How Some Major Components of Religion Could Have Evolved by Natural Selection?

Part of the The Frontiers Collection book series (FRONTCOLL)


Religion is a broad concept that is difficult to define, as each definition has exceptions. As a result, it is difficult to ask how religion as a whole could have evolved by natural selection . An alternative is to divide religion into its components – behavior, beliefs, values, moods, and feelings. One can then ask the same question of these components individually. However, there are problems. These components of religion are composed of forms and functions but only forms which have structure can be passed across generations in DNA and evolve directly by natural selection. Therefore, in order for a component of religion to evolve by natural selection it has to contain structural design features. The chapter therefore searches for structural design features in the various components of religion. As will be seen, this is easier to do for some components of religion than for others. However, in the end all the components of religion are accounted for. The chapter also addresses the level of selection from the individual to the group where natural selection could be acting. Finally, the chapter presents evidence for the counter-intuitive proposition that belief in God may have been what created many parts of the human mind – “gifts” as some would say.


Natural Selection Religious Belief Social Learning Cultural Adaptation Religious Behavior 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The author thanks Benjamin Abelow, Lisa A. Feierman, Tania Feierman, James Francis Doyle, Susan Solomon, Hiram Caton, William D. Perri, Lluis Oviedo, William Ulwelling, Sonny Williams, James Gray, Malcolm Dean, Tom Ellis, Dora Wang, Michael McGuire, an anonymous reviewer, and the editors of this volume for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this chapter. Any errors are the author’s alone.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry (retired)University of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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