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Is Religion an Evolutionary Adaptation?

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Abstract

Religious people talk about things that cannot be seen, stories that cannot be verified, and beings and forces beyond the ordinary. Perhaps their gods are truly at work, or perhaps in human nature there is an impulse to proclaim religious knowledge. If so, it would have to have arisen by natural selection. It is hard to imagine how natural selection could have produced such an impulse. There is a debate among evolutionary scientists about whether or not there is any adaptive advantage to religion at all (Bulbulia 2004a; Atran and Norenzayan 2004). Some believe that it has no adaptive value itself and that it is just a hodge podge of of behaviors that have evolved because they are adaptive in other non-religious contexts. The agent-based simulation described in this article shows that a central unifying feature of religion, a belief in an unverifiable world, could have evolved along side of verifiable knowledge. The simulation makes use of an agent-based communication model with two types of information: verifiable information (real information) about a real world and unverifiable information (unreal information) about about an imaginary world. It examines the conditions necessary for the communication of unreal information to evolved along side the communication of real information. It offers support for the theory that religion is an adaptive complex and it disputes the theory that religion is a byproduct of unrelated adaptive processes.

Suggested Citation

  • James Dow, 2008. "Is Religion an Evolutionary Adaptation?," Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, vol. 11(2), pages 1-2.
  • Handle: RePEc:jas:jasssj:2007-42-3
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    File URL: http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/11/2/2/2.pdf
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    Cited by:

    1. Ausloos, M. & Petroni, F., 2009. "Statistical dynamics of religion evolutions," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 388(20), pages 4438-4444.

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