Religion and evolution, part deux

Connor Wood

Gray Cranes

After a pleasant sojourn with ISIS in my last post, it’s time to get back to the question of whether religion is an evolved adaptation. In my last post on the evolution of religion, I mentioned that there was a brewing conflict between group selection and inclusive fitness models in biology. Did I say conflict? I meant outright, total war. Far be it from me to over-dramatize a scientific quarrel, but this one doesn’t need to be over-dramatized; it’s already plenty dramatic. From massive letters of protest signed by hundreds of biologists to name-calling to bald accusations of irrelevance leveled against major intellectual figures, the group selection/inclusive fitness debates are the major scientific conflict of the young 21st century. Grab some popcorn, okay?

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Inclusive fitness, models, and religious evolution

Connor Wood

One of the great things about studying religion is that it’s a huge evolutionary puzzle. If you’re the type who likes puzzles, you could sign up right now for a career in the evolutionary study of religion and probably never be bored again for the rest of your life. The riddles abound: Why have we (apparently) evolved the capacity for profound religious experiences? Is there an evolutionary function for spirits, gods, or religious rituals? Many researchers argue that religion is a functionless byproduct of other evolutionary developments, while others claim that religion is a useful adaptation that helps human groups survive. Funnily enough, one recent paper sheds light on this debate despite not mentioning religion at all. [Read more...]

Animals have empathy too!

Connor Wood

AwwwwwwwYou come home from a long day, tired and worn out. The boss chewed you out, so you’re also anxious and blue. You flop down in your recliner, reach for the remote – and feel the familiar, loving nuzzle of your faithful dog. It’s a heartwarming image, but does your dog’s concerned-sounding whining and extra attentiveness really mean he feels empathy for you? New research – and one local news story – hint that the answer may be yes, raising questions about the origins of empathy, altruism, and other traits often associated both with humanity and with religion.

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