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In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
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Sonsowey Offline
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In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
As an Atheist, I have had a hard time understanding religion. This book, In Gods We Trust, by Scott Atran, has done more than anything else in my life to help me understand religion in a scientific sense.

The book is fascinating for anyone interested in the topic of religion. I am currently half-way through it but I wanted to share here anyway.

The book begins by addressing the human mental processes which underly religious belief. Many cultures all across the world, all unrelated, have very similar religious beliefs. Gods representing natural forces, Sun, Storms/Lighting/Rain, Snakes as a powerful/evil force, creatures that are some combination of Human and Animal. Atran lays out the case for why this should be.

We have innate mental mechanisms to recognize certain things that can be triggered by things they are not meant for. For instance, we have mental mechanisms to recognize human faces. It is mistakenly triggered by simple drawings like this Smile. Everyone would recognize that this is NOT a human face, yet it reminds us of a human face because the two-eyes and a mouth cue is triggered in our brain.

Similarly, we have mental mechanisms to recognize predators and prey, and to assign agency to things which move towards a goal. You can recognize that an animal you have never seen before is predator or prey based on how it moves, if it scurries away from you, or if it is stalking you. You can recognize that a leaf in the wind probably is neither predator or prey, that it's action is not purposeful, but a rabbit or a dog's actions are purposeful.

[Image: Surya8a.jpg]

These mental mechanisms are triggered by natural forces which we interpret as purposeful. The movement of the sun, in many cultures, is considered to be a God's path across the sky. It doesn't appear as a leaf tossed in the wind, so it triggers our mental mechanism of purposeful movement. A great wind can also trigger this mechanism. Great winds can "howl" in sounds which instinctively, make many people fearful. The howling of the wind mimicks, to our minds, the fearsome sounds predators might make. So we in this way assign purposefulness to natural forces which are not purposeful. In that way, we begin to conceive of supernatural forces, winds that come to punish you for bad behavior, rains that fall to reward good behavior.

[Image: T17.1Helios.jpg]

Snakes are something that all primates have instinctual fear of. This makes sense, if any sort of primate is fascinated with a snake, they will be bit, so evolutionarily fear of snakes makes sense. Even people living in climates without snakes show instinctive fear towards them. Their venom must surely seem like a supernatural force to primitive people, and so they have great power in our minds. Snakes are popular candidates the world over for deification, often as signs of evil, but also simply as powerful deities which can harm or protect.

[Image: 1388504488071.jpg]

Beyond simply The Sun or A Snake being a god, we often see gods which have traits mixed between men and animals. Why is it that Gods are shown to be more than just a Storm or a Human or a Snake? Or alternatively, why aren't they completely novel creatures that have no similarity to any known object? We appear to dismiss things as unbelievable if they vary too much from our priors. This seems simply ridiculous:
[Image: Touched_by_His_Noodly_Appendage.jpg]

Whereas this was worshipped by people for milenia:

[Image: 2-egyptian-gods-and-goddess-michal-boubin.jpg]

Apparently studies show that things which take categories (animals, humans) that we already know and mix them are simply more memorable. You're more likely to retell a story which is basically believable but has some minimally counter-intuitive elements, ie. a half-man half-bird, then you are to retell a story that is completely counterintutive, ie. flying spaghetti and meatballs. These ideas, survived and were retold and in many cultures we see similar signs of Gods being people, but not quite, animals, but not quite, rather than completely strange nonsensical categories. Dragons fall into this category, sharing traits with snakes, birds and reptiles but having certain fantastical characteristics.

[Image: quetzalcoatl-te-ama-espa%C3%B1a-mexico.jpg]

So this, to Atran, explains why all over the world human societies have independently developed religions that in many aspects are quite similar. Our brains are pre-wired to interperet certain things as purposeful which are not, therefore giving birth to supernatural beliefs. We are likely to remember stories as interesting about things that are based in what we know but a bit unbelievable instead of things that are completely fantastical.

Atran then goes on to explain religious commitment and organization as a human phenomenon, focusing on sacrifice.

[Image: 8468-004-02B5AD49.jpg]

One of the particular things about humans is that we ware the only animal to live in large groups of non-kin. In the distant past of tribal living, human society was in fact based on kin-groups, and today it still is to some degree. Yet religion is one of the forces that has allowed people to accept non-kin as equals and treat them fairly.

It is a problem, when every living thing is pre-wired evolutionarily to watch out for "me and mine" first and foremost. Religious language often co=opts family terms. Co-religionists are often called "brother" or "sister". "Father" for priests, "Mother" for goddesses or divine figures.

People watch out for themselves and their family out of evolutionary self-interest. Why would someone watch out for non-kin? It seems strange evolutionarily, why wouldn't you just rape and pillage non-kin for your own advancement? In one sense, you should, and this is what we see with tribal warfare in ancient societies and to some degree in the modern world.

Religion was able to coax cooperation out of non-kin through the use of sacrifices. In Atran's phrasing, sacrifices are costly and hard-to-fake expressions of devotion to religion. They must necessarily be costly, and hard-to-fake, to show group solidarity. In the past, sacrifices may have been human sacrifices, animal sacrifices, crop sacrifices, etc. People would sacrifice not their weak or dying animals, but their best, the prime animals that they had. This was the primary store of wealth for farmers so this sacrifice was no small thing. Yet doing this sacrifice to God showed the community that you were dedicated to it, and in return, that they could trust you and would likely help you in times of need. Larger sacrifices were required of the wealth, and religious societies required that even their Kings sacrifice to their Gods, showing that no human was above the social order of the day.

Because of humans ability to lie and deceive, all members of society must believe that the God or Gods are watching over them at all times in order for a religious order to work. Otherwise you could just say "I believe" but then go out and undercut the religious order, taking advantage of trusting benevolent neighbors who want to help you without returning the favor. Atran believes that costly sacrifices are indeed an effective mechanism of fostering religious commitment in communities, stating that research shows people most involved seriously in religion are less likely to commit most types of crimes.

[Image: Surveillance3.png]

Atran has little hope that secular ideologies will ultimately displace religion due to the fact that secular ideologies cannot offer what religion can. Belief in any ideology based on rationality, thinking that Capitalism or Socialism or Democracy is the best path for humanity, implicitly may be wrong. You recognize that your belief is based on the writing of some other human, Adam Smith or Karl Marx, who your rational analysis has concluded has some pretty good ideas. But there always exists the chance then that some other individual may come up with some more rational or better ideas, and thus using your own criteria, you would have to change your beliefs.

This jives with me quite well because I, like many people here I imagine, have changed my political beliefs quite a lot over the course of my life. If I come across a new idea that seems to be best supported by the available evidence, I can change my opinion. This sets up a much weaker basis for any community than does belief in an eternal all-seeing, all-powerful God, which is not a rational belief and subject to change.

This also makes sense of the cults of personality we see in some dictatorships, especially Communist ones. Communist governments seek to destroy the power of religion and some have tried to convert their leaders into deities themselves. I think specifically of North Korea which apparently has gone the furthest in deifying Kim Il Sung.

We have probably all seen videos of Kim Jung Un in crowds of people where women break out into tears upon touching him. Some of us may think this is a fake show of love, done out of fear that if it isn't done there will be punishment in a labor camp. Some might think these women are just nuts. To me it seems that they basically believe their leader is divine, that they are touching a God-King.

[Image: kim-jong-un-women.jpg]

Anyway, this is only half of the book. I recommend anyone interested in religion or evolutionary psychology look into this.

RVF Book Club February: Julius Evola - Revolt Against the Modern World
(This post was last modified: 02-13-2015 05:53 PM by Sonsowey.)
02-13-2015 05:35 PM
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RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
(02-13-2015 05:35 PM)Sonsowey Wrote:  As an Atheist, I have had a hard time understanding religion. This book, In Gods We Trust, by Scott Atran, has done more than anything else in my life to help me understand religion in a scientific sense.

The book is fascinating for anyone interested in the topic of religion. I am currently half-way through it but I wanted to share here anyway.

The book begins by addressing the human mental processes which underly religious belief. Many cultures all across the world, all unrelated, have very similar religious beliefs. Gods representing natural forces, Sun, Storms/Lighting/Rain, Snakes as a powerful/evil force, creatures that are some combination of Human and Animal. Atran lays out the case for why this should be.

We have innate mental mechanisms to recognize certain things that can be triggered by things they are not meant for. For instance, we have mental mechanisms to recognize human faces. It is mistakenly triggered by simple drawings like this Smile. Everyone would recognize that this is NOT a human face, yet it reminds us of a human face because the two-eyes and a mouth cue is triggered in our brain.

Similarly, we have mental mechanisms to recognize predators and prey, and to assign agency to things which move towards a goal. You can recognize that an animal you have never seen before is predator or prey based on how it moves, if it scurries away from you, or if it is stalking you. You can recognize that a leaf in the wind probably is neither predator or prey, that it's action is not purposeful, but a rabbit or a dog's actions are purposeful.

[Image: Surya8a.jpg]

These mental mechanisms are triggered by natural forces which we interpret as purposeful. The movement of the sun, in many cultures, is considered to be a God's path across the sky. It doesn't appear as a leaf tossed in the wind, so it triggers our mental mechanism of purposeful movement. A great wind can also trigger this mechanism. Great winds can "howl" in sounds which instinctively, make many people fearful. The howling of the wind mimicks, to our minds, the fearsome sounds predators might make. So we in this way assign purposefulness to natural forces which are not purposeful. In that way, we begin to conceive of supernatural forces, winds that come to punish you for bad behavior, rains that fall to reward good behavior.

[Image: T17.1Helios.jpg]

Snakes are something that all primates have instinctual fear of. This makes sense, if any sort of primate is fascinated with a snake, they will be bit, so evolutionarily fear of snakes makes sense. Even people living in climates without snakes show instinctive fear towards them. Their venom must surely seem like a supernatural force to primitive people, and so they have great power in our minds. Snakes are popular candidates the world over for deification, often as signs of evil, but also simply as powerful deities which can harm or protect.

[Image: 1388504488071.jpg]

Beyond simply The Sun or A Snake being a god, we often see gods which have traits mixed between men and animals. Why is it that Gods are shown to be more than just a Storm or a Human or a Snake? Or alternatively, why aren't they completely novel creatures that have no similarity to any known object? We appear to dismiss things as unbelievable if they vary too much from our priors. This seems simply ridiculous:
[Image: Touched_by_His_Noodly_Appendage.jpg]

Whereas this was worshipped by people for milenia:

[Image: 2-egyptian-gods-and-goddess-michal-boubin.jpg]

Apparently studies show that things which take categories (animals, humans) that we already know and mix them are simply more memorable. You're more likely to retell a story which is basically believable but has some minimally counter-intuitive elements, ie. a half-man half-bird, then you are to retell a story that is completely counterintutive, ie. flying spaghetti and meatballs. These ideas, survived and were retold and in many cultures we see similar signs of Gods being people, but not quite, animals, but not quite, rather than completely strange nonsensical categories. Dragons fall into this category, sharing traits with snakes, birds and reptiles but having certain fantastical characteristics.

[Image: quetzalcoatl-te-ama-espa%C3%B1a-mexico.jpg]

So this, to Atran, explains why all over the world human societies have independently developed religions that in many aspects are quite similar. Our brains are pre-wired to interperet certain things as purposeful which are not, therefore giving birth to supernatural beliefs. We are likely to remember stories as interesting about things that are based in what we know but a bit unbelievable instead of things that are completely fantastical.

Atran then goes on to explain religious commitment and organization as a human phenomenon, focusing on sacrifice.

[Image: 8468-004-02B5AD49.jpg]

One of the particular things about humans is that we ware the only animal to live in large groups of non-kin. In the distant past of tribal living, human society was in fact based on kin-groups, and today it still is to some degree. Yet religion is one of the forces that has allowed people to accept non-kin as equals and treat them fairly.

It is a problem, when every living thing is pre-wired evolutionarily to watch out for "me and mine" first and foremost. Religious language often co=opts family terms. Co-religionists are often called "brother" or "sister". "Father" for priests, "Mother" for goddesses or divine figures.

People watch out for themselves and their family out of evolutionary self-interest. Why would someone watch out for non-kin? It seems strange evolutionarily, why wouldn't you just rape and pillage non-kin for your own advancement? In one sense, you should, and this is what we see with tribal warfare in ancient societies and to some degree in the modern world.

Religion was able to coax cooperation out of non-kin through the use of sacrifices. In Atran's phrasing, sacrifices are costly and hard-to-fake expressions of devotion to religion. They must necessarily be costly, and hard-to-fake, to show group solidarity. In the past, sacrifices may have been human sacrifices, animal sacrifices, crop sacrifices, etc. People would sacrifice not their weak or dying animals, but their best, the prime animals that they had. This was the primary store of wealth for farmers so this sacrifice was no small thing. Yet doing this sacrifice to God showed the community that you were dedicated to it, and in return, that they could trust you and would likely help you in times of need. Larger sacrifices were required of the wealth, and religious societies required that even their Kings sacrifice to their Gods, showing that no human was above the social order of the day.

Because of humans ability to lie and deceive, all members of society must believe that the God or Gods are watching over them at all times in order for a religious order to work. Otherwise you could just say "I believe" but then go out and undercut the religious order, taking advantage of trusting benevolent neighbors who want to help you without returning the favor. Atran believes that costly sacrifices are indeed an effective mechanism of fostering religious commitment in communities, stating that research shows people most involved seriously in religion are less likely to commit most types of crimes.

[Image: Surveillance3.png]

Atran has little hope that secular ideologies will ultimately displace religion due to the fact that secular ideologies cannot offer what religion can. Belief in any ideology based on rationality, thinking that Capitalism or Socialism or Democracy is the best path for humanity, implicitly may be wrong. You recognize that your belief is based on the writing of some other human, Adam Smith or Karl Marx, who your rational analysis has concluded has some pretty good ideas. But there always exists the chance then that some other individual may come up with some more rational or better ideas, and thus using your own criteria, you would have to change your beliefs.

This jives with me quite well because I, like many people here I imagine, have changed my political beliefs quite a lot over the course of my life. If I come across a new idea that seems to be best supported by the available evidence, I can change my opinion. This sets up a much weaker basis for any community than does belief in an eternal all-seeing, all-powerful God, which is not a rational belief and subject to change.

This also makes sense of the cults of personality we see in some dictatorships, especially Communist ones. Communist governments seek to destroy the power of religion and some have tried to convert their leaders into deities themselves. I think specifically of North Korea which apparently has gone the furthest in deifying Kim Il Sung.

We have probably all seen videos of Kim Jung Un in crowds of people where women break out into tears upon touching him. Some of us may think this is a fake show of love, done out of fear that if it isn't done there will be punishment in a labor camp. Some might think these women are just nuts. To me it seems that they basically believe their leader is divine, that they are touching a God-King.

[Image: kim-jong-un-women.jpg]



Anyway, this is only half of the book. I recommend anyone interested in religion or evolutionary psychology look into this.


Fascinating book. Thanks for sharing.
02-13-2015 06:55 PM
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RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
Evolution of religion is a very interesting area, actually. There's a book by Justin Barrett called Born Believers about this same topic.

Possible evolution of religion doesn't mean that it's false. Indeed, our abilities to do math and science evolved. I don't know of too many people (maybe young Earth creationists) who would argue that the evolution of our ability to do science makes it false.

"For you yourselves are aware that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2)
02-13-2015 07:25 PM
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RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
Truth Teller, care to share a bit about the content of that book you mentioned? I am unfamiliar with it.

Edit

Found an old GNXP post where Razib Khan interviews the Barrett

http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2006/04/10-ques...arrett.php

2) In your book "Why Would Anyone Believe in God?" you answer the question why people believe in God. More specifically, why the majority of humans believe in God or Gods. As an atheist, I have to ask, why don't I believe in God? Or, more seriously, do you believe that there are cognitive reasons why some people are just biased to be atheists? I actually emailed Robert N. McCauley about his conjecture that autistics might be 'natural' atheists because of their lack of social intelligence, but he responded that he hadn't stumbled upon any hard empirical confirmation of this hunch...yet. Do you know something we don't?

As self-proclaimed atheist Jesse Bering has observed it can be very hard to identify true atheists. He even suspects that they comprise a very tiny number of people. By true atheists, I mean people that consistently hold no belief (cognitive commitment that motivates behavior) in superhuman agency. Lots of people say they don't believe in superhuman agency (including gods and ghosts) but will still modify their behaviors around cemeteries on spooky nights ("just in case"). I also run into plenty of people who say they don't believe in God but they really have chosen to act as if they don't believe in God because they are angry with God or don't like God. With these qualifications in place, certainly there are a number of factors that might predispose individuals to become atheists. As I agree with McCauley that theory of mind or social intelligence plays a critical role in theism, those who are weaker in these areas (relative to other higher-order reasoning) might be less disposed toward theism. I find it suggestive that women-who tend to have stronger social intelligence-tend to be more religious than men; and men are disproportionately represented among self-proclaimed atheists. Autism has been referred to as a severe form of "male-brainedness," I believe by Simon Baron-Cohen. I suspect social and environmental factors are even more important in supporting atheism, and I speculate on these in my book.

RVF Book Club February: Julius Evola - Revolt Against the Modern World
(This post was last modified: 02-13-2015 07:53 PM by Sonsowey.)
02-13-2015 07:45 PM
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RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
All the later paragraphs make interesting points, but what is the expansion on purposefulness that draws evidence on a scientific basis near the beginning of the post? What citations does he point to if he doesn't lay out origins of this notion himself?


On a different note, why are you philosophically an atheist? Are you a 'true atheist' as mentioned or more of an agnostic(innately acknowledging ghosts/spiritually subconsciously)?

Cobra Wrote:  Thinking too much about alpha vs beta is beta.

Due to the triggering nature of my commentary, I feel that it's important to declare that I am completely calm and not angered when participating on this board. You may put away your personal offense now
02-13-2015 09:18 PM
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RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
Atran is Director of Anthropology Research at Frances National Academy of Sciences, and cites mountain if evidence throughout his book, and has himself conducted much research into the topic that he cites throughout his book. This whole book is based firmly in scientific literature not just the idle scribblings of some guy. I would recommend anyone, religious or not, read this.

You asked specifically about purposefulness of movement, I can give you more details later, but I can expand from memory here. He states that we have mental modulea to recognize purposeful movement of objects. Normally we assign purposeful movement to either animals or people. These are the only natural categories of things that have purposeful movement, as opposed to plants, rocks, man-made artefacts (in historical times). However, just like a smily face drawn online teiggers us to recognize a human face, seemingly purposeful movement from things that are not animals or people can trigger mental mechanisms for recognizing volition. For instance, he cites studies that show simply a dot moving across a computer screen, from one side to another, and that people later say things like "the dot wanted to go to the other side" or "the dot was trying ti get to the other side." If you show one dot moving in a direction and another dot moving behind it in the same direction, people use predator-prey language, saying "one dot is running away from the other dot" or "one dot is chasing the other dot." Clearly the dots on the screen have no volition and are only moving as programmed, but our mental mechanisms for assessing purposefulness are triggered.

He equates this dot moving with the sun. Why does the sun move across the sky every day? If it moves in suh a regular pattern it must have volition, and you see in nythology and religion from across the world people have invented stories where the sun is in fact said to be moving for some reason, and that this is related to the gods, or that the sun is a god, or that the sun is the fire of a gods chariot, or something like that.

My own case, I would prefer not to get into because I do not want to make this into me justifying my beliefs or having a debate about atheism.

I will say that as an Atheist I recognize that I am an extreme outlier and that basically all human socieities throughout history have had religion. It has never instinctively appealed to me, and that seems odd that I would just not "get" religion whereas most people intuitively do. This is one of the reasons why I was interested in reading this book.

Judging from it, I think one reason I am not religious is accepting scientific explanations over religious ones. Often it is said that this itself is a kind of faith, and it is true that I accept the Big Bang without truly knowing the adtrophysics to properly say I understand it rationally. In a way I do have faith in the scientific process, or at least, faith in natural explanations for phonomenon instead of supernatural ones. But this is different from religion, and Atran goes into this, in that one of the key elements of religion is believing in supernatural agency. I "believe" that basically everything can be explained naturalistically, and no one can possibly have 100% of the evidence to make this statement with full confidence. But I do not believe in supernatural beings who do things. Having faith in an idea or a process or a model of reality is different than believing in God.

RVF Book Club February: Julius Evola - Revolt Against the Modern World
(This post was last modified: 02-13-2015 11:17 PM by Sonsowey.)
02-13-2015 10:49 PM
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RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
This sounds like a good complement to a book I'm currently reading, Religion in Human Evolution by Robert Bellah.
02-13-2015 11:33 PM
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RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
Razib Khan (gnxp) has a great breakdown comparing ideas from Atran and other authors touching on this subject at this post:

http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2006/09/13/...hesychasm/

Within Christianity there is also variation, Biblical fundamentalism tends to be a new phenomenon, most pronounced in the United States, which arose as a respone to the German modernist movement and its various daughters. The older Christian traditions of Catholicism and Orthodoxy tend not to be literalist, and in fact the early Counter-Reformationist polemicists even used the contradictions within the Bible to show the insufficiency of sola scriptura, the refrain of the Protestants. They argued that Church teaching and tradition had to guide Christians because scripture was not sufficient, and they pointed to its manifest inadequacy to the task via its manifold confusions.

Here is a diagram of what I have in mind when it comes to the structure of religion:

[Image: i-b3aaa6129c447b5e05935cce806b8f2f-religion.gif]

RVF Book Club February: Julius Evola - Revolt Against the Modern World
02-14-2015 12:46 AM
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RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
(02-14-2015 12:46 AM)Sonsowey Wrote:  Here is a diagram of what I have in mind when it comes to the structure of religion:

[Image: i-b3aaa6129c447b5e05935cce806b8f2f-religion.gif]

+1 for intelligent approach to something that is important to a lot of well-meaning, if empirically naive people.

I've been around long enough to see religion put in a more appropriate place in society according to my opinions.

1) For instance, the Catholic priest abuse scandals are not evidence of anything new, it's just the Church's power has diminished to where the cannot intimidate people any more. Ironically, this is a good sign-- those with depraved desires can not so easily hide behind some mass ideology; whether they want to bomb skyscrapers or sexually abuse children.

2) In addition, the popularity of books on being areligious has shown, religious people can no longer easily intimidate those of us who think it is religion is just lazy, fatalistic and backwards thinking for the less intelligent.

3) Religious terrorism over the last 20 years has highlighted the dangers of "Faith." There was a lapse in religious murder ( murder for OR against a particular religion) in the West post WW2 for about 50 years that had lulled people into thinking that modern thinking had finally eclipsed violent mysticism.

The belief that one has special transcendental knowledge-- knowledge that can not be empirically demonstrated to others in the physical world-- is not just a cute fancy of a childlike mind. Those who believe they have transcendental knowledge can and do feel entitled and even obligated to commit horrific, violent acts without the consensus of reasonable reference to common reality.

"Athiest" sounds negative to me and is still defined by the idea of Gods, so "areligious" fits my views more. I was not raised with supernatural indoctrination, and therefor except for the extraneous propaganda from evangelists, I wouldn't even think of such fairy tales. I wouldn't define myself as someone who does or does not believe in the forest spirits from the spring near my house, why should I define myself in terms a Big Chair guy.

As far as practitioners in the social sciences have looked at it, Jung ( whose father AND grandfather were ministers) believed there was a religious function by which people naturally tried to find some pre-existing meaning in life (Jung was big genius and Im sure i am grossly oversimplifying.)

In my opinion existentialism takes on this need for meaning by looking more acutely at it by essentially saying something like "There's no justice, just us."-- There is no meaning embedded in the universe-- you must create meaning by yourself, for yourself with your actions.

Frued, in his book "The Future of an Illusion" cited the above prohibition of religion as an important factor in its maintenance:


From Wikipedia:

Religious concepts are transmitted in three ways and thereby claim our belief.
"Firstly because our primal ancestors already believed them; secondly, because we possess proofs which have been handed down to us from antiquity, and thirdly because it is forbidden to raise the question of their authenticity at all."


To me a obvious cause of the need of religion is that as children we have problems that seemingly can be solved by our parents in almost every case and religion tricks us into believing that there is an agency by which this protection can be maintained indefinitely, even after one dies.

Hunger wetness, temperature discomfort-- crying out to the void solves all.

However, as we reach adolescence, it becomes obvious people seem to cease to exist-- how terrible! And someone volunteers, for very small contributions of money, to allow you to not only die but live forever, or at least be protected during this life by special beings that the collection plate character tells you about.

And only HIS collection plate gods have the secret eternal answer. Convenient, yes!?


"The goal of {amoral} capitalism is to reduce all human interaction to the cash nexus." L. D.
02-14-2015 01:41 AM
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RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
Iknowexactly you poor, scorned man. Your response would likely have been better intellectually received by future members who enter this thread and contributing to this conversation if you left out the unnecessary denouncement and vitriol that was more self serving than informative. It didn't come off intellectually superior or proving as you might have though it would. It was an obvious attempt at declaring a superiority on account of your beliefs without much basis. This is just a suggestion.

Sonsowey you mentioned you wouldn't explain your beliefs or why you arrived at your conclusion, but you actually gave me the information I was looking for in your words. So it's safe to say you would be considered one of the "true atheists"; not believing in supernatural possibility whatsoever.

Everyone should be contemplate the oddity of parallels between our differences of 'faith' between those based in theism and those in nature alone. There is a degree of blindness in either route unless someone(or several people) one day prove the ultimate validity of the existence of one true reality, while simultaneously obliterating the possibility of all others. It would have to be absolute and concretely determined, which would mean either finding the endpoint and origin of all natural existence(maybe showing it's endless continuity or a rational explanation that embodies perfection) that refutes supernatural existence, or a bridging of the natural and supernatural, either by human interaction or a benevolent/malevolent deity response.

Either way, I try to exercise these possibilities philosophically from every angle, from each religion to agnosticism and atheism. I consider myself a monotheist, considering that diagram above, but I'm confused on if that diagram is supposed to be structurally representation of Abrahamic religious development or of many other regions as well. Having monotheism as a solitary category wouldn't make as much sense in let's say: European paganism, Eastern paganism, Eastern Shintoism or Buddhist supernaturalism for instance.

In a separate question altogether, does this anthropologist go into greater detail on the other applications of studying the modulea in terms outside this topic? I'd hope there would be books available on the subject alone by the same author or at least citable in the same field. It's an interesting concept and akin to "lizard brain" functions; lower faculties that influence greater intellectual developments.

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02-14-2015 05:40 AM
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TheBulldozer Offline
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Post: #11
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
Karen Armstrong's "A History of Gods" is also a hugely important book in this same genre. I have not heard of "In Gods We Trust", but I'll give it a look. I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking along the lines of ancient civillizations, and it's lead me into a lot of wondering about God.
02-14-2015 07:52 AM
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Post: #12
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
(02-14-2015 05:40 AM)TonySandos Wrote:  In a separate question altogether, does this anthropologist go into greater detail on the other applications of studying the modulea in terms outside this topic? I'd hope there would be books available on the subject alone by the same author or at least citable in the same field. It's an interesting concept and akin to "lizard brain" functions; lower faculties that influence greater intellectual developments.

Tony,

I've just found a 40-page paper written by Atran that is basically a summary of his book. You seem like you'd be interested to read it, he goes into lots of detail and provides a lot of the citations and sources you've asked for

http://sitemaker.umich.edu/satran/files/...nbbs05.pdf

The abstract:

Abstract: Religion is not an evolutionary adaptation per se, but a recurring cultural by-product of the complex evolutionary landscape that sets cognitive, emotional, and material conditions for ordinary human interactions. Religion exploits only ordinary cognitive processes to passionately display costly devotion to counterintuitive worlds governed by supernatural agents. The conceptual foundations of religion are intuitively given by task-specific panhuman cognitive domains, including folkmechanics, folkbiology, and folkpsychology. Core religious beliefs minimally violate ordinary notions about how the world is, with all of its inescapable problems, thus enabling people to imagine minimally impossible supernatural worlds that solve existential problems, including death and deception. Here the focus is on folkpsychology and agency. A key feature of the supernatural agent concepts common to all religions is the triggering of an “Innate Releasing Mechanism,” or “agency detector,” whose proper (naturally selected) domain encompasses animate objects relevant to hominid survival – such as predators, protectors, and prey – but which actually extends to moving dots on computer screens, voices in wind, and faces on clouds. Folkpsychology also crucially involves metarepresentation, which makes deception possible and threatens any social order. However, these same metacognitive capacities provide the hope and promise of open-ended solutions through representations of counterfactual supernatural worlds that cannot be logically or empirically verified or falsified. Because religious beliefs cannot be deductively or inductively validated, validation occurs only by ritually addressing the very emotions motivating religion. Cross-cultural experimental evidence encourages these claims.

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(This post was last modified: 02-14-2015 10:25 AM by Sonsowey.)
02-14-2015 09:58 AM
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Post: #13
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
(02-14-2015 07:52 AM)MaleDefined Wrote:  Karen Armstrong's "A History of Gods" is also a hugely important book in this same genre. I have not heard of "In Gods We Trust", but I'll give it a look. I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking along the lines of ancient civillizations, and it's lead me into a lot of wondering about God.

It's true that the more you read about ancient history, the more you realize you need to understand Gods and religion.

I got off on this track after reading 1491 about the immediate effects of European contact in the Americas. It set me off on reading about Indo-Europeans in Europe, wondering about Indo-European (Pagan) religion and how it came to be replaced by Christianity, and here we are right here.

Care to share about A History or Gods here?

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02-14-2015 10:00 AM
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Post: #14
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
(02-14-2015 01:41 AM)iknowexactly Wrote:  The belief that one has special transcendental knowledge-- knowledge that can not be empirically demonstrated to others in the physical world-- is not just a cute fancy of a childlike mind. Those who believe they have transcendental knowledge can and do feel entitled and even obligated to commit horrific, violent acts without the consensus of reasonable reference to common reality.

The book does not specifically (yet) talk about religious violence, but it does talk about human sacrifices, and how sacrifice is an important part of showing dedication to a religion, and thus a social order, throughout history. This could involve capturing people from neighboring societies and cutting their hearts out on top of pyramids.

Atran in his book actually analyzes the claim that Religion is responsible for most wars, and finds that in a broad analysis of hundreds of different conflicts, religion is responsible for much less than half of them. I will try to find this part in the book and cite it directly to you.

Violence is itself part of the human experience. Mongols conquered because they were conquerors. Soviets killed tons of people. We invaded Christian Mexico to take half their country, and fought a Civil War among ourselves.

Atran takes the view that Religion is basically an innate part of human life, and that you won't have much luck trying to get rid of it, because nothing else in human society can take its place. It addresses human needs that can't be met with rationality or political philosophy, such as helping us resolve existential questions about the meaning of life and death.

In fact, he says that religion often helps to reduce violence among co-religionists. Comparing it to the distant past, before organized religion, there really was no reason NOT to rape and pillage your next door neighbors if they were not your kin. Religion creates fictive kin which you begin to treat respectfully even if they are not related to you at all.

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02-14-2015 10:34 AM
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Post: #15
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
(02-13-2015 07:45 PM)Sonsowey Wrote:  As self-proclaimed atheist Jesse Bering has observed it can be very hard to identify true atheists. He even suspects that they comprise a very tiny number of people. By true atheists, I mean people that consistently hold no belief (cognitive commitment that motivates behavior) in superhuman agency. Lots of people say they don't believe in superhuman agency (including gods and ghosts) but will still modify their behaviors around cemeteries on spooky nights ("just in case"). I also run into plenty of people who say they don't believe in God but they really have chosen to act as if they don't believe in God because they are angry with God or don't like God.

Haha Biggrin

(02-13-2015 10:49 PM)Sonsowey Wrote:  I will say that as an Atheist I recognize that I am an extreme outlier and that basically all human socieities throughout history have had religion. It has never instinctively appealed to me, and that seems odd that I would just not "get" religion whereas most people intuitively do. This is one of the reasons why I was interested in reading this book.

Judging from it, I think one reason I am not religious is accepting scientific explanations over religious ones. Often it is said that this itself is a kind of faith, and it is true that I accept the Big Bang without truly knowing the adtrophysics to properly say I understand it rationally. In a way I do have faith in the scientific process, or at least, faith in natural explanations for phonomenon instead of supernatural ones. But this is different from religion, and Atran goes into this, in that one of the key elements of religion is believing in supernatural agency. I "believe" that basically everything can be explained naturalistically, and no one can possibly have 100% of the evidence to make this statement with full confidence. But I do not believe in supernatural beings who do things. Having faith in an idea or a process or a model of reality is different than believing in God.

Your posts were very interesting, as another atheist I'm also interested in knowing what makes me not believe in supernatural entities, purpose or meaning when we're so wired to do it. There was a time when I was younger when I thought maybe it was because I was smarter then religious people but I came to I realize it's not true, even though atheists do tend to be smarter in general there are still many highly intelligent people who are religious and very dumb people who are atheists, so what is it that makes one believe or not?
02-14-2015 10:45 AM
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Post: #16
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
I thought I'd just excerpt a bit from this Atran paper which is a good summary of the book itself:

http://sitemaker.umich.edu/satran/files/...nbbs05.pdf (below, all Atran)

In every society, there are:

1. Widespread counterfactual and counterintuitive beliefs in supernatural agents (gods, ghosts, goblins, etc.)

2. Hard-to-fake public expressions of costly material commitments to supernatural agents, that is, offering and
sacrifice (offerings of goods, property, time, life)

3. Mastering by supernatural agents of people’s existential anxieties (death, deception, disease, catastrophe, pain,
loneliness, injustice, want, loss)

4. Ritualized, rhythmic sensory coordination of (1), (2),and (3), that is, communion (congregation, intimate fellowship, etc.)

In all societies there is an evolutionary canalization and convergence of (1), (2), (3), and (4) that tends toward what we shall refer to as “religion”; that is, passionate communal displays of costly commitments to counterintuitive worlds governed by supernatural agents...

Unlike other primate groups, hominid groups grew to sizes (Dunbar 1996) that could not function exclusively on the basis of kin selection (commitment falls off precipitously as genetic distance increases between individuals) or direct reciprocity (ability to directly monitor trustworthiness in reciprocation decreases rapidly as the number of transactions multiply). Larger groups of individuals out compete smaller groups in love and war (Axelrod 1984). A plausible hypothesis, then, is that the mechanisms for successful promotion of indirect reciprocity – including both religious and nonreligious behaviors – were naturally selected in response to the environmental problem-context of spiraling social rivalry among fellow conspecifics, or “runaway social competition” (Alexander 1989). As “fictive kin” (Nesse 1999), members of religious groups perform and profit from many tasks that they could not do alone, one by one, or only with family. Thus, “Among the Hebrews and Phoenicians... the worshipper is called brother (that is, kinsman or sister of the god)” (Robertson Smith 1891/1972, p. 44, note 2). “Brotherhood” is also the common term applied today among the Christian faithful and to the fraternity(ikhwan) of Islam.

Indirect reciprocity occurs when individual X knows that individual Y cooperates with others, and this knowledge favors X cooperating with Y. Consider a population whose individuals have the option to cooperate or not. Suppose individual X randomly meets individual Y. If Y has a reputation for cooperation, and if X cooperates with Y, then X’s reputation likely increases. If X does not cooperate with Y, then X’s reputation likely decreases (see Nowak & Sigmund 1998 for various simulations). The basic idea is to help those who are known to help others. Reputation for religious belief is almost always reckoned as sincere social commitment, and such reputation is invariably linked to costly and hard-to-fake expressions of material sacrifice or concern that goes beyond any apparent self-interest.

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02-14-2015 10:49 AM
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Post: #17
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
(02-14-2015 10:45 AM)Teutatis Wrote:  so what is it that makes one believe or not?

One of the things Atran says that religion "does" that nothing else based on rationality or ideology can do is assuage existential worries about the meaning of life and death.

As an Atheist I believe life is just one hell of a strange chemical reaction, and when you die, you become dirt, and that's it.

Most people cannot accept such ideas, they must believe in a higher purpose to life and an afterlife, it seems. For this reason Atran is not optimistic that religion will ever go away due to scientific/rational ideologies.

Further, secular ideologies seem to survive less well than religions. He notes that there have been many utopian communities founded in the United States where people remove themselves from society at large and start a new society based on whatever principals. Some are based on religious ideas, some based on secular ideology.

After decades, the religious communities were much more likely to be in existence, whereas the ones based on Socialism or Libertarianism or whatever secular ideology were much more likely to just disband. If you are basing your life on rationality, and see that something is not optimal, you can just change your opinion and abandon your previous idea. Communities like that are not strong communities that will last.

Look at Amish people. They are dedicated as hell to their lifestyle, and they grow at a rapid pace. Look at the rest of America, our fertility rate is dropping if you don't count hyper-fertile immigrants. The irrational dedication to a religious order seems to ensure that a society survives longer than the rational pursuit of optimal solutions.

Atheists themselves have very low fertility, it's rather like feminism in that way, an ideology that effectively helps knock you out of the gene pool.

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02-14-2015 10:56 AM
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Post: #18
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
Yes I would be interested in reading this book. I'm glad you cleared it up more on the depth the author takes in explaining mechanisms behind social operations. I didn't want to start another book in my already open reading list and need to read up to five or more to gain a comprehensive understanding of the subject.

Cooperation as a motive has been sufficiently hypothesized, but it would be interesting if this same book takes on the topics of possibilities and limitations in moralizing in atheism and what characteristics allow religious fanaticism to proliferate, though both are wide enough topics for their own short books on them

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02-14-2015 05:57 PM
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Post: #19
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
Tony he does not talk about morals in Atheism as such, but rather secular ideologies. Communism, Capitalism, Utilitarianism, Democracy, he thinks all of these secular systems are leas robut and effective than religion in self propagation (ie. Will this system be here in the decades to come?) And also less effective at enforcing group norms and morals.

Because communism and capitalism both make empirical claims, that this economic system will lead to good results for most people, people can overturn them whenever the results are not to their liking. Any secular system or ideology can be quickly overturned or forgotten in favor of a different one that may appear more correct.

Religions, which make supernatural claims are unfalsifiable and unprovable. You will not lose your faith in them as easily, as mentioned before, isolated religious groups multiply and prosper more than isolated anarcho-stndicalists precisely because of this. Religious people legitimately are dedicated to their non rational proposition.

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02-14-2015 06:48 PM
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Post: #20
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
Quote:Because of humans ability to lie and deceive, all members of society must believe that the God or Gods are watching over them at all times in order for a religious order to work. Otherwise you could just say "I believe" but then go out and undercut the religious order, taking advantage of trusting benevolent neighbors who want to help you without returning the favor. Atran believes that costly sacrifices are indeed an effective mechanism of fostering religious commitment in communities, stating that research shows people most involved seriously in religion are less likely to commit most types of crimes.

Less likely, maybe, but the undercutters will always exist in some number, and with their publicly visible actions will come the realization that divine retribution isn't a real thing

Here, the believability of religion crumbles for the average joe
02-14-2015 10:26 PM
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Post: #21
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
I read Kenneth Humphreys' Jesus Never Existed and he states that once homo sapiens became aware of death and their on impending doom they created fantasies of afterlife to cope with death.

I personally believe religion as an instituition is just a scam tribal leaders concorted to enrich themselves and control people. Religion is Game.
Politics is Game.
Advertising is Game.

Don't debate me.
02-15-2015 08:34 AM
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Post: #22
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
Great thread Sonsowey. As an atheist who was raised in a very religious family (my mum even teaches Sunday school) I've always been interested in how religion seems to have evolved to play such a universally large role in human societies. I'm a follower of Razib Khan too, although I've never read his posts about this book.

There's a lot of studies out there about why people are religious. One of the biggest reasons though that ivory tower academics tend to overlook, is that religion straight up makes people feel good, particularly people who are poor or live in insecure conditions, economic or otherwise i.e "there are no atheists in foxholes". This is probably one of the reasons why religiosity is so negatively correlated with IQ, and why poor countries are much more religious than rich countries. Even within the rich Western world the U.S.A is by far the most religious, and has the weakest social mobility, social safety net and highest income equality, even more so among the most religious groups like African Americans, Hispanics and people in the Bible Belt. Wealthy people don't need to pray and perform rituals in hope of putting food on the table or being able to pay the bills, and their higher IQ's make them less likely to be religious independent of their wealth as well. However the wealthy people who do actually believe are much more likely to actually go to church and engage in the church community, although the same could be said for wealthy people and all kinds of civic engagement. Looking at the areas of Australia where a decent amount of people actually go to church these seem to be either 1st generation Third World immigrants areas, or places where ex working class white people bought into the middle class in the last generation or two, i.e The Hills and Sutherland shire's in Sydney. Notice how church attendance thrived during the economic boom and massive expansion of the middle class that immediately followed the calamities of WW2 and the Great Depression, only to collapse to all-time lows among the Baby Boomers who grew up only knowing the good times.

The only thing that will reverse the trend of secularization in rich countries is an economic collapse. I'm not sure if religious people having more kids will be able to reverse that trend, eventually their gains start to wither away because of social mobility. A current example is Evangelical Christians in America who have been shedding members to irreligion. Meanwhile during the 20th century they overtook mainline Protestants mostly on the back of having more kids and one of the main reasons they did was because back then they were poorer, and they're losing relatively fewer members now than mainline Protestants because to a lesser degree they still are. The more they close the gap in living standards the more they lose their demographic advantage (technically, widen their demographic disadvantage). On that note, it will be interesting to see what will happen to religion in America when it gets single-payer healthcare.
(This post was last modified: 02-15-2015 10:49 AM by Deluge.)
02-15-2015 10:39 AM
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Post: #23
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
A book that just came out, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (
http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2015/02/a-b...ind.html), makes similar claims about the use of religion in social cohesion; however, its author also argues that states, capitalism, and philosophies of human nature like the concept of human rights hold similar places in people's understanding of the world around them, and can take the place that religion holds for people to one extent to another.

I personally believe that few people can truly be atheists; even in highly modern, atheistic countries like Japan, most people have a variety of New Age and spiritual beliefs. Capitalism and modernism will never replace religion, in other words.
02-15-2015 02:45 PM
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Post: #24
RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
(02-14-2015 10:56 AM)Sonsowey Wrote:  
(02-14-2015 10:45 AM)Teutatis Wrote:  so what is it that makes one believe or not?


Further, secular ideologies seem to survive less well than religions. ....

After decades, the religious communities were much more likely to be in existence,....
Look at Amish people. They are dedicated as hell to their lifestyle, and they grow at a rapid pace.

Atheists themselves have very low fertility, it's rather like feminism in that way, an ideology that effectively helps knock you out of the gene pool.

The Amish have a high rate of birth defects due to founder effect.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Founder_effect

Also Mennonites and Jews.

It's symbolic of the reason sexual reproduction works and static philosophies also die out, like Zoroastrianism or the worship of the Roman gods.

The Amish are paradoxically evidence gods don't exist.

Here you have these peaceful, productive people who pretty much don't do anything mean to anyone outside their group, and even eschew the use of electricity to be closer to their god, and what happens? It's as if "he" existed, he cursed them in the most cruel way.


"The goal of {amoral} capitalism is to reduce all human interaction to the cash nexus." L. D.
02-15-2015 07:35 PM
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RE: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
Regardless of the high rate of birth defects the Amish still have massive population growth. A tradeoff that overall makes evolutionary sense.

[Image: AmishDemography.JPG]

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(This post was last modified: 02-15-2015 07:47 PM by Sonsowey.)
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