Gene Expression

Is religion an adaptation?

Paul Zed Myers comments on Alan MacNeill’s contention:

To an evolutionary biologist, such pan-specificity combined with continuous variation strongly suggests that one is dealing with an evolutionary adaptation.

Myers sayeth:

For another example, people in the US largely speak English, with a subset that speak Spanish, and a few other languages represented in scattered groups. That does not mean we should talk about English as an adaptive product of evolution. Language, definitely – there’s clearly a heritable biological element to that ability. Similarly, religion may easily be a consequence of a universal trait like curiosity (we want answers to questions, religion provides them, so it spreads – even if the answers are all wrong) or empathy (we are social animals, we like community activities, religion hijacks that communal urge), but religion itself is but one replaceable instance, an epiphenomenon that too many people mistake for the actual substrate of the behavior.

Alan has commented on this blog before, and I gather that he tends to accept the validity of group level evolutionary biological processes in humans to a greater extent than I, e.g.; W.D. Hamilton’s notorious use of kin selection in the 1970s to model human cultural procceses. That being said, I would add one point that Myers did not: continuous traits are invariably those whose selective implications are weak. That is, if a continuous trait is under directional selection the variation will quickly be exhausted as the loci which control heritability will “fix” to one allelic variant. This is why I am skeptical of direct selection for religiosity qua religiosity, the fact that religious sentiment seems to exhibit a range, and that environmental modulation can quickly generate a non-trivial number of atheists, implies that this just isn’t a trait which has been strongly selected for (contrast this with heterosexuality in human males, removing the social ban against homosexuality will not, I suspect, result in a dramatic increase in the percentage of homosexuals because the bio-behavorial constraint against male-male sexual relations is rather powerful).

But, I have issues with Myers’ response as well. He seems to be making an analogy between religions and languages, suggesting that just as we abandon English for French given appropriate social contexts, so we can abandon religion for no religion, given the appropriate social contexts. Though this has some validity, as a normally distributed trait conventionally has a large component of environmental variance (as I believe religion does), another analogy between language and religion is that specific languages and religions are culturally inherited or inculcated, but the propensity for language and religion is genetically rooted. There is a weakness with the analogy insofar as language competency is one of the strongest arguments that one can make for a tightly integrated mental module with a deep biological root. In other words, language is a genetic trait, “wild type” humans all have an equal facility with it at its basic level.1 In contrast, religiosity seems to be a heritable trait, there is variation within the population, some of it (perhaps as much as half) controlled by genetic variation.

How can religion be genetically coded, in part, if there was no directional selection? Myers offers the answer when he suggests it is a byproduct of other traits, such as empathy. It seems likely that as highly social animals we have been strongly selected for empathy, though still to various degrees (and there may be mixed strategies within the population, some biologically rooted). Traits which exhibit a normal distribution are generated by a process where innumerable independent genetic loci act as “random variables” which contribute some of the effect to the trait. If religion emerges as a byproduct out of the milieu of human traits such as empathy, agency detection, curiosity, etc., then the variation within these traits naturally will lead to a variation in the realized range of any byproduct traits. Finally, there is also the implication that religious belief may be a natural emergent property of the human mind so long as these various characteristics remain part of the human cognitive toolkit. This is why I am skeptical that religious belief can be eliminated through resocialization, humans vary in their propensity toward religious belief and at some point along the range of propensities within the population the social-environmental pressures need to be very powerful to tilt the field against avowed religious belief. The totalitarian Communist states come to mind. But, in places like the former Soviet Union religion made an immediate come back after the removal of positive inducements toward atheism. Large minorities, such as in parts of Europe, can emerge who are areligious or atheist, but in free societies it seems that the majority of humans will default toward a form of supernaturalism.

Addendum: Questions about the ‘adaptive’ value of religion also depend on the level of analysis. If supernaturalism is a human modal state it seems likely culture will reshape it in the aggregate into organized religions of some sort, and between these religions selective processes may work. But, that does not imply that on the psychological level religion was initiated by selection for belief in God, as such. In other words, religion is not an adaptation, but Christianity, Buddhism, etc., may be exaptations.

1 – Of course, though basal linguistic capacity is universal, there remains a heritable range on top of this in regards to the ability to use words with in a clever manner.

Comments

  1. #1 John Hawks
    March 26, 2007

    Very clever!

    The “exaptive” religion hypothesis ends with the claim that religion sprouts automatically from empathy, curiosity, and other traits necessary to human sociality and technical abilities. So any community of sufficiently humanlike minds is (at a minimum) highly likely to generate religion, including (presumably) empathetic curious robots. At least, if they don’t have atheist masters to drill it out of them.

    One would think that the Churchill atheists would be disquieted by this proposal, insofar as it predicts a strong physics-like relationship between human cognitive potential and religion. One would think they would find it more comforting for religion to be the adaptive happenstance of some tiny Pleistocene tribe. That would make it easier to explain away as a contingency of the particular path of human evolution, I would think.

  2. #2 coturnix
    March 26, 2007

    There was a strong pressure in post-communist states to revert to religion – it did not just reappear spontaneously, it was pushed onto the populace, just like atheism was pushed on them 50 years before. Most of the youngsters over there are now officially religious and sporting crosses as a matter of pride and belonging to an IN-group despite not actually believing in God (their atheist parents made sure of that).

  3. #3 Tyler DiPietro
    March 26, 2007

    One would think that the Churchill atheists would be disquieted by this proposal, insofar as it predicts a strong physics-like relationship between human cognitive potential and religion.

    As a “Churchill Atheist” myself, I’m not “disquieted” by there being non-sociological aspects to the prevalence of religious belief. Mind you, there are probably other (perhaps the same, even) aspects of our cognitive apparatus that produce a propensity toward racism, tribalism, homophobia and misogyny. We don’t invoke the naturalistic fallacy in those areas and argue that these things are good because they are natural.

  4. #4 Chris
    March 26, 2007

    Bora, that’s part of the exaptation perspective offered by people like Boyer, Norenzayan, and Atran. One of the things that causes religion to fall out of the human cognitive and social makeup is the social aspect. Religion consists, for example, of costly rituals that reaffirm your commitment to a social group. When other such forms of affirmation (e.g., the demands of the Communist Party) disappear, religious forms of affirmation quickly reappear.

  5. #5 Chris
    March 26, 2007

    Tyler, that would be a great Churchillian response if anyone was arguing that religion is actually good.

  6. #6 John Hawks
    March 26, 2007

    Mind you, there are probably other (perhaps the same, even) aspects of our cognitive apparatus that produce a propensity toward racism, tribalism, homophobia and misogyny. We don’t invoke the naturalistic fallacy in those areas and argue that these things are good because they are natural.

    No matter how bad we consider tribalism to be, we might be less sanguine about the possibility of stamping it out if our theory of its existence entailed that it is a more-or-less inevitable consequence of rational thought! As opposed to the theory that it is a product of unique Pleistocene circumstances that no longer, by and large, exist.

    As the parent post points out, a phenomenon that springs from the normal cognition of normal people is going to require a totalitarian regime to prevent.

    I’m not at all persuaded that religion is such a thing; but if I were committed to its elimination, I had better hope that it isn’t!

  7. #7 razib
    March 26, 2007

    We don’t invoke the naturalistic fallacy in those areas and argue that these things are good because they are natural.

    who argues that exactly aside from relgious apologists? and since i don’t see any around here…what place does that point have here?

  8. #8 Andrew Brown
    March 26, 2007

    John Hawks: more to the point, any totalitarian regime that tries to stamp out a particular religion will end up appealing to the same habits of thought and trying to fulfil the same social needs as the religion did. And if it does those things, how has not not become a religion itself?

    This doesn’t mean — of course — that all atheistic governments are totalitarian, any more than all religions are.

  9. #9 PZ Myers
    March 26, 2007

    We’re Churchillian now? Bleh.

    Calling religion a spandrel does not imply a “strong physics-like relationship between human cognitive potential and religion.” Quite the contrary. Since a significant number of people share the cognitive substrates — empathy, social cohesion, knowledge of agency, whatever — but lack the eruption of fantasy and belief in falsehood, it says there is no necessary relationship.

    It actually shows the error of believing that an atheist community needs to stamp out core human values like a sense of community or music and art or charity — the point is that we can have all those things without the useless excrescence of religion.

  10. #10 John B
    March 26, 2007

    I’m not sure how helpful the medical materialist approach to understanding religion has been, or will be in dealing with the social, economic and political issues raised by religions in modern society. What is the purpose of this research?

    I am a little ‘disquieted’ by it, if it is simply an attempt to reverse-engineer a legitimating story for some social or political agenda. There seems to be a large gap between the actual brain functions being discussed here, and ‘religion’ as both a social and individual phenomenon throughout recorded history.

    The ‘exaptation’ theory sounds to me like a medical materialist rewording of the Fall, a comforting story about how, through temptation, human brains lost their way, explaining the existence of worldviews you find nonsensical, and excusing personal failings by evoking some primordial mix-up that has left a legacy of ‘wrong-headedness’ individuals must struggle against.

    All you would need would be a story about how empathy, agency detection, curiosity, etc… can be ‘properly’ understood and you’d have a nice normative eschatological story about how materialism saved your brain from the sinful mire of irrational belief systems.

  11. #11 Shmuel
    March 26, 2007

    So “empathy, agency detection [and] curiosity” represent cognitive adaptations but “Religion” as a collection of cognitive abilities does not.

    Alternatively, it’s argued that Language does represent a cognitive adaptation. However, language can too be reduced further to more primitive adaptations (mind-reading, spatial cognition, sound and gesture percetion…etc.) It seems the atheist proselytizers know as little about language as they do about religion. Are they still buying into Chomsky or what?

  12. #12 Chris
    March 26, 2007

    Shmuel, you and I may be Tomaselloian empiricists, but the majority of people who study language are still Chomskyans, so it’s not necessarily a bad argument.

    PZ, I’m not a biologist, of course, but I think you’re overestimating the atheist impulse. Atheists are an extreme minority, and even in nontheists, dualism (spiritualism of some sort) and ritual still tend to show up. This is, from what I can tell, one of the main arguments for religion as exaptation. There’s a distribution, as you would expect, and some people at the extreme end, but even as you approach that end, you get variants of spiritualism. Razib can probably explain this better in terms a biologist can understand.

  13. #13 ocmpoma
    March 26, 2007

    First off, it’s my understanding as a student of Russian history and culture that Orthodoxy didn’t die out under the Soviets only to rapidly spring back to life in the 90s. Rather, it retreated to the background or underground, depending on the time and place.

    Secondly, while I may be more comforted thinking that supernaturalism is an accident of the particular path of humanity’s past, I’d also be more comforted thinking that there really was a god. The personal comfort level induced by a certain position holds little value for me, and is even less important when considering the validity of the position.

    Thirdly, regardless of how ingrained in the human psyche the tendency toward supernaturalism may be, I still see it as something that needs to be countered. Cultures change over time, and things which were in the past accepted facets of culture and are part and parcel of human nature have been acted against and pushed from the mainstream in many cultures.
    I see no reason to think that the innate nature of our own tendency towards belief in the supernatural and cohesion of that belief into religion should serve as a reason to “…be less sanguine about the possibility of stamping it out…” Furthermore, even if I didn’t think it was possible to stamp it out (and I personally think the possibility is almost vanishingly small), I’d still carry on.

  14. #14 Allen MacNeill
    March 26, 2007

    I have already posted on this subject at Pharyngula, so I’ll just reprise it briefly here. The assertion that the capacity for religious experience is a “spandrel” or “exaptation” seriously misrepresents what Gould, Lewontin, and Vrba meant by those terms. A “spandrel” is a characteristic of an organism that is not the direct result of differential reproductive success – i.e. it is not an adaptation. This says absolutely nothing about it being something like an “exaptation,” much less about it being an “epiphenomenon” of some other adaptation (i.e a kind of pleiotropism).

    Likewise, an “exaptation” is a “spandrel” that eventually becomes an adaptation when it begins to increase in frequency in a population as the result of selection. The use of the term “exaptation” was and is intended to exclude the teleological implications of the older term “preadaptation,” which implied that a character originated “ready to become an adaptation.”

    I have strongly argued in my own evolution courses that all adaptations start out as exaptations; if they didn’t, that would imply some kind of supernatural teleological “force” producing them, with the intention that they become subject to differential reproductive success once they have arisen.

    PZ, in other words, is either using the wrong terms for the idea that he is trying to express, or he seriously misunderstands the definitions of the terms he is using.

    He also apparently agrees with Boyer – that the capacity for religious experience is probably an epiphenomenon (i.e. a pleiotropy) of some other characteristic that is adaptive. That’s exactly what I would expect from a person who appears to be emotionally committed to atheism as a presupposition, rather than a logical conclusion based on evidence.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m a T. H. Huxley/Bertrand Russel-style agnostic, and so don’t think that the existence of an evolved capacity for religious experience in any way serves as “proof” of the existence of god(s)/demons/angels/etc. I just think that the bulk of the evidence to date tends to point to the capacity for religious experience being an adaptation in-and-of itself, and not a pleiotropy of an adaptive module for agency detection, etc. However, if someone can provide me with citations to the contrary, and that evidence is compelling, I’ll of course change my mind. I think that’s what science is supposed to be about…

  15. #15 razib
    March 27, 2007

    I just think that the bulk of the evidence to date tends to point to the capacity for religious experience being an adaptation in-and-of itself, and not a pleiotropy of an adaptive module for agency detection, etc.

    of what evidence do you speak? as for citations, atran & boyer spend a fair amt. of time in their books attacking the idea of direct adaptation.

  16. #16 Tyler DiPietro
    March 27, 2007

    who argues that exactly aside from relgious apologists? and since i don’t see any around here…what place does that point have here?

    Well I was specifically responding to John Hawks, and it appears in retrospect I have misinterpreted him. My apologies.

    That being said…

    No matter how bad we consider tribalism to be, we might be less sanguine about the possibility of stamping it out if our theory of its existence entailed that it is a more-or-less inevitable consequence of rational thought! As opposed to the theory that it is a product of unique Pleistocene circumstances that no longer, by and large, exist.

    …I still don’t agree with your characterization. I don’t think anyone was talking about “rational thought”, but natural cognitive propensities. And I think you’re overstating my ambitions when you imply that I’m for “stamping out” religions? Like tribalism, racism, homophobia, etc., it probably can’t be eliminated on the whole but can be greatly reduced in influence. Even if I believe we will always have to deal with some level of supernaturalism, I don’t think that’s an argument against the Churchillian position anymore than the inevitable persistence of some level of homophobia is an argument against the condemnation of the latter.

  17. #17 Chris
    March 27, 2007

    Allen, the biggest problem with the direct adaptation view is that the central features of religion (e.g., supernatural agent concepts) not only display all the features we would expect if they were the results of normal cognitive/social processes, but if you manipulate those processes, it causes the expected changes in the relevant features of religion. If supernatural agent concepts, costly rituals, empathy, and decreasing mortality salience give every appearance of being the result of mundane cognitive and social processes, you have to wonder what it is about religion that was selected for itself.

  18. #18 Tyler DiPietro
    March 27, 2007

    If supernatural agent concepts, costly rituals, empathy, and decreasing mortality salience give every appearance of being the result of mundane cognitive and social processes, you have to wonder what it is about religion that was selected for itself.

    Just wondering. In how many cultures has there been a hard and fast (and widely understood) distinction between the natural and the supernatural? It would seem that in most ancient cultures gods were just supermen, and our modern ideas about a supreme being beyond space and time, etc., are pretty recent developments. Could supernatural agent detection just be an extended form of people personifying a wedge when they shout “get in there, you bastard!” upon encountering difficulty? Or is it more specific than that?

  19. #19 John B
    March 27, 2007

    In how many cultures has there been a hard and fast (and widely understood) distinction between the natural and the supernatural?

    Not many, the dichotomy is a projection of western scholarship onto other cultures. Likewise, most don’t have traditional separations between religion and non-religion. Usually, when westerners talk about ‘religion’ they mean Protestant Christianity’s social structures, function, etc…

  20. #20 Shmuel
    March 27, 2007

    Chris,

    “Shmuel, you and I may be Tomaselloian empiricists, but the majority of people who study language are still Chomskyans”

    No doubt because “Tomaselloain empiricist” is such a cumbersome label. But one must admit that it’s a bit ironic that one now finds that, not only do “leading” Evangelical Atheists proselytize, but they also blindly accept a theory of language that is at best “agnostic” to evolutionary processes and at worst, reliant on a “deus ex machina” explanation for language origins.

  21. #21 J. J. Ramsey
    March 27, 2007

    Tyler DiPietro: “In how many cultures has there been a hard and fast (and widely understood) distinction between the natural and the supernatural?”

    Not many, I don’t think. However, IIRC, even with those cultures, there is an understanding that the things that we would label as supernatural are the things that violate the folkmechanics, folkbiology, etc. of those cultures. Ghosts, even if considered a normal part of the landscape, are still considered counterintuitive.

  22. #22 razib
    March 27, 2007

    j.j. ramsey’s point is spot on. john says: Usually, when westerners talk about ‘religion’ they mean Protestant Christianity’s social structures, function, etc…, but cognitive anthropologists aren’t talking about religion in this way. no matter what term you use they are speaking of the suite of correlated tendencies that ramsey is alluding to. as chris states, they’re all pretty mundane cognitive processes.

    don’t think that’s an argument against the Churchillian position anymore than the inevitable persistence of some level of homophobia is an argument against the condemnation of the latter.

    perhaps you should elucidate your own interpretation to the churchillian position? i’m going mostly on what i see on pz’s weblog and the general thrust of the god delusion (i’ve read it). i think we should be careful here about analogies. making a correspondence between religion and language is giving the former too much “innate” properties, but making one between religion and homophobia is not giving it enough, IMO.

  23. #23 Tyler DiPietro
    March 27, 2007

    perhaps you should elucidate your own interpretation to the churchillian position? i’m going mostly on what i see on pz’s weblog and the general thrust of the god delusion (i’ve read it).

    Actually, upon reflection I don’t think I’m quite “Churchillian” with religion. Perhaps my position is more along the lines of “George Kennan atheism”, that is, I favor a policy containment rather than direct confrontation when it comes to religion. Namely, I would like to see religion held on a similar level to alien abductions and Ouija boards. Prevalent and likely the result of the same cognitive instincts as religion, but not nearly as encouraged, venerated or sacrosanct.

  24. #24 windy
    March 28, 2007

    But one must admit that it’s a bit ironic that one now finds that, not only do “leading” Evangelical Atheists proselytize, but they also blindly accept a theory of language that is at best “agnostic” to evolutionary processes and at worst, reliant on a “deus ex machina” explanation for language origins.

    Please cite some evidence in support of this view.

    If evolutionary biologists say “language is probably an adaptation”, it doesn’t mean that they must “blindly accept” Chomsky’s nonsensical views about evolution.

  25. #25 J. J. Ramsey
    March 28, 2007

    Tyler DiPietro: “I favor a policy containment rather than direct confrontation when it comes to religion.”

    From known “Chamberlain” atheist Chris at Mixing Memory:

    “Would it not be better to recognize that the content of specific religions has, historically, varied according to the spirit of the times, and therefore the most effective avenue for social critique is to focus on changing that spirit, thereby necessarily effecting change in the content of religion? If you want to make the religious less intolerant, and less hostile towards members of outgroups, wouldn’t it be better to work towards a society that is itself less intolerant and hostile towards members of outgrups? … it is the responsibility of anyone with a progressive world-view, recognizing that religion will not go away, to force religion to change by changing its environment and thereby forcing it to adapt.”

    That looks like a form of containment to me, albeit somewhat different from what you’ve described.

  26. #26 Shmuel
    March 28, 2007

    “Please cite some evidence in support of this view.”

    The post to which this one refers?

    “If evolutionary biologists say “language is probably an adaptation”, it doesn’t mean that they must “blindly accept” Chomsky’s nonsensical views about evolution.”

    What these particular biologists are arguing is that language has no cognitive “primitives” and that this further suggests it is indeed an adaptation. Alternatively, they claim that religion is not an adaptation because it does not reduce to more primitive cognitive components. But if language has no cognitive “fossil record” so to speak, then there is actually less evidence that it is an adaptation, right. So their argument makes little sense to me. and it doesn’t seem very productive. (Unless one’s goal is to “hijack” the same impulse towards curiosity to transform atheism into a religion. More irony.)

    I myself don’t necessarily believe that something like “religion” is best understood as an adaptation (like language) but I find the current analogy quite awful. I.e. Language is to English as Curiosity is to Religion is rather incoherent.

  27. #27 razib
    March 28, 2007

    What these particular biologists are arguing is that language has no cognitive “primitives” and that this further suggests it is indeed an adaptation. Alternatively, they claim that religion is not an adaptation because it does not reduce to more primitive cognitive components.

    did you type this right? it seems you’re saying both groups believe in the same thing.

    But if language has no cognitive “fossil record” so to speak, then there is actually less evidence that it is an adaptation, right.

    clarify? you don’t need a fossil record to see/note/detect selection (which implies adaptation). foxp2 might actually be the first stages in elucidating the molecular evolutionary back story toward how language might have evolved.

  28. #28 windy
    March 28, 2007

    The post to which this one refers?

    The bit I quoted, naturally. “One now finds” that leading atheists proselytize for this and that. Where does one find it?

    What these particular biologists are arguing is that language has no cognitive “primitives” and that this further suggests it is indeed an adaptation.

    Who is arguing that, and in what context?

    Alternatively, they claim that religion is not an adaptation because it does not reduce to more primitive cognitive components.

    Did you mean that it reduces to components, otherwise this is a bit contradictory?

  29. #29 Shmuel
    March 28, 2007

    Yes, sorry. Taking a “not” out:

    What these particular biologists are arguing is that language has no cognitive “primitives” and that this further suggests it is indeed an adaptation. Alternatively, they claim that religion is not an adaptation because it does reduce to more primitive cognitive components.

    you don’t need a fossil record to see/note/detect selection (which implies adaptation

    OK so a fossil record isn’t *necessary* but it certainly isn’t evidence *against* a particular trait being an adaptation right? It seems that this is what PZ is doing above. It seems ass backwards. Or am I missing something?

    Language could be the result of a single, bizarre mutation (as Chomsky once suggested). But even if this were the case, how does this make it a better example of an adaptation than a trait that decomposes into more “primitive” or “basic” components? Is the human eye less of an adaptation because it can be ‘decomposed” into more “primitive” parts, like the kinds of photoreceptor cells found in organisms without eyes?

  30. #30 windy
    March 28, 2007

    OK so a fossil record isn’t *necessary* but it certainly isn’t evidence *against* a particular trait being an adaptation right? It seems that this is what PZ is doing above. It seems ass backwards. Or am I missing something?

    I don’t see anything from PZ about precursors of language or about how many genes control it. Are you referring to some earlier discussion?

    Terms like “fossil record” and “primitive components” might be a bit confusing here. Are you talking about evolutionary precursors of religion or just basal mental traits (like curiosity) that might underly religion?

    Language could be the result of a single, bizarre mutation (as Chomsky once suggested).

    I think this is a bit of a red herring since few biologists would favor Chomsky’s hopeful monster theory. But it depends on what you mean by “result”- single mutations can cause drastic modifications in earlier structures. Recently there was an article on how a single mutation might be responsible for the elongation of digits in bat wings. But a single gene doesn’t “make the wing” – the forelimb was there as a precursor. In addition, many other small changes in bat bodies and brains were most likely needed to fully take advantage of flight.

    Bat wings, human eyes, and language can probably all be decomposed into more primitive components, but the point is that so far we have more information on wing-, eye-, and language-‘specific’ structures than religion-‘specific’ structures, thus it is easier to argue that the former are adaptations. Even if religion is “made out of” more primitive cognitive processes like curiosity and empathy, it could still be an adaptation if we find some specific modifiers to those cognitive processes that act to produce religion, and those modifiers have a biological basis. I think PZ is saying that religion doesn’t have “that special something”, not that adaptations can’t be made out of basic components.

  31. #31 Shmuel
    March 28, 2007

    I was following you until you got to “that special something”. Can you explain?

  32. #32 windy
    March 29, 2007

    Just those modifiers I mentioned – to be an adaptation, religion should be at least partly due to a biological modifier of its “parts” (and this modifier must have been selected for)

  33. #33 Shmuel
    March 29, 2007

    This seems to be the important part then:

    “Even if religion is “made out of” more primitive cognitive processes like curiosity and empathy, it could still be an adaptation if we find some specific modifiers to those cognitive processes that act to produce religion, and those modifiers have a biological basis.”

    I guess I don’t understand what such a “modifier” looks like. Can you give an example using language? I.e. can you give an example of such a biological mechanism that “modifies” such component cognitive processes (of language) that act to produce language?

  34. #34 Jason Malloy
    March 29, 2007

    This is why I am skeptical of direct selection for religiosity qua religiosity, the fact that religious sentiment seems to exhibit a range

    It’s been harder for me to use this argument after this Hawks post:

    “There is no simple answer to these questions, we have no knowledge whatever about the genes influencing [religiousness], and hence, it is impossible to make categorical statements about the likely heritability of the character after a history of selection.

    If, as I think is a more likely scenario, there are alternative adaptive strategies toward [religiousness] in humans, then it is not only likely, but necessary that the trait have substantial heritability.”

  35. #35 Jason Malloy
    March 29, 2007

    For instance crazy* human intelligence is an adaptation, but still lots o’ persistent variation. So maybe crazy** human religiousness is too.

    I think the evidence points strongly in the byproduct direction though.

    * figurative

    ** literal

  36. #36 razib
    March 29, 2007

    So maybe crazy** human religiousness is too.

    I think the evidence points strongly in the byproduct direction though.

    well…we need to be careful about not getting stuck into and either/or bind. the ‘strong form’ of the argument for religion=adaptation basically works like the argument that religion=language, as if it is a fixed genetic trait (and, there are occasional mono-genic arguments about the trait). i don’t deny the possibility of frequency dependent/diversifying selection. but, the frequency of “believing in god” is higher than women who can attain organisms world wide….

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