Since the dawn of civilization, religion has followed along with that progress, intertwining itself into society with progressively more elaborate interactions. It crept into human government as well, which gave it a useful tool for implementing itself upon the masses as well as culling the herd of heritics. Religious fads came and went. Some cultures believed in multiple gods, others, just one. Wars were fought and blood was spilled, sacrifices were made, tributes given, holy books penned, new gods emerged, others faded into obscurity.

It's not hard to understand why. Human beings, primitive, with advanced brains and without any instruction on the complexity, pain, beauty, wonder and horror of the world they were forced into, quickly constructed an artificial world of gods and magic to cope. As this became more and more popular with man, it also became a favorable survival mechanism. Consequently it also had reproductive advantages. People who were more religious than others better integrated into an increasingly complex society, providing them with increased opportunity for food, resources, mates, social status, survival in the face of religious chieftains or priests who ran the society, and longevity.

As people became more and more religious, so too did their dependence on it. At this point in life, nearly eight of every ten people alive today believe in some sort of a god or deity and a very large percentage of those actively involve themselves in some kind of religious ceremonies and activities including, but not limited to, rites of passage, weddings, funerals, spiritual purifications, confirmation, community, and communion.

Very late in the history of humans (at least within western civilization), a new discipline of understanding the world called the scientific method emerged. Over the course of several hundred years, it delivered humans a real answer to solving the technical challenges of their personal lives as well as the societies in which they lived in by thousands of different disciplines, including biology, modern medicine, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and geology. We have reached a point now in our existence that these disciplines have eclipsed many of the primitive answers which religion had previously provided, and with its integral self correcting mechanism, it continually improves itself as opposed to intractable dogma.

The problem is we have now spent so long being religious that many people seem to require it for survival and prosperity. Many communities throughout the world have seemingly evolved to the point that they seem to be incapable of surviving without it. The Middle East, Southeast Asia, the southeastern United States, India, Africa - all very religious and seemingly entrenched in their lives, and it has been almost impossible to divorce these societies of their religion. Partly because of the cooperation between the government of these regions and the church and partly so because so many people involve themselves with religion that it becomes a favorable characteristic for breeding new humans who are just as religious as their parents and grandparents.

This isn't to say non religious societies can't flourish. Northern Europe does quite well for itself, and by all societal metrics is functioning very successfully, far mor than any other highly religious society out there.

There is also a terrible consequence to religious cultures. Most are bereft of education, science and reason and riddled with internal feuds, inequality, and strife. Their standard of life is far poorer than non religious ones. But natural selection only favors those who generate offspring for the next generation and not necessarily the most effective designs and/or highest intelligence. And in this, religion seems to have a stranglehold on reason and science.

Religious people breed larger families, are more close knit and seem to function better as a collective unit. They are far more bellicose and ruthless than the unbeliever and their faith in their god(s) does give them some psychological advantages over the atheist. The culture favors these attributes in mate selection, producing a new generation even more of these favored attributes. And in the scheme of natural selection these are very useful attributes. The reasonable can be quickly overpowered and killed as such and don't stand a chance in the onslaught.

The only advantage the non religious have ever enjoyed is technology. They can't win by brute force so they develop weapons to do it for them, if they are injured they have a means of medicine to heal themselves, they possess advanced farming and livestock cultivation techniques so they have plenty to eat and drink. I wonder if the only way they have survived throughout history was the ability to provide such improvements to the religious in exchange for their lives. Kings needed the tech to win wars and feed their subjects so they tolerated the apostate to gain what they knew.

But now in 2013, with nearly 7 billion humans on the planet with the capability to ruin the environment they need to live and increasingly scarce resources, has religion, while capable of generating hew offspring to fight and conquer, also become a dangerous liability for them?

It's possible that a new paradigm will emerge over the next few hundred years which causes apostasy and reason to become successful selective pressures while faith is eclipsed and disappears from the cultural zeitgeist. I'm concerned that it may take some sort of a global war or serious natural disaster or environmental calamity before these pressures become more decisive than existing dogma. If that's true, we're in serious trouble with tech like thermonuclear weapons or VX gas or Ebola available to whatever power in charge wants it. Can we survive a selective pressure that both makes us successful at reproducing but endangers all of us? And if not. How do we uncouple the human race from its apparent addiction to religion before something terrible happens?

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01-07-2013, 05:58 PM
RE: Does natural selection favor religious people?
(01-07-2013 05:24 PM)Carlo_The_Bugsmasher_Driver Wrote:  It's no secret that humans have worshipped deities for the last 50,000 years of their existence. Since the dawn od civilization, religion has followed along with that progress, intertwining itself in progressively more elaborate interactions with society. It intertwined itself with government, which gave it a useful tool for implementing itself upon the masses as well as culling the herd of heritics. Religious fads came and went. Some cultures believed in multiple gods, others, just one. Wars were fought and blood was spilled, sacrifices were made, tributes given, holy books penned, new Gods emerged, others faded into obscurity.

It's not hard to understand why. Human beings, primitive, with advanced brains and without any instruction on the complexity, pain, beauty, wonder and horror of the world they were forced into, quickly constructed an artificial world of gods and magic to cope. As this became more and more intertwined, it also became a favorable survival mechanism. Consequently it also had reproductive advantages. People who were more religious than others better integrated into an increasingly complex society, providing them with increased opportunity for food, resources, mates, social status, survival in the face of religious chieftains or priests who ran the society, and longevity.

As people became more and more religious, so too did their dependence on it. At this point in life, nearly eight of every ten people alive believe in some sort of a god or deity and a very large percentage of those actively involve themselves in some kind of religious ceremonies and activities including, but not limited to, rites of passage, weddings, funerals, spiritual purifications, confirmations and communion.

Very late in the history of humans (at least within western civilization), a new discipline of understanding the world called the scientific method emerged. Over the course of several hundred years, it delivered humans a real answer to solving the technical challenges of their personal lives as well as the societies in which they lived in by thousands of different disciplines, including biology, modern medicine, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and geology. We have reached a point now in our existence that these disciplines have eclipsed many of the primitive answers which religion had previously provided, and with its integral self correcting mechanism, it continually improves itself as opposed to intractable dogma.

The problem is we have now spent so long being religious that many people seem to require it for survival and prosperity. Many communities throughout the world have seemingly evolved to the point that they seem to be incapable of surviving without it. The Middle East, Southeast Asia, the southeastern United States, India, Africa - all very religious and seemingly entrenched in their lives, and it has been almost impossible to divorce these societies of their religion. Partly because of the cooperation between the government of these regions and the church and partly so because so many people involve themselves with religion that it becomes a favorable characteristic for breeding new humans who are just as religious as their parents and grandparents.

This isn't to say non religious societies can't flourish. Northern Europe does quite well for itself, and by all societal metrics is functioning very successfully, far mor than any other highly religious society out there.

There is also a terrible consequence to religious cultures. Most are bereft of education, science and reason and riddled with internal feuds, inequality, and strife. Their standard of life is far poorer than non religious ones. But natural selection only favors those who generate offspring for the next generation and not necessarily the most effective designs and/or highest intelligence. And in this, religion seems to have a stranglehold on reason and science.

Religious people breed larger families, are more close knit and seem to function better as a collective unit. They are far more bellicose and ruthless than the unbeliever and their faith in their god(s) does give them some psychological advantages over the atheist. The culture favors these attributes in mate selection, producing a new generation even more of these favored attributes. And in the scheme of natural selection these are very useful attributes. The reasonable can be quickly overpowered and killed as such and don't stand a chance in the onslaught.

The only advantage the non religious have ever enjoyed is technology. They can't win by brute force so they develop weapons to do it for them, if they are injured they have a means of medicine to heal themselves, they possess advanced farming and livestock cultivation techniques so they have plenty to eat and drink. I wonder if the only way they have survived throughout history was the ability to provide such improvements to the religious in exchange for their lives. Kings needed the tech to win wars and feed their subjects so they tolerated the apostasy to gain what they knew.

But now in 2013, with nearly 7 billion humans on the planet with the capability to ruin the environment they need to live and increasingly scarce resources, has religion, while capable of generating hew offspring to fight and conquer, also become a dangerous liability for them?

It's possible that a new paradigm will emerge over the next few hundred years which causes apostasy and reason to become successful selective pressures while faith is eclipsed and disappears from the cultural zeitgeist. I'm concerned that it may take some sort of a global war or serious natural disaster or environmental calamity before these pressures become more decisive than existing dogma. If that's true, we're in serious trouble with tech like thermonuclear weapons or VX gas or Ebola available to whatever power in charge wants it. Can we survive a selective pressure that both makes us successful at reproducing but endangers all of us? And if not. How do we uncouple the human race from its apparent addiction to religion before something terrible happens?

Depends how broadly you're defining natural selection.

I'd say that a big question is whether it's genetically inheritable; without that, biological evolution don't happen. Though a lot has been made of "the god gene", its evolutionary impact would be minimal, because religions are so varied on things like reproduction. Big catholic families are balanced out by nunneries, and the gene wouldn't predispose you to a particular religion anyway. (My understanding is that they haven't actually FOUND a god gene, just a few bits and pieces that have ancillary effect, but someone correct me if I'm wrong there.)

I'd suggest that a better model for this is memetics. Religions compete for adoption, imitation and replication in human behavior, they vary and "mutate", and they are subject to a selection criteria that isn't entirely natural but isn't entirely artificial either. In this model, it's not the memeplex that furthers the survival of a genetic trait, but a trait that furthers the survival of the memeplex. This might come as a disadvantage for the gene, which might be outweighed by advantages, especially if the gene has a broad effect and this is just one of a zillion consequences. Also, memetic evolution happens on a different timescale than genetic evolution (when dealing with humans, at least).

"If I ignore the alternatives, the only option is God; I ignore them; therefore God." -- The Syllogism of Fail
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01-07-2013, 09:59 PM
RE: Does natural selection favor religious people?
From a biological standpoint, I would venture to say no, religion in and of itself does not seem to make you more likely to survive. (just look at the suffering and death religion has given birth to over the years) Thus, natural selection would not really be in play here. However, humans have long risen above pure biology and adopted mating choices that are heavily influenced by culture. Religion often regulates so much of our social structure that it most certainly does change the way we mate. We as humans are constantly overriding our basal instincts and conforming to social norms. This has been the single most powerful trait we have. Working together when you are a physically weak joker is a good thing. Thus, conforming to the views of the society you live in is a survival mechanism. So, religious views about what is a good mate will absolutely change the way we breed. This however may not have an impact on religion itself. It will change the gene pool yes. But religion is not a genetic adaptation. So in my mind, we wont see more religious people, but we may see religious people share certain physical traits. For example, Jews are often depicted as having unusually large noses. But that does not mean that having a large nose makes you more likely to be a Jew. Dogs are another good example. Look at how may varieties of dogs there are in the world today. Natural selection did not produce that. Man kind manipulated the dogs and changed their traits to suit his wants. That is not natural selection.

"Your mind is twice a valuable as your body. And your ears are twice as valuable as your mouth. People will pay you based on which you use." - A very smart old lawyer
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01-07-2013, 10:59 PM
RE: Does natural selection favor religious people?
(01-07-2013 05:24 PM)Carlo_The_Bugsmasher_Driver Wrote:  It's no secret that humans have [worshiped] deities for the last 50,000 years of their existence. Since the dawn [of] civilization, religion has followed along with that progress, intertwining itself in progressively more elaborate interactions with society.

I couldn't stand to read it all at the moment because this is false unless you have evidence to provide which I am unaware of. The end of the last true ice age (that is, excluding the so-called "little ice-age" which contributed to Napoleon's failure" was about 10,000 years ago, when the earliest civilizations were coming together. We also find the first evidence of religion in that time period. The ruins to the temples, or worship centers are in modern day Turkey. If you know of some religion 5 times older it is a secret.

With that being said I think I could make the argument to support the idea that the religiously-minded have a better chance of propagating the species than those without religion. Something along the lines of....the mind can help heal simply by believing there is some magical healing taking place. God is a placebo. You can draw a line from there to an evolutionary edge. Of course this doesn't take into account any counter arguments like the propensity for the religious to fight wars in the name of God and so-forth, but it is a possibility.

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