Could Natural Selection Prepare us to be Religious?
Rod Foster

Notes by John L Perkins on Atheist Society lecture given on 14 March 2006
A transcript from Rod Foster will be uploaded when received. Other comments welcome.

Dr Foster's talk was based on the book "Darwin's Cathedral" by David Sloane Wilson. The topic related to his theme of how do propensities for religious beliefs arise from a evolutionary perspective. He first of all differentiated Sloane's view from that of Boyer, who described it is a "purpose seeking mental module" that had become over activated. He said that Wilson argued that certain religious propensities are selected for, but there is often no clear cut division between what is innate and what is learned. There is rather a mixture and transition between them.

The issue was raised, which led to some discussion later, as the whether altruism is a learned or innate condition or whether the selfishness of the survival instinct was compatible with it. Cheaters may survive more, but there are social pressures against cheating. Some basic aspects of human nature were discussed and were later on display in the discussion. As humans are social animals, a certain degree of self-interest together with mutual co-operation necessarily must co-exist.

An important point was raised by Dr Foster, which came from the beginning of Wilson's book, was that humans very likely originated from tribal cultures. The mechanism of group selection therefore mandates a predisposition to group identification behaviour. This propensity for group identification suggests a relevant interpretation of current religious adherence as a form of global religious tribalism.


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