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View Diary: New Paper Gives Insight Into How Religion Developed (165 comments)

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  •  Yeah, it seems that the ability to empathy and (4+ / 0-)
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    ganymeade, Philoguy, trinityfly, kyril

    understanding others is the route to belief. If you can intellectualize what someone not present might do, then there is no difference in postulating a deities thoughts.

    Since we have to have the first ability to work in groups that are not genetically related, the second is a side effect.

    Still, it is clear that religion itself became a survival booster as groups with religions have tended to outlast those not organized around religions.

    Getting Democrats together and keeping them that way is like herding cats that are high on meth, through L.A., during an earthquake, in the rain -6.25, -6.10

    by Something the Dog Said on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 10:57:35 AM PST

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    •  Organized religion allowed many more (1+ / 0-)
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      opportunities for reproductive sex.

      My mother was a moderate Jew. Does that mean I'm not really Jewish?

      by Hyman Stern on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 01:45:27 PM PST

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    •  IF it's true that.... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      trinityfly, jlb1972

      ...."groups with religions have tended to outlast those not organized around religions," then this has implications for atheists in terms of legal and cultural equality:

      Proponents of religion could justifiably assert that the spread of atheism and agnosticism beyond some critical threshold, would become inimical to the survival of a society.  This could be used as a point from which to argue for a closer relationship between church and state, and religious indoctrination as a more pervasive element of the culture.


      The counterpoints that come to mind are homosexuality and pacifism.

      Homosexuality generally is a non-reproductive behavior, and exclusively homosexual humans (of which I'm one BTW) generally don't reproduce.  Yet, a replacement level of reproduction is necessary for a society to continue.   This is one of the arguements used by opponents of marriage equality.  

      The science-based answer to that is, if all homosexuals became reproducing heterosexuals, the overall birth rate would increase such as to bring about a more rapid state of population overshoot of resources.  A baseline level of homosexuality in a society appears to be necessary to maintaining a balance between too much and too little reproduction.  As such it serves a valid function in terms of preventing rapid population overshoot of resources, and has to be protected as a minority status.  

      Absolute pacifism (for example in the sense Jesus taught with "turn the other cheek") rapidly leads to a society being attacked, invaded, overrun, and made extinct.  However, its opposite, unbridled aggressiveness, produces a similar outcome though less obviously: a tribe that is known to be hyperaggressive will be attacked and wiped out by surrounding tribes for the sake of their own proactive defense against getting attacked by the hyperaggressive tribe at some point in the future.  

      So the answer for pacifism is that, as with reproduction, there needs to be a balance between pacifistic and aggressive tendencies.  The optimal balance is to not engage in aggressive attacks against other tribes, but to be prepared to conclusively defeat any other tribe that attempts to attack one's own.  This could be called a "deterrence" posture.  Sustaining it effectively, would also require that a tribe maintain combat experience in each generation; and in lieu of attacking others (or fighting off an attack against one's own tribe), this could be achieved by being willing to intervene in the defense of other tribes when they are attacked.  


      So I would look for something analogous with religion.

      Above a certain threshold, religiosity should also produce an effect that is harmful to the survival of a tribe.   This would be the counterpoint to the effect of an excess of nonreligiosity or atheism.  

      The long term survival of a tribe would depend upon a balance being achieved between religiosity and atheism.  

      Historically, the Catholic Church's control over civil affairs in Medieval Europe had negative effects on sanitation practices that ultimately led to conditions that contributed to ("contributed to" is not the same as "unilaterally caused") the spread of the Plague that produced a 30% dieoff of European population.

      At present, we have religious extremists siding with climate deniers, in the face of a climate crisis that may lead to a severe dieoff of humans in this century.   We also have religious extremists lining up against contraception in the US and the developing world, directly producing local population overshoot of resources and leading to chronic poverty, starvation, and endemic disease.

      These are examples of the balance going too far off in the direction of religion.

      So we might conclude that a certain amount of atheism and agnosticism are protective in preventing the excesses of religion.    

      This would lead us to the position that atheists and agnostics must gain the same kinds of protection and legal & cultural equality as homosexuals and pacifists.  

      The recognition of pacifism as a protected category evolved over time and finally matured during the Vietnam war when nonreligious principled pacifism was ruled by the Supreme Court as a qualification for conscientious objector status.   The recognition of homosexuality as a protected category is still contested.  Atheism is still largely in the closet:  legally protected but only beginning to be culturally protected (e.g. Obama's speeches where he refers to religious people and nonbelievers in the same sentences as all being equal in American culture).  


      As a generalization, natural selection tends to work toward the fine edges and border regions between otherwise much larger regions of behavior or genetics:  "too much of X" or "too much of Y" doesn't sustain, but "a finely-tuned balance between X and Y" does.  

      So the counter-arguement against those who use the "religious societies survive longer" arguement, is that a certain percentage of atheism in the culture is necessary to prevent religion from engaging in excesses that are themselves inimical to the survival of a society.  

      OK, what do you think of this so far?  

      •  The underlying assumption, (0+ / 0-)

        that it is preferable to have distinct, long-lasting groupings dividing humans, is one that should be questioned first, before any larger conclusions are drawn about the (to my mind highly dubious) assertion that religious groups last longer.

        "Last longer" is not necessarily a public good, nor is it at all clear that a long lasting belief group confers any kind of evolutionary advantage to its members.

        In fact, there is strong empirical evidence to the contrary. Multiple studies have shown consistent strong negative correlation between the levels of religiosity of a society and the well-being of its members, along a slew of measurements.

        Always make new mistakes - Esther Dyson

        by RandomActsOfReason on Sun Feb 14, 2010 at 04:13:31 PM PST

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