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“Testing Major Evolutionary Hypotheses about Religion with a Random Sample.”

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  1. “Testing Major Evolutionary Hypotheses about Religion with a Random Sample.” Written By David Sloan Wilson at the Binghamton University. ∞ Presented by Juliann and InKee.

  2. 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.

  3. “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.

  4. Hypotheses • Wilson speculates the possibilities in order to clarify the exploratory research to come. In the case of adaptive hypotheses

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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?”

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. Methods - Analysis

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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))