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The Evolution of Religion

  • William Grassie

Abstract

We now turn to new evolutionary accounts of religion. As before, I invite you to look at the world and religion with new eyes, to suspend for a moment whatever religious or philosophical commitments you bring to this discussion. For the time being, we bracket the truth claims of religions and seek to understand only how religions function in human societies. To begin this review of the evolution of religion, we need to think in terms of human history and prehistory.

Keywords

Religious Belief Evolutionary Psychology Winning Strategy Reciprocal Altruism Selfish Gene 
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.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    McNeill and McNeill, The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003); Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997, 1999).Google Scholar
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  4. 3.
    In this discussion, I follow a similar overview presented by Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 1–50.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    See, for instance, John Cartwright, Evolution and Human Behavior: Darwinian Perspectives on Human Nature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000).Google Scholar
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    See Donald E. Brown, Human Universals (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991).Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    When traced on the male side through the Y-chromosome, our earliest common male ancestor appeared about sixty thousand years ago. When traced on the female side through mitochondrial DNA, our earliest common female ancestor would be about 140,000 years old. “Adam” and “Eve,” if we want to be playful, did not know each other, not in the biblical sense or otherwise; and they would not have been lonely, as there would have been lots of other human around in their respective tribes. For more information on our common ancestors, see Richard Dawkins, The Ancestors’ Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004).Google Scholar
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    Stanley H. Ambrose, “Late Pleistocene Human Population Bottlenecks, Volcanic Winter, and Differentiation of Modern Humans,” Journal of Human Evolution 34, no. 6 (1998): 623–51; Ambrose, “Volcanic Winter, and Differentiation of Modern Humans,” Bradshaw Foundation, http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/stanley_ambrose.php.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See William H. Durham, Coevolution: Genes, Culture, and Human Diversity (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992).Google Scholar
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    See Edward J. Larson, Summer of the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
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    See Edward O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975);Google Scholar
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    Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871). http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/2300.Google Scholar
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    Luke 10:29–37. See also Holmes Rolston, “The Good Samritan and His Genes,” Metanexus (1999), http://www.metanexus.net/Magazine/tabid/68/id/3021/Default.aspx.Google Scholar
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    Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976).Google Scholar
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    Paul Ekman, Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life (New York: Times Books, 2003).Google Scholar
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    See Pitrim A. Sorokin, The Ways and Power of Love: Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transformation (Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, [1954] 2002);Google Scholar
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    Daniel C. Dennett, “Review of Burkert’s Creation of the Sacred,”(1996), http://philpapers.org/rec/DENROB.Google Scholar
  25. 26.
    Two recent anthologies bring this literature and many of the scholars together in edited volumes. See Joseph Bulbulia et al., eds., The Evolution of Religion: Studies, Theories, & Critiques (Santa Margarita, CA: Collins Foundation Press, 2008).Google Scholar
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    Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
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    Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1998).Google Scholar
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    Ilkka Pyysiäinen and Veikko Anttonen, eds., Current Approaches in the Cognitive Science of Religion (New York: Continuum, 2002).Google Scholar
  32. 35.
    David Sloan Wilson, Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© William Grassie 2010

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  • William Grassie

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