This is something I don't know much about, although I gather that there are many theories that attempt to contextualise religion within evolutionary processes.
I'm familiar with the animistic bias/error management theory version of religion as a byproduct of the evolutionary benefits of paranoia (I like that one); and I'm aware of the theory that uncertainty has considerable drawbacks, leading people to formulate what one might call 'working hypotheses' ('guiding principles' in Adlerian psychology, or 'fictions' in Vaihinger's philosophy of as if) to deal pragmatically with unknowns.
I have come across other theories, although I've forgotten the details, many of which I wasn't immediately convinced by (which is presumably why I forgot them again); what are the current views on evolutionary advantages of religion, and what do people think of them? I've even forgotten the particulars of Dawkins' version...

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I think Dawkins' version had elements of both of the two explanations you provided. I can't remember the details specifically, but I think he pegged religion on the misfiring of a different process.
I am also very fascinated on the subject of the evolutionary benefits of religion. I stumbled upon this article the other day:

I would assume you would see this as a reliable source.

What I myself gather from Dr. Cornwell is; that the fear instilled by Religion aids in keeping the cohesion in a small group or society. And as a group you gain evolutionary advantages in having more resources on how to address and adapt to different "environmental changes", to use Darwin's own terms. So the concept of religion could be interpreted more, as being a tool formed from the above mentioned paranoia, developed and homed in keeping and driving human groups towards common social goals. A stronger and more cohesive group tends to fight more for their own kind, and may therefor be seen as safer environment to propagate within, which in turn draws more individuals to the this particular successful group.

I do not know if my above writing makes any sense or if I have interpreted the article correctly. I do find the hypothesis, as I understand it, very plausible since it explains why religions have come to existence- from what I know- in all societies, even very isolated groups. A misfiring theory does not really give a good explanation upon this fact, since one would expect the existence of isolated small civilizations without religion, where the misfirings were not as dominant genetically within the population.

I hope this post may spawn a bit more discussion, since it is extremely fascinating and I am very curious to hear more thoughts and knowledge upon the subject.

Fantastic, thanks for posting that link.
I've come across this argument before, but had forgotten the specifics - this should refresh my memory...
The existence of religion (or at least a strong belief in spirits) is found in all cultures, with few if any exceptions, regardless of the time they have been separated from other contact, some more than 7 millennium. Cultural traditions do not survive for that length of time but genetic code can. The conclusion can only be that there is a genetic component to the human disposition toward religion.
Any culture would use that disposition as an element of group cohesion, a definite survival trait for a group; with advancing cultures it became more of an instrument of coercive social control. Those that complied with the social/religious edicts were acceptable to the society, those which were not were ostracized, banished or killed. In any case few contribute to the societies gene pool.
The interplay of genetics and culture (including religion) is cloudy but there is much to suggest how one influences the other in an ongoing feedback relationship.
I see what you're saying, and it does make sense. Ultimately I've never been completely convinced by the 'genetic disposition' (with renegades being weeded out) idea - for instance it does not account for the individuals who do not conform. As 'genetic freaks' they should have become rarer over time, but this has not been the case in the last few centuries, although obviously the role of conditioning complicates both sides of the debate.

The animistic bias, undesirability of uncertainty (both related to Error Management Theory) and group cohesion factors certainly contribute to a general 'encouragement' of religion, in my opinion articulated by psychological propensities towards believing the irrational when 'convenient' - how this 'convenience' might relate to evolutionary advantages is perhaps the real question, as religious thought (in my view) has some, strictly speaking, anti-social aspects, principally a borderline-pathological deference of responsibility for oneself and ones world onto an imagined other...
I don't think there is a single gene effect here, but rather, a more complex interaction of genetic factors that produces a wide range of phenotypic expression. The majority the population is in the high predisposition group but a considerable number have lessor degrees of genetic influence.
There is also the ability for deception in the human lot - it ain't that hard to give a few amens at appropriate moments and pretend to believe the shit. Politicians do it with apparent ease.
From my understanding, reading "The God Delusion", the religious "misfiring" is supposed to be a unintentional bi-product of an advantageous genetic disposition- e.g. our instinctual propensity towards social structures and hierarchies. Something in the same line as the brittle weakness in the human spine is an unfortunate bi-product of the advantage from erect locomotion.
Now admitted, I had difficulties getting the entire grasp of Dr. Dawkins' explanation on the subject and would love it if some kind soul would be able to paint out the hypothesis in simpler terms.
I want to state though, that even if I did not express the obvious genetic linkage of religion in the first reply, I am personally very convinced, that the human susceptibility towards religious superstition and beliefs in the supernatural is a genetic trait, that has withstood the selective process and proven to have had an evolutionary advantage.

I fear that as a working Biochemist/Cell Biologist, I automatically connected evolutionary forces with genetic traits, and expected that other people did the same, which of course is a narrow minded view.
Ok, it's all coming back now - it is just an 'unfortunate byproduct' then, though, and not strictly speaking a 'misfiring'?
Because the 'susceptability/genetic trait' thus does not refer specifically, or even primarily, to religion; in other words it's part of a wider, more generally 'advantageous' impulse... But within that process the specifically religious impulse is an instance of the process 'working correctly' as it were...
I would agree with that. The genetics certainly doesn't dictate religion per se, but has a wider function which, I think, has to do with pattern recognition and pattern seeking behavior as well as the ability to connect cause and effect. The pattern seeking behavior in primative humans lead to assuming supernatural forces are the causes of unexplainable phenomenon (thunder, lighting, earthguakes, floods etc.)
...which is simply the flip side to Error Management Theory played out through the mechanism of the guiding principle...
Is that not distinct from the 'group cohesion' factor, though? In other words:
a) infer patterns in a way that is advantageous for survival (i.e. even if they don't exist)
b) encourage this behaviour in a social context (because it is advantageous), because
c) integrated group behaviour is also advantageous.

In which case b) is an application of a) to c) - or am I missing a more fundamental connection here?
I think you got it about right. You might emphasize the fact that "knowledge is power", and that in a context where only the priest class claims to know the ultimate truths, religion becomes the most efficient way to ensure 'group cohesion'.
Let's start again, tabulation free...
'I think you got it about right. You might emphasize the fact that "knowledge is power", and that in a context where only the priest class claims to know the ultimate truths, religion becomes the most efficient way to ensure 'group cohesion'.'

Now there's an interesting contrast of Type I and Type II Errors: Ceding power to a ruling elite may be detrimental to ones wellbeing, but is nevertheless advantageous in terms of ensuring the survival of the species. Ouch - no wonder we humans are so fucked up...



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