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When Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859 and The
Ascent of Man in 1871, he was, rightly, concerned that evolution
by natural selection would be seen as standing opposed to religion.
However, the proposition to be defended here is that he was
mistaken on this point and that religion arose as an evolutionary
adaptation to meet a peculiarly human need:
To maintain important aspects of human behaviour, those that
vary among different groups of humans, sufficiently constant
over a sufficiently large number of individuals and over a
sufficiently large span of time that natural selection, working on
cultural evolution, can act upon them.
The Proposition
Outline
• Comparison of Genetic and Cultural Evolution
• Comparison of control of group behaviour in
bees and humans; and the problem of group
selection
• The role of religious prescriptions as the source
of ethics and the building blocks of cultural
evolution
• Implications for the “Greening of Humanity”
Genetic Evolution
• Describes the processes by which all
different life forms have developed from
their earliest common ancestor.
• Cyanobacteria and Archaea whose fossils can date from
3.5 billion years BP, are the earliest known life form and
were responsible for creating the first free oxygen in the
atmosphere. Their descendents are still abundant.
The Time Line
The Universe is c. 15 billion years old (1 year)
The Earth is c. 5 billion years old (4 months)
Earliest life – Archaea – arose c. 3 – 3.5 billion ago (11 weeks)
First Vertebrates c. 400–500 million years BP (11 days)
First Mammals c.250 million years BP (6 days)
First Primates c.55 million years BP (32 hours)
First Monkeys c. 30-35 million years BP (19 hours)
Last shared ancestor of man and chimps c. 6 million years BP (3.5 hours)
Origin of Homo sapiens sapiens c.120,000 years BP (4 minutes)
The agricultural revolution occurred c.10,000 years BP (21 seconds)
There have been only c. 4000 generations of Humans
( E.Coli goes through 4000 generations in c.2 months and mice in c.650 years
and their behaviour has probably not changed much over these times- but
humans have gone from the stone age to the silicon chip age)
Natural Selection
• Natural selection favours the survival of those
who leave the most progeny that will
themselves reproduce.
• Natural selection works on selective pressures in
the present; it does not anticipate future events
and has no goal.
• The major role of parasitism as a driver of
natural selection is frequently underestimated
• These features apply equally to cultural
evolution
Social Darwinism:
“The survival of the fittest”
• This unfortunate term was coined by Herbert Spencer (although Darwin
and Huxley both used it.)
• It is probably at the core of the deep misunderstanding of Darwin by
politicians from Marx to Hitler because it was taken to imply that survival
involved direct conflict between competing groups and that “superior”
groups should therefore regard it as appropriate to try to exterminate their
“inferior” rivals.
• This is not inherent in natural selection and is probably not that common in
animal evolution.
• For example: the competition between the American grey squirrel and the
native British red squirrel. The loss of red squirrels in the presence of grey
squirrels is due not to direct conflict between them but to the squirrel pox
virus which infects grey squirrels without doing them serious harm, but
which kills red squirrels.
(Pox viruses survive well in drays etc and can there infect the red squirrel.)
Cultural Evolution
• “Culture” used in this sense describes the transmission
of information between individuals and generations by
any means other than through the genome.
• Cultural Evolution has been described in animals (John
Tyler Bonner (1980) “The Evolution of Culture in Animals” New Jersey:
Princeton University Press.) and was originally transmitted by
example.
• In a highly developed form cultural evolution is seen only
in humans and is intimately associated with the
development of language. Oral transmission was
supplemented by writing c. 200 generations ago and by
electronic means from c. 2 generations ago.
• Cultural evolution works through natural selection; but
there are no “cultural species” and no “non-blending”
inheritance; and it quite clearly acts on groups.
• Culturgenes (Wilson) or memes (Dawkins) as
homologues of genes should not be taken too seriously .
Advantages of Cultural Evolution
• Much faster than genetic change
• Can be disseminated further and faster
• Allows greater range of behaviour
i.e. much greater innovation
Would it be possible to encode in the genome how
to fly an airliner or fill in a tax return?
Disadvantages of Cultural Evolution
• Gains are much less secure
• Unlike genetic evolutionary changes
cultural changes are not shared by all
members of the group and in the past
were often confined to the literate elite
(frequently this was the priesthood)
e.g. The Mayas had a sophisticated
civilization but after the Spanish conquest when
the ruling elite was destroyed the remaining
population reverted to the stone age.
Honey Bees
• Live in communities where cooperation of
individuals who do different tasks is essential for
survival.
• The Queen (fertile female) lays eggs +/- sperm
to give rise to diploid females or haploid males.
• Males (drones) mate with virgin queen on her
mating flight
• Workers (infertile females) do everything else.
Variations in bee behaviour
• Neat versus untidy builders and cappers
• Aggressive versus docile behaviour
• Industrious versus lazy foragers
• Swarming prone versus swarming averse
• These variations are genetically
determined and not learned
The “re-queening” experiment
• Behavioural variation is entirely genetically
determined and not learned from
surrounding workers as shown regularly
when colonies are given new mated
queens.
• This involves “group selection”
• Bees therefore do not have free will (and
therefore have no need for religion).
Bee Altruism
• Hamilton believed that bees die after stinging an insect
attacking their hive and that this altruistic act is explained by
their 75% genetic identity with their sister workers (which
results from the haploid drones and diploid queen) – “kin
selection”
• This gave rise to the “Selfish Gene”; and the rejection of group
selection; both very influential ideas in socio-biology
• Their basis is however all wrong.
Bees do not die when they sting other insects.
Termites (which do not have haploid males) behave in a
similar way to bees.
Virgin queens mate with many drones and workers are not
all from the same “father” (and are not all 75% genetically
identical).
Rethinking The Theoretical
Foundation of Sociobiology
(Wilson DS & Wilson EO (2007) Quart Rev Biol 82: 327-348)
“Selfishness beats altruism within groups.
Altruistic groups beat selfish groups.
Everything else is commentary”
i.e Multi-level and group selection have come back in
from the cold.
It is not clear that other sociobiologists (e.g. Richard
Dawkins) have yet accepted this Wittgensteinian
conversion
Human Behaviour
• In contrast to bees, variation in behaviour
between different groups of humans is
determined culturally - not genetically.
• Shown for example by movement of children
between very disparate groups, e.g. New
Guinea Highlands to USA.
(Carleton Gajdusek brought 56 mostly male children back
from Papua New Guinea to live in the United States and
provided them with the opportunity to receive high school and
college education.)
How natural selection works for cultural
evolution
• In bees, genotype -> phenotype which allows selection
by reproductive success
• To allow culturally determined variation in behaviour to
undergo selection the cultural variants need to be
maintained over sufficient numbers of individuals and for
enough generations for selection to be able to act
• Cultural patterns of behaviour have mostly been
expressed as religious prescription
• The generation of these cultural variants and their
enforcement have given religions a vital evolutionary
function
The Religious Perspective in Time
• Emergence of Homo Sap Sap 120K BP (1 year)
• First burials at Adze Cave, Israel c.100K BP (10 months)
• “Venus figurines” in Europe c. 50K BP (5 months)
• Ritual structures at Çatal Höyük c. 8K BP (3.5 weeks)
• 1st
monotheistic religion (Akhnaton) c.3360 BP (10 days)
• Extant religions are no older and generally more recent.
• If religion provides the basis for maintaining cultural variation
this must go back much further than any religions we now
know about
Religion
• “Virtue, as founded upon reverence of
God and expectation of future rewards
and punishments”
Samuel Johnson
• Virtue encapsulates the behavioural “prescription” – the
thou shalts and the thou shalt nots – which is the core of
all (existing) religions and probably of all earlier ones as
well
• “Virtue” is essentially the same as “ethics”
Virtue
• Describes the prescriptive element of a religion
– the fiats and caveats.
• All religions have this prescriptive element in
recognisably similar forms.
Deals with – inter alia -:
diet and health;
reproductive behaviour;
inter-personal relations (honesty & truthfulness);
attitudes to work;
attitudes to death and suicide
More “Virtue”
• Very concerned with increasing population.
Ethical paradigm of all major religions is that of
an endangered species
• Primary obligation of male is to feed and defend
his mate and children
• Primary obligation of female is to breed
• Equivalence of these was recognised in Norse
mythology. Valhalla was reserved for men who
die in battle and women who die in childbirth.
Reverence of God and expectation of
future rewards and punishments
• Many – but not all – religions have a God or
Gods
The attributes of Gods vary widely but generally include power and
wisdom superior to those of humans.
• Many – but not all – religions believe in an
afterlife where rewards are enjoyed and
punishments suffered.
Others believe in reincarnation
• The will of God and the hopes/fears of the
afterlife serve to “enforce” Virtue by a blend of
wish fulfilment and fear fulfilment usually backed
up by various forms of coercion
The superstructure does not
need to be accurate
• Error in the mythical superstructure does not
invalidate the prescription
Apollo’s horses do not pull the sun across the sky each
day but “nothing to excess” was a successful instruction
The power of the injunctions to “love your neighbour”
and “to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” is
unaffected by scepticism about the Virgin Birth or the Trinity or
the resurrection of the body
But it does need to be effective
• If the function of the superstructure is to enforce
one prescription as opposed to another then one
can understand why successful religions tend to
be intolerant.
• This does however have a severe downside
giving rise to fundamentalism, persecution and
wars.
• A religion showing unlimited tolerance to other
prescriptions would lose its evolutionary function
How does religious (and ethical)
innovation arise?
• Clearly not by prophets speculating on what is
advantageous for the survival of the group in the
long term
• A “Popperian” View is that innovations are – like
scientific theories – are random, aesthetic or
inspirational speculations
• The reasons for their introduction are rarely, if
ever, related to their selective advantage
e.g male circumcision ~ resistance to STD & Ca cervix in female
Implications of religion as an
evolutionary adaptation
• A degree of free will must exist.
Individuals and/or groups must be able to choose between
religions for selection to occur.
• Genetic determinism can therefore be
rejected.
• A religion needs to defend its prescription and
to be intolerant of other religions
This explains why religions typically preach love but practise hate.
• Ethics form the basis of selection
This contradicts TH Huxley’s view that ethics and selection
are in conflict
“Ethics and Evolution” (1893)
TH Huxley (1822–1895),
• As I have already urged, the practice of that which is ethically best--what we call goodness or virtue—
involves a course of conduct which in all respects, is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic
struggle for existence. In place of ruthless self-assertion it demands self-restraint; in place of thrusting aside,
or treading down, all competitors, it requires that the individual shall not merely respect, but shall help his
fellows; its influence is directed, not so much to the survival of the fittest, as to the fitting of as many as
possible to survive.
.
• Laws and moral precepts are directed to the end of curbing the cosmic process and reminding the individual
of his duty to the community, to the protection and influence of which he owes, if not existence itself, at least
the life of something better than a brutal savage.
• The struggle for existence which has done such admirable work in cosmic nature, must, it appears, be
equally beneficent in the ethical sphere. Yet if that which I have insisted upon is true; if the cosmic process
has no sort of relation to moral ends; if the imitation of it by man is inconsistent with the first principles of
ethics; what becomes of this surprising theory?
• Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic
process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it.
Ethics Evolve
Huxley regarded ethics as fixed and (probably) derived from God.
This view is now held by those who believe in “Natural Law”
However this does not bear much scrutiny
Historical cultures have held widely different views on, inter alia, slavery,
human sacrifice, cannibalism and suicide.
The view that the fetus is ensouled at conception is of 19th Century origin
The concept of human rights has evolved especially since the European
Enlightenment - “Humanity is an end in itself” - Kant
Those ethical rules that have been selected over many cultures and over
long periods – altruism, respect for human life & dignity, truthfulness and
honesty – form the core of contemporary “universal” ethical prescription
Religious Prescription in a secular World
• Much behavioural prescription ceded to secular law
• Questions of conscience are still left to free vote in UK
parliament
• Separation of Church and State widespread but patchy
• It is quite common (among Christians and Jews) to obey
the religious prescriptions, and even to worship God
without believing in his existence. This is an entirely
defensible position.
• It is the norm in secular societies for sceptics to adhere
to the “virtue” of religion while not believing at all.
The future
• Increasing population has undermined the long-standing
ethical paradigm of an endangered species. Mankind is
now an endangering species
• This has had and will need to have implications for:
the unfettered right and duty to breed
the working of democracy between groups
the relationship between man and the physical environment
• Women’s Liberation and Gay Rights are both examples
of the results of this paradigm shift – it is not all bad
• The “secular religions” of the 20th
Century – Nazism and
Communism- demonstrate the difficulties and dangers of
paradigm shifts – something the neo-atheists should
bear in mind
• However: evolutionary speculations do not lend
themselves to prophecy. The future may surprise us all
Implications for the Greening of Humanity
• The essential problem is to control
population growth or even to reverse it
• This will require substantial changes to
contemporary religious and ethical
prescription
• All other changes to a green economy are
secondary and will, at best, delay the
anticipated ecological crisis by a few years
The Panglossian Delusion
• The Socratic idea that the human body is perfect
was adopted by the Abrahamic religions
If man is created in the image of God who is clearly perfect, then man too must
approach perfection.
• 19th century evolutionary thinkers wished to
replace the perfect divine creation with the perfect
evolutionary adaptation.
• “That is the one point which I think all evolutionists
are agreed upon, that it is virtually impossible to do
a better job than an organism is doing in its own
environment. (Richard Lewontin quoted in Dawkins “The Extended Phenotype” 1982:30)
Oh no – they don’t!
• The perfection of the human body (and the human
genome) is however a delusion.
Evolution muddles through
• Molecular evolution has very restricted options
for producing new or improved functions. It
needs currently unused “pseudogenes” – usually
produced by gene (or chromosome) duplication
– coding for a finite number of protein domains
• Evolution is analogous to writing Microsoft
software: take modules/domains from various
sites; hitch them together and bench mark them.
If the new gene “works” it is kept.
• Complexity is a side effect of evolution and not a
sign of design, intelligent or otherwise!
Altruism, Kin selection and the
Selfish Gene
• Difficulty of reconciling altruism with natural
selection already concerned Darwin
• Kin selection - “the evolution of characteristics which favour
the survival of close relatives of the affected individual, by
processes which do not require any discontinuities in the population
breeding structure.” was adopted as explanation.
• Became the basis of the “selfish gene” and the
rejection of group selection in evolution not least
by the sociobiologists (EO Wilson) who
extended the theory also to cultural evolution
and introduced the concept of a “culturgene”
Relevant Publications
• Lachmann PJ (1983) Why Religions? An Evolutionary View of the
Behaviour of Bees and Men. Cambridge Review 104 22-26
• Lachmann PJ (2009) God: “To Be or Not to Be; That Is Not the Question
(Book review of: God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That
God Does Not Exist by Victor J. Stenger. New York: Prometheus, 2007. 294
pp.) Am J Psychol 122 272 - 278
• Lachmann PJ (2010) Religion - An evolutionary adaptation. FASEB J.
24:1301-7.
• Lachmann PJ (2010) Genetic and cultural evolution: from fossils to proteins;
and from behaviour to ethics. Eur Rev 18: 297 – 309
Does Goodness (virtue) require the
existence of God?
• “There must be something which is to all beings
the cause of there being goodness and every
other perfection, and this we call God”
(Aquinas)
• That ethical systems have been expressed in
generally religious form is a tribute to the
persuasive nature of the prescriptive aspect of
religion. However, this says nothing whatever
about the existence, or otherwise, of God.
God: To be or not to be – that is not
the question
There are Gods that certainly did not exist – the rivers and rocks of
primitive religion; the sun; fire; the Gods of Olympus and of Valhalla
There are Gods that certainly did exist
- Oriental and Roman emperors
The existence of the God of Abraham is disputed
There are religions without Gods
- Buddhism (in its original form) was antitheistic; Confucianism
All these religions have been successful.
Gods need to be obeyed; whether they exist matters
much less
Prescriptions - Diet
Meat/Fish
Other
dietary
Alcohol Fasts
Buddhists No
Monks can
eat what
they are
given
No No
Christians Yes
Variable -
RC no meat
on Friday &
restricted
diet in Lent
Yes
Yes
occasional
Hindus No No Yes
Jains No
Essentially
Vegan
No
Jews
Yes - Only
cloven-
hoofed
ruminants or
fins + scales
Kosher
rules,
unleavened
bread
Moderation
Yes -
Sabbath
Muslims
Yes -
herbivores
only
Hallal rules No
Yes -
Ramadan
Zoroastrians Yes
Eat for
health
Yes
Prescriptions – Reproduction and Morals
Contraception
Sexual
Hygiene
Celibacy Travel
Personal
Hygiene
Worship Moral Prescription
Buddhists Generally Permissive
Variable for
monks
Prescribed
Personal
devotion;
occasionally at
temple
Sila:To refrain from taking life;
To refrain from theft;
To refrain from sensual (inc.
sexual) misconduct;
To refrain from lying ;
To refrain from intoxicants.
Christians
RC:Natural method
only.
Protestants:Generally
permissive
Yes for
monks,
nuns, RC
priests
Congregational
and personal
devotion
The Ten Commandments;
Variation on many details
between denominations
Hindus Permissive Prescribed No
Brahmins
were
forbidden
to cross sea
Prescribed
Temple
worship,
personal
devotion, group
pilgrimage
Dharma: mercy (refusal of
violence)
- renunciation/sense control
(refusal of intoxicants)
- truthfulness (refusal of
gambling and speculations)
- purity (refusal of sex forbidden
in scriptures)
Jains Permissive
Yes for
monks and
nuns
Prescribed
Temple
worship,
personal
devotion, group
pilgrimage
Non-violence (Ahimsa); Truth
(Satya); Non-stealing(Asteya);
Non-possession (Aparigraha)
Jews Generally permissive
Prescribed
(male
circumcision)
No
Rituals
prescribed
for
Orthodox
Prescribed
Congregational
and personal
devotion
"Do not do unto others that which
is repugnant to you" (Hillel);
Much variation between
orthodox and reform groups
Muslims Generally Permissive
Prescribed
(male
circumcision)
No Prescribed
Congregational
worship;
personal
devotion; Hajj
Sharia - wide-ranging
prescription. Variation between
different groups
Zoroastrians No Prescribed
Congregational
and personal
devotion
"Good thoughts, good words,
good deeds" (Humata, Hukhta,
Hvarshta); Asceticism frowned
upon

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Religion: An evolutionary adaptation

  • 1.
  • 2. When Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859 and The Ascent of Man in 1871, he was, rightly, concerned that evolution by natural selection would be seen as standing opposed to religion. However, the proposition to be defended here is that he was mistaken on this point and that religion arose as an evolutionary adaptation to meet a peculiarly human need: To maintain important aspects of human behaviour, those that vary among different groups of humans, sufficiently constant over a sufficiently large number of individuals and over a sufficiently large span of time that natural selection, working on cultural evolution, can act upon them. The Proposition
  • 3. Outline • Comparison of Genetic and Cultural Evolution • Comparison of control of group behaviour in bees and humans; and the problem of group selection • The role of religious prescriptions as the source of ethics and the building blocks of cultural evolution • Implications for the “Greening of Humanity”
  • 4. Genetic Evolution • Describes the processes by which all different life forms have developed from their earliest common ancestor. • Cyanobacteria and Archaea whose fossils can date from 3.5 billion years BP, are the earliest known life form and were responsible for creating the first free oxygen in the atmosphere. Their descendents are still abundant.
  • 5. The Time Line The Universe is c. 15 billion years old (1 year) The Earth is c. 5 billion years old (4 months) Earliest life – Archaea – arose c. 3 – 3.5 billion ago (11 weeks) First Vertebrates c. 400–500 million years BP (11 days) First Mammals c.250 million years BP (6 days) First Primates c.55 million years BP (32 hours) First Monkeys c. 30-35 million years BP (19 hours) Last shared ancestor of man and chimps c. 6 million years BP (3.5 hours) Origin of Homo sapiens sapiens c.120,000 years BP (4 minutes) The agricultural revolution occurred c.10,000 years BP (21 seconds) There have been only c. 4000 generations of Humans ( E.Coli goes through 4000 generations in c.2 months and mice in c.650 years and their behaviour has probably not changed much over these times- but humans have gone from the stone age to the silicon chip age)
  • 6. Natural Selection • Natural selection favours the survival of those who leave the most progeny that will themselves reproduce. • Natural selection works on selective pressures in the present; it does not anticipate future events and has no goal. • The major role of parasitism as a driver of natural selection is frequently underestimated • These features apply equally to cultural evolution
  • 7. Social Darwinism: “The survival of the fittest” • This unfortunate term was coined by Herbert Spencer (although Darwin and Huxley both used it.) • It is probably at the core of the deep misunderstanding of Darwin by politicians from Marx to Hitler because it was taken to imply that survival involved direct conflict between competing groups and that “superior” groups should therefore regard it as appropriate to try to exterminate their “inferior” rivals. • This is not inherent in natural selection and is probably not that common in animal evolution. • For example: the competition between the American grey squirrel and the native British red squirrel. The loss of red squirrels in the presence of grey squirrels is due not to direct conflict between them but to the squirrel pox virus which infects grey squirrels without doing them serious harm, but which kills red squirrels. (Pox viruses survive well in drays etc and can there infect the red squirrel.)
  • 8. Cultural Evolution • “Culture” used in this sense describes the transmission of information between individuals and generations by any means other than through the genome. • Cultural Evolution has been described in animals (John Tyler Bonner (1980) “The Evolution of Culture in Animals” New Jersey: Princeton University Press.) and was originally transmitted by example. • In a highly developed form cultural evolution is seen only in humans and is intimately associated with the development of language. Oral transmission was supplemented by writing c. 200 generations ago and by electronic means from c. 2 generations ago. • Cultural evolution works through natural selection; but there are no “cultural species” and no “non-blending” inheritance; and it quite clearly acts on groups. • Culturgenes (Wilson) or memes (Dawkins) as homologues of genes should not be taken too seriously .
  • 9. Advantages of Cultural Evolution • Much faster than genetic change • Can be disseminated further and faster • Allows greater range of behaviour i.e. much greater innovation Would it be possible to encode in the genome how to fly an airliner or fill in a tax return?
  • 10. Disadvantages of Cultural Evolution • Gains are much less secure • Unlike genetic evolutionary changes cultural changes are not shared by all members of the group and in the past were often confined to the literate elite (frequently this was the priesthood) e.g. The Mayas had a sophisticated civilization but after the Spanish conquest when the ruling elite was destroyed the remaining population reverted to the stone age.
  • 11. Honey Bees • Live in communities where cooperation of individuals who do different tasks is essential for survival. • The Queen (fertile female) lays eggs +/- sperm to give rise to diploid females or haploid males. • Males (drones) mate with virgin queen on her mating flight • Workers (infertile females) do everything else.
  • 12. Variations in bee behaviour • Neat versus untidy builders and cappers • Aggressive versus docile behaviour • Industrious versus lazy foragers • Swarming prone versus swarming averse • These variations are genetically determined and not learned
  • 13. The “re-queening” experiment • Behavioural variation is entirely genetically determined and not learned from surrounding workers as shown regularly when colonies are given new mated queens. • This involves “group selection” • Bees therefore do not have free will (and therefore have no need for religion).
  • 14. Bee Altruism • Hamilton believed that bees die after stinging an insect attacking their hive and that this altruistic act is explained by their 75% genetic identity with their sister workers (which results from the haploid drones and diploid queen) – “kin selection” • This gave rise to the “Selfish Gene”; and the rejection of group selection; both very influential ideas in socio-biology • Their basis is however all wrong. Bees do not die when they sting other insects. Termites (which do not have haploid males) behave in a similar way to bees. Virgin queens mate with many drones and workers are not all from the same “father” (and are not all 75% genetically identical).
  • 15. Rethinking The Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology (Wilson DS & Wilson EO (2007) Quart Rev Biol 82: 327-348) “Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary” i.e Multi-level and group selection have come back in from the cold. It is not clear that other sociobiologists (e.g. Richard Dawkins) have yet accepted this Wittgensteinian conversion
  • 16. Human Behaviour • In contrast to bees, variation in behaviour between different groups of humans is determined culturally - not genetically. • Shown for example by movement of children between very disparate groups, e.g. New Guinea Highlands to USA. (Carleton Gajdusek brought 56 mostly male children back from Papua New Guinea to live in the United States and provided them with the opportunity to receive high school and college education.)
  • 17. How natural selection works for cultural evolution • In bees, genotype -> phenotype which allows selection by reproductive success • To allow culturally determined variation in behaviour to undergo selection the cultural variants need to be maintained over sufficient numbers of individuals and for enough generations for selection to be able to act • Cultural patterns of behaviour have mostly been expressed as religious prescription • The generation of these cultural variants and their enforcement have given religions a vital evolutionary function
  • 18. The Religious Perspective in Time • Emergence of Homo Sap Sap 120K BP (1 year) • First burials at Adze Cave, Israel c.100K BP (10 months) • “Venus figurines” in Europe c. 50K BP (5 months) • Ritual structures at Çatal Höyük c. 8K BP (3.5 weeks) • 1st monotheistic religion (Akhnaton) c.3360 BP (10 days) • Extant religions are no older and generally more recent. • If religion provides the basis for maintaining cultural variation this must go back much further than any religions we now know about
  • 19. Religion • “Virtue, as founded upon reverence of God and expectation of future rewards and punishments” Samuel Johnson • Virtue encapsulates the behavioural “prescription” – the thou shalts and the thou shalt nots – which is the core of all (existing) religions and probably of all earlier ones as well • “Virtue” is essentially the same as “ethics”
  • 20. Virtue • Describes the prescriptive element of a religion – the fiats and caveats. • All religions have this prescriptive element in recognisably similar forms. Deals with – inter alia -: diet and health; reproductive behaviour; inter-personal relations (honesty & truthfulness); attitudes to work; attitudes to death and suicide
  • 21. More “Virtue” • Very concerned with increasing population. Ethical paradigm of all major religions is that of an endangered species • Primary obligation of male is to feed and defend his mate and children • Primary obligation of female is to breed • Equivalence of these was recognised in Norse mythology. Valhalla was reserved for men who die in battle and women who die in childbirth.
  • 22. Reverence of God and expectation of future rewards and punishments • Many – but not all – religions have a God or Gods The attributes of Gods vary widely but generally include power and wisdom superior to those of humans. • Many – but not all – religions believe in an afterlife where rewards are enjoyed and punishments suffered. Others believe in reincarnation • The will of God and the hopes/fears of the afterlife serve to “enforce” Virtue by a blend of wish fulfilment and fear fulfilment usually backed up by various forms of coercion
  • 23. The superstructure does not need to be accurate • Error in the mythical superstructure does not invalidate the prescription Apollo’s horses do not pull the sun across the sky each day but “nothing to excess” was a successful instruction The power of the injunctions to “love your neighbour” and “to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” is unaffected by scepticism about the Virgin Birth or the Trinity or the resurrection of the body
  • 24. But it does need to be effective • If the function of the superstructure is to enforce one prescription as opposed to another then one can understand why successful religions tend to be intolerant. • This does however have a severe downside giving rise to fundamentalism, persecution and wars. • A religion showing unlimited tolerance to other prescriptions would lose its evolutionary function
  • 25. How does religious (and ethical) innovation arise? • Clearly not by prophets speculating on what is advantageous for the survival of the group in the long term • A “Popperian” View is that innovations are – like scientific theories – are random, aesthetic or inspirational speculations • The reasons for their introduction are rarely, if ever, related to their selective advantage e.g male circumcision ~ resistance to STD & Ca cervix in female
  • 26. Implications of religion as an evolutionary adaptation • A degree of free will must exist. Individuals and/or groups must be able to choose between religions for selection to occur. • Genetic determinism can therefore be rejected. • A religion needs to defend its prescription and to be intolerant of other religions This explains why religions typically preach love but practise hate. • Ethics form the basis of selection This contradicts TH Huxley’s view that ethics and selection are in conflict
  • 27. “Ethics and Evolution” (1893) TH Huxley (1822–1895), • As I have already urged, the practice of that which is ethically best--what we call goodness or virtue— involves a course of conduct which in all respects, is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic struggle for existence. In place of ruthless self-assertion it demands self-restraint; in place of thrusting aside, or treading down, all competitors, it requires that the individual shall not merely respect, but shall help his fellows; its influence is directed, not so much to the survival of the fittest, as to the fitting of as many as possible to survive. . • Laws and moral precepts are directed to the end of curbing the cosmic process and reminding the individual of his duty to the community, to the protection and influence of which he owes, if not existence itself, at least the life of something better than a brutal savage. • The struggle for existence which has done such admirable work in cosmic nature, must, it appears, be equally beneficent in the ethical sphere. Yet if that which I have insisted upon is true; if the cosmic process has no sort of relation to moral ends; if the imitation of it by man is inconsistent with the first principles of ethics; what becomes of this surprising theory? • Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it.
  • 28. Ethics Evolve Huxley regarded ethics as fixed and (probably) derived from God. This view is now held by those who believe in “Natural Law” However this does not bear much scrutiny Historical cultures have held widely different views on, inter alia, slavery, human sacrifice, cannibalism and suicide. The view that the fetus is ensouled at conception is of 19th Century origin The concept of human rights has evolved especially since the European Enlightenment - “Humanity is an end in itself” - Kant Those ethical rules that have been selected over many cultures and over long periods – altruism, respect for human life & dignity, truthfulness and honesty – form the core of contemporary “universal” ethical prescription
  • 29. Religious Prescription in a secular World • Much behavioural prescription ceded to secular law • Questions of conscience are still left to free vote in UK parliament • Separation of Church and State widespread but patchy • It is quite common (among Christians and Jews) to obey the religious prescriptions, and even to worship God without believing in his existence. This is an entirely defensible position. • It is the norm in secular societies for sceptics to adhere to the “virtue” of religion while not believing at all.
  • 30. The future • Increasing population has undermined the long-standing ethical paradigm of an endangered species. Mankind is now an endangering species • This has had and will need to have implications for: the unfettered right and duty to breed the working of democracy between groups the relationship between man and the physical environment • Women’s Liberation and Gay Rights are both examples of the results of this paradigm shift – it is not all bad • The “secular religions” of the 20th Century – Nazism and Communism- demonstrate the difficulties and dangers of paradigm shifts – something the neo-atheists should bear in mind • However: evolutionary speculations do not lend themselves to prophecy. The future may surprise us all
  • 31. Implications for the Greening of Humanity • The essential problem is to control population growth or even to reverse it • This will require substantial changes to contemporary religious and ethical prescription • All other changes to a green economy are secondary and will, at best, delay the anticipated ecological crisis by a few years
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  • 33. The Panglossian Delusion • The Socratic idea that the human body is perfect was adopted by the Abrahamic religions If man is created in the image of God who is clearly perfect, then man too must approach perfection. • 19th century evolutionary thinkers wished to replace the perfect divine creation with the perfect evolutionary adaptation. • “That is the one point which I think all evolutionists are agreed upon, that it is virtually impossible to do a better job than an organism is doing in its own environment. (Richard Lewontin quoted in Dawkins “The Extended Phenotype” 1982:30) Oh no – they don’t! • The perfection of the human body (and the human genome) is however a delusion.
  • 34. Evolution muddles through • Molecular evolution has very restricted options for producing new or improved functions. It needs currently unused “pseudogenes” – usually produced by gene (or chromosome) duplication – coding for a finite number of protein domains • Evolution is analogous to writing Microsoft software: take modules/domains from various sites; hitch them together and bench mark them. If the new gene “works” it is kept. • Complexity is a side effect of evolution and not a sign of design, intelligent or otherwise!
  • 35. Altruism, Kin selection and the Selfish Gene • Difficulty of reconciling altruism with natural selection already concerned Darwin • Kin selection - “the evolution of characteristics which favour the survival of close relatives of the affected individual, by processes which do not require any discontinuities in the population breeding structure.” was adopted as explanation. • Became the basis of the “selfish gene” and the rejection of group selection in evolution not least by the sociobiologists (EO Wilson) who extended the theory also to cultural evolution and introduced the concept of a “culturgene”
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  • 38. Relevant Publications • Lachmann PJ (1983) Why Religions? An Evolutionary View of the Behaviour of Bees and Men. Cambridge Review 104 22-26 • Lachmann PJ (2009) God: “To Be or Not to Be; That Is Not the Question (Book review of: God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist by Victor J. Stenger. New York: Prometheus, 2007. 294 pp.) Am J Psychol 122 272 - 278 • Lachmann PJ (2010) Religion - An evolutionary adaptation. FASEB J. 24:1301-7. • Lachmann PJ (2010) Genetic and cultural evolution: from fossils to proteins; and from behaviour to ethics. Eur Rev 18: 297 – 309
  • 39. Does Goodness (virtue) require the existence of God? • “There must be something which is to all beings the cause of there being goodness and every other perfection, and this we call God” (Aquinas) • That ethical systems have been expressed in generally religious form is a tribute to the persuasive nature of the prescriptive aspect of religion. However, this says nothing whatever about the existence, or otherwise, of God.
  • 40. God: To be or not to be – that is not the question There are Gods that certainly did not exist – the rivers and rocks of primitive religion; the sun; fire; the Gods of Olympus and of Valhalla There are Gods that certainly did exist - Oriental and Roman emperors The existence of the God of Abraham is disputed There are religions without Gods - Buddhism (in its original form) was antitheistic; Confucianism All these religions have been successful. Gods need to be obeyed; whether they exist matters much less
  • 41. Prescriptions - Diet Meat/Fish Other dietary Alcohol Fasts Buddhists No Monks can eat what they are given No No Christians Yes Variable - RC no meat on Friday & restricted diet in Lent Yes Yes occasional Hindus No No Yes Jains No Essentially Vegan No Jews Yes - Only cloven- hoofed ruminants or fins + scales Kosher rules, unleavened bread Moderation Yes - Sabbath Muslims Yes - herbivores only Hallal rules No Yes - Ramadan Zoroastrians Yes Eat for health Yes
  • 42. Prescriptions – Reproduction and Morals Contraception Sexual Hygiene Celibacy Travel Personal Hygiene Worship Moral Prescription Buddhists Generally Permissive Variable for monks Prescribed Personal devotion; occasionally at temple Sila:To refrain from taking life; To refrain from theft; To refrain from sensual (inc. sexual) misconduct; To refrain from lying ; To refrain from intoxicants. Christians RC:Natural method only. Protestants:Generally permissive Yes for monks, nuns, RC priests Congregational and personal devotion The Ten Commandments; Variation on many details between denominations Hindus Permissive Prescribed No Brahmins were forbidden to cross sea Prescribed Temple worship, personal devotion, group pilgrimage Dharma: mercy (refusal of violence) - renunciation/sense control (refusal of intoxicants) - truthfulness (refusal of gambling and speculations) - purity (refusal of sex forbidden in scriptures) Jains Permissive Yes for monks and nuns Prescribed Temple worship, personal devotion, group pilgrimage Non-violence (Ahimsa); Truth (Satya); Non-stealing(Asteya); Non-possession (Aparigraha) Jews Generally permissive Prescribed (male circumcision) No Rituals prescribed for Orthodox Prescribed Congregational and personal devotion "Do not do unto others that which is repugnant to you" (Hillel); Much variation between orthodox and reform groups Muslims Generally Permissive Prescribed (male circumcision) No Prescribed Congregational worship; personal devotion; Hajj Sharia - wide-ranging prescription. Variation between different groups Zoroastrians No Prescribed Congregational and personal devotion "Good thoughts, good words, good deeds" (Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta); Asceticism frowned upon