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The Evolutionary Origins of Religion
February 10, 2010 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Ilkka Pyysiäinen and Marc Hauser have a new paper in the journal "Trends in Cognitive Sciences". The origins of religion : evolved adaptation or by-product? (via)

Pyysiäinen and Hauser favor the approach that "religious beliefs are a by-product of evolved cognitive mechanisms", and support this using Hauser's research into a universal moral grammar.
posted by lholladay (28 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
On Steven Pinker and the Cheesecake God
posted by jefficator at 11:19 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought Is God An Accident? was an interest hypothesis.
posted by callmejay at 11:20 AM on February 10, 2010


It seems that in many cultures religious concepts and beliefs have become the standard way of conceptualizing moral intuitions. Although, as we have discussed, this link is not a necessary one, many people have become so accustomed to using it, that criticism targeted at religion is experienced as a fundamental threat to our moral existence.

Evolution is the non-random selection of random mutations.

The problem is that religion now has to compete for mates with the attractive and virile criminal statutes.
posted by three blind mice at 11:27 AM on February 10, 2010


Unless you have a PhD in psychology or sociology, do not pretend you can even begin to understand this paper.

Actually, disregard the preceding statement. There's nothing good on TV right now, and I could use some entertainment.

Look up "cognitive science" on Wikipedia and rip away. If that doesn't offer sufficient delusion and your incapacity holds you back, and if you still feel compelled to comment, then just deflect and voice your opinion on religion in general. For example, you could pretend that the term "evolution" in the paper refers to the physical evolution of man and voice your pick on the creation-evolution debate.
posted by stevenstevo at 11:30 AM on February 10, 2010


As an actual religious person, I always find these hypotheses as similar to what you'd expect if the inorgasmic tried to figure out what was really going on among those who claimed to actually come.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:37 AM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


...if the inorgasmic tried to figure out what was really going on among those who claimed to actually come.

You mean like "they say it's this amazing mystical experience but in reality it exists because of a fundamental biological process"?
posted by DU at 11:41 AM on February 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


There's nothing good on TV right now, and I could use some entertainment.

You should totally check out this thread, there's this really pompous guy in there who's probably good for a few laughs.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:44 AM on February 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Jeez stevenstevo. Let people talk about what they want to. Maybe some people who got their PhD in psych or sociology will contribute. Maybe some wags will make funny jokes based on the concepts or wordplay.

So far your contribution is to say ~"you can't understand this and if you try to speak about it I will be here laughing at you." *

* New I-Am-Paraphrasing-You punctuation mark.
posted by Babblesort at 11:44 AM on February 10, 2010


Unless you have a PhD in psychology or sociology, do not pretend you can even begin to understand this paper.

Neat! So you cognitive scientists, you've got this set of knowledge that's guarded by a select few people, that can't be approached by the uninitiate, and that is largely preserved as a mystery to be contemplated from afar but not analyzed in detail by those whose very lives it affects so deeply?

Tell me more! This sounds like an intriguing concept!

(less sarcastically, it's quite possible for non-experts to have an interesting discussion about specialized subject matter. Sometimes interesting comments are made. Get over yourself)
posted by gurple at 11:45 AM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Unless you have a PhD in psychology or sociology, do not pretend you can even begin to understand this paper.

What? Surely any reasonably intelligent person with a general knowledge of evolution and Chomsky's theory of generative grammar should be able to get the gist of it. I thought it was kind of interesting, if only because it exposed me to a conversation in cognitive science that I'm not very familiar with. The paper doesn't even use all that much specialized jargon.

On preview, what Babblesort and gurple said.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 11:46 AM on February 10, 2010


You mean like "they say it's this amazing mystical experience but in reality it exists because of a fundamental biological process"?

I've tried that line but it never convinced anyone I wanted to date.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:53 AM on February 10, 2010


stevenstevo, I know more about this subject than you can possibly imagine.

FORCECHOKE
posted by Mister_A at 11:59 AM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


you've got this set of knowledge that's guarded by a select few people, that can't be approached by the uninitiate, and that is largely preserved as a mystery to be contemplated from afar but not analyzed in detail by those whose very lives it affects so deeply?

Isn't this what all the PhDs in Scientology say too?
posted by three blind mice at 12:02 PM on February 10, 2010


Isn't this what all the PhDs in Scientology say too?

I was going for "religion" more generally, but yeah, particularly those guys.
posted by gurple at 12:03 PM on February 10, 2010


Stevenstevo is a god to my people.
posted by RokkitNite at 12:06 PM on February 10, 2010


As an actual religious person, I always find these hypotheses as similar to what you'd expect if the inorgasmic tried to figure out what was really going on among those who claimed to actually come.


You mean like "they say it's this amazing mystical experience but in reality it exists because of a fundamental biological process"?


As an actual religious person who loves my husband, I find this sort of article comprehensible and interesting, but a bit beside the point. One can argue that religious belief is a chimera, or that love (versus attraction/sexual drive) is a delusion. Those of us who think there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in these discussions remain comfortable with our beliefs. What can I say: I don't love my husband for any particular rational reason, nor can that emotion be fully explained. Nonetheless it exists.
posted by bearwife at 12:27 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Unless you have a PhD in psychology or sociology, do not pretend you can even begin to understand this paper.

Neat! So you cognitive scientists, you've got this set of knowledge that's guarded by a select few people

Please don't listen to stevenstevo, he doesn't speak for any of us who have actually studied cognitive science. An actual cog sci guy's response would be "If you have the misfortunte of having a PhD in psychology or sociology, do not pretend you can even begin to understand this paper."
posted by soma lkzx at 12:28 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


nor can that emotion be fully explained

It can't be explained currently, no. And even if we one day track down every pheromone and neuron involved in the complicated process we call 'love', it won't cheapen the experience. The neat thing about biological systems is that they have emergent properties, and what we know as consciousness is a lot more complicated than the sum of the brain's parts.

That said, I think it's important to study why we think and behave the way we do, which is why I found the article interesting.
posted by lholladay at 12:51 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Unless you have a PhD in psychology or sociology, do not pretend you can even begin to understand this paper.

Bwahaha. It's nice to see the plucky dismal sciences are trying their hand at chauvanism.
posted by phrontist at 1:10 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


What Wikipedia has to say about cognitive science has essentially no relationship to a PhD in sociology, just for the record.

For a neat take on this line of research, check out Azim Sharrif's work.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 1:28 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


they have emergent properties

I've always found this concept odd. It appears to be some kind of explanation while explaining nothing at all.
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:10 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Unless you have a PhD in psychology or sociology, do not pretend you can even begin to understand this paper.

Just to nitpick (and not addressing others' problems with this comment): anthropology--psychological, cognitive, cultural, and evolutionary--also has considerable skin in this particular game.
posted by col_pogo at 3:34 PM on February 10, 2010


Shariff, sorry
posted by solipsophistocracy at 4:58 PM on February 10, 2010


Wait, wait, so these people are saying relgion is an emergent phenomenon?
posted by edheil at 5:18 PM on February 10, 2010


they have emergent properties

I've always found this concept odd. It appears to be some kind of explanation while explaining nothing at all.


Indeed. "On this level of discourse, x is true. Go one level higher, x remains true, but y is now also true due to magic being an emergent property!"
posted by edguardo at 5:28 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've always found this concept odd. It appears to be some kind of explanation while explaining nothing at all.

In a very technical sense, it's true. Sodium is an alkali metal. Chlorine is a poisonous gas. When you bond them chemically, they're salt. The compound displays properties not found in either of the components. The same general statement holds true for many aspects of cellular behavior and embryology. There's nothing intrinsically strange about applying the concept to higher-level biological functions.
posted by lholladay at 8:58 PM on February 10, 2010


But what is being explained? That you can't tell from the parts what the whole will be like? How does calling the whole "emergent" add anything? It appears to be hiding the lack of an explanation.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:48 PM on February 12, 2010


I think you're pretty close to it there. Just calling something 'emergent' doesn't explain much, no. I've always thought of it more as a framework than as an explanation in and of itself. That is to say, it's more like a conceptual model that is useful when thinking about individual actors and how they interact to form a system. (wikipedia)
posted by lholladay at 2:49 PM on February 15, 2010


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