Human Nature

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 382–409

Testing major evolutionary hypotheses about religion with a random sample


DOI: 10.1007/s12110-005-1016-1

Cite this article as:
Wilson, D.S. Hum Nat (2005) 16: 382. doi:10.1007/s12110-005-1016-1


Theories of religion that are supported with selected examples can be criticized for selection bias. This paper evaluates major evolutionary hypotheses about religion with a random sample of 35 religions drawn from a 16-volume encyclopedia of world religions. The results are supportive of the group-level adaptation hypothesis developed in Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society (Wilson 2002). Most religions in the sample have what Durkheim called secular utility. Their otherworldly elements can be largely understood as proximate mechanisms that motivate adaptive behaviors. Jainism, the religion in the sample that initially appeared most challenging to the group-level adaptation hypothesis, is highly supportive upon close examination. The results of the survey are preliminary and should be built upon by a multidisciplinary community as part of a field of evolutionary religious studies.

Key words

AdaptationEvolutionEvolutionary religious studiesGroup SelectionReligion

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Biology and AnthropologyBinghamton UniversityBinghamton