Superstition has evolutionary causes.

10 posts / 0 new
Last post
Sheldon's picture
Superstition has evolutionary causes.

"researchers are finding evidence that superstitions may not be pointless at all. By adopting a belief that you can -- or cannot -- do something to affect a desired outcome, you're among the cadre of beings that learn. "

"Superstition is an evolutionary surprise -- it makes no sense for organisms to believe a specific action influences the future when it can't. Yet superstitious behaviour can be recognised in many animals, not just humans, and it often persists in the face of evidence against it. Superstitions are not free -- rituals and avoidance cost an animal in terms of energy or lost opportunities. The question becomes how can natural selection create, or simply allow for, such inappropriate behaviour?"

""From an evolutionary perspective, superstitions seem maladaptive," said Kevin Abbott, biologist at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario and co-author with Thomas Sherratt of a recent study published in Animal Behaviour.

The study suggests multiple reasons for such anomalies to exist: perhaps superstition is adaptive as a placebo, or for social bonding. Or maybe it really is maladaptive now, but is "the outcome of traits that were adaptive in ancestral environment; sort of like cognitive wisdom teeth," said Abbott."

Subscription Note: 

Choosing to subscribe to this topic will automatically register you for email notifications for comments and updates on this thread.

Email notifications will be sent out daily by default unless specified otherwise on your account which you can edit by going to your userpage here and clicking on the subscriptions tab.

Sheldon's picture
So religion would have tapped

So religion would have tapped into an already useful evolved trait, and if it also offered benefits like a placebo effect, or societal bonding and cohesion there's no real surprise it took hold. sadly these behaviours have now long surpassed their sell by date as the negatives are starting to outweigh the positives in the post industrialised modern scientific era. Where we have totalitarian theocracies with delusions of being major instigators in starting cataclysmic global "end time" events developing nuclear technologies and capabilities.

Mohammad Ali 's picture
This argument is used by many

This argument is used by many to showcase the usefulness of religion.But they fail to understand that religious beliefs may be a by product of evolution rather than a direct consequence, which means they did not have a role in evolutionary processes, but are a manifestation of other traits which served a different purpose, generally that of betterment of our survival techniques.Also, a trait which has served a purpose in evolution under certain conditions, might not serve the same purpose in different circumstances.
For instance, when a moth flies into a candle flame, it is committing suicide.Now, this obviously is not a beneficial behaviour but it seems this behaviour might have served some purpose in its evolutionary past.In this case, moths developed a trait in the past which made them use a light source to navigate.But moths did not evolve in the presence of artificial lighting , rather the light from the sun and the moon which are always at a constant angle.This causes them to directly land into the flame.So, what we see here is a useful trait causing an unfortunate side effect.
Same is the case with religion.

Sheldon's picture
" religious beliefs may be a

" religious beliefs may be a by product of evolution rather than a direct consequence,"

It can be a by product and still be caused by it albeit indirectly, ultimately everything has to be at least in some part a consequence of evolution, I'd say that's a given since it is the driving force that produced all life we now see.

" a trait which has served a purpose in evolution under certain conditions, might not serve the same purpose in different circumstances."

That was pretty much my point,, as this ties in precisely with my previous comment about religion having "past it's sell by date" in post industrialised scientific era, where the negatives have started to outweigh the positives. The 'evolved' trait of nocturnal insects to use the moon to navigate is starting to have more negatives in the post industrialised era as well, so a good example. Also evolution is driven by environmental pressures and natural selection means positive attributes which are more likely to enable the holder to survive long enough to reproduce will be passed on and survive, whereas negative attributes won't. So when environment changes faster than animals can adapt they are sometimes driven to extinction. Dodos were fine with no land dwelling predators to threaten them as flightless birds. Humans show up and they very quickly are driven extinct. ditto for some moths and butterflies whose evolved camouflage was rendered useless by soot from mills in industrialised Britain, and they were easy prey to predators that could suddenly see them.

Aposteriori Unum's picture
Ahh the possibility of

Ahh the possibility of religion being a spandrel; a hyperbolic extention of a HADD. While it's only speculative, it is indeed tempting to entertain. Its plausibility, I think, is evidenced by the sheer ubiquity of superstition amoungst humans.

Sheldon's picture
Indeed, and the unassailable

Indeed, and the unassailable fact religions so accurately reflect the cultures, and prejudices of the people and epochs they're derived from is interesting as well. It has always struck me that this fact strongly indicates humans create deities, not the other way around.

Aposteriori Unum's picture
How convenient that is though

How convenient that is though, that Ugg hates gay people and so does Ugg's god. The coincidence gets stranger too. One time a tribe member stole Ugg's goat. Well, Ugg's god just happens to have a punishment for that specific act...

One time Ugg said that his god said that it was going to rain the next day. And it did! Ugg said his god is powerful, must be. Ugg said his god doesn't want us to eat certain animals or he'll get angry, better listen.

A few generations of stone age telephone later and Viola... God has rules and commands and a favorite tribe (which just so happens to be Ugg's tribe), there's a collection of testimony and revelation, Ugg is called a prophet, the tribe has sacred places and symbols... In a world where people don't know their assholes from their elbows the meme would spread like collegiate gonorrhea.

Sheldon's picture
Don't forget the best part,

Don't forget the best part, Ugg wrote his god's ramblings down, in a large incoherent tome not dissimilar to an encyclopedia on unicorn husbandry. One of my favourite hilarities from religious apologetics is you have to study this encyclopaedia of unicorn husbandry, and try to believe it is probably true, before you can decide not to believe in unicorns.

And of course you can't prove unicorns don't exist, especially if they are supernatural invisible unicorns. As if that makes their existence a slam-dunk certainty.

when you pray to the unicorns your prayers are answered, what more proof do you need.....?

Not always of course, but that's because the unicorns move in mysterious ways, and you can't expect perfectly moral unicorns to interrupt their day to stop a catholic priest raping a child after all...they have bigger fish to fry, like making sure we all know the pope wants to stop everyone jerking off.

Aposteriori Unum's picture
Don't you know, the best way

Don't you know, the best way for an omnipotent creator of a universe to communicate with the creatures he created is in a book. The optimal time is before the creatures develop advanced technology and before they gain a deeper understanding of how the universe in which they live works. Also, he can communicate with any one of them, but the best are from that same era and only a very select few... And after that only through telepathy so that only the one person he wants to talk to gets the message.

And of course, he wouldn't care about small issues like rape and slavery and genocide... Only big stuff like where his creatures put their genitals and what kind of other creatures they ate and what kind of clothing they wore and whether or not they believed in his existence, despite purposely making it extremely questionable.

Flamenca's picture
What I found most intriguing

What I found most intriguing is that the same people who hold a particular religious belief are completely capable of discerning the mechanisms to indoctrinate when it comes to other cults; how ludicrous are creeds in which someone has not been indoctrinated in; how other religions are bad for other societies.

Lord Xenu? Ha. Mohammed in a flying horse? Nonsense. Kali cutting heads with a sickle? Bs. Holy Spirit impregnating a virgin? wtf. They read ancient mythology and they get really surprised of how people could once believe that stuff.

Well, the Bible warns against seeing the mote in your brother's eye and not the rafter in your own...

Donating = Loving

Heart Icon

Bringing you atheist articles and building active godless communities takes hundreds of hours and resources each month. If you find any joy or stimulation at Atheist Republic, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.

Or make a one-time donation in any amount.