By David Sloan Wilson


The University of Chicago Press


Chicago, 2003






Religious believers often compare their communities to a single organism or even to a social insect colony.    This book treats it as a scientific hypothesis.


2 - This study cuts across lots of disciplines.  No one could be an expert at all of them.  “But I have made a solid effort, and I expect to be judged by professional standards.”


Unlike Huxley and Dawkins, he is not hostile to religion. 


3 – He admires religious values.


4 – This book is ‘science in motion’ about ongoing projects.






To answer whether or not religion can be an organism, we must ask if any group qualifies as an organism.


6 - We will look at the rise and fall of the concept of group selection.




Functionalist thinking can be helpful or misleading. 


7 – A well organized army has a purpose.  As a class, beggars have no collective purpose.




Three things determine evolution: phenotype variation, heritability and fitness consequences.


It is important to think of heritability as a correlation between parents and offspring caused by any mechanism.  This allows us to go beyond genes.  Often the phenotype is what allows the increase in genes over generations. 


Adaptation being defined by survival and reproduction places limits on the kinds of adaptations that can evolve. 


8 – Moths becoming like the background is one predetermined outcome and birds warning of predators another.  This shows that the overall success may not be bestowed on the individual or be intuitive.




But if a behavior does not benefit, or even harms an individual, how can this gene / phenotype be passed on?


He suggests that phonotypic variation, hereditability and fitness can exist at the group level. 


This has two limits we need to consider:  1) Just because groups can evolve into adaptive units, doesn’t mean they do. 


9 – If we wish to demonstrate that it happens, we must demonstrate that the between group selection benefit outweighs the within group costs.


2) Even when groups do evolve into adaptive units, they are often hostile and not moral.    “Group selection does not eliminate conflict, but rather elevates it up the biological hierarchy.”


10 - We will often see in group morality and out group hostility.


An alternative hypothesis is that religion benefits some at the expense of others.  It is a sort of parasitism.  And, many nonfunctional explanations exist.




Group selection is a process that can occur, but which also must contend against forces that pull in the other direction.  In the 1960s the consensus was that group selection was such a weak force it could be ignored.


12 – Society was said to be just what animals did to each other in the course of maximizing their own fitness.




13 – 1) we must identify the relevant groups:  2) we must compare the fitness of individuals within groups: 3) we must compare the fitness of groups in the total population: 4) we must combine these effects to deternine the net result of what evolves.




15 – If birds eat too little, they don’t leave offspring, but if they are gluttonous, they will collectively eat all their food up and die. 


He coined the term “trait – Group” to emphasize the intimate relationshiop between trait and groups in multilevel selection theory.  My bowling group is the people with whom I bowl.  Study group, those with whom I study.   Platoon and nation are  overlapping.


16 – If we always meet in pairs, that is the appropriate group level to study. If we meet in 10s, that is the group. 


17 – Remember, we do not want to return to the days when it was automatically assumed groups were functional adaptive units. 




Groups are adaptive only with respect to one or a few traits.  “Organismic” can be redefined s “adaptive t the group level.”


Among other wasys, evolution takes place by social groups becoming so functionally integrated tht they become higher-level organisms in their own right.

Lynn Margulis found eukaryotic cells – the nucleated cells of all organisms other than bacteria – are actually symbiotic communities.


And it seems “likely that similar transitions, from groups of organisms to groups as organisms have occurred throughout the history of life, right down to the origin of life itself as social groups of cooperating molecular reactions.”


18 – A bacterial cell can be regarded as a social group of genesthat coordinate their activities for their collective benefit.

Yet it can be exploited by genes that are selfish and only out for their own benefit at the expense of others.   They beat ‘solid citizen genes.’


He is not, btw, using the ‘selfish gene’ in a Dawkins way here. 


Those who wished to understand social behavior needed to understand genes. Now it is also the other way around.


Group selection must be strong if it counters individual gene propagation. Yet, and also, the free loader problem can be solved by linking the genes together – chromosomes do this.


19 – In humans social control does this.  In genetic parlance they use some very human sounding terms: ‘sheriff genes’ ‘parliaments’ of genes, ‘rules of fairness.’    It looks like social contract enforced by punishment.


Birds that don’t send out warning signals, when attack is coming, get severely punished.


Social control is ‘low – cost’ altruism that promotes behaviors that which would otherwise by ‘high – cost’ for individuals.  So, there is an ‘amplification of altruism.’


20 – Groups are what thousands of species do.  In social insects, they are so thoroughly integrated that the group itself seems to form a distinct organism.




Multilevel selection theory (MST) makes it appear more likely that ancestral human groups were potent units of selection.


21 - Hunter gatherers are remarkably egalitarian.  While not 100% for gathered items, hunted items are shared equally.


This egalitarianism extends beyond food to social relationships.


Chris Boehm has found this egalitarianism is enforced by ‘reverse dominance.’   


22 – Across groups, ‘right’ coincides with group welfare and ‘wrong’ with self-serving acts.


“The concept of human groups as moral communities shows how much has been missed by kin selection theory.”  The tit for tat also misses how big communities are.  It also challenges reciprocal altruism for the same reason.


Now, for example, we hear about the Chewong tribe of the Malay. 


23 – They are governed by fear of having an unsatisfied urgent desire. 


24 – Any misfortune is evidence of previous wrong doing.  


25 – Their system is loco but has very practical results.  It creates food sharing.   We don’t want to say it is rational, but we don’t want to say it is only religious either – it organizes economy.




We need to reconcile that moral systems require innate psychological mechanisms and they can evolve rapidly by cultural evolution.


26 – Tooby and Cosmides influences that the mind is made of modules. 


Our moral modules deal with forces that make social morality and groups work.  These include: conformity, (Boyd and Richerson) docility, (Simon) detection of cheating, (Toob and Cosm) punishment of cheating, (Boyd and Richer) symbolic thought, (Deacon) and explicit consensus decision making (Boehm).


27 – The Robber’s Cave experiment by Sherif in 1961 is used of proof that groups form naturally. It showed punishment was the main mechanism in group formation.


Social dilemma experiments confirm this. (Ostrom et al). 




28 – The 2nd basic fact is moral systems include an open-ended cultural dimension in addition to the innate components.


29 – Wilson criticizes Buss’ Evolutionary Psych text as only one page is devoted to learning and 7 to development and 7 to culture.  This is not Tooby and Cosmides’ hated “Standard Social Sciences Model.”  But, it isn’t entirely better.


30 – Over and over this text says look at a human individual feature and imagine it in nature and how it would help adapting.


The algorithm isn’t wrong, it is just partial, seeming to exclude learning, development, culture and other open ended processes.


The immune system is a model open ended learning process.  It mutates until it finds a way to fight the antigen.  Then it multiplies the solution.


31 – These are called Darwin machines.


Cultural evolution can be seen in part as a Darwin Machine in action, managed and yet open ended. Rapidly generating and selecting symbolic representations inside the head. 


32 – Here are four major insights into the ‘familiar’ process of cultural evolution. 


1st – Rather than just trial and error, we have mechanisms that evolved.


2nd – Many mechanisms guiding it take place below the conscious level. 


3rd – These mechanisms are spread across many folks – and folks can disobey it, individually.   This is multilevel – like the brain and the neuron.


33 – This is not sci fi, to function a colony must make decisions by the hour about which flower patch to visit and why.   The bees are more like neurons than decision making agents in their own right.


34 – Even the architecture of the hive – its location and dimentions and . . – play a role in the decision making.


4th – Evolution takes place largely at the group level.  Cultural evolution is not just merely a handmaiden of genetic evolution but changes the parameters of the evolutionary process, favoring traits that would not evolve by genetic drift alone.


35 – Advantageous genetic mutations would happen at the expense of others.  And, it would be most important in a small group.  It would have a very low frequency if it were a mutation. 

Cultural mutations spread in big groups. 




36 – Superficially large-scale human groups seem less egalitarian than hunter gatherer groups.


Groups must become differentiated as they group in size.  Specialization happens. 


Is there domination or is this cooperation?   Especially in competition with other societies.  Size itself is a group adaptation.


37 – Two more issues need to be discussed: 1) We must take a closer look at the ‘concept of fitness.’ And 2, we must ask why morality is so often expressed in the form of religion, which seems so different from other modes of thought.




38 – Fitness is a relative concept.  It doesn’t matter how well the organism survives and reproduces.  It matters how much it does so in ratio to alternative types of organisms.


These are not moral systems.  That is not to say that religion hasn’t done horror.


39 – Fitness is not only relative, but local too.   The foot and inches system persists due to the majority effect.


This involves inheritance.  Genes can be inherited with good and bad effects.  Sicle cell. 


Also, modes of transmission must be considered.  All cytoplasm’s in males is doomed because it does not enter the male’s sperm. 


This is not without complications. 


40 – Also the process and the product are different.  The process of natural selection involves many failures and the product is adaptation. 


Religions are often concerned with the necessities of life. 




Why can’t people do right and wrong without supernatural. 


41 – Religion catches the attention of scientists in part, because it flaunts the canons of scientific thought. 


One perspective sees them as just lame theories to understand the world  But, even the most primitive understands the basics of the physical world. 


Even massively insane thoughts can be adaptive if they lead to adaptive behavior.


42 – As emotions are older cognitive processes, we’d expect to find them at the center of group morality. Joy linked to right and fear to wrong, , anger with transgressions is what we’d expect and find.  We might expect stories, music, and rituals to be as important as logical arguments. 


43 – And we see the Mbuti tribe doing pro-social acts as to please the forrest.




Individual organisms have been folding into groups, into one larger organism for a long time.


44 – Morality can be seen as human’s move along that way.


Religion has been understood as a parasite and a helper.  Noses hold up glasses, but this is not their function.   One view says religion is an unfortunate spandrel coming from the fact that reflective consciousness means we can see our deaths.


45 – But a religion designed to allay the fear of death will be different than one that makes for a common good or is a parasite, with no benefit.


46 – When we study religion, as it is actually practiced, we see group selection contend with, and not always prevail against, other strong forces.  Rather than idealized, this study shows religion as an expression of what would evolve under group selection.






Sociologists have long studied religion.  Emile Durkheim, for example.


48 – There was a demise in functionalism and a demise in group selection.  We now have a more sophisticated multilevel selection.




Rodney Stark is a guy who now studies religion from the perspective of economics and rational choice theory – that is the idea that religion is a matter of bargaining for what you want from supernatural beings. 


49 – But Stark’s propositions ignore the fundamental problem of social life and the role of religion as its solution. 


Stark’s is a bit of a spandrel.  And, rational choice theorists always present functionalism as dead and justifiably so.


Let’s look at functionalism though.




He wrote “Forms of Religious Life” in 1912.   Prior to him people thought in terms of animism and naturalism. 


53 – Unlike Dawkins, Durkheim doubted something as pervasive and influential as religion could be so dysfunctional.  Humans live too close to the edge for silliness.


54 – Since religion is a poor map of the physical world, its utility must lie elsewhere.  Durkheim said religion organized social life.   


He thought social groups need to be represented by symbols comprehended by the human mind. 


Clans usually are controlled by totems, each of which have sacred objects connected to them. 


He also thought periodic gatherings need to happen to maintain the religion / group.  Rituals were emotionally intense so they gave force to group identity.




55 – Stark thinks Durkheim defined religion too broadly, that it should only refer to the supernatural .


56 – Evan=Pritchard is best known for his concept of segmentation: the organization of leaderless tribes into a nested hierarchy.  His 1956 look at the Nuer says it is similar to Judaism.  It is functional. 


57 – Like Job they thought they were tested, but if they persisted in right, rewards would happen.


58 – When one suffers they all suffer.  They are either all at war or all at peace.  They have resentment  ceremonies where they let go of their grudges. 


59 – Nuers did not logically analyze their religion.


60 – Leopard skin priests try to facilitate dispute resolution. 


61 – Evan-Pritchard looked at communitas and structure. 


62 – They humiliate potential leaders to take them down a notch. After the abuse, they can be followed. 


65 – When and why was functionalism rejected?  It’s complicated.




66 – The idea that the whole is somehow more than the sum of its parts is one of the most common ideas associated with functionalism. 


67 -  This got challenged by methodological individualism. 


Fruit flies getting wings due to genes is proximate cause.  But, the ultimate level is it aids in survival.   We get many similar solutions (proximate) to survival (ultimate). 


Shells are made of different materials. 


So, physical make-up is malleable clay to be sculpted by selection.


68 - The proximate never overrides the ultimate.




69 – Salt and water have no purpose. 


Functionalism documents complex interactions.    But, Wilson thinks herein functionalism casts the net too widely.  Not all is functional.  Dysfunction can be complex too.



There is nothing wrong with saying the heart pumps to circulate blood.  As long as there was selection that led to that.  But, functionalism sees reasons for everything.




70 – This dig refers to Rudyard Kipling.  Evans – Pritchard used it against Durkheim.  Proximate and ultimate causes do not substitute for each other. 


Indeed, discrepancies between adjustment predictions and what we see often lead to non-adaptive functions that would have been missed otherwise.


71 – Guppies are adapted to particular sides of a waterfall. We must get the proper grouping. 


72 - If we transplant the guppies they take on the appropriate characteristics. This is not a just-so story. 


73 – Rather than complain about the diffiulty of proving functionalist hypothesis, we need to roll up our sleeves and use our proven tools.




Human behavior is often goal oriented.  The implements we use are goal oriented.  We get back into our house if we’re locked out.


74 – Plankton developed a spike when predators were around.  This happens via chemicals that happen when a predator is around.   This is a flexible genotype.  


Individual guppies don’t change colors, generations do. Many species, though, change color as individuals. 


75 – The most basic features of brains can be found in bacteria.  They integrate information in brief memory traces. 


Some firms were successful, but they did not know why.  We’re not always rational.


76 – In humans we want to know if function happens due to rational mental processes.   But, it often happens due to programming. 




Someone named Elster thinks practices always come from conscious thought, that is the proximate that always aims at the ultimate. 


77 – But Demasio has shown that animals are not as unconscious and we’re not all conscious.


Neurons work for their benefit, but also for us.  The more individuals work in a process, the less likely is the individual to understand all of it.


78 – Some cultural phenotypes just come from selection. The Neur and the Dinka had the same environment.  But the Nuer could field a larger fighting force.  As such, when anthropologists showed up, the Nuer were in the process of killing off the Dinka.    


This had to do with prideprice customs that influenced herd management practices.   The Dinka or the Nuer consciously meddled with their bridegroom system. 


79 – Why did the North win the war?  Putnam’s cultural variety in Italy.  Family patterns determine power.


Though the Mexican constitution is patterned after the US one, the results are very different. Conscious effort doesn’t control all. 




81 – Rational choice theory doesn’t often get tested and where it does, it doesn’t fare well. 


82 – Were the bizarre customs consciously invented by rational actors attempting to maximize their utility?


Durkheim said if a religious belief had no secular benefit, it would be abandoned.   He looked at religion as creating a boundary.  Boundary marking is not done consciously for ultimate adaptation. 




83 – Functionalism wasn’t falsified, it just went out of business.  Evolutionary biology and conscilience may give functionalism as second life. 


84 – But this will be done with a more sophisticated psychology.  Boehm puts thought into anthro – but it  was proximate, not meant to stop hierarchy for survival.


Selection at the individual and group level has come to a middle.  Neither are totally rational or conscious.  Cost benefit is part of what we do, but not all.  We’re figuring the patterns out.






How does religion unify a community?  Is it blind evolution, conscious intentional thought, cognitive processes that work below consciousness or all of the above?


87 – We need to begin with a detailed understanding of religious communities in relation to their environments. 


88 – IN this chapter we will try to understand a single religious community from an evolutionary perspective.




John Calvin (1509 – 64) was a young lawyer and theologian during the early days of the reformation.  He did not start as a radical thinker. He wanted to succeed as a religious scholar in the new humanist tradition, using Greek and Latin sources.


He was still not wanting to start a religion when he found refuge in the Swiss city of Basel in 1535. 


89 – He wrote a book, The Institutes of the Christian Religion.   When he got to Geneva in 1536, they had just kicked out the Catholics. 


90 – In the debate to stay Catholic or become reformed he took a leading role. 


He did not rule Geneva with an iron fist.  He did not even rule his own church with an iron fist.   He shared the status of pastor with several others, who made decisions on a consensual basis.


His big need was to unify the fractious city of Geneva. This put him in a funny relationship with the real government. 






91 - Calvinism is not the result of a single man.  It builds on the huge foundation of Judeo-Christian thought and tradition.


92 – We have to ask at how fine a level do we wish to look at Calvinism, just like the guppies. 


93 – He will ask how a person who learned and believed in Calvin’s catechism be motivated to behave?  What are the specific features that had this effect?




Calvin put equal emphasis on man’s relationship to God and his relationship to other men. 


94 – It did this though the theology did not frame itself as a method for creating a solid community.




You must obey your parents; obey magistrates; abandon self-will, no lewdness, etc. ,


95 – You don’t disobey a wicked ruler.  That is your punishment and chance to get better. 


Calvinism controls both the sheep and the Sheppard. 


96 – Calvinism sanctifies mundane professions.  Bakers are as holy as priests. 


The 10 commandments support organism. 


That seems obvious.  But, it is better to be obvious than be wrong.


97 – Language can be used for deception too.  Calvin recognizes this by making false testimony as bad as murder.  Forgiveness is highly dependent on repentance. 


Calvinism has no bargaining with God.  The church has taken over the role of maintaining social order.


98 – The factions prior to Calvin were cooperating internally but not with each other. 




If you ask a person to do something, they will likely ask ‘Why?’  There must be a reason.  


Consequences must be well known. 


2nd, the belief system must deal with cheating. 


3rd, it must be economical.  The beliefs must be easily learned and employed in the real world.


4th, a fictional belief system can be more motivating than a factual one. And fiction can put much higher punishments at lower costs. 


So we might actually expect fictitious systems to emerge. 


100 – They are to be judged by the behaviors they inspire, not their correspondence to reality.


We likely have a ‘motivational psychology’ this is beyond the use of father / mother in religious communities. 


The emotion of the true believer is not fear of God’s vengeance but joy at having been saved.


101 – Calvinism breaks your own will. It stops people from being unapologetic and clinging to their own agendas. 


Calvinism is a fortress designed to protect the belief system from experience.


102 – It does this by knowing the human intellect is puny next to Gods.  All afflictions have a purpose in God’s plan. 


Skeptics see this as irrational.  But, from an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense. 


Rather than Christ, a small group of pastors ruled the Church. 


103 – And the catechism is internalized. 


This becomes a ‘second nature.’  Exemplary behavior requires ‘purity of consciousness.’   This is encouraged via prayer – a treasure. 


104 – Calvin believed a war between God and the antichrist (the Pope) was coming. 


105 – In terms of social organization, scarcely a word of Calvin’s catechism is out of place. 




“Where there is no discipline and excommunication there is no Christian community.”


106 – Pastors had to have a stellar reputation.   And, they were carefully supervised. 


107 – The elders had oversight over everyone’s lives.


108 – Elders had to set a high standard of morality for the flock. 


There were escalating penalties for transgressions. 


109 – The system was highly resistant to exploitation.  Wealth had no influence. 


The burden of supporting the infrastructure of Geneva was very heavy.  Walls were needed.  There must have been a great temptation to cheat. 


110 – Charity was given on a case by case basis.


Cleaning plague victims was done by lottery.  Only Calvin was exempt from this lottery.  His successor put himself into the lottery.




111 – There was tight supervision.  Families were visited once a year to have their spiritual health checked.  Church attendance was required and gambling once could send wealthy men to prison. 


112 – There was a conflict over clothing. 


113 – Banishment, torture and execution were used. 


The church couldn’t do it so the civil government did execution.


114 – Calvin’s most infamous deed was getting someone executed for heresy. 


115 – Calvin was not  a paragon of virtue.  But, he did what multilevel would expect: social control within groups, conduct toward members of other groups. ‘conduct’?




Does the evolutionary perspective add anything to our understanding of Calvinism?




116 – There are many ways to be nonadaptively complex but only a few ways to be adaptively complex. 


If we look at a can opener and you say it is one and I ask how do you know? You are stymied.  It is self – evident. 


117 – Calvinism also seemed designed.  But, the Catholic church was corrupt and it was only one of several competing attempts to control Geneva.  It won.  Why?


118 – Does Calvinism benefit some within the group or all?  This is a test. 


119 – The results show group level benefits. 




Culturally evolved mechanisms are absolutely required for human society to hang together above the level of face-to-face groups. 


120 – Geneva elders supervised the area they knew well. 


There are major transitions in evolution. Social control mechanisms are one.


Tinkering builds new structures out of old parts.  Forgiveness and faith. 


121 – Calvin held to very irrational beliefs.  But, they motivate people to behave (manifest functions) and these depart from the adaptive consequences that sustain the beliefs (the latent functions). 


122 – The Protestant Reformation was a large number of social experiments with many failures for each success.




Rational thought is treated as the gold standard. 


123 – Calvinism seems gratifying from an evolutionary perspective.  Before Calvin there was discord in Geneva, despite the need for people to pull together and a strong civic government. 


Calvin was so successful that the city became successful and powerful out of proportion to its size. 





PAGE 125


Sometimes, unless you have the theory, it is hard to understand facts. Then when you have the understanding it is obvious.  This happened to Darwin because he did not understand glaciations.


126 – First he will give evidence of what Durkheim called the secular utility of religion.  Then, he will say what his initial random sampling from 25 religions has shown in terms of utility.




Small temples are placed where irrigation systems intersect. They regulate sharing. 


128 – Marx and colonial rulers thought a strong central government was needed for coordination.  But, each irrigation intersection has its own deity.  They are worshipped locally. 


129 - The Dutch could not improve, but only tax it. 


130 – The World Development Bank’s secular attempt to modernize made it much worse. 


131 – Rational choice theory fails for Bali.  There is no deal for the afterlife. 




133 –


Durkheim was the son of a Rabbi. 


The Jews were told to be fruitful and multiply.  And, they were provided with one set of instruction for within the tribe and another for without.


134 – Do not kill is internal. 


135 – Most linguistic groups reserve the word ‘human’ for themselves.   This isn’t hypocritical, it works.  Such systems don’t exist to be moral.


Judaism existed before the advent of Christianity and Islam, which grew by conversion. 


136 – Converts ranked below illegitimates. 




This is sensitive because people get called anti-Semites.


139 – But we must now why us v. them mentalities are taken.


There are three reasons to suspect Jews had tight communities during the Diaspora .  1) They are not to intermarry.  2) The degree of genetic relatedness within the community reinforces loyalty.  Kin selection can add to social norms. 


140 – 3) involves group level selection.  There were many Jewish groups.  Those who failed to exhibit solidarity disappeared. 


Persecution, in this way, reinforced solidarity. 


Thomas Sowell says even when the Jews lived in slums, they had less alcoholism and homicide, etc.


141 – The Jews are somewhat commanded to use their cooperation as a weapon against other groups.


They adopted an instrumental attitude towards members of other groups.


As such, periods of prosperity were bound to be balanced by catastrophic resentment and oppression.


142 – A common patter was for Jews to form an alliance with one gentile segment of the host nation to exploit another. 


143 – Ashkenazi were not allowed to underbid other Jews. 


Multi selection theory provides a panoramic view of this segregated religion, how it harnessed cooperation, including admirable in group behaviors and competitive behavior towards outside groups, with exploitation on all sides.


This is not to justify anti-Semitism.  The Jews are not moral agents in their own right.  They carry out a program. 




144 – This also fits in with ‘Identity theory,” which explains the Nazi’s ability to do horrors.  This is unsettling to think about.  Because it normalizes us / them thinking.  And, it normalizes moral hypocrisy with in and out groups. 


We end with a review of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “The Slave” (1962).  It is about a Jew who is humiliated by outsiders.  He falls in love with his Master’s daughter, Wanda.  He leaves to go back to his village and finds it massacred.  But the commerce remains in the hand of the Jews. They also did import / export. They did so many other trades.”


147 - Jacob enters village and takes on a role, but he cannot believe in God. He left Wanda because she could not be Jewish.  But he marries her, and the village is the intermediary between the government and the peasants, both of whom it exploits.




148 - The Gospels aim at different audiences, which fulfills Christianity’s spread.  This is a theory by “Rodney Stark” (1996)


The growth rate of the Catholic Church is steadily 40% per decade.  This is not unusual, it explains Mormon’s growth.


Much of this growth rate happens via pre-existing social ties.  They new religion preserves rather than challenges old social ties.  People are more likely to convert if people they know have.


149 – Christianity spread exactly where there was a higher concentration of synagogues.


150 – And Roman cities belonged to groups that hated each other.


151 – Like a biological cell, Christian identity put a membrane around a new group.  A ‘culturally defined membrane that allows highly organized self-sustaining social interactions to take place within the group amidst a larger world of chaos.”


Those on the inside helped each other, but they were also supposed to overhaul their behavior.  These were adaptive behaviors.


Rather than Rome’s female infanticide, leading to 131 boys per 100 girls.


Such behavior is family adaptive in patriarchy, but disastrous for the whole society.

152 – The overabundance of males lead to increased homosexuality and non reproductive sex.  Caesar made laws to encourage families to no avail.


Christianity encouraged respect for women and families and fidelity, with no abortion or infanticide. 


Women found this attractive.  And, Paul referred to women having power, one being a deaconess.


In later years, the Catholic church changed the wording to more sexist roles for women.


153 – And during a plague, Christian charity helped people live. 


154 – It was a mini welfare state in a world without social services.


155 – Tombstones suggest Christians lived longer. 


It is not simply a bargain for the afterlife.  Many religions don’t even have an afterlife, (Jews). 


156 – Religions that survive must have some utility, no matter how good the afterlife looks.


Spread requires social coordination, altruism.


Marriage with pagans may have been encouraged in the early Christian church.




There is a list of religions, that he randomly searched for 25 religions, they are checking for adaptability. 


159 - Durkheim’s view of functionality will be confirmed. It is early.


160 – Now we see the obvious.






PAGE 161


Darwin was criticized for using diverse streams of evidence to support evolution.




162 – Do hooked up religious folk do better than stray individuals?  Those who argue religion is a parasite need to show harm.


The costs of religion are conspicuous so it seems parasitic.


There is altruisms here: usually defined as sacrifice, but this is within the church. 


163 – Churches weed out free-riders by making involvement costly.  Stricter churches are growing faster. 


Surveys have found the strictness of churches stay ranked the same across 16 years.  And sociologists have the 4 levels. 


Household income levels decline with strictness. Liberal churches have the riches folks. 


164 – Strict churches have people donate more.  But, he rejects the idea that the benefit is purely psychological, so beware of scholars that focus on this alone.  The survey about income, etc, does not talk about benefits such as help in times of trouble.




This section looks at a Korean church in Houston, Texas.  It provides new immigrants tremendous services and contacts.


166 – Psychic benefits of having a network in a new land are also certainly important. 


167 – To this end many people have official roles in the church.  Cell groups know who did not attend and contact them.


168 – The Korean church is not strict, it doesn’t have to be: attendees largely have no other options.


169 – Rather than people so successful, they didn’t need to join, we must compare the Korean church attendees to ghosts of themselves had they not attended.




170 – In proximate terms, the individual joins the group because of warm fuzzy, soft feelings. But, in ultimate terms, only because survival is enhanced.


171 – Biologists marvel at the variety of shaped natural selection has made.  We need the same awe towards behavior. 




We can measure behavior more than feelings.   And no species is perfectly adapted and why do we have maladaptive traits?


Well, we are neither 100% adaptive or non-adaptive.   But, often the behaviors were adaptive before.


172 – People never say, “I wanna enhance my fitness.”  But, they want sex, not babies.  Craving when it does lead to a helpful behavior is no less real when it fails to.  The desire is there for a reason.




Adaptionists study religion with prediction and production. 


173 – Predictions are about ultimate mechanisms.  When predictions fail we look for the cause of the nonadaptive behavior, such as perhaps benefiting the group, not you individually.  But, it is the means of success.


Production is about proximate causes.


174 – Rational choice theory is only proximate.  It tells us about thinking.  But, it doesn’t show us how people really think.  Emotions lead rational thought.


175 – What are the proximate mechanisms that enable religious groups to work?   One Durkheim suggested was the loss of self.


176 – Religion is selflessness with strings attached.


Serving a perfect god is more motivating than serving ones neighbor. 


The modernist program is very multi! 


177 - Rational, yes, but children are socialized into belief early and free-riders are excluded via norms.




In studying religion, as biologists, we must restrict ourselves to studying at the right level.  For example, the tadpoles. 


We need to separate congregations, and not be too broad about ‘religion.’


178 – People in the Korean church had more nonkin ties.  But, people should focus on evolutionary outcomes, material benefits.


179 – One Stark study looked at religion in Oregon.  That is too big.


180 – The biggest prediction is pro-sociality within a religion. AA tells people that self-interest is the root of their problem. 


Conservative Protestants abuse alcohol much less than Catholics, who (181) never bothered with Prohibition in the 1920s.  But this is difficult because of aggregation of unlike groups together. 




Why sects?  Hypothesis 1: group benefit.


182 – The churches of today were the sects and cults of yesterday.   Churches grow sects as they try to expand, but not on purpose.


183 – rational choice theory tells us that as people get wealthier, they’d drop out of church.  The church would vie for weak membership to keep people interested.


Hypothesis 2 is that when a church gets rich, some members don’t share we get a hierarchy, and a rebellion and a sect, purifiers.


185 – Larger groups also have more trouble policing their members. 


Hypothesis 3: Religion is big among poor people, cause they need something to live for.  


186 - The rich and poor will not be comfortable praying together.


187 – These are testable hypothesis.  He suspects a combination of Churches is needed to fit a variety of needs.




They predict hypothesis 1 and 2, rational choice more 3 and 4.  The evidence so far provides support via the group.  The lifecycle supports this too.


188 – This is a better framework than rational choice, though rational choice is not all bad.  We need more evidence, but the evidence fits the adaptive model.







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Organisms do ‘if-then’ rules, not ‘do x’. 




There is Tit for tat.


191 – Tit for Tat doesn’t advantage anybody, unless we consider these individuals within groups.


Forgiveness becomes a biologically adaptive tool.  It is linked with retaliation. 


192 – there are several forgiveness modes that work. 


But this doesn’t take reputation or group dynamics into account. 


193 – The most important conclusions herein are:


Evolutionary psychology models

1) explain social behavior purely in terms of reproductive success. 

2) They begin at a very simple level. 

3)  The most fit rules for social behavior are altruistic, not so selfish as evo-psych predicts,

4) the most productive forms of altruism are guarded by the capacity to retaliate and

5) as we carefully develop these models, adding complications one by one, a profile traits emerges that includes niceness, retaliation, forgiveness, contrition, generosity, commitment, altruism, self-destruction and revenge.


Even guppies have such emotions as they associate with altruistic partners. 


194 – Sometimes we value forgiveness and not retaliation, but both are needed to keep the wolves at bay.  From an evolutionary perspective both are necessary.




We can predict the behavior of organisms based on the imperative of survival.  But these come via proximate mechanisms, emotions.  See Descartes’ Error.  The emotions work as proximate mechanisms for ultimate adaptive ends.


195 - Alliances between former enemies or post-cheating, may be a form of forgiveness and be adaptive.   But, from the adaptive standpoint, there should only be forgiveness when there is a change in the person or situation.




Boehm said it is hard to find descriptions of forgiveness in hunter-gatherer societies.  It happens so naturally that it isn’t noticed. 


196 – 198 a description of the Mbuti (formerly called Pygmies) in which a person commits incest is attacked and then forgiven. 



Emotions came out and forgiveness happened.  This is a small group dynamic. 


It is not that our society is natural or theirs is, we just require different cultures to make our societies hang together. 


199 – When human societies because larger than hunter gatherers, forgiveness became culturally elaborated. 


The Nuer have egalitarianism enforced with violence.  You must defend your honor.  But, this is countered by the leopard skin chief who does conflict resolution.


200 – This is within groups.  But, if the perpetrator is from another group, cattle must be received or violence inflicted and still there is no forgiveness. 


The leopard-skin priest works because the office is respected.


202 – As per an example, even Christianity can adopt itself to many cultural modes. 


Feuding is a part of the moral order.  


203 – And, as pathological as it may seem, deaths from feuding in the Balkans are much less than our auto fatalities.


204 – A church cannot become a prison easily, so it might not be possible to turn a feuding society into a democracy, no matter how much it would benefit (Putnam). 


The larger human groups become, the more culture is required to channel the emotional outpourings of our innate psychology.  Forgiveness is the example of this.




205 – To understand Christian forgiveness we must understand it’s ‘if-then’ algorithms. 


The early Church was constantly in danger of corruption.  Therefore there were constant efforts to purify the church. 


206 – People were against Hellenizing Jews. 


People left the main body of Judaism to start sects of their own.  The Essenes were one, Christianity was another.  His diatribes against Jewish priests and the temple lending were episodes of this.


You had to not only be a Jew, but uphold the laws for some.  Then you didn’t need to be a Jew to be chosen.


207 – Jesus and his folks may never have anticipated how big it would get.  But, to survive and prosper, the early Christian Church must have provided mechanisms for isolating its members from the outside world, for orchestrating their behavior at each other and outsiders. 

The four gospels are aimed at different targets.  They show different outsiders.  All four, according to Pagels, function as how – to manuals enabling local congregations to function as adaptive units. 


208 – First you must define and isolate the group. Jesus required total commitment, eclipsing  one’s prior religion and family. 


Upon the nobleman who goes away parable, the bad, disloyal servant gets death. 


Fighting for a cosmic battle is very motivating.  All is between God and Satan. 


209 – They were not philosophers, they were in a struggle with Satan. 


Seeing Christians die with composure caused people to become Christians.  The Christians torn by wild beasts did not forgive their adversaries, but stood up to them.  They called them Satan. There is nothing forgiving here.


210 – An adaptive religion that is not serving an already established group needs converts. The egalitarian message did this.  Even rich people cherished this notion. 


And, though past sins were forgiven, you could not persist then in your old ways.  You needed to be transformed. 


211 – Church members were expected to do altruism towards the in group as Jesus said.  You should not betray like Judas or wilt like Peter.   Judas is not forgiven.   Peter is forgiven, but only after repenting.


212 – Paul said, “Cast the wicked person from among you.”  But, even bad sins could be forgiven with proper contrition. It wasn’t you but evil spirits that inhabit you. 


So the gospels had code for creating and isolating the church and instructions on how to behave towards in and out folk.


For early Christians, the Jews were the main competing group. So they look bad, not Rome. 


So Pilate was known to be cruel, but the Gospels make him look innocent.  He is weak and caves to the Jews. 


213 – Mark is written first and blames the Jews.   For Matthew, 20 years later, the Pharisees are attacked.


Luke wrote for a gentile audience after the Church had gotten a little larger.   So, Romans are made to look extra-innocent.


214 – Jesus’ distinguished pedigree gets created with Matthew.  Then we get the story of the flight to Egypt, etc. 


The self-discovery gospel of Thomas got purged.




215 – Even in individual organisms, we’re kind of jerry rigged.  The Church had a rube Goldberg feel to it. 


For one, they freely altered their story.    In one gospel Jesus is successful in his hometown, in another . . .


216 – And the gospels may have predisposed Christians to hate Jews longer than was adaptive. 




Forgiveness is widely distributed in the animal kingdome and doesn’t take much brain power. 


When societies get large, we get conflict resolution devices.  And, these institutions tend to be religious.  They get power from being sacred.


217 – Herein is a satisfying account of Christian forgiveness that works in a variety of contexts. 


How can they preach forgiveness and be so judgmental?   It is not stupid, it is adaptive.


Thus we respect it, but the exalted view must be tempered too.  Aggression works but is bad too.


218 – Just as Christianity promises, such a framework may be a part of the vastly better future.  Cultural evolution is not done.




PAGE 219


If we end with common sense, at least we have some insights. 


1)   Our study of culture can be thoroughly tied to evolution.

2)   Much of it takes place at the group level.

3)   Human nature gets seen as something that evolves.  Genetics evolve slowly, but not culture.




220 - The word religion comes from Latin, ‘religio’ which means to bind or unite.


But political organizations, businesses, the military and other groups unite people too.  We need to distinguish religion, but also look for common unifying systems.




221 – What is a religion?  Patriotic people regard their flag as sacred.  Is that religion?  But, if we’re only supernatural, we exclude Buddhism – he says. 


Fuzziness is the degree to which a set can be distinguished from others.  Democracy is not an all or none category. 


222 – He likes Durkheim’s definition of a moral community based on setting sacred things apart.  It’s functional!


Rather than cordon off religion, we should see its overlap with other systems. 




223 – Based on genetic variation alone, we should expect within group selection to prevail in most cases.  But, phenotypic variation in humans is much different and faster and so strong.


More than any other species we live in an environment of our own making.  We have made group selection strong.  


Morality is a central phenomenon in such group formation.  We need to research both morality and group formation in relation to evolution. 


224 – Hobbes’, Freud’s and the economist views of the origin of man have no basis in research.  They’re made up.    They however, play a central role in the belief systems they bolster. 


225 – We need bi-directionality in social systems, people and leaders control each other.   Religion is like other social systems, not apart.




226 – We’re the symbolic species Terrence Deacon said in 1998., 

He said this doesn’t require an especially large brain.  It does, though require arduous training. 


Symbolic thought may be an essential element of social behavior. 


How can symbols be incorporated into evolutionary theories of social behavior?  First  they must impact behavior and that behavior must impact survival.


227 – Here the sacred gets connected to symbols.  Sacred symbols organize the behavior of the people who regard them as sacred.  This is a workable start to integrating symbols and the sacred with evolution. 




One hallmark of religion is its otherworldly nature that to a nonbeliever seems detached from reality.


228 – But it is intimately connected to reality. 


And, it isn’t a sign of mental weakness, but a healthy functioning of the biologically and culturally well-adapted human mind.


And, like patriotic views of history, we all have our myths.


229 – The study of evolution is  largely the study of trade – offs.   And, perhaps what seems to be an adversarial relationship between believers and nonbelievers is a healthy balance between factual and practical realism.




230 – Science is, we think, uniquely committed to factual realism.


But, science is unnatural.  We are better at subordinating facts to practical realism than the reverse.  We cannot just look at facts with no connection to practical consequences. 


Science needs an effective structure that implements a spirit of communitas as much as any other human unifying system.  


231 – Science alone does not bind society effectively.  We need other values too. 




If you think you’re battling good and evil, just playing an economic role via your church is disappointing. 


But, we have a sense of beauty and social groups are beautiful. 


232 - Religion gives us a beautiful vision of a better life.  Just like a made airplane, religion is a beautiful mechanism.    


233 - We must appreciate it and guide ourselves with what we have.