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Christianity &Islam Thomas on 18 Nov 2009 12:11 am

The evolution of religion

A look at the origins of religion:

The Evolution of the God Gene

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.

30 Responses to “The evolution of religion”

  1. on 18 Nov 2009 at 2:30 am 1.jake said …

    I’m not sure why you assume that natural selection had a positive effect in this case.
    Seriously, we are kind of a plague on the planet.

  2. on 18 Nov 2009 at 2:56 am 2.jake said …

    I was addressing Nicholas Wade.The NYT Week in Review doesn’t seem to want my comment.

    He seems to be saying that we atheists have to value religion because it developed through natural selection.And therefore must be positive.

    No I don’t. And who says it can’t be negative?

  3. on 18 Nov 2009 at 12:23 pm 3.Xenon said …

    Or more importantly, as a theistic evolutionist that man has always know there is a Creator. Great proof with this discovery. Good stuff.

  4. on 18 Nov 2009 at 1:04 pm 4.Barney said …

    No, actually, what they’re saying is, it’s all in your head, that there might be evolutionary reasons for man inventing religions.

  5. on 18 Nov 2009 at 5:32 pm 5.Xenon said …

    No detective Fife it is only your self-denial. You may believe that the universe always existed or that Puff the magic dragon spit out the big bang, but those of us who utilize reasoning and logic realize such unguided events are just very unlikely.

  6. on 18 Nov 2009 at 5:44 pm 6.AntiRoss said …

    Xenon, read one and a half paragraphs further down for Wade’s own mention of proof.
    A lot of speculation in this article – doesn’t really make you want to buy this science reporter’s book.
    I find the last paragraph shown above (For atheists…) to be a ridiculous assertion.
    Of course religious and spiritual thoughts and practices happened. And so of course they developed for a reason. I think that the argument that they are a by-product of other mental capacities to be a more compelling one than his group selection speculation. Altruism wouldn’t have only happened in the larger agrarian societies.
    I don’t know of any atheist that asserts that religion developed for a useless reason. Most of us say that it is now time to move on. Time to grow up and face reality as adults.

  7. on 18 Nov 2009 at 7:26 pm 7.Barney said …

    Otis, I mean Xenon, evolution has nothing to do with the big bang. Surely you must know that….right? How ignorant are you?

  8. on 18 Nov 2009 at 9:27 pm 8.Xenon said …

    The Big bang leads quite logically to evolution wouldn’t you say Barney? I mean with no BB (bullet) there is no first life, yes?

    How ignorant am I? I am just ignorant enough to realize that I in reality know very little. It comes with age, for some of us.

  9. on 18 Nov 2009 at 9:33 pm 9.keeyop said …

    bwahahhaha. “not a..welcome thought”!? “lifebelt”?
    He might as well have written, “Snap-On tools won’t like learning that flint-knapping was essential to humans for over 100,000 years.” Gimme a break…
    The mere fact that religion DOES EVOLVE demonstrates that it’s not an immutable truth. Our species just clings to it as if it is.
    Convince a lot of people of something and you can get things done. Convince a lot of gullible people that they should make more gullible people and you’ve got a religious movement…

  10. on 18 Nov 2009 at 9:43 pm 10.Barney said …

    The theory of evolution does not address where life comes from, nor how the universe was formed. You probably already know that, but I bet it won’t prevent you from tossing further red herrings into your comments.

  11. on 18 Nov 2009 at 9:44 pm 11.Barney said …

    last comment was for xenon

  12. on 18 Nov 2009 at 11:00 pm 12.Ben said …

    “The theory of evolution does not address where life comes from, nor how the universe was formed.”

    That is absolute BS. Science is constantly attempting to determine how that first single-celled organism formed and produced life. We even have theories! Where have you been Barney? Even Dawkins in his own books refers back to origins and the first living organism.

  13. on 19 Nov 2009 at 3:20 am 13.Barney said …

    Ben, you need to do some reading. Abiogenesis is not the same as evolution. If you’re ignorant, do some reading and fix it. If you’re deliberately being misleading…why would you do that? Some religious agenda?

  14. on 19 Nov 2009 at 3:59 am 14.Ben said …

    So you desire to bring up “chemical evolution”. OK, which model are you pushing here Barney? No, its not natural selection necessarily but then again who claimed it was other the implications from your paranoia?

    You knukcle heads always looking for an agenda. Drop the paranois. If there is a relgious agenda I promise not to hurt you with it.

  15. on 19 Nov 2009 at 1:13 pm 15.Barney said …

    I’m not pushing any model of anything. You conflated abiogenesis with evolution and I set you straight. They are not the same thing. Do you understand that now?

    You said “Science is constantly attempting to determine how that first single-celled organism formed and produced life.”

    That is true, but that isn’t evolution.

    I made the “religious agenda” comment because creationists seem to revel in their willful ignorance, like when they intentionally conflate evolution and abiogenesis. Are you a creationist? If not, I apologize. If so, well, that’s the sort of dishonesty I expect from a creationist.

  16. on 19 Nov 2009 at 6:15 pm 16.Ben said …

    Kmm, thanks for stting me straight. Amazingly I still think I was correct. The two are completely dependent on the other. Split hairs if you like, I see are very clear and unaviodable connection.

    Am I a creationist? I dunno, define it. You knuckle heads tend to lump a number of seperate beliefs into “creationism”. Sort of ironic considering how upset you get with origins, AG and Natural selection. I’m not an atheist The process of evolution doesn’t support atheism.

  17. on 19 Nov 2009 at 7:48 pm 17.Barney said …

    “Amazingly I still think I was correct.”

    You’re right, that is amazing. Do some reading and cure your ignorance. Read real science sites, not creationist sites.

    I don’t get upset with origins, AG, and natural selection, I get upset with lying creationists.

  18. on 20 Nov 2009 at 3:35 pm 18.Xenon said …

    You get upset with creationist Barney? You need a life! Big time! I mean I don’t even get upset with Islam unless they kill someone.

    I can understand murder, world hunger, politicians, etc but you reserve your anger for creationist. Take the gun out of your mouth and take a deep breath and take Thelma Lou to the picture show.

    PS I think she is a creationist.

  19. on 20 Nov 2009 at 4:12 pm 19.Barney said …

    No, Xenon, I didn’t say I get upset with creationists. I said I get upset with lying creationists.

    But thanks for giving another example of the type of dishonesty fundamentalists wackos are known for.

    You get upset with Islam because “they” kill someone. You need to get a life.

  20. on 20 Nov 2009 at 9:21 pm 20.Ben said …

    Can’t define it Barney? Maybe you should read more or stop using such big words. I see as well you couldn’t provide a particular abiogenesis model. Again, read more. You ridiculous atheistic evolutionist spend all your time name calling while providing few valid points. Read more…

  21. on 20 Nov 2009 at 10:01 pm 21.Barney said …

    Creationist = one who believes literally in man’s creation by a deity, especially those wacky christians who interpret Genesis literally. That’s probably you, though many creationists don’t want to admit that’s what they are. I don’t blame them. Silly myth-believers. Evolution and disbelief scare them, so they attack both. That’s why you’re trolling here.

    Abiogenesis = life springing from inanimate matter. Has nothing to do with evolution. Evolution began after life was present.

    You’re a fundamentalist, right? Like to handle snakes? Speak in tongues? Hate the separation of church and state? Think the US was founded on christian principles? Silly boy.

  22. on 21 Nov 2009 at 12:45 am 22.Ben said …

    Wow! Just as I thought. But kudos, you admit your blatant ignorance. But listen Deputy, its Ok I find the uneducated guys like yourself are such because they never read anything outside of their own belief system.

    I am a theistic evolutionist and I am quite proud to admit it. Those are kinda big words so I’ll let your look’em up. But do so then you might follow logic of the obvious belief system

    Read some and educate yourself on this topic which is much more complex than your silly little definition. Well here Barney, start here….

    Get Opey to help you, he is a smart lad.


  23. on 21 Nov 2009 at 4:47 am 23.jake said …


    What do you suppose the trolls will say when science can tell me how to mix up the right stuff, under the right conditions and bring forth life?!!!!!!!!

    I’m sure they’ll say the scientists are mere instruments of god.

    with respect, jake

  24. on 21 Nov 2009 at 8:14 am 24.AntiRoss said …

    A theistic evolutionist.  
    I am at a complete loss as to how anyone could be proud of categorizing themselves as such.
    I suppose you could claim that a YEC is in complete denial and therefore a TE is only in partial denial, but they’re still stuck in the past. Hanging onto ideas invented by Middle Eastern tribes, as if those people understood reality better than we do. 
    Ultimately, a TE’s biggest flaw is that they can’t come to grips with the fact that there’s is a perspective that is pseudo science. 
    Clay feet here because there’s no  scientific credibility – no research that has shown an iota of supernatural intervention. 
    Just speculation, and all based on their own particular religion. They desperately grasp for credibility by appealing to the unsubstantiated opinions of relgiously motivated scientists
    They have no real science but like to claim an equal authority based on the desire for their superstitions to be respected. Fat chance.  
    You notice that Ben gets hostile, calling people that have managed to step away from the beliefs of the masses ‘knuckleheads’. Doesn’t seem to notice a certain irony there. 

  25. on 21 Nov 2009 at 1:48 pm 25.Barney said …

    Ben, you’re a moron. My definition doesn’t leave out “theistic evolutionists.” Read it again, pinhead. Think I haven’t heard of “theistic evolution” before? Just another floundering attempt by creationist pinheads to make their weird beliefs fit with reality.

    But I will admit that the more stubborn trolls like you are usually young earth creationists who don’t accept evolution. Either way, if you can’t understand the difference between evolution and abiogenesis, you’re a pretty simple-headed person.

  26. on 21 Nov 2009 at 1:54 pm 26.Barney said …

    AntiRoss, good points.

    The weird thing I don’t understand about creationists is the dishonesty, as in the way Ben attempts to conflate abiogenesis and evolution. Why would he do that? It’s like he’s pretending he doesn’t know the difference, even when it’s spelled out to him.

    The creationists seem to have this pattern of dishonest behavior. Usually, though, it’s the YECs who are the worst. I don’t see many “theistic evolutionists” who behave like Ben.

  27. on 21 Nov 2009 at 2:09 pm 27.Barney said …

    Let me clarify:

    I’ve seen “theistic evolutionists” who claim to accept evolution, but only “microevolution,” and they believe that man was created (by a deity) as he exists today.

    Ben, if you actually accept the theory of evolution, kudos. But I’m skeptical. I’m guessing your definition of evolution is sorta weird.

  28. on 21 Nov 2009 at 2:46 pm 28.Barney said …

    Ben, you threw me. When you linked to the Wikipedia creationism article above, I thought you were indicating that that’s what you believed. If your definition of “theistic evolution” includes evolution as it is normally defined (and not “microevolution”), okay, you’re not a creationist. My mistake. But I still don’t understand your attempts to muddy the waters between abiogenesis and evolution.

  29. on 21 Nov 2009 at 5:10 pm 29.AntiRoss said …

    Yeah, Barney,
    I read Ben’s link. It doesn’t seem to back his air of superiority. 
    It basically defines a TE as a creationist that is hiding in the gaps. 
    That’s probably why he lumps abiogenesis and evolution and probably everything else like universal constants, the big bang and so-called irreducible complexity into the same category – they’re the gaps where he can still cling to a supernatural explanation. Linus’ blanket.  
    Even the Wiki article alludes to the idea of supernatural intervention as an assumption.    

  30. on 21 Nov 2009 at 7:29 pm 30.Ben said …

    Pinhead? Do we have an O’Reilly fan among us?

    Sigh, we must go to the simplistic name-calling – trolls- pinheads. So childish Barney. You started with “He is a creationist” garbage and you proved my point. You elitist atheist lump everyone who does not hold to your childish position as creationist. I see it all the time. The article was to help you understand just how many positions fall under this term. Maybe you learned a little and that is a good thing.

    I am a theistic evolutionist for one simple reason. This all didn’t happen without some intelligence guiding the process. I don’t have a enough faith for what you guys attempt to sell.

    Hmm, I just saw it. You still see no connection between evolution and abiogenesis. I guess you just lack basic understanding. Wow!

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