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A Theory of Religion
Transcript of A Theory of Religion
Behavioral Adaptations That
Ensure Evolutionary Success
Accurate; Pervasive; In Control
Rituals Are the
Behaviors of Religion
and evolutionarily expensive
First observed historically
in ancient tribal religions
Ubiquitous in all cultures
All rituals elicit emotions and
interfere with consciousness.
The Usual Suspects
Popular Theories of Religion
Solves existential mysteries;
Fear of death, purpose of life
Faith is a source of comfort and help
Doctrines give guidance, sets morals—
Hyperactive Agency Detection
My explanation for
the evolution of religion:
Intrinsic religion is a
compensating mechanism for
"We are prepared to concede the correctness of much (not all) of the negative evidence against [consciousness]...
Many theories have assumed that conscious thought is for perceiving the environment and for directly controlling action, but the detractors have revealed its inadequacies for those functions...The naïve view that the conscious self knows all about what the person is doing and can direct behavior at will has come under fire from several
well thought out and empirically supported
Sperry and Gazzaniga
Latent awareness of intention
Tversky and Kahneman
Cognitive biases, not rationality
Barry Schwartz, Dan Ariely and
Fallacy of Conscious Choice
Daniel Wegner and John Bargh
Illusion of Conscious Will
Self-awareness and thinking
Access to vast historical memory
Choice and decision-making
Logic and rationality
Why don't other animals need religion for social cohesion? Why don't they fret over existential mysteries, for guidance, comfort and help?
Conscious Thought Is for Facilitating Social and Cultural Interactions
"Your conscious life, in short, is nothing but an elaborate post-hoc rationalization of things you
do for other reasons."
Neuroscientist, UC San Diego
A Brief History of Consciousness
Influence of Consciousness
Lakoff and Johnson: 95% unconscious
Michael Gazzaniga: 98% unconscious
John Bargh: 99.44% unconscious
How much of our behavior is unconscious?
"Anthropology and other humanistic studies lack an adequate theory of religion. [They] have found no single paradigm. No theory or even definition of religion is generally accepted."
"There is currently no overarching theory, which is able to explain all or at least the most important aspects of religion."
Professor of Psychology,
University of Cologne
Tooby & Cosmides
"...Hominids evolved or elaborated adaptations that could use information based on relationships that were only 'true' temporarily, locally, or contingently rather than universally and stably...Context-dependent information could now be used to guide behavior to a far greater extent than had been possible formerly. "
Why do humans have religion?
Is religion nurture
only or nature, too?
Did religion evolve and is it evolutionarily adaptive or an accidental byproduct?
Religion evolved and is
in our genes.
"This advance, however, was purchased at a cost... information that may be usefully descriptive in a narrow arena of conditions is false, misleading, or harmful outside the scope of those conditions... Expanding the body of information used to make decisions is harmful or dangerous if the architecture does not and cannot detect and keep track of which information is applicable
where, and how the boundaries
of applicability shift."
Higher-order consciousness reduces dependency on instinct and hands over a portion of behavior to learning
The Problem With
The benefit of
of a Stool
is more of a
for humans than a benefit.
are evolved adaptations. Because religion elicits emotion, religion is adaptive and evolutionarily evolved.
are the behaviors of religion.
All rituals elicit emotion while
suppressing aspects of higher-
"The pervasiveness of emotion...connects virtually every object or situation in our experience...to the fundamental values of homeostatic regulation...inevitably, good (in the sense of survival) or evil (in the sense of
death). Whether we like it or not, this is
the natural human condition."
Emotions are “behaviors that take care of fundamental problems
"Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures
Emotions are the one constant of all religious ritual experience
Ritual emotions can be measured; beliefs...not so much
Beliefs are cognitive biases and are secondary aspects of religion
Dance and Movement
"People don't believe what they believe they believe."
Behaviors That Ensure Survival?
“Darwinian selection habitually targets and eliminates waste. Nature is a miserly accountant, grudging the pennies, watching the clock, punishing the smallest extravagance.”
Intrinsic religion is a complex of ritual behaviors that utilize emotions to suppress the downsides of higher-order
Beliefs belong to all spheres of human experience, not just religion
Only the fact of
inventing supernatural entities is relevant to a theory of religion,
not the beliefs themselves.
How does evolution work?
Aren't rituals a
That religious rituals are universal for tens of thousands of years, by itself, indicates that they are evolutionarily adaptive...buy why? Because rituals promote emotions
and inhibit problematic consciousness.
After thousands of years of natural philosophy and science examining it, the purpose of religion remains unknown. It requires looking at
the problem with a new
set of eyes.
Perspective or Paradigm Shift?
Even more than religion, there's no definitive definition of consciousness.
I call this
The Split Hypothesis of
Religion because as higher-order
consciousness evolved to solve environmental problems, religion
split off to compensate for the
drawbacks of consciousness.
This is about the personal experience and feeling of religion, not about doctrine, belief or institutions
Professor Emeritus of Anthropology
Co-Directors of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at UCSB
The human capacity
for learning and culture reduced reliance on instinct, but this new cognitive niche came
BIOLOGY OF RELIGION
Ritual lacks rational motivation and causes “the ‘swamping’ of working memory which permits the temporary suppression of intrusive thoughts.”
Boyer and Leinhard
That Swamp or
Interfere with Consciousness
Meditation and Yoga
Repetitive dance or movement
Barrett & Kiel
a Nonnatural Entity: Anthropomorphism
in God Concepts
"People seem to possess and use more than one concept of God in real-life activities, and these parallel
concepts have some markedly
Professor of Neuroscience, USC
The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness
Professor of neuroscience, NYU
Emotional Brain: the mysterious underpinnings of emotional life
My Stroke of Insight
Why Ritualized Behavior? Precaution
Systems and Action Parsing in Development, Pathological and Cultural Rituals
Professor of anthropology Washington University, St Louis
The God Delusion