“Testing Major Evolutionary Hypotheses about Religion with a Random Sample.” Written By David Sloan Wilson at the Binghamton University. ∞ Presented by Juliann and InKee.
Evolutionary Approach • Social behavior can evolve by either within-group selection (individual) or between-group selection (collective), which are adaptive hypotheses. • If the trait is not a product of natural selection then another set of hypothesis is needed to explain its existence, these are maladaptive or non-adaptive hypotheses.
“Quantitative methods refinebut do not define scientific inquiry.” • It’s important to remember evolution is a multifactorial process. • D.S. Wilson’s question is “How did religion evolve” and his approach to understand is one of comparison, investigation and historical assessments throughout a variety of religions.
Hypotheses • Wilson speculates the possibilities in order to clarify the exploratory research to come. In the case of adaptive hypotheses
Religion as Adaptation • Group-level adaptations benefit the whole group compared to other groups. • Cultural parasites benefit cultural traits without regard to the welfare of human individuals or groups. • Individual-level adaptation benefits individuals, compared to other individuals within the same group. Idea
Religion as Non-Adaptive • If religion is now a product of genetic lag, it could be that the traits associated with religion might have been adaptive in a past environment, but not in the present environment. Time Advancements in transportation. Past Present Small related groups. Large (mostly) unrelated groups.
Religion as Non-Adaptive • Alternatively religion could be seen as a by-product of traits that are adaptive in nonreligious contexts. Example: Human’s complex facial recognition adaptations pick-up on “faces” in objects.
In Sum • These various concepts of religion are so different that it would be surprising if they could not be empirically discriminated from one another. • Then a methodical elimination of hypotheses should eventually produce the most accurate theory. • Thus the question in this study becomes “What are religious groups not?”
Central Thesis • Religions are largely (not entirely) group-level adaptations. • Religions provide a set of instructions for how to behave, to promote cooperation among group members, and to prevent passive freeloading and active exploitation within the group. • The study looks at religious ‘ideals’ and excludes the event of “corrupt” religions.
Methods – Selection • Religions were chosen via random sampling, to avoid selection bias. • Wilson then located the number to see if the religion on that page met criteria, if not he would page forward until he met a religion that did. • Though this process produced some biases, sespitethese the selection bias was avoided, and regions were chosen at random without the group-selection theory in mind.
Methods - Review • The encyclopedia only included a small amount of information for each religion. • The main work of the survey involved gathering as much information as possibly about each religion, and evaluating it with respect to the major evolutionary hypotheses. • Wilson recruited 35 undergraduate students by enrolling them in a 4-credit class titled “Evolution and religion”. • In addition to reading Wilson’s book “Darwin’s Cathedral”, participated in discussion on the subject, and were then assigned to 1 of the 35 religions to research. • Students then culminated a bibliography and narrative answers to 32 questions addressing key issues. • These analyses were then used as a guide for Wilson to read the primary literature.
The Secular Utility of Religions • In the by-product hypotheses the expectation is that religions by themselves do not produce practical benefits. The random sample does not support this expectation. • The majority of religions in this sample are centered on practical concerns. They are thoroughly rooted in the practical welfare of their groups.
The Proximate/Ultimate Distinction and the Otherworldly Aspects of Religion • “If religions are so practical, then why are they so otherworldly?” • Evolutionary theory offers a robust alternative through the distinction of ultimate and proximate causation. • Both ultimate and proximate causation are required to explain an adaptive trait fully; one cannot exist without the other.
The Proximate/Ultimate Distinction and the Otherworldly Aspects of Religion • Ultimate Causation: A religious believer helps others, which may often contribute to her group. • Proximate Causation: The believer feels desire to serve a perfect being who commands her to help others.
The Proximate/Ultimate Distinction and the Otherworldly Aspects of Religion • Thus when trying to explain a given feature of a religion, the primary question is not “Is it rational” or “Can it be empirically verified” but “What does it cause people to do?” • If the feature motivates adaptive behaviorsthen it is fully consistent with a functional explanation. • If it fails to motivate adaptive behaviors then it is a nonfunctionalexplanation is warranted. • The system for social rules and guidelines is necessarily complex because the adaptive behavior is necessarily context-sensitive. Proximate/Ultimate distinction provides a very robust explanation that supports a varied system.
In Sum • The proximate/ultimate distinction theoretically enables otherworldly and practical dimensions of religion to be reconciled with each other. The key question is: What do the otherworldly elements of religion cause people to do? • Wilson has made an empirical claim based on the survey that the otherworldly and practical dimensions of religion are indeed tightly yoked to each other.
Group-level Benefits, Individual Benefits, or Cultural Parasites? • Religion is inherently group- and other oriented. • Religious groups that “get their act together” outperform other religious groups. • Benefits of religion tend to be public goods. • When they fail, religious believers are regarded as a corruption of religion. • Must solve the problem of passive freeloading and active exploitation within groups, especially by leaders.
Group-level Benefits, Individual Benefits, or Cultural Parasites? • Two major ways that religions fall apart1) The first is by becoming victims of their own success. Once a religion generates wealth by collective action, its members no longer need each other and leave.2)A second way is by becoming exploitative, such that some members benefit more than others.
Group-level Benefits, Individual Benefits, or Cultural Parasites? • Since natural selection is always based on fitness differences, group-level adaptations can evolve only by some groups contributing more to the gene-pool or culture-pool than other groups. • Darwin pointed out that N/S at the individual level does not always take the form of nature red in tooth and claw. A drought-tolerant plant out-competes a drought-susceptible plant in the desert, even though they do not directly interact with each other.
Group-level Benefits, Individual Benefits, or Cultural Parasites? • Competition among groups took place through differences in recruitment, retention, and birth and death processes. • The random sample provides NO support for the cultural parasite hypothesis because religions are designed to promote the welfare of their members.
Jainism : A Challenge and Its Resolution • Jainism posed the greatest challenge to the group-level adaptation hypothesis. • Jain renouncers have dozens of food restrictions and ascetic values. Some fast themselves to death. • But these beliefs and practices contribute to the secular utility of individuals and groups. • Fasting in young women increases their marriage prospects. • More religious devotion in men raises the status of the family.
Conclusions • Most religions in the sample have secular utility. • The practical benefits are inherently group-and other oriented. • In other cases the practical side is obscured by the otherworldly side of religion, but these can be largely reconciled through the proximate/ultimate distinction. • Religions don’t parasitize human individuals and groups. • Rather enhance between-group selection and restrict within-group selection. • Between-group selection can take the form of direct conflict, but it usually takes other forms.
Discussion • How might using Wilson’s book “Darwin’s Cathedral” to learn preliminary Evolutionary perspectives on religion affect the data collection of the students? • Do you think being in a “class” in which you are graded would affect your perspective? • Wilson did not rely on the student’s data; he only used it to guide his own research and readings. Do you agree with this method or how do you think the student’s bibliographies should have been used? • Do you think that the 35 religions used showed a wide enough variety, why or why not? How would you control for this in a future study? • Do you agree with the dismissal of the other hypotheses, or do you feel that Wilson was perpetuating a confirmation bias? • ((other questions))