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The Evolution of the God Gene

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posted on Nov, 15 2009 @ 12:03 PM
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www.nytimes.com...

Great Read!

IN the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico, the archaeologists Joyce Marcus and Kent Flannery have gained a remarkable insight into the origin of religion.

During 15 years of excavation they have uncovered not some monumental temple but evidence of a critical transition in religious behavior. The record begins with a simple dancing floor, the arena for the communal religious dances held by hunter-gatherers in about 7,000 B.C. It moves to the ancestor-cult shrines that appeared after the beginning of corn-based agriculture around 1,500 B.C., and ends in A.D. 30 with the sophisticated, astronomically oriented temples of an early archaic state.

This and other research is pointing to a new perspective on religion, one that seeks to explain why religious behavior has occurred in societies at every stage of development and in every region of the world. Religion has the hallmarks of an evolved behavior, meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection. It is universal because it was wired into our neural circuitry before the ancestral human population dispersed from its African homeland.

For atheists, it is not a particularly welcome thought that religion evolved because it conferred essential benefits on early human societies and their successors. If religion is a lifebelt, it is hard to portray it as useless.

For believers, it may seem threatening to think that the mind has been shaped to believe in gods, since the actual existence of the divine may then seem less likely.

But the evolutionary perspective on religion does not necessarily threaten the central position of either side. That religious behavior was favored by natural selection neither proves nor disproves the existence of gods. For believers, if one accepts that evolution has shaped the human body, why not the mind too? What evolution has done is to endow people with a genetic predisposition to learn the religion of their community, just as they are predisposed to learn its language. With both religion and language, it is culture, not genetics, that then supplies the content of what is learned.

It is easier to see from hunter-gatherer societies how religion may have conferred compelling advantages in the struggle for survival. Their rituals emphasize not theology but intense communal dancing that may last through the night. The sustained rhythmic movement induces strong feelings of exaltation and emotional commitment to the group. Rituals also resolve quarrels and patch up the social fabric.

The ancestral human population of 50,000 years ago, to judge from living hunter-gatherers, would have lived in small, egalitarian groups without chiefs or headmen. Religion served them as an invisible government. It bound people together, committing them to put their community’s needs ahead of their own self-interest. For fear of divine punishment, people followed rules of self-restraint toward members of the community. Religion also emboldened them to give their lives in battle against outsiders. Groups fortified by religious belief would have prevailed over those that lacked it, and genes that prompted the mind toward ritual would eventually have become universal.

In natural selection, it is genes that enable their owners to leave more surviving progeny that become more common. The idea that natural selection can favor groups, instead of acting directly on individuals, is highly controversial. Though Darwin proposed the idea, the traditional view among biologists is that selection on individuals would stamp out altruistic behavior (the altruists who spent time helping others would leave fewer children of their own) far faster than group-level selection could favor it.

But group selection has recently gained two powerful champions, the biologists David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson, who argued that two special circumstances in recent human evolution would have given group selection much more of an edge than usual. One is the highly egalitarian nature of hunter-gatherer societies, which makes everyone behave alike and gives individual altruists a better chance of passing on their genes. The other is intense warfare between groups, which enhances group-level selection in favor of community-benefiting behaviors such as altruism and religion.

A propensity to learn the religion of one’s community became so firmly implanted in the human neural circuitry, according to this new view, that religion was retained when hunter-gatherers, starting from 15,000 years ago, began to settle in fixed communities. In the larger, hierarchical societies made possible by settled living, rulers co-opted religion as their source of authority. Roman emperors made themselves chief priest or even a living god, though most had the taste to wait till after death for deification. “Drat, I think I’m becoming a god!” Vespasian joked on his deathbed.

Religion was also harnessed to vital practical tasks such as agriculture, which in the first societies to practice it required quite unaccustomed forms of labor and organization. Many religions bear traces of the spring and autumn festivals that helped get crops planted and harvested at the right time. Passover once marked the beginning of the barley festival; Easter, linked to the date of Passover, is a spring festival.

Could the evolutionary perspective on religion become the basis for some kind of detente between religion and science? Biologists and many atheists have a lot of respect for evolution and its workings, and if they regarded religious behavior as an evolved instinct they might see religion more favorably, or at least recognize its constructive roles. Religion is often blamed for its spectacular excesses, whether in promoting persecution or warfare, but gets less credit for its staple function of patching up the moral fabric of society. But perhaps it doesn’t deserve either blame or credit. If religion is seen as a means of generating social cohesion, it is a society and its leaders that put that cohesion to good or bad ends.

Nicholas Wade, a science reporter for The New York Times, is the author of “The Faith Instinct: How R




posted on Nov, 15 2009 @ 03:06 PM
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What evolution has done is to endow people with a genetic predisposition to learn the religion of their community, just as they are predisposed to learn its language.


I guess we should all bow down, put our hands together and thank god for...evolution?




Groups fortified by religious belief would have prevailed over those that lacked it, and genes that prompted the mind toward ritual would eventually have become universal.


Did anyone see the statement that we will eventually all become universal believers?

Why then, getting rid of the infidels not only fulfills god's will, but also speeds up evolution, folks! And who doesn't want to be more evolved? Nobody wants evolution with more fervor than the religious crowd.

What people do not realize is that all these "worship" genes are really miniature automatic remote control devices implanted into the early human population. Like the rovers on Mars, the humans on Earth have some degree of autonomy as far as mundane affairs are concerned. If , however, the "worship" genes fail to activate then the human unit is malfunctioning. For the other genetic disorders they didn't care much but for this disorder they care. How about activating a "tolerance" gene or two in a believer? It seems that when the "worship" gene is malfunctioning only then the "tolerance" gene is activated. Of that they made sure, didn't they?
So, a "code" gene is activated in the "believing" units so they think that the non-believing human is a threat to them and is to be converted or destroyed. Does that remind you of any religion that you know of?

Your gods are aliens who modified genetically the existing primate stock on this planet into hybrids they could use. We call ourselves human, but really we are hybrids, like the mules, except we can produce other humans (boy, did that make one of the gods hopping mad!). Ironically, our initial purpose was to work for the gods, just like the purpose of the mule is to work for the farmer who owns it.

These are my musings, you won't find this in the article of course, instead you'll find phrases like "...it [religion] was wired into our neural circuitry" and "implanted in the human neural circuitry". Sounds awfully like alien implants language, doesn't it?

Sooo....I'm not going to be putting my hands together any time soon.
I will not bow down to any god, king or emperor.


BTW, I wish people would stop lumping Buddhists with the other religions. Buddhism is not a religion. Buddhism is an attempt to relate properly to everything without making stuff up as we go. But there you have those damned "worship" genes again and over time the followers have turned into another "great" religion.

Great, just what the doctor ordered, more religion.








[edit on 15-11-2009 by tungus]



posted on Nov, 16 2009 @ 12:22 AM
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reply to post by tungus
 



Did anyone see the statement that we will eventually all become universal believers?


First off: It says, "...we WOULD eventually..." NOT 'will'. That means the author is making the assumption that we never had the advanced lifestyles we have today, and were still in a nomadic, hunter-gather lifestyle.

Second: Gods are aliens? You're crazy. I do believe in intelligent life outside earh, but come on. Those ancient astronaut shows are based one early 20th century data, and is lame now.

Now, for my own input. Excellent article, and post. S+F from me. I have a feeling this thread will get quite big.

I'm an atheist, but not an ignorant one. I've read the new and old testaments, I'm currently working my way through the Quran, and will hopefully be buying an Apocrypha next on my religious texts reading journey.

This being said, I believe that Richard Dawkins puts it best in his THE GOD DELUSION book. If you were a warrior, wouldn't you fight harder and braver if you believed you would be rewarded in another form of life should you die? If theres no god concept, a warrior would be more inclinced to hide and save his life.

This goes along with what the author of the article says. I also agree with the idea of the invisible government, in the egalitarian, reciprocity economy. Understanding why is obvious.

Anyway, It's 1:23am and I have classes at 9. So i'm off to bed. Goodnight ATSers.

[edit on 11/16/2009 by Schmidt1989]



posted on Nov, 16 2009 @ 01:25 AM
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Originally posted by Schmidt1989

First off: It says, "...we WOULD eventually..." NOT 'will'. That means the author is making the assumption that we never had the advanced lifestyles we have today, and were still in a nomadic, hunter-gather lifestyle.


Read it how you want, but saying "would" instead of "will" doesn't change the fact that we will all be converts. You're converting to a religion, baby, according to this article sooner or later.
"Would" only placates the atheists, and not just the ignorant ones.




Second: Gods are aliens? You're crazy. I do believe in intelligent life outside earh, but come on. Those ancient astronaut shows are based one early 20th century data, and is lame now.


I'm crazy? I'm on ATS, the topic is Ancients and lost civs, I'm in the right place.


Let me see, shows based on early 20th century data are lame but books from the bronze age are totally not lame. Get it. Those books do have value but more in human the psychotic pathology than in the inspirational category. I doubt that the warriors you're speaking of get their inspiration from Richard Dawkins. His head and his books would be the first to go when those warriors get their hands on him, just like with the library of Alexandria, just several hundred years ago. Not that long.

I do find though that the Ancient astronaut premise is a bit old I wouldn't call the gods "astronauts" in human terms but at least these shows are looking in the right direction.



posted on Nov, 16 2009 @ 08:40 AM
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Originally posted by tungus
Read it how you want, but saying "would" instead of "will" doesn't change the fact that we will all be converts. You're converting to a religion, baby, according to this article sooner or later.
"Would" only placates the atheists, and not just the ignorant ones.



That's not what the author is conveying at all. Theres nothing in that article that says we're all going to be religious, not even in a beat-around-the-bush method.



Second: Gods are aliens? You're crazy. I do believe in intelligent life outside earh, but come on. Those ancient astronaut shows are based one early 20th century data, and is lame now.




I'm crazy? I'm on ATS, the topic is Ancients and lost civs, I'm in the right place.



Mind you, I believe 80% of ATS are crazy people who believe we have the cure for cancer, because the people from Niburu gave it to us through the star gate in the Bermuda Triangle. You're not alone on this site, believe me. I've seen it all.



Let me see, shows based on early 20th century data are lame but books from the bronze age are totally not lame. Get it. Those books do have value but more in human the psychotic pathology than in the inspirational category. I doubt that the warriors you're speaking of get their inspiration from Richard Dawkins. His head and his books would be the first to go when those warriors get their hands on him, just like with the library of Alexandria, just several hundred years ago. Not that long.

I do find though that the Ancient astronaut premise is a bit old I wouldn't call the gods "astronauts" in human terms but at least these shows are looking in the right direction.


You've completely misunderstood what I was talking about. Warrior reading Richard Dawkin's book? What does that even mean? Theres thousands of year between the two in what i'm talking about. Sure, we have the ability to read a 1st century book, but that doesnt mean Before Common Era warriors had access to a 21st century antitheistic book written by an evolutionary biologist that hadnt yet been born.

Come on, think about how badly you made that sound. I've never said I didn't think the bible, torah, quran were or weren't lame. I have a fascination with religion. I accept every possible side to it. Its something i'm the most open minded about (other than music). I've read plenty of non-religious books, too, if that for some reason helps it reach equilibrium for you.



posted on Nov, 16 2009 @ 10:13 AM
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Their rituals emphasize not theology but intense communal dancing that may last through the night. The sustained rhythmic movement induces strong feelings of exaltation and emotional commitment to the group. Rituals also resolve quarrels and patch up the social fabric.


Strong feelings? Emotional commitment? Feelings and emotions are precisely what clouds the mind. But to see the truth of that you need to have a clear mind, so it's a catch 22. For example, commitment to the mafia is based on the emotional ties of family values. Those who blow themselves up and others as well, they have strong feelings but what they all lack is a clear mind and understanding reality.



Religion has the hallmarks of an evolved behavior,


This would have been actually funny if religion hasn't done so much harm to humanity and actively impeded progress.



..meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection.


No, it means that the religious cavemen clubbed the non-religious ones with more fervor. Those who remained converted out of sheer terror. After a few generations no one knows why they pray to the god of the conquerors and not the other god, or why pray at all but they all have strong feelings about it. Just like the spreading of the religions of today, whether it is the Spanish conquistadors in the New World or the Muslim invaders of Persia, the formula is the same -"Convert or die."

If someone thinks that I am the one making it sound bad, go read a history book.

This whole article about evolution favoring religion is an attempt of religion to stay relevant and is co-opting science, since they can't use their preferred method of spreading anymore.


This is my last post on this topic, I realized I'm talking to people who think that Full House is the best show in the world. What's the second best, Dancing with the Stars? It's got all the rhythmic movement you want and induces strong feelings of exaltation.




[edit on 16-11-2009 by tungus]



posted on Nov, 16 2009 @ 10:59 AM
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Originally posted by tungus
Just like the spreading of the religions of today, whether it is the Spanish conquistadors in the New World or the Muslim invaders of Persia, the formula is the same -"Convert or die."

For the muslims, I believe the term was closer to "surrender or die". They cared little about what religion was practiced and more about control.



posted on Nov, 16 2009 @ 11:19 AM
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reply to post by tungus
 


That's right. Full House is my favorite show. I grew up watching that show. It brings back the awesome memories of being 5 and playing outside.

How can you knock someones favorite show? You think aliens inhabited this planet. I bet you think the pyramids were built by greys or reptilians or whatever you quacks follow these days.



posted on Nov, 16 2009 @ 11:28 AM
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Originally posted by prjct
The ancestral human population of 50,000 years ago, to judge from living hunter-gatherers, would have lived in small, egalitarian groups without chiefs or headmen. Religion served them as an invisible government.


it's an interesting perspective although it's fairly speculative. there isn't anything to really suggest that there were religious practices taken out of africa. there is some cave art in europe that is believed to be religious because it is so deep inside the cave but i don't know if that ties in well with your theory.

developed religion seems to be much later, 8000-5000 BC. why would there be such a long period of stagnation?



posted on Nov, 16 2009 @ 02:42 PM
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reply to post by pieman
 


Homo Erectus actually showed sacrificial signs, hinting at a religion or belief in higher power. Evidence, far from fact though. I figured I'd just mention it.



posted on Nov, 16 2009 @ 03:11 PM
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reply to post by Schmidt1989
 


i didn't realise that, it's something i'ld be interested in. i've tried googling it but there's not much about it, would you mind giving me a link or two?



posted on Nov, 16 2009 @ 06:37 PM
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reply to post by pieman
 


I'll see what I can find online. I'm an undergrad biological anthropologist major, so i've learned it in class. But I'll see what I can find online for you during the Penguins game.



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