Friday, January 23, 2009


Jesse Bering has a post up at Scientific American detailing most of the major theories of religion.

Short synopsis:

Theory 1- religion is an unavoidable byproduct of consciousness

Theory 2- religion encouraged conformity, and thus religious groups were more likely to survive

Theory 3- religion is personally costly, and, therefore, by being religious people signal their commitment to the group

Theory 4- religious belief has positive effects on health, and so is selected regardless of the truthfulness of the belief

I'm a bit disappointed to see no mention of the memetic theory-- that religion is a defect which natural selection hasn't had the time to correct.


Kaye Noir said...

How is it a defect? Group rivalries? That's... natural.

Skeptikos said...

Memeticists like to argue that there is no evolutionary reason to subscribe to religion-- at least, not from the genetic view.

Instead, they say that religious memes have basically hijacked people's brains (and natural selection hasn't had time to weed out this vulnerability). Virus of the mind, and all that.

Kaye Noir said...

Really? Has population rate been slowing?
What's wrong with human's brains being "hijacked"?

It's kinda hard to determine if a trait is good for a species if we haven't observed extinction or increased reproduction directly resulting from it. So, either the religious die off and the nonreligious rejoice, or they end up killing us all off and we can't realize it was true, or nothing happens and we'll never know.

Skeptikos said...

You mean has population growth been slowing? Yes, it has been (for a variety of reasons). There tends to be a sharp decline in the birth rate once a country industrializes.

There's nothing wrong, per se, with a brain being hijacked. Unless you're worried about spreading your genes. It's only wrong from the genes' view.

It can be hard to determine the benefits (or detriments) of a trait like religion, which is why there are so many competing theories, and not a lot of consensus.