Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Religion adaptive?

In the recent study, Deliver Us From Evil: Religion as Insurance those who are religious were found to have greater life satisfaction, "and that religion does insure against some adverse life events. All denominations suffer less psychological harm from unemployment than do the non-religious; equally both Catholics and Protestants are less hurt by marital separation."

As someone who is non-religious I can believe this. And yet this does not conflict with one of the four messages in Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion: "Atheists can [emphasis added] be happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled" - Wikipedia. This study is just suggesting that religious people are likely to be happier than atheists, for whatever reasons.

I am wondering if religion might be something that might even be selected-for in self-aware organisms. For entities whose cognition is oriented around exploring and explaining things, religion may be adaptive in dealing with things which cannot be easily explained.

Of course, others besides Dawkins have thought through this as well and have looked at various possible explanations for the role and origin of religion:

  1. "an evolutionary adaptation,
  2. a side-effect of an evolutionary adaptation, or
  3. a “mind virus” with no direct evolutionary implications." -- Evolution and Religion: Is Religion Adaptive?
Additional discussion:

Update March 19: The Science of Religion: Where Angels fear to tread. The Economist, March 18 2008.

1 comment:

jprapp said...

Scalars for happiness are as notoriously difficult as those for cognitive parts of religious belief.

The adaptive value of happiness, however, may be in metabolic conservation, with “happiness” as an heuristic for a colloidal collection of human emotions – “happiness” acting like an hemostatic clamp to dampen metabolic loss, or maybe acting like an overall homeostat, to give us wide guidelines, between warning to confirmation, as we forage our environment. At a level slightly more primordial-feeling than our cognitive introspections (trial and error).

Whether religion as a cognitive matter (correlations to beliefs) is an artifact, or a serious adaptive feature, on an epigenetic glue, may vary per individual more profoundly than our current metrics can discern.