Evolution of the God Gene

CardinalsNicholas Wade reports in the New York Times:

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.

[Read more at New York Times]

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  • AlecSmart

    I think you'll find most atheists DON'T consider religion is 'useless'.

    Because religion is so radically different in every society, and worship of deities becomes more sophisticated and ritualised as humans evolve, these are the primary reasons why atheists don't accept religion.

    Don't you think the discovery of transitions in supernatural belief systems rather proves atheists' point: that worship of superior entities cannot be codified and established as a moral truth, because religions will inevitably change again and again over time and geographic boundaries?

  • http://thepete.com thepete

    Religion seems to me to be a step toward science. We naturally want to explain how the world around us works. When we can’t we make our best guess. It’s our need to understand as much as we can that is an evolutionary trait. Whether we believe some god invented the universe or it came about because of the Big Bang, is irrelevant. I’m guessing that in another thousand years, or so, folks will look back at our “faith” in the Big Bang and think it just as primitive a thought as worshiping a god that lives on a hill seems to us now.

    This whole “god gene” thing comes from the POV of someone looking to prove it’s real, rather than from someone interested in drawing conclusions from the facts. Porn is another cross-cultural phenomena. Is there a porn gene? Are we hard wired for porn? Or are we just reacting to stimuli received via evolutionary tools that primarily serve other purposes? Surely, feeling the urge to have sex with a photograph isn’t an evolved behavior. It seems a pretty obvious biproduct. Like believing in an invisible bearded guy with no evidence whatsoever just because you’re upset a loved one died.

  • thepete

    Religion seems to me to be a step toward science. We naturally want to explain how the world around us works. When we can't we make our best guess. It's our need to understand as much as we can that is an evolutionary trait. Whether we believe some god invented the universe or it came about because of the Big Bang, is irrelevant. I'm guessing that in another thousand years, or so, folks will look back at our “faith” in the Big Bang and think it just as primitive a thought as worshiping a god that lives on a hill seems to us now.

    This whole “god gene” thing comes from the POV of someone looking to prove it's real, rather than from someone interested in drawing conclusions from the facts. Porn is another cross-cultural phenomena. Is there a porn gene? Are we hard wired for porn? Or are we just reacting to stimuli received via evolutionary tools that primarily serve other purposes? Surely, feeling the urge to have sex with a photograph isn't an evolved behavior. It seems a pretty obvious biproduct. Like believing in an invisible bearded guy with no evidence whatsoever just because you're upset a loved one died.

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