Did religion help give primitive civilisation certain moral values?

136


Discussion by: WezleyPetez

Hi all,

I'm pretty new to religion and I have just recently shed my religious blindfold. I have a question that probably has been answered countlessly before but I couldn't find the answer to it.

So my question is: Did mankind create religion so as to give people the notion that they are being constantly watch by a all supreme uber genius spy camera (god) of their every action, probably because a pre-religious society had no sense of gulit or morality when it came to things like stealing, killing and etc. 

Did let say a merchant who was constantly getting his goods stolen by theives create religion which would in turn tell these thieves that if they continue to steal they shall end up in eternal fire and miss the chance of going to heaven for an eternal life of luxury. So did religion sort of create a form of standardize morality in the past or during its early years? 

136 COMMENTS

  1. RD has written on this subject and he is not the only one to believe that our morals actually came about from family and group (tribe) altruism. It goes a little like this, if I want to be treated well I have a better chance of that happening if I treat others well and so on.

    I think you will find that religion gave people even less guilt when killing because they were doing it in the name of their god making it (in their minds) justified.

    And you only have to look at the news of today to see that religion has only worsened the killing.

  2. First of all, well done for shedding the blindfold and I hope your enjoying full vision!

    We know now that there’s an innate reason why humans are religious; our brains are hard wired to be superstitious, find patterns and deduce answers about our environment. Combine this wiring with a lack of knowledge and you’ll get a supernatural answer. Following this there will come a society that agree upon set of superstitions and supernatural philosophies and alas, religion is born.

    As for morals there’s a good evolutionary reason why a society would agree that good is good and bad is bad. I’d go as far as to say that some morals pre-seed homo sapiens… We also know that superstition isn’t exclusively human.

    For these reasons I think that moral values would have evolved along side a set of superstitions and supernatural philosophies, culminating in a religion with moral values and not the creation of any one guy.

    Advanced religions however, with agendas, leaders and religious dogma, may well have been created by a single guy in some cases. We can actually analyse the creation of a religion, to a certain extent at least, even though the concept itself is far from new. Mormons have come about in recent history by a guy we know exists and we can research. It doesn’t take much to see that his motives were not based on installing improved morals! I’d hazard a guess that it was the same for the person who coined the concept.

  3. probably because a pre-religious society had no sense of gulit or morality when it came to things like stealing, killing and etc.

    No man, even animals have an innate sense of morality, of what’s right or wrong. Morality is a natural result of living in groups, and the ability to apply rational thoughts.

    Among other things, religion is an attempt to codify moral impulses. Not all religions have the same moral codes, but they do contain some form of judgement, whether it is Gods, or your ancestors. Where the hand of the law or the tribe cannot reach you, the hand of God or the wrath of your Fathers will reach you!

    Morality is flexible, but the underlying threads are universal. How to live among a group, to keep yourself and your family safe, to not get ostracised, keeping good relations within the group, building a good circle of friends that you can depends on.

    Religion is born out of ignorance, and taps into those ideas. We don’t know, therefore God. And since he is so powerful, well, he’ll be there at the end to punish you if you don’t behave. And if you’re a good boy, he’ll take care of you.

    • In reply to #3 by papa lazaru:

      probably because a pre-religious society had no sense of gulit or morality when it came to things like stealing, killing and etc.

      No man, even animals have an innate sense of morality, of what’s right or wrong. Morality is a natural result of living in groups

      I think Richard Dawkins would disagree. From The Selfish Gene:

      “This brings me to the first point I want to make about what this book is not. I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave. … If you wish to extract a moral from it, read it as a warning. Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.”

      • In reply to #13 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #3 by papa lazaru:

        probably because a pre-religious society had no sense of gulit or morality when it came to things like stealing, killing and etc.

        No man, even animals have an innate sense of morality, of what’s right or wrong. Morality is a natural result of living in groups

        I think Richard Dawkins would disagree. From The Selfish Gene:
        >
        “This brings me to the first point I want to make about what this book is not. I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave. … If you wish to extract a moral from it, read it as a warning. Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.”

        I Think that this quote was Richard Dawkins attempt to assuage the fears of people who misread the metaphor of the selfish gene more than anything. The metaphor of the selfish gene actually helps us to understand where morality naturally derives from as in many places in the book Richard explains that, though the genes themselves can be thought of as selfish their selfish imperative to get themselves replicated through the generations, actually they produce behaviours such as kin altruism from which our sense of morality is derived.
        Jeffrey R. Baylis understood this when he wrote the following about the book:

        But what of the acts of apparent altruism found in nature – the bees who commit suicide when they sting to protect the hive, or the birds who risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk? Do they contravene the fundamental law of gene selfishness? By no means: Dawkins shows that the selfish gene is also the subtle gene.

        (My emphasis.)

        In reply to #12 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #1 by sbooder:

        RD has written on this subject and he is not the only one to believe that our morals actually came about from family and group (tribe) altruism.

        Really? Where did Dawkins say this?

        In the paragraph before Red Dog’s quote above Richard Dawkins even states this:

        This gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour. However, as we shall see, there are special circumstances in which a gene can achieve its own selfish goals best by
        fostering a limited form of altruism at the level of individual animals.
        ‘Special’ and ‘limited’ are important words in the last sentence. Much as we might wish to believe otherwise, universal love and the welfare of the species as a whole are concepts that simply do not make evolutionary sense.

        The key point to take from this is not that love and welfare of others is impossible from the selfish gene’s point of view but that it is not directed to the species as a whole. As always Richard is careful in distinguishing selection and apparent altruism in the individual towards other, most likely related, individuals (kin altruism) from the invalid concept of selection and altruism towards the species (group selection), as that, selection and altruism towards the species, from a selfish gene’s point of view simply dos not make evolutionary sense.

        Richard Dawkins also writes this about the possible misfiring of the selfish gene’s propensity to produce altruistic behaviour as being a potential origin for altruism towards more distantly related individuals and even other species:

        In a species whose members do not move around much, or whose members move around in small groups, the chances may be good that any random individual you come across is fairly close kin to you. In this case the rule ‘Be nice to any member of the species whom you meet’ could have positive survival value, in the sense that a gene predisposing its possessors to obey the rule might become more numerous in the gene pool. This may be why altruistic behaviour is so frequently reported in troops of monkeys and schools of whales. Whales and dolphins drown if they are not allowed to breathe air. Baby whales, and injured individuals who cannot swim to the surface have been seen to be rescued and held up by companions in the school. It is not known whether whales have ways of knowing who their close relatives are, but it is possible that it does not matter. It may be that the overall probability that a random member of the school is a relation is so high that the altruism is worth the cost. Incidentally, there is at least one well-authenticated story of a drowning human swimmer being rescued by a wild dolphin. This could be regarded as a misfiring of the rule for saving drowning members of the school. The rule’s ‘definition’ of a member of the school who is drowning might be something like: ‘A long thing thrashing about and choking near the surface.’

        So, I for one think that sbooder’s initial comment and papa lazaru’s comment are actually vindicated. :)

        Also the video that Reckless Monkey points to Richard Dawkins – Nice Guys Finish First – An Important Lesson For Our Species is a good response by Richard himself to those who only read the book “The Selfish Gene” by its title, misinterpret the phrase “survival of the fittest” and suggest that evolution is about “survival of the species”.

        • In reply to #25 by halucigenia:

          In reply to #13 by Red Dog:

          My point in replying was to refute the idea that “man, even animals have an innate sense of morality, of what’s right or wrong. Morality is a natural result of living in groups” I took this to mean that the commenter thought for morality all we need to do as humans is look at our natural instincts and follow those. I hear that said fairly often here by people who want to put down the idea (which almost no serious researcher working in the social sciences would dispute) that religion played a significant role in the development of human morality and that all we need to do is look to nature to understand what is right and wrong. That idea is so clearly wrong IMO its laughable and Dawkins clearly doesn’t believe it and neither does Harris. Dawkins states in The Selfish Gene that while Darwinism can explain some types of altruism (e.g. kin selection) it can not and should not be a basis for human morality. I think anyone who has the most basic understanding of evolution would know that but many of you are so fanatical to impugn religion with your every possible breath that you can’t stand any statement that implies it may have in some way played a role for the good (as well as the bad) in the development of humanity.

  4. I absolutely agree with the previous comments, (although I’m not too sure about other species being superstitious because that would imply we know they are capable of believing something to be true).

    I think seeing a connection between two events is an essential survival tool, (” that dung is fresh therefore a tiger is nearby”), but also leads us to some painfully faulty logic, (” I wore my yellow underpants when I survived the crash, therefore nothing bad can happen when I’m wearing them”).
    Another human trait which can be very useful in moderate amounts is a tendency towards OCD, because it can lead to much checking and making sure. However, it can all too easily escalate to a level where behaviour becomes ritual, (” I had the crash on a Wednesday, therefore I must wear them on Wednesdays, and keep them in the same drawer, and wash them on the previous Monday – just because that’s what I did on that day”).

    Now place yourself amongst a small group of undereducated and unsophisticated people, (journalists, for example, or perhaps evangelists), as they witness your amazing good fortune and hear how you are utterly convinced by the powers of your underwear, and how safe your rituals make you feel. I’m sure it wouldn’t take too long for some of them to start joining in, and begin to cite the Power of the Pants as the reason for the most commonplace piece of good fortune.

    When people don’t understand logic, and even less about mental health, it’s remarkably easy for simple human drives and behaviours to become codified into the obsessive group thinking that we call religion.

    • In reply to #4 by Dom 2061:

      I absolutely agree with the previous comments, (although I’m not too sure about other species being superstitious because that would imply we know they are capable of believing something to be true).

      Apologies! last comment intended for Dom 2061

      • Thanks for the link, Alistair, I vaguely remember remember seeing this when it was broadcast and it is a superb example of Pavlovian conditioning and how easily any creature can see cause and effect when there is none.

        The parallels with some humans’ inability to recognise coincidence are clear, I’m just not entirely sure that the pigeon’s “belief” that looking over its shoulder will provide seed is equivalent to a human belief system. It looks to me like a learned, (but mistaken), reward behaviour. That’s clearly how a human religion can begin but doesn’t necessarily mean that the pigeon is capable of belief. In reply to #9 by alistair.scott.71:

        In reply to #4 by Dom 2061:

        I absolutely agree with the previous comments, (although I’m not too sure about other species being superstitious because that would imply we know they are capable of believing something to be true).

        Apologies! last comment intended for Dom 2061

        • In reply to #29 by Dom 2061:

          Thanks for the link, Alistair, I vaguely remember remember seeing this when it was broadcast and it is a superb example of Pavlovian conditioning and how easily any creature can see cause and effect when there is none.

          The parallels with some humans’ inability to recognise coincidence are clear, I’…

          Hi there Dom

          I agree, I was using, perhaps misleadingly, the word belief in is most basic sense – that the bird thinks/believes a certain action causes the resulting reward.

    • In reply to #4 by Dom 2061:

      it’s remarkably easy for simple human drives and behaviours to become codified into the obsessive group thinking that we call religion.

      I fully agree.

      Our ability to learn from others has a downside – a susceptibility to bullshit. Early bullshit artists can be credited with the invention of religions, or innovations of existing religions, that benefited themselves.

      Religion did not create morality, it exploits it, like a parasite.

      • In reply to #21 by OHooligan:

        In reply to #4 by Dom 2061:

        Religion did not create morality, it exploits it, like a parasite.

        I quite agree.

        And replying Red Dog´s statement:

        They present overwhelming data from anthropology that in almost ever society we have ever studied religion and morals go hand in hand.

        I guess I could not deny there´s a strong relation between political and religious institution, but if you say religion and morals I don´t quite agree (never heard of that, did you ?)

        Considering that religion and politics almost joined hands as truth affirmation, but still in terms of functionalist thinking perhaps you could dare to think that even so, they are not quite the same institution or have the same exact function(s), otherwise a real theocracy wouldn´t be so rare?

        Anyway, thanks to the providence it stayed just somehow related historically, otherwise you´d be perhaps living in an Islamic world.

        (Of course I think that the correct mean of civilization needed to have a universal sense beyond each group peculiar culture, not to think that civilizing using force is not civilizing at all).

        There were also people sacrificed in name of “science” and just nearly 50 years ago. I have been reading about a Japanese doctor, Shiro Ishii (the Japonese Mengele), between 1936/1942 in Unit 731 in Manchuria where thousands of adults and children were used to test his experiments, and it was not a unique case that someone does unethical experiments in name of science.

    • I have heard that some animals demonstrate signs of superstition. I am sure that the “Yellow Underpants” theory is relevant as I have witnessed this sort of reasoning in extremely religious people. I invented my OWN religion for about 12 years, and it was very exciting ,but it eventually became so complex that it became unmanageable. To tell the truth I never knew that religious people existed until I was 32 years old. I had always thought that churches were a kind of social game. I went into a state of shock when I found out about religion, and I invented my own religion. That happened in 1996. Well now I am thoroughly atheist again. I would like to dispute that the brain is capable of producing a mind, but that would be too controversial. I honestly believe that the mind is a metaphysical part of the psyche. I don’t really have a mind anymore, It disappeared recently. I cannot formulate any thoughts in my head region. I just write and talk instinctively. Eight hours can pass without a single thought entering my head region. I live in peaceful silence, and I am happy to have no religion anymore. I believe that religion brings immorality in most cases. That is why I invented my OWN religion which was a sane religion based on self preservation and not on reliance on the Gods. However , now I can state that I am pretty sure that no Gods exist. The Universe has gargantuan intelligence sure. But it doesn’t need any Gods to display that intelligence. It can display it’s intelligence in a myriad of ways.

  5. Religions are parasites that encourage and exploit a society’s superstitions. For the clergy, claiming to know the mind of a fictitious entity is, above all, a way of making a living and garnering undeserved respect from much of the population. An important way for religions to justify their existence is to claim responsibility for the moral behavior of its followers, regardless of its ability to foster that behavior.

  6. Most scientists who study religion think that it was associated with helping humans define moral rules that encourage altruism across the species. The best example IMO is the book In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion by Scott Atran. Its not an easy book to read, its closer to a class text book for an anthropology class on religion than a popular book. Easier to read but with the same idea are The Evolution of God by Robert Wright and Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Dan Dennet.

    When you think of it there must be SOME evolutionary explanation for religion. It seems to exist in all cultures as far back as we go. And as Atran documents in his intro the evolutionary costs of religion to a primitive people are enormous: all religions require considerable amounts of precious time, energy, and resources in the form of rituals and sacrifices. If it didn’t provide anything in return it would be quite curios why it seemed to evolve with every culture we can find.

  7. It depends what you mean by morals. Liberal and conservative morals are rather different. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt ,convincingly in my view, argues (based on research) that whilst liberal moral values simply relate to concerns of harms and equality those of conservatives add three other concerns related to authority, loyalty and purity.

    The former it may be argued are those values that derive from the high kin selection effects in small groups and tribes. The latter three it is reasonable to consider as culturally evolving to facilitate the creation of much larger groups moving into agriculture with its requirements of a division of labour, protection, trade and organisational administration. Religion evolving from its possible early folk roots (probably old folk pretending to know stuff in exchange for some food) probably became the ideal cultural delivery system for these super tribes and their proto-cities. Supernatural authority for those who no longer saw the tribal chief on a daily basis, cohering ritual and punishment for those falling out of line and aggressive disdain for others outside the group are all identifiable benefits of religion.

    Religions nurtured these conservative moral attributes, “achieved their tasks” of creating city and then nation states, then by the time of the axial age philosophers from 600BC onwards ceased to have any beneficial use. The virtuous properties of moral conservatism can be abstracted from religion enshrined within cultural systems, studied intellectually, rather than emotionally, and be let to operate their very necessary corrections in the background of a thriving, creative and problem solving society.

    Haidt, makes a huge mistake, incidentally, in identifying these conservative morals as necessarily needing to be joined at the hip with religious belief. This is the typical mistake of old school social scientists thinking that what humans have done and been is what they should do and remain, on account of its “natural” status.

    I am persuaded that at the extremes people fall into these two distinct categories of moral pre-diposition, quite inaccessible to any substantial change, and that amount to personal values akin to wired-for-good aesthetic values. The liberal mindset being open/creative/risk taking, the conservative being closed/backward looking/risk averse. The former creates new social capital, and is literally progressive, the latter is literally conservative of social capital. The thing is both modes have their moments to shine. During a peaceful period of abundance, make progress! During periods of threat and shortage, conserve. Conservative leaders continual rally their troops with exaggerated claims of attack, liberal leaders reassure theirs with denials of attack. Religion now confounds our ability to see threats for what they are. It is 2600 years past its use before date.

  8. Did mankind create religion so as to give people the notion that they are being constantly watch by a all supreme uber genius spy camera (god) of their every action, probably because a pre-religious society had no sense of gulit or morality when it came to things like stealing, killing and etc.?

    I think you have it backwards. People have an inherent sense of morality, but were frustrated when victimized by other’s moral failures. The wish, desire, or belief that justice would eventually be served, is probably a strong factor leading to religion.

  9. ” because a pre-religious society had no sense of gulit or morality when it came to things like stealing, killing and etc. “

    Huh!!

    I think evolutionary processes that instilled an ultimate morality, against the backdrop of the immediate environment, might have predated your no sense of guilt or morality society by a few years!

    • In reply to #14 by Neodarwinian:

      ” because a pre-religious society had no sense of gulit or morality when it came to things like stealing, killing and etc. “

      Huh!!

      I think evolutionary processes that instilled an ultimate morality, against the backdrop of the immediate environment, might have predated your no sense of guilt or m…

      Pre-Religious society is an oxymoron. There are no documented cases I know of of an ancient society that didn’t have some type of religion. If anyone has an example please give it.

      • In reply to #15 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #14 by Neodarwinian:

        ” because a pre-religious society had no sense of gulit or morality when it came to things like stealing, killing and etc. “

        Huh!!

        I think evolutionary processes that instilled an ultimate morality, against the backdrop of the immediate environment, might have pr…

        The piraha people of brasil come closest but they do believe in spirits. Interesting bunch though, you should check them out. They come closest because there is no supreme spirit, gods or resulting dogma.

        • In reply to #16 by alistair.scott.71:

          In reply to #15 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #14 by Neodarwinian:

          The piraha people of brasil come closest but they do believe in spirits

          Thanks for the ref to the Piraha. I had never heard of them and you are right they are fascinating.

        • I said “Probably because…..” thats because I wasn’t sure and I based it off assumption. In any case I’m having a really good time really all of the discussions that have been posted here and it brings new light to me. Thanks all!
          In reply to #16 by alistair.scott.71:

          In reply to #15 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #14 by Neodarwinian:

          ” because a pre-religious society had no sense of gulit or morality when it came to things like stealing, killing and etc. “

          Huh!!

          I think evolutionary processes that instilled an ultimate morality, against the backdrop of the immedia…

      • In reply to #15 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #14 by Neodarwinian:

        ” because a pre-religious society had no sense of gulit or morality when it came to things like stealing, killing and etc. “

        Huh!!

        I think evolutionary processes that instilled an ultimate morality, against the backdrop of the immediate environment, might have pr…

        A. I said no guilt, no morality.

        B. How would you know that? I think they was a time before reliable documentation!

  10. I guess you are using terms and even concepts indiscriminately: what would a “primitive civilization” be like, what do you mean by pre-religious?
    Cotemporary “primitive” peoples that live in small groups, tribes, cannot be indistinctly called “civilization” (I think), but I am not sure (because of my ignorance), either how far considering “corruption” within a tribe life style makes any sense, actually it seems that rape is not well seen in Amazonian way of life, and stealing neither, sense they live a in a very communitarian way.
    Actually, perhaps you can call “primitive civilization” Amerindian ones, and actually I have Christopher Hitchens on my mind sense some of these peoples religious beliefs in supernatural made them kill a person each day to enable the sun to rise, so how could you possibly think that these “religious” beliefs gave them sense of fairness for instance (of morals)?

  11. I think we need to be mindful of the differing concepts applying to notions of like “theft” and “murder”. Some indigenous cultures do not share our thinking on private ownership of property for example. Murder itself is a very slippery term, and can be open to various interpretations even within the same cultural group. Attitudes to abortion or capital punishment can vary markedly.

    Roping these areas in with various superstitious practices to ensure good luck/ bountiful harvest etc are probably the early manifestations of a religion. From then on it just became a method of exerting power and control.

  12. I’m not familiar with any sort of evidence that would suggest that religion was created to teach morality. Archeology has found items in prehistoric burial sites which seem to represent some primitive belief in an afterlife. Ancient cultures normally had a supernatural legend to explain the creation of the world. I speculate that the foundations for religion are human imagination and the desire to explain the inexplicable phenomena.

    That ancient civilizations saw a connection or an opportunity between morality and religion I think it was more of a by-product of the fear of death or injury.

  13. No? Maybe? Sure? Why couldn’t concepts about how to relate to gods result in standards that transcend the ones we’ve got in place for ourselves and neighbors? Once that’s in place, why couldn’t bits of it filter down?

    I propose with some seriousness that when religiosity arose it became a desirable characteristic for social
    cohesion and control. Having any kind of systematic explanation for phenomena that were impossible to understand at the time was superior to none. Eventually, chiefs who can exercise some rationality to control the masses via religion beat ones who are just wacko. You don’t need or want everyone to be a chief so it’s a good idea to put your scientific, atheist, agnostic minds to good use…as general, ambassador, pyramid builder, and as scapegoats, jinxes, witches to throw in the bear pit for to appease the gods and entertain the populace. (Pretty much same as now.)

    For the masses, religiosity is a survival characteristic. Unless you qualify to go to the head of the class, you’ll live longer if you don’t have a stiff neck when it comes time to bow down before the sword of a god’s representative. The meek won’t inherit anything, but they may be present at the reading of the will.

    So, we have a propensity for religious belief because for thousands of years, not having it would have been existentially disadvantageous.

    • In reply to #24 by whiteraven:

      I propose with some seriousness that when religiosity arose it became a desirable characteristic for social cohesion and control.

      As can be seen in other social animals, where there is tribal or group warfare, any established pecking order for unified action is better than none, unless the common beliefs are utterly destructive.

      I have often noted this in relation to bureaucracies and legal systems. While experience and evidence based expert leadership, is the top option, if everyone is flapping around like headless chickens, arguing about whose decisions the group should be act upon, there comes a point where almost any decision is better than no decision. This is where individuals with fake expertise and the “confidence of ignorance” can become leaders on the basis of their sociopathic followings.

      Having any kind of systematic explanation for phenomena that were impossible to understand at the time was superior to none.

      It is the politics of group action. Where the inability to act is damaging or fatal, even false group confidence in a course of action provides a big power-base. Hence armies or crusades, following utter-nutters to what may be successful territorial take-overs with defeats of rival groups!

      We see this in shoaling fish, or herds of herbivores, where isolated individuals will be picked off by predators or lack alarm warnings from peers, if they do not go with the group.

      . . . . . and as scapegoats, jinxes, witches to throw in the bear pit for to appease the gods and entertain the populace. (Pretty much same as now.)

      For the masses, religiosity is a survival characteristic.

      The sheeple herd mentality is deeply ingrained in “followers”! – Especially in the less intelligent ones. Those with leadership skills and aspirations, are much more likely to victimised or expelled, by the dominant leaders they could displace.

  14. I agree with that religion and religious values arose and operated within social contexts. However, while Freud was far from always correct, I think he was onto something in proposing the projection of fears, hopes, fantasies etc onto an imagined being.

    Of course, those feelings might well arise in relation to others (parental figures etc), but Freud’s thesis suggests links both with innate human mentation (this may link to archetypes, without needing Jung’s mysticism) and thus irrational drives – ie, religion may not be explicable solely in terms of observations of behaviours and deductions as to motives.

    Admittedly I don’t have the details, or if this makes evolutionary sense, but I think a ‘reptilian brain’ has been suggested as concerning basic fear-avoidance/pleasure-craving drives and it seems that, as well as sex, eating and fighting, those drives literally from below the higher brain and reasoning, may underpin at least some religious phenomena – and incidentally may thus account for the strong resilience of belief to reason. However, it is possible for our ‘higher primate’ to overcome our ‘inner dinosaur’, so to speak – and I’m glad you’ve succeeded!

    • In reply to #26 by steve_hopker:

      I agree with that religion and religious values arose and operated within social contexts. However, while Freud was far from always correct, I think he was onto something in proposing the projection of fears, hopes, fantasies etc onto an imagined being.

      Of course, those feelings might well arise in…

      The time really has come to lay the bulk of Freud’s vocabulary and helpful guesses to one side. Rather than promote ideas of projection, I think it is now better to use ideas of analogous cognition as discussed by Hofstadter in the latest New Scientist. (This is available for the next eight days btw with a no cost sign up.)

      This fundamental building block of thinking at once explains our capacity to generate and use an idea like a non present super-dad and why it has little detrimental impact on our sense of what is strictly logical. Our brains, wired by Hebbian associations and forming Baysian statistical inferences in the heirarchical inference stacks, are only loosely logical. Analogy is the inevitable mode of such a system. A memetic power house.

      Projection suggests something to project onto. In brains capable of abstract thought we can analogise from our father, to fathers, to fathers of all living things and arrive at a reasonable abstract principle like fatherhood. Already in the realm of the nebulous the next step to a super-fatherhood is easy.

      Freud wanted to say our personal God was a projection of our personal father. This may be the case on occasions, but the concept of a superfatherhood (and therefore other peoples gods, for instance) was probably derived somehow else.

      • In reply to #31 by phil rimmer:
        ‘The time really has come to lay the bulk of Freud’s vocabulary and helpful guesses to one side. Rather than promote ideas of projection, I think it is now better to use ideas of analogous cognition as discussed by Hofstadter in the latest New Scientist.’

        I’m not a major fan of Freud, projection just seems to make some sense (unlike a lot of his stuff). I take your point about ‘projection’ implying there is something to project onto – I suppose Freud would suggest that was within the subconscious.

        I’ve read the Hofstader article: it seems reasonable though I’m not sure how inductive analogies are a new idea – I think few would suggest humans are that rational (which arguably cuts both ways ie atheists as well as theists?). But maybe I don’t understand the article.

        My main point was to suggest – rather vaguely I’d agree, that human minds might reflect human brains, indeed bodies, in retaining, re-using and perhaps adapting various old bits of kit left from evolution, such as the limbic system and especially the thalamic basal ganglia, associated with pain sensation and reward/punishment. Freud’s neurological background influenced his arguably very simplistic super ego/ego/id mind model, but all the same it seems highly likely that fully or partially unconscious processing goes on and that will include sub-cortical structures. Limbic circuits have, I think, thalamic and hippocampal / temporal lobe connections, the latter implicated in memory, so although speculative it is not too hard to imagine links between memory, emotion and perhaps the Hofstader analogy process (the temporal lobe also includes language functions).

        • In reply to #36 by steve_hopker:

          In reply to #31 by phil rimmer:

          Hofstadter is really plugging into the latest thinking and evidence about the neurological processes in how we make inferences. Analogies have long been recognised as part of our cognitive process. What Hofstadter is doing is really saying that that is what appears the bedrock of it not just some additional part of. We’re not finding Boolean bits in there at neurological levels. I posted the link rather than just refer to the article in the dead tree edition because of the little animation about mothers with which I could make a relevant analogy……

          I wasn’t seeking to counter your basic thoughts on the subject of our subjectivity in the matter, which are bang on. :)

          • In reply to #37 by phil rimmer:

            Hofstadter is really plugging into the latest thinking and evidence about the neurological processes in how we make inferences.

            Thanks, this is clearer. My neuroscience is a bit rusty (and never was up to much) but I recall ideas about an internal process that involved the temporal lobes, to identify internally as opposed to externally generated sensations – the hypothesis being that malfunctions of the system led to internal mental events being identified as external, eg voices. I wonder if that might be a remote cousin of the analogy process, comparing new, incoming stimuli with internal memories- or, perhaps, internal mental images of some kind.

            Less speculatively (on my behalf), a few years ago there were suggestions that mystic experiences, visions etc were internally generated, perhaps specifically temporal lobe phenomena and further suggestions that religious beliefs might be built around such experiences, personal or recounted – and probably elaborated and incorporated into pre-existing systems of belief. Certainly, temporal lobe epilepsy can produce a combination of visions, sounds, even smells and tastes, accompanied by an altered sense of self and one’s surroundings, which may be interpreted as supernatural.

          • In reply to #39 by steve_hopker:

            In reply to #37 by phil rimmer:

            Hofstadter is really plugging into the latest thinking and evidence about the neurological processes in how we make inferences.

            Thanks, this is clearer. My neuroscience is a bit rusty (and never was up to much) but I recall ideas about an internal process that invo…

            You might like Oliver Sacks latest book on hallucination. He makes the broad observation that hallucination seems to be a product of an understimulated brain. Its almost like the brain knows something should be happening here, but its not so it makes stuff up to fill the silence. Deafness brings on tinnitus. Blindness visions. Old people hallucinate far more than young people. Aging and schizophrenic brains loose a substantial part of their grey matter and become hallucinogenic. Typically schizophrenics loose access to their semantic memories (knowledge of how everyday stuff should be). They confabulate explanations for things when their learned explanation is no longer accessible to them.

            I’ve known a number of schizophrenics for many years. Most recently a white flowering plant was claimed by one to be miraculous because the soil it stood in was parched. It continued to flower because it was a succulent with waxy leaves and a good internal water supply, but that knowledge had disappeared from his screen as it were.

            Nearly everyone has a few periods like this in their lives. It is entirely credible that much religious experience might flow from such instances.

          • In reply to #43 by phil rimmer:
            ‘religious experience might flow from such instances’.

            The instance in your link (misinterpretation of a rainbow effect in a garden sprinkler (as indicating minerals salts from the ground!!) – seems to be one stemming from lack of knowledge and some degree of not thinking things through: as opposed to ‘pathological’ or at least highly unusual neurological events, ie the ‘sprinkler rainbow’ arguably has a cognitive rather than neurological substrate

            It certainly seems clear that (in effect) purely cognitive errors such as ignorance & weak reasoning can generate further errors that in turn become incorporated into belief: witness the backwards reasoning behind the Immaculate Conception, wherein that to redeem us from Original, that Adam (and Eve’s) sin, Christ ‘had’ to be sinless, so Mary as his mother also ‘had’ to be – and thus was born without sin – immaculately.

            Such unreasonable reasoning, pseudo-logic etc may well be a factor in not just the modern era of Jesuitical and other theologies, ie was surely present in ‘primitive’ times – we sacrificed a virgin last year to atone for our sins and the rains came: since someone’s bound to have sinned again, we’d better sacrifice again – etc.

  15. …so how could you possibly think that these “religious” beliefs gave them sense of fairness for instance (of morals)?

    and

    “I agree with that religion and religious values arose and operated within social contexts.”

    I guess sense of fairness is better represented by Law, or social practice that became law, and sometimes it is clearly distinct from religion, and some of it´s practice even preceded the middle ages, and survived despite the implementation of Christianity, (for instance according to older practice, not even the king could intervene in the decision of a family´s chief). Of course I can imagine that for some people the ten commandments as depicted in courts as a form of law is meaninful, but I would better prefer to celebrate the tradition of separation of it (humanist/positivist law), already a kind of humanist tradition that preceded Christianity and give law it´s human dimension, of social human practice and the sense of fairness itself, that even survived middle ages.

    • In reply to #28 by maria melo:

      …so how could you possibly think that these “religious” beliefs gave them sense of fairness for instance (of morals)?

      Because that is what the scientific data clearly show. Look at those three books I mentioned in one of my first comments. They present overwhelming data from anthropology that in almost ever society we have ever studied religion and morals go hand in hand. That the religious dogma defined codes of behavior and techniques for enforcing those codes. What is more if you look at human behavior from the standpoint of a biologist there is clearly a problem that needs explaining. Religion is incredibly expensive from the standpoint of evolution and primitive peoples. Atran documents the incredible things that people have done in the name of religion: sacrifice crops, sacrifice children, sacrifice part of your penis, sacrifice your blood,… If religion didn’t do SOMETHING good for mankind it is one of the most inexplicable mysteries of anthropology. Why wouldn’t a “cheater” society — one that simply didn’t bother with religion — evolve and dominate all the others? While all the other societies were wasting time sacrificing their crops, kids, blood, and flesh the non religions society could have been studying science and building better spears. That that didn’t happen, that in fact just the opposite happened, the societies that dominated tended to be the ones with some of the most ridiculous and expensive religious rituals says that religion quite likely played an essential role in establishing norms of justice and equality. Now the thing is I can say that and still believe that religion is a terrible institution that must and will be eventually replaced.

      Of course I can imagine that for some people the ten commandments as depicted in courts as a form of law is meaninful, but I would better prefer to celebrate the tradition of separation of it (humanist/positivist law),

      Just because I believe that religion played a significant role in helping us define the morality we have now doesn’t mean I think it is useful in the modern world as part of our moral much less legal world. I don’t. I see religion as playing a role somewhat like alchemy or astrology, it was a starting point but clearly wrong (for all the reasons Dawkins and other have so clearly stated). I just think its wrong to deny that the religion led to morality theory has a lot of support, even from New Atheists like Dan Dennet.

      • In reply to #30 by Red Dog:

        …that all we need to do is look to nature to understand what is right and wrong.

        Agreed, this is not all we need.

        But could you still agree that the roots of human morality (prior to religious failed attempts) could be due to genetic propensities to kin altruism and mythologies and society “inherited” this innate tendency and attempted to build upon it.

        In reply to #32 by Red Dog:

        I see religion as playing a role somewhat like alchemy or astrology, it was a starting point but clearly wrong (for all the reasons Dawkins and other have so clearly stated). I just think its wrong to deny that the religion led to morality theory has a lot of support, even from New Atheists like Dan Dennet.

        Well put. Religious attempts at morality could have certainly lead to what we now know as morality in the same way that alchemy or astrology lead to what we now know as chemistry and astronomy. I think that we actually agree somewhat.

        But this is a long way from the statements that you hear from the religious faction that claim that religion provides us with the only way to achieve “true” objective morality.

        • In reply to #34 by halucigenia:

          In reply to #30 by Red Dog:

          …that all we need to do is look to nature to understand what is right and wrong.

          Agreed, this is not all we need. But could you still agree that the roots of human morality (prior to religious failed attempts) could be due to genetic propensities to kin altruism and mythologies and society “inherited” this innate tendency and attempted to build upon it.

          But could you still agree that the roots of human morality (prior to religious failed attempts) could be due to genetic propensities to kin altruism and…

          I think that is an interesting question and one that there still isn’t a clear and complete answer to. I don’t think that Kin selection as we currently understand it can account for all altruistic behavior. Actually, that fact is something I think everyone from Dawkins to Wilson would agree on, that Kin selection doesn’t account for a lot of what humans consider morality. But if you are asking do I think there are principles, yet to be completely understood, that can be used to define and understand human morality without referring to religion (except as an example of a step along the way) then absolutely I think the answer to that is yes.

        • In reply to #34 by halucigenia:

          In reply to #30 by Red Dog:

          Agreed, this is not all we need.
          But could you still agree that the roots of human morality (prior to religious failed attempts) could be due to genetic propensities to kin altruism and mythologies and society “inherited” this innate tendency and attempted to build upon it.

          I think that is a very interesting question. I think its still an open scientific question how you can really best understand human altruism. Certainly understanding altruism requires understanding kin selection. But I think everyone from Dawkins to Wilson would agree that something besides kin selection is needed to completely understand human altruism. Humans make sacrifices that simply can’t be explained by kin selection and I think both Dawkins and Wilson would agree with that. Wilson would say the full answer is group selection.

          • In reply to #59 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #34 by halucigenia:

            In reply to #30 by Red Dog:

            Agreed, this is not all we need.
            But could you still agree that the roots of human morality (prior to religious failed attempts) could be due to genetic propensities to kin altruism and mythologies and society “inherited” this innate tend…

            Sigh!

            But I think everyone from Dawkins to Wilson would agree that something besides kin selection is needed to completely understand human altruism. “

            As usual, Robert Trivers is completely overlooked. I suggest you get a copy of his collected papers on social evolution and particularly the theory of reciprocal altruism.

          • In reply to #60 by Neodarwinian:

            In reply to #59 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #34 by halucigenia:

            In reply to #30 by Red Dog:

            Sigh! …
            As usual, Robert Trivers is completely overlooked. I suggest you get a copy of his collected papers on social evolution and particularly the theory of reciprocal altruism.

            Reciprocal altruism doesn’t explain everything either. For example, a soldier with no children who throws himself on a grenade with the intention to sacrifice his life for his fellow soldiers. Those kinds of acts do happen in real life and they can’t be explained by reciprocal altruism or kin selection (but Wilson’s theory of group selection would explain it — if it was correct which I don’t think it is). Regardless of what you think about Wilson’s latest theories no one that I’ve read thinks he was wrong to believe there is a problem in need of further explanation. Most people like Dawkins just think group selection is the wrong answer even though they don’t have a complete one themselves yet.

          • In reply to #64 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #60 by Neodarwinian:

            In reply to #59 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #34 by halucigenia:

            In reply to #30 by Red Dog:

            Sigh! …
            As usual, Robert Trivers is completely overlooked. I suggest you get a copy of his collected papers on social evolution and particularly the theory of reciprocal alt…

            You distribute any behavior, such as people giving blood to strangers, or soldiers falling on grenades, and you have those falling on grenade tails to your distribution. We don’t have an explanation yet? So? Do you have a credible one for many of the problems in evolutionary biology? Wilson and his cohorts want to develop a theory that explains everything, but ends up explaining nothing. I’ll wait and see but I won’t hold my breath for any facile explanations of these behaviors; group selection or otherwise.

          • In reply to #68 by Neodarwinian:

            In reply to #64 by Red Dog:

            You distribute any behavior, such as people giving blood to strangers, or soldiers falling on grenades, and you have those falling on grenade tails to your distribution.

            I’m not aware of any explanation using kin selection or reciprocal altruism that could explain a soldier willingly sacrificing his life as some sort of edge phenomenon. Its not like they might be a little mixed up and have some reason to mistakenly believe they share DNA with their fellow soldiers. And there is no possibility of reciprocity since they aren’t going to be around to get anything back and in my scenario (which is quite possible) they have no children of their own who could benefit. But I’m not claiming to be an expert. If Dawkins or someone credible has written anything that makes the case I would be interested in a reference.

            What’s more the grenade example is just one example of common behavior that really doesn’t fit either of those two models. If you read non-fiction about men in combat (I recommend the book Band of Brothers) they routinely do amazing things for each other and their explanations for WHY they do those things is remarkably consistent. And its usually not to fight for democracy nor is it because they expect some reciprocal benefit. Its because they come to think of the people in their platoon and company as kin. Even the quote from Shakespeare used to refer to men in combat — “Band of Brothers” — reflects that. So Why do they do that and how does that mechanism that can kick in and let us treat arbitrary strangers as kin really work?

            We don’t have an explanation yet? So? Do you have a credible one for many of the problems in evolutionary biology?

            No. That is why I think its interesting because I don’t know what the answer is. But to find the answer I need to think like a scientist. And that means I strive to be objective rather than strive to say every negative thing possible about institutions I don’t like such as religion.

          • In reply to #69 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #68 by Neodarwinian:

            In reply to #64 by Red Dog:

            You distribute any behavior, such as people giving blood to strangers, or soldiers falling on grenades, and you have those falling on grenade tails to your distribution.

            I’m not aware of any explanation using kin selection or reciprocal…

            One does not have to strive too much to say negative things about religion!

            “Band of Brothers”

            That might be enough to do this thing.

            ” So Why do they do that and how does that mechanism that can kick in and let us treat arbitrary strangers as kin really work? “

            As all other things in this area work. The putative benefit must exceed the cost and Trivers showed this quite well mathematically in The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism. One of his collected papers in Natural Selection and Social Theory. Just a summation of supposed benefits exceeding costs and I surmise that one falling on a grenade might just think that his benefit exceeds the cost at the extreme end of this distribution of behaviors. Not every one would do that, jump on a grenade, for a real brother, so this rare occurrence may only be partially explainable by evolutionary theory. Might be explainable by religious indoctrination, but then what a waste of an explanation there!

          • In reply to #64 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #60 by Neodarwinian:

            For example, a soldier with no children who throws himself on a grenade with the intention to sacrifice his life for his fellow soldiers. Those kinds of acts do happen in real life

            But how often? Might they be when people are feeling suicidal? In lesser circumstances people might well have a false sense of their own invulnerability. We have poor data on which to claim that humans are inclined to lay down their life for unrelated others.

            Besides what are the mechanisms for in-group, out-group identities? Oxytocin is one such trainer of these things. This might well be Dawkin’s misfiring mechanism by which selfish genes evolved to take care of their own and ended up taking care of some others also.

            Romantic love, it has been suggested first saw the light of day in the Greek gymnasiums between soldiers who would depend on each other to watch their backs (as it were) in battle This life-in-each-others-hands may well have created oxytocin kin-type bonding (and out group hatred). Evan now training of soldiers works hard to create a “Band of Brothers”, virtual kin, specifically to encourage these automatic co-operative behaviours.

          • Red Dog,

            My post was on an open page for hours before submission so missed your post. Apologies for not responding to that but an earlier post.

          • In reply to #70 by phil rimmer:

            In reply to #64 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #60 by Neodarwinian:

            For example, a soldier with no children who throws himself on a grenade with the intention to sacrifice his life for his fellow soldiers. Those kinds of acts do happen in real life

            But how often? Might they be when people are feeling suicidal?

            It might be but the data doesn’t support that. Of course you can’t talk to people who have used their bodies to block a grenade but you can do interviews with people who did really risky things, things at the time they thought were almost certain to get them killed, and see what their motivation was. And I’ve read a fair number of books about men in combat (besides Band of Brothers: Guadacanal Diary, With the Old Breed, and Helmet for my Pillow) and I don’t remember anyone saying they were feeling suicidal when they decided to risk their lives for their fellow soldiers. They almost always say things like “you don’t leave someone behind” or “I knew he would do the same for me” They appeal to principles related to the group. But also surprisingly seldom political or even religious principles. Its not “you don’t leave a son of Allah/Jesus behind” but rather “you don’t leave one of your men behind” i.e., the men you have bonded with in combat.

            Another interesting bit of data is how much soldiers absolutely hated the fact that they would be re-assigned to a different unit after an injury (I think this is no longer the case in most modern armies but it was the case for the US in WWII). There are even documented cases of guys who could have gone off the line to a field hospital (and had a real bed, warm food and much needed medical treatment) but didn’t because they wanted to remain with their current group rather than get re-assigned after an injury. A real example from Band of Brothers was a guy who turned down a much deserved leave in order to make a parachute jump and go into combat with his current group. The guy disobeyed orders and went AWOL. He could have gone to jail for years as a result and he did it not to avoid combat but because he didn’t want to MISS combat with his pseudo-Kin.

            Apologies for not responding to that but an earlier post.

            No problem :) BTW, it could be that these kinds of behaviors are just anomalies. People who in one way or another have lost their capacity for rational thought and don’t need a lot of consideration. I’m open to that kind of explanation but would want to see more that supports it. But there are also other reasons to think there is more going on here. Look at the way most humans react to these stories. Most of us don’t say “what a moron”. We don’t look down at people who risk or sacrifice their lives for others as deranged or stupid. We usually hold them up as the highest example of what is good about humanity. That leads me to think there is something interesting going on there that we don’t yet completely understand but that we have to if we want a complete scientific explanation of human morality.

          • In reply to #72 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #70 by phil rimmer:

            In reply to #64 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #60 by Neodarwinian:

            For example, a soldier with no children who throws himself on a grenade with the intention to sacrifice his life for his fellow soldiers. Those kinds of acts do happen in real life

            But how often? Might t…

            If oxytocin say is the selfish gene’s primary mechanism for looking after itself in other bodies, say, then it IS the likely mechanism for high altruistic behaviour between unrelated individuals who have been connected in some other way. When first evolved in early mammals there was little risk of a misfire and mums got the patience to nurture they needed. In small groups its misfiring was not significant because those around were pretty well closely related. Its misfiring in bigger groups is much more significant and notable.

            It is significant that we don’t hear examples of self sacrificial altruism between outgroupers. The soldier never jumps on the grenade thrown at his enemy. But he may jump on one aimed at his enemy’s child possibly. There is some hardish wired thing in protecting the young. Mammals seem to find the young of any other mammal worthy of care or concern when not worthy of lunch. Those big eyes hit you right in the oxytocin again.

            Why could this not be the end of the story? Where is the missing bit?

          • In reply to #73 by phil rimmer:

            Why could this not be the end of the story?

            Indeed. I think it’s the term “misfire” that is a major part of any issue over this. “Misfire” suggests a mistake, an unfortunate, undesirable effect, as if it would be better (for our genes) if we didn’t misfire (behave altruistically to non-kin) at all. But the discussion here – especially Red Dog’s contributions – reminds us that we actually hold dear this particular kind of “misfire”. It’s a trait that we admire. It is, as many would say, one of the better parts of our nature.

            Is it simply better (for our genes) to err on the side of caution, protect when protection isn’t appropriate, than err the other way and lose kin we might have saved? After all, our genetic programming is hardly an exact science. It’s a work in progress, and there is no goal of perfection. We only need an edge.

            As for those who would willingly sacrifice their own lives to protect their comrades – well, if their genes become extinct, we shall all be the poorer for it.

          • In reply to #100 by OHooligan:

            In reply to #73 by phil rimmer:

            Why could this not be the end of the story?

            Indeed. I think it’s the term “misfire” that is a major part of any issue over this. “Misfire” suggests a mistake, an unfortunate, undesirable effect, as if it would be better (for our genes) if we didn’t misfire (behave..

            Absolutely. But I must use the term “misfire” because it is part of Dawkins account as well as my own, to whit, for kin selection to work it must have a kin detector and that kin detector we think has second order effects (misfires). Evolution developed a just good enough solution. Baby ducklings kin-identify with the first nearby animate object that hangs around enough. Mammals crank this up a notch with oxytocin etc. These all have second order effects which we have to describe as misfires to gain a credible evolutionary account for paradoxical behaviours.

            These can then feed memetic processes and have a life outside of reproductive related behaviours.

            Outcomes? Meg Ryan movies, Shakespeare sonnets and our fucked up, wonderful, fucked up lives.

      • In reply to #32 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #28 by maria melo:

        …so how could you possibly think that these “religious” beliefs gave them sense of fairness for instance (of morals)?

        Because that is what the scientific data clearly show. Look at those three books I mentioned in one of my first comments. They present overwhelming…

        I would only suggest one thing. I think religion was adapted from an earlier folk narrative state to become the delivery system for the new social capital conserving morals for bigger groups that needed to overlay the kin supporting equitable morals of earlier days. These conserving morals were already innate (as they are in some non religious individuals today) just relatively subdued and needed to have the volume turned turned up on them, so to speak.

        I think it is better to think of religion as the lipid pouch that contains the various memes creating a memplex to make its various elements robustly copyable. I don’t believe it created moral values ex nihilo.

        Religion was indeed the proto politics and proto justice system of its day. It is fascinating to see how Christianity came to reject the then dominant hippie gnosticism in favour of something with a little stricter discipline as the Roman Empire started to crumble and it was again substantially tightened up in its transition to Islam to suit the requirements of a leader set on conquering the Arab peninsula.

      • If religion did indeed “play a significant role in helping us define the morality we have now”, wouldn’t we expect the evolved religions of today to be leading the way in terms of our moral values, human rights, equality etc. Regarding equal rights (for women, gays, atheists, people of other religions), birth control etc, movement toward more progressive policies seems to be forced upon the religious leadership by outside secular groups, or by minorities within the churches or by government legislation.

        Is your contention that the organising power of religion was an efficient way to start building larger societies with some form of a rule of law or moral values – even if those moral values were not what we would accept today, they could be built upon. And that these societies evolved into the modern secular democracies we have today. I think I am agreeing with what Phil Rimmer said in #35 and what secularjew said in #40.

        I’m sure some creationists would say “well if secular democracies evolved from religions then how come there are still religions”.

        In reply to #32 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #28 by maria melo:

        …so how could you possibly think that these “religious” beliefs gave them sense of fairness for instance (of morals)?

        Because that is what the scientific data clearly show. Look at those three books I mentioned in one of my first comments. They present overwhelming…

        • In reply to #57 by Marktony:

          If religion did indeed “play a significant role in helping us define the morality we have now”, wouldn’t we expect the evolved religions of today to be leading the way in terms of our moral values, human rights, equality etc.

          No, I wouldn’t expect that at all. Do we still expect astrology to have any useful insight into astronomy? Do we expect alchemy to tell us anything useful about chemistry? All I’m saying is that religion is to the scientific study of morality what those early attempts were to their scientific alternatives. A few vestiges may live on, e.g., the names of the planets, but we don’t expect any correlation from folk myths to the science that eventually takes their place.

          • Surely the study of the celestial objects (astronomy) must have come first and then astrology made use of the info for fortune telling. Maybe there was then more money to be made from astrology which increased the demand for astronomers (result).
            I think the astrology (religion) led to astronomy (morality) theory has some of support, but mainly among astrologers.

            In reply to #58 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #57 by Marktony:

            If religion did indeed “play a significant role in helping us define the morality we have now”, wouldn’t we expect the evolved religions of today to be leading the way in terms of our moral values, human rights, equality etc.

            No, I wouldn’t expect that at all. Do we st…

          • In reply to #61 by Marktony:

            Surely the study of the celestial objects (astronomy) must have come first and then astrology made use of the info for fortune telling. Maybe there was then more money to be made from astrology which increased the demand for astronomers (result).
            I think the astrology (religion) led to astronomy (mo…

            I think you have this exactly right. Astrology is far more monetise-able than the simple day/season-establishing observations of astronomy.

            The best question to ask about the formation of religions from the general population’s loose and inaccurate understandings of what agency is, is where’s the profit? Prophets come later, in the gear change from the vehicle for petty scamming that folk religion is. They arise to secure the income stream and influence and better deny it to other would be prophets.

            Caspari and Lee showed that there was a fairly sudden 400% increase in the number of old folk (grandparents) in the Upper Paleolithic, around the time that sophisticated language may well have formed. Their account of it seems to be entirely reversed at the start of the process to me, suggesting the increase led to great social change of grandparents becoming available for nurturing and instruction with an expansion in cultural development. They miss the very likely cause for the initial expansion in their numbers being that old folk could, with the advent of sophisticated language, earn their keep with child minding and the offering of wisdom, where before, in marginal hunter gatherer societies, they would have been allowed to die. The problem with offering wisdom as an income stream (after the kids are grown a bit) is that you run out of new material quite quickly. Making shit up, however, is a limitless source of food. Making stories under these circumstances will naturally evolve to producing stories of the most immediately rewarding kind.

            Once the folk religion process is started you might imagine that the would-be alpha male with a bit more brain than brawn could spot an opportunity for self promotion.

          • In reply to #61 by Marktony:

            Surely the study of the celestial objects (astronomy) must have come first and then astrology made use of the info for fortune telling. Maybe there was then more money to be made from astrology which increased the demand for astronomers (result).
            I think the astrology (religion) led to astronomy (morality) theory has some of support, but mainly among astrologers.

            Then you don’t know the history of science. I suggest you go to a planetarium when they have a talk about the origins of astronomy. Astrology didn’t used to be just a scam, it used to be tied in with useful information about how the stars and planets move. Things like understanding the monthly and seasonal cycles, predicting eclipses, all used to be useful information that astrologers provided to people in power along with all the nonsense about the stars controlling our destiny.

          • In reply to #65 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #61 by Marktony:

            Astrology didn’t used to be just a scam, it used to be tied in with useful information about how the stars and planets move.

            That is when it was effectively what we know as astronomy, a reasonable questioning to find out calendrical and navigational facts. It then became the evidence free scam we know of as Astrology before being purged by Reason. It is utterly unfair to label these early efforts “Astrology” though I am sure it was scammed very early indeed. To call the early pre-historical efforts to use and understand the stars and planets Astrology gives an unfair impression.

          • In reply to #67 by phil rimmer:

            To call the early pre-historical efforts to use and understand the stars and planets Astrology gives an unfair impression.

            Agreeing, and noting something that I think muddies the waters: the anthropomorphic tales of astrology look to me like mnemonic teaching devices for passing on the knowledge, in the absence of written records. The essential knowledge is what we’d now attribute to astronomy, namely a reliable calendar.

            I recently watched a doco – named “Zeitgeist” or something similar – which included a segment tying “born of a virgin” and “died on a cross” and “rose again after 3 days” to the midwinter maneuvers of the sun.

            While I didn’t get all of it, it certainly seems plausible that “arcane knowledge” – mnemonic stories – got chinese-whispered into religious dogma, detached from the original very important knowledge of the seasons, and – of course – exploited by the founders, promoters and primary beneficiaries of religion.

            Those damn grandpas again.

          • I did some googling on the history of Astronomy/Astrology and it seems that they both go back to antiquity and it’s probably fair to say that the modern forms of astronomy and astrology have their origins in ancient mythology linking the celestial positions to gods, spirits and weather phenomena. There is a nice short Wiki article (below) that says they were archaically one and the same discipline and unbelievably “University medical students were taught astrology as it was generally used in medical practice.” !!

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrology_and_astronomy

            And this video on the history of astronomy contains some fortune telling, to say the least, and some good movie references:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hm_dw5rfqZM

            In reply to #65 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #61 by Marktony:

            Surely the study of the celestial objects (astronomy) must have come first and then astrology made use of the info for fortune telling. Maybe there was then more money to be made from astrology which increased the demand for astronomers (result).
            I think the astrology (…

  16. Religion in the words of the late, great George Jones:

    But I need four walls around me, to hold my life;
    To keep me from going astray.
    And a honkytonk angel, to hold me tight;
    To keep me from slipping away.

  17. Depends if you’re talking about root causes or societal forces. If you were to trace morality to religion, you would then have say where religions got their moral views in the first place. Obviously, religious morality came from human superstition, moral intuitions, and whatever the thinking was of some group in a given historical period. Did the spreading and enforcement of that code (along with the promise of punishment in hell for violating it) then enforce a kind of moral order on the public? Most likely, and there are even fairly recent examples of that. For instance, Steven Pinker writes that the religiosity of southern states in the US may be due to the fact that these wild, cowboy places were “calmed down” by women and religion, as opposed to the powers of the state. However, two things should be noted. There is a difference between true morality (morality concerned with well-being and refined by knowledge and empathy) and religious morality, which is either a) wrong, or b) right, but for the wrong reasons. And secondly, if religion is supposed to encourage morality, it is clearly not that effective.

  18. Why is wezley Petez new to religion AND just had the blindfold removed and why has he no interest in the responses. i smell a rat. I mean what a crass obviously stupid question, only dishonest religites pretend it is valid, they even try to pretend family values are theirs even though families predate christianity.Christianity being what they mean by religion.

    • I meant to write ”new to atheism”, I’m sorry and I’ve been pretty busy for the past few days thus I haven’t posted any replies in the discussion so far. I apologize if I had given off any bad impression. I am absolutely impressed and grateful for everyone that have contributed and have given their answers to my question, it really does bring new light to my perspective of things since I am pretty much new to atheism. Again I apologize if I had given off any “ratty odour.”
      In reply to #42 by jjbircham:

      Why is wezley Petez new to religion AND just had the blindfold removed and why has he no interest in the responses. i smell a rat. I mean what a crass obviously stupid question, only dishonest religites pretend it is valid, they even try to pretend family values are theirs even though families preda…

  19. I’m sure they did but moral does not equal good it simply means acceptable behaviour in a specific time and place. Hanging child pickpockets was moral but few would say it still is, unless they live in a place where it still is. Morality is no more real or consistent than this season’s fashion colours.

  20. Did mankind create religion so as to give people the notion that they are being constantly watch by a all supreme uber genius spy camera (god) of their every action, probably because a pre-religious society had no sense of gulit or morality when it came to things like stealing, killing and etc.

    the imediate question i’d ask is “why?” if humans had nothing to keep them killing and stealing off each other, why did some humans suddenly decide to make something up to stop it happening?

    in the wild, especially among social primates, social laws exist without the need for religion and i’ts safe to say humans evolved from ancestors who had an abilitty to live within groups without being too much of a dick.

    the best way to enforce social behaviour among a social primate is leave it to the group. as acceptance into the group is essential for survival, fear of rejection exists naturally. the ability to empathise is also important for social cohesion, which your ancestors had evolved, so to understand that ones actions can result in anothers victimization will instil a sense of guilt.

    all religion ever did was hijack existing social instinct to ensure group cohesion goes beyond the basic needs of the tribe and feeds into an institution. the invisible watcher and the eternal carrot/stick are just taking existing human concerns to an extreme level. you could say the originiators of religion were those who would now be considered sociopathic, able to emulate empathy without feeling the effects directly, and as such able to subvert evolved social cohesion to serve themselves (i.e. they become important members of a community without having to do things like hunting, foraging or protecting others from physical danger, or in modern parlence; without getting a proper job).

    Mark Twain exaplins the origin of religion better than me though; when the first conman met the first fool

  21. Actually, I´ve mentioned of a scholar in my last comment, mentioned about Islam, law etc.. I thought if someone might have some interest about it,sense the article proposes “secularism” instead of Sharia Law, this article of the author I´ve mentioned (you can see now, because I didn´t mention his name) is about acceptance of secularization by Islam and proposes a “dialogue” to invite the acceptance and adoption of secular Law by Islam. (if someone is interested, of course will have to translate it, because I am not a good translator).

    (I don´t have any relation with the author, so it is not my personal blog, just thought it might be of some interest, just in case) Here´s the link.

  22. I believe that it was the difficulty of life that led people astray. The common people did not want to listen to their wise men, and they preferred to get drunk and listen to charismatic gurus who told them fairy tales instead. This ,according to me is how religion began. At first it was useful, and then it became a method of fuelling hate and all sorts of negative feelings. The people divided themselves into groups according to their religion and they fought bloody battles. Things got worse and worse as the centuries and millenniums passed. The invention of the “Christ” figure, which allows people to believe that they are automatically forgiven for their crimes even before they commit them, was the most hideous mistake. So, in the beginnings, religion may have had it’s use, but it has transformed itself into a disease. A terrible disease.

  23. Repeated comment (just to edit, I guess there must be much more errors, but I promise not to keep removing to edit)

    From time to time I skimm (not skip) the book “Politics” from Aristotle (I feel greatly attached emotionally to the book,it has been published by a Sociology Professor of mine and it is a bilingue edition, with original greek, although there´s no use for me, and I had to work on it). I guess the last time I skimmed it in search of any references to religion from Aristotle I´ve found this one, something like: “politicians should show some respect for the gods of the city, but they shouldn´t exagerate in order not to look ridiculous. “

    By the way, I think Richard Dawkins once quoted (although perhaps he was not quoting Aristotle, but some other author):”Politics is the art of possible”. (Richard Dawkins considered Aristotle quite intelligent, I must remind.)

    My book has on it´s preface some words of some religious scholar (I think he is religious) that has written some words about the possibility of making a dream come true, somehow, I think he refers to something as the Vatican, although he is not direct in his references, so he considers it as possible, a dream made true, although a State with no civil citizenship, where no one would be allowed to have children would not be possible.What a sad reference to Aristotle, that´s what I actually think, but I accept the difference of thought.

    I find religion somehow “parasitising”, and actually I think it must have been the real idea of Aristotle. It depends on people´s social needs of course, that made it possible (not mine).

  24. I’m going to propose that religion is a way to make use of questions that don’t have answers, like ‘why are we here? The answer is we’re here because we’re here, now get back to work.

    It is entertaining (in the manner of a horror movie) to see how a power structure can take a question of the kind ‘ what sound does yellow make?’ and turn it into millions of faithful followers.

    Appologies to Terry Pratchett for pinching the sound of yellow.

    The answer depends on if it is Ducatti yellow or Caterpillar yellow!

    • In reply to #62 by Alistair Blackhill:

      I’m going to propose that religion is a way to make use of questions that don’t have answers, like ‘why are we here? The answer is we’re here because we’re here, now get back to work.

      It is entertaining (in the manner of a horror movie) to see how a power structure can take a question of the kind ‘…

      I don’t deny that the way some religious questions are posed makes them nonsensical. So asking “why are we here” and expecting some teleological explanation for why the universe ended up with humans in general or any one human in particular is just sloppy reasoning and misunderstanding the fundamentals about how the universe works.

      That doesn’t mean that all the questions people currently use religion to answer go away once we realize that there is no truth to any religious dogma. So if someone asks “why am I here?” and by that they mean “what gives my life meaning above and beyond the basics of living and working?” I think not only is that a very sensible question but its one that is good for thoughtful people to ponder once in a while. The answer might be your children, your art, your lover,… But if the only answer you get is “because we’re here now get back to work” then you have adopted the worst caricature of what science is all about, a caricature that people use to claim science means we forget about any more noble goals or aspirations in order to discredit it. Not only do I think its wrong I think its profoundly wrong. If you look at people like Dawkins he is passionate and poetic about science and about life in general.

      • Satisfaction in a job well done is as good a reason as any to be here. Meaning above the basic physics of life doesn’t make any sense to me, but I’m a third generation atheist on both sides of the family, so there hasn’t been any exposure to the ‘higher ideals’ only practical reality.

        Practical reality in my case ranges from fine art to aircrash investigation, with biomedical engineering in between…

        Cut from 66 “because we’re here now get back to work” then you have adopted the worst caricature of what science is all about, a caricature that people use to claim science means we forget about any more noble goals or aspirations in order to discredit it.

        The concept of ‘noble goals’ carries with it the inference of not questioning the ‘nobility’ of the goal. A difficult liguistic argument perhaps, but religion is about faith, faith is acceptance without proof and nobility is one step removed from divinity in the ‘don’t you dare question that ere lad’ stakes.

        The way it was presented to me by a school chaplian was ‘we’re here because we owe a debt to God, now get back to work’ delivered in the same tone. We do to, if St Paul is to be believed. (1 Corinthinas 16-20 from memory)

        Fun and games.

        In reply to #66 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #62 by Alistair Blackhill:

        I’m going to propose that religion is a way to make use of questions that don’t have answers, like ‘why are we here? The answer is we’re here because we’re here, now get back to work.

        It is entertaining (in the manner of a horror movie) to see how a power str…

        • In reply to #103 by Alistair Blackhill:

          The concept of ‘noble goals’ carries with it the inference of not questioning the ‘nobility’ of the goal. A difficult liguistic argument perhaps, but religion is about faith, faith is acceptance without proof and nobility is one step removed from divinity in the ‘don’t you dare question that ere lad’ stakes.
          The way it was presented to me by a school chaplian was ‘we’re here because we owe a debt to God, now get back to work’ delivered in the same tone. We do to, if St Paul is to be believed. (1 Corinthinas 16-20 from memory)

          To me you are just reinforcing my point. You are adopting the framing of religious people. There is no correlation for me between “noble goals” and faith or things that can’t be questioned. And just because someone told you a bunch of rubbish about Corinthians doesn’t convince me that there is such a correlation.

          Noble goals for me are things like helping others, doing things for your family and friends, contributing something (art, music, research) you want to leave behind after you are dead, and as you said just doing a good job. I see no reason at all to say that any of those things need to be positively correlated with faith or religion. I’ve been trying to do those things all my adult life and have also been an atheist all my adult life. And I think it plays into the hands of those that slander atheism to say that the only people who have the right to talk about “noble goals” are the religious.

  25. “Wilson and his cohorts want to develop a theory that explains everything, but ends up explaining nothing. I’ll wait and see but I won’t hold my breath for any facile explanations of these behaviors; group selection or otherwise.” (Neodarwinian, comment 68, could not push the button reply)

    I would feel a bit ridiculous if I had to discuss the principles in which biologists feel more comfortable with, I´ll leave it to open discussion, but for one thing I feel comfortable about: to think that Wilson, despite not having conclusive answers, proposed a promising field of research (that´s enough for me and wondrous actually).

    • In reply to #75 by maria melo:

      “Wilson and his cohorts want to develop a theory that explains everything, but ends up explaining nothing… I would feel a bit ridiculous if I had to discuss the principles in which biologists feel more comfortable with, I´ll leave it to open discussion, but for one thing I feel comfortable about: to think that Wilson, despite not having conclusive answers, proposed a promising field of research (that´s enough for me and wondrous actually).

      Drifting off topic but,… I read Wilson’s book and thought it was interesting. Some of the details were over my head but the one thing that was disappointing was I never saw the section I was most looking for, the section where he would take on the obvious criticism. The standard attack on group selection is that cheaters will always win out and will mean that traits that might be good for the group but bad for the individual won’t dominate. The more successful a group trait is the more appealing it is for a cheater to emerge and his genes will eventually dominate the cooperative genes. I was looking for a section where he addressed that argument and I never saw it. But it could just be my knowledge is so minimal I missed it. Has he ever addressed that criticism or is my impression — that he just ignores it — correct?

      But I do agree, this seems like an area where there is room for more research, I see the appeal of a group selection argument and I’m not totally convinced that the question is settled. There seem to me to be questions that can’t be answered by current theories of kin selection or reciprocal altruism. I’ve described some examples in previous comments.

  26. In reply to #56 by giuliano753:

    “I would like to dispute that the brain is capable of producing a mind, but that would be too controversial. I honestly believe that the mind is a metaphysical part of the psyche. I don’t really have a mind anymore, It disappeared recently. I cannot formulate any thoughts in my head region. I just write and talk instinctively. Eight hours can pass without a single thought entering my head region”

    Can you explain further ?

    Once, a colleague of mine must have had the idea of observing me, and her comment was that I had my mind always too busy, but actually it happened once when I had a severe depression.

    As we are not a blank slate at all, I guess the brain is capable of producing kind of a mind.

    “the mind is a metaphysical part of the psyche”, or rather the opposite, the mind maybe really a metaphysical part of the brain, considering the roots of the word, and considering that it produces reactions, like emotions, capable of guiding our behaviour without too much awareness of that fact ?

    Without discussing the neuroscientific implications, I guess Andre Breton, creator of a school of “surrealist automatism”, would like to trigger some reactions from the audience, through painting or poetry that had some interesting ideas like using geometric figures to symbolize automatically the body, or, the message. (too mad, isn´t it, but here´s an idea of metaphysical, I guess, and I seem to be enough mad, and even collected a poem of this kind, in this case, there was a pyramid in the poem).

    • In reply to #79 by maria melo:

      In reply to #56 by giuliano753:

      “I would like to dispute that the brain is capable of producing a mind, but that would be too controversial. I honestly believe that the mind is a metaphysical part of the psyche. I don’t really have a mind anymore, I cannot formulate any thoughts in my head region. I just write and talk instinctively. Eight hours can pass without a single thought entering my head region”

      >

      Can you explain further ?

      Once, a colleague of mine must have had the idea of observing me, and her comment was that I had my mind always too busy, but actually it happened once when I had a severe depression.

      As are not a blank slate at all, I guess the brain is capable of producing kind of a mind.

      I would like to interject here:-

      One does not have a mind, one does just write and talk instinctively, the brain is capable of producing a mind. However, one is both the brain and the mind; These things are not separate!

      So, you are both correct in a way.

      Your brain (body) controls itself, sometimes using its mind. OK?

      • In reply to #80 by halucigenia:

        In reply to #79 by maria melo:

        In reply to #56 by giuliano753:

        “I would like to dispute that the brain is capable of producing a mind, but that would be too controversial. I honestly believe that the mind is a metaphysical part of the psyche. I don’t really have a mind anymore, I cannot formulate…

        I remember of having observed the Broca´s area (In the Museum of Man), so the instinctive talking has it´s physical area, afterall ?

        “one is both the brain and the mind” (that´s what metaphysical really means for me)

    • In reply to #81 by halucigenia:

      “Band of Brothers” = kin selection, no?

      That is the point. They obviously are not kin but they behave as if they are. Why? One explanation might be that its just an example of a false positive. In some circumstances the risk of not recognizing kin is so great that it makes sense to err on the side of being overly generous in assuming another organism might be your kin. That explanation is used by Dawkins to explain examples of animals of one species who raise another species as their child. And in that scenario the explanation works. But it doesn’t make sense to me in this case because humans aren’t birds, we have higher cognitive capabilities and all the men in Easy Company (the company that was followed most closely in the book) knew that they weren’t kin.

      • In reply to #86 by Red Dog:

        But it doesn’t make sense to me in this case because humans aren’t birds, we have higher cognitive capabilities and all the men in Easy Company (the company that was followed most closely in the book) knew that they weren’t kin.

        So what? Fighting together made them feel like they were brothers.

        Perhaps the foster parents of cuckoo chicks do realise on some level that something might be going horribly wrong, but they still feel an overwhelming compulsion feed the enormous parasites.

      • In reply to #86 by Red Dog:

        the men in Easy Company knew that they weren’t kin.

        Yet they acted as if they were.

        You seem to suggest that altruistic behavior in humans occurs entirely at a conscious level, and that we’d be aware of, and keen to avoid “misfires”, therefore there’s something else going on.

        But if it’s at a deeper level, it could misfire and not be noticed. It would “feel” every bit as right as taking care of one’s family.

      • In reply to #86 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #81 by halucigenia:

        “Band of Brothers” = kin selection, no?

        That is the point. They obviously are not kin but they behave as if they are. Why?

        Because they consider themselves as close as brothers, and that is how one instinctually behaves towards a brother – because of kin altruism.

        One explanation might be that its just an example of a false positive. In some circumstances the risk of not recognizing kin is so great that it makes sense to err on the side of being overly generous in assuming another organism might be your kin. That explanation is used by Dawkins to explain examples of animals of one species who raise another species as their child. And in that scenario the explanation works. But it doesn’t make sense to me in this case because humans aren’t birds, we have higher cognitive capabilities and all the men in Easy Company (the company that was followed most closely in the book) knew that they weren’t kin.

        You are right, in this instance it is not because they are mistaken as kin, but still they are actually thought of as kin, they knew they were not kin but specifically acted as if they were, does that not say anything about the power of the evolutionary imperative to act altruistically towards kin, especially because they knew they were not actually kin. The allusion is toward acting in accordance to being altruistic towards kin, the allusion is that they are acting as if they were brothers. This is an implicit allusion of the title “band of brothers” n’est ce pas?

        In reply to #87 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #83 by Neodarwinian:

        In reply to #81 by halucigenia:

        “Band of Brothers” = kin selection, no?

        One would think so. Does Red Dog think so?

        I want to say one more thing on that topic. I used the Band of Brothers example only to show that there are some examples of behavior humans typically consider moral that can’t be easily explained by reciprocal altruism or kin selection.

        But the example does not work because it can be explained by kin selection. The innate altruism felt towards kin is so strong that even though one knows that these individuals are not kin, they are still treated as if they were.

        I’m surprised actually this is controversial. In the introduction to The Selfish Gene and in Harris’s intro to The Moral Landscape I think they were both pretty unambiguous in saying they agree with that.

        Yes, we can rebel against the selfish attributes that we have as an evolved species this is not in question, and not controversial. We can make moral decisions that would seem to contravene some of our biological imperatives.

        What appears to be in question by you is that evolved attributes also provide us with altruistic tendencies and we should not be rebelling against these tenancies but understanding that they are basis for our morality and that attempts to suggest that religion is the basis for our morality (and I do realise that this is not your position) should be dismissed because of this understanding. I do not think that Richard Dawkins is, or should be, asking us to rebel against all of our evolved tendencies in that introduction to The Selfish Gene as he does actually go on to explain how understanding the metaphor of the selfish gene actually allows us to understand how our selfish genes do promote altruistic behaviour. This, I think, is one of the worst misunderstandings of the whole concept and one which I always see when The selfish Gene is brought up in such discussions. And I must admit it is compounded by Richard Dawkins himself when he stresses that we should rebel against our selfish genes. It seems to me that he is himself falling into the trap of those that read the book by title alone and see the stress on the word selfish. I personally think that he should not be doing this, or do better at explaining what he means by this as it often leads to this misunderstanding IMHO.

        Here is another scenario to illustrate the point:

        Joe and Mary are married and in their 50′s. They have five kids who are all grown and living on their own. Mary is told by her doctor she can’t have any more children. The next day Joe divorces Mary and goes online for a much younger Russian bride.

        Now I imagine most of you would say this is not an example of moral behavior. Why not? According to reciprocal altruism Mary has nothing important to offer Joe at this point. (She can’t have more kids and the kids they have are on their own)
        That is just one example. If you give it some thought it seems obvious to me that many behaviors we think of as moral can’t really be explained by kin selection or reciprocal altruism.

        Of course you can make up many examples of selfish behaviour being natural.

        But what if the human species evolved to have the evolutionary stable mating strategy of pair bonding and mating for life (as is demonstrably the case in other species) because it was of benefit to spreading its genes. This behaviour would have evolved during the relatively long period of time (compared to ‘modern’ times) where lifespan was much shorter and generally individuals would have been reproductively capable for the entirety of their adult lifespans. If this was the case then the man in your example is either rebelling against his genetic imperative to mate for life and/or finds himself in a position outwith the norm of being able to procreate with his lifelong partner that his genes would ‘have come to expect’.

        As I have stated above, it is not controversial to state that we should rebel against selfish desires if we want to have a better moral society. I am not advocating that natural behaviour always = rational moral behaviour, simply that natural behaviour does not always = immoral behaviour and that why societies do tend to or at least strive to act altruistically to each other is at base because we are animals that have evolved to live in small groups in which most of our acquaintances which we would interact with would naturally be kin. It’s not that the genes know and can necessarily detect that those that we normally meet are kin but that altruistic tendencies have evolved because this was an evolutionary successful strategy and in evolutionary terms, although we live in larger societies now where most of those that we encounter in our daily lives are not close kin, the current situation is a very new one.

        I hope that this makes my position more clear. I don’t think that we really differ much in our positions anyway Red Dog, it just irks me when this particular topic is brought up and what I see as misunderstandings of the metaphor of the selfish gene are repeatedly used as arguments.

        • In reply to #113 by halucigenia:

          In reply to #86 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #81 by halucigenia:

          “Band of Brothers” = kin selection, no?

          That is the point. They obviously are not kin but they behave as if they are. Why?

          Because they consider themselves as close as brothers, and that is how one instinctually behaves towards a brother

          I don’t think that we really differ much in our positions anyway Red Dog

          No we differ a lot. If you don’t see that the arguments I’ve made demonstrate conclusively that there is more to what most people consider morality than can be currently explained by selfish genes and existing biological theories of altruism not only do you not understand me you don’t understand Dawkins either. I looked back over some of my comments and he clearly says that in a quote I left from The Selfish Gene in comment 13.

          • In reply to #114 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #113 by halucigenia:

            In reply to #86 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #81 by halucigenia:

            “Band of Brothers” = kin selection, no?

            That is the point. They obviously are not kin but they behave as if they are. Why?

            Because they consider themselves as close as brothers, and that is how one inst…

            You are confusing the ultimate provenance of morals, evolutionary processes against the ever changing environment and the proximate tweaking of moral codes in sophisticated societies.

            Of course there is more than kin selection and reciprocal altruism at work here as these are underlying processes and ultimate initiators of moral behavior. Still, any tweaking of moral codes most certainly predated religion and religion just claimed this tweaking as it’s own Ug the cave man may of had some vague god concept, but his evolutionary morality, ultimate, was well underlined by the proximate social environment, as well as other environmental influences.

  27. Mothers tell their children morality tales to encourage their children to behave. Mom decides the morality. The story is just the tool to enforce it. Religion is fairy stories for adults. They are useful for enforcing consensus and discouraging innovation (a positive value in a slowly changing world).

    A religion is a construction, a lie designed to control others. It is not the source of the morality.

  28. I had always assumed that behaviours such as altruism were high-level functions developed only by complex social animals, (“the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” – thanks, Spock), but [this article] (http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/20130322203850data_trunc_sys.shtml) seems to suggest otherwise. It describes a mechanism whereby bacteria can “decide” on the best course of action for group survival, even if it entails self-sacrifice.

    If this can be taken as evidence that altruistic behaviour is a phenomenon which is fundamental for survival, then I think it becomes easier to imagine how a few million years of evolution, a cerebral cortex, a cocktail of hormones and seven billion individuals interacting in multifarious ways could produce every conceivable type of behaviour.

    As far as the astronomy/astrology question is concerned: I imagine they may have co-evolved. It would have been readily apparent that the phases of the Moon, the height of the sun at midday, the positions of the stars etc. were intimately linked to cycles essential for food supplies such as growing seasons and migrations. More importantly, wise people were able to predict certain phenomena simply by watching the sky, and it’s not hard to see how yet another example of mistaken causality would arise and a supernatural link would be assumed.

    PS I hope the link works: it’s the first time I’ve posted one!

  29. In reply to #83 by Neodarwinian:

    In reply to #81 by halucigenia:

    “Band of Brothers” = kin selection, no?

    One would think so. Does Red Dog think so?

    I want to say one more thing on that topic. I used the Band of Brothers example only to show that there are some examples of behavior humans typically consider moral that can’t be easily explained by reciprocal altruism or kin selection. I’m surprised actually this is controversial. In the introduction to The Selfish Gene and in Harris’s intro to The Moral Landscape I think they were both pretty unambiguous in saying they agree with that. Here is another scenario to illustrate the point:

    Joe and Mary are married and in their 50′s. They have five kids who are all grown and living on their own. Mary is told by her doctor she can’t have any more children. The next day Joe divorces Mary and goes online for a much younger Russian bride.

    Now I imagine most of you would say this is not an example of moral behavior. Why not? According to reciprocal altruism Mary has nothing important to offer Joe at this point. (She can’t have more kids and the kids they have are on their own)

    That is just one example. If you give it some thought it seems obvious to me that many behaviors we think of as moral can’t really be explained by kin selection or reciprocal altruism.

    • In reply to #87 by Red Dog:

      If you give it some thought it seems obvious to me that many behaviors we think of as moral can’t really be explained by kin selection or reciprocal altruism.

      Kin selection works just fine as an explanation, if kin detection is a crappy mechanism, which it seems to be.

      PS Reciprocal altruism doesn’t cut it for much of actual in group altruistic behaviour in my view, though it works fine for observed out group behaviours. Deferred reciprocal altruism is the mechanism to be demonstrated for in-group behaviours.

    • In reply to #87 by Red Dog:

      If you give it some thought it seems obvious to me that many behaviors we think of as moral can’t really be explained by kin selection or reciprocal altruism.

      On the contrary it is explicable given our collective experience of our very approximate kin detection mechanism. Oxytocin (if it is that) bonding between spouses make them as if genetically related kin. Our moral judgements here are a cultured (memetic) artifact of our common experience and how it deals with our post breeding existence (beyond the reach of genes).

      • In reply to #90 by phil rimmer:

        In reply to #87 by Red Dog:

        If you give it some thought it seems obvious to me that many behaviors we think of as moral can’t really be explained by kin selection or reciprocal altruism.

        On the contrary it is explicable given our collective experience of our very approximate kin detection mechanis…

        How can you possibly use kin selection or reciprocal altruism to explain my example of Joe and Mary in comment 87? Clearly most people would say Joe is acting immorally but I don’t see how any explanation could possibly explain why you think that example is immoral using either of those theories. On the contrary by reciprocal altruism or kin selection the moral choice would be exactly what Joe does because the only moral goal is to optimize your off spring. That humans don’t think of optimizing your off spring as a legitimate excuse for most immoral behavior shows that we think there is more to morality than can be explained simply by current theories of kin selection or reciprocal altruism.

        • In reply to #93 by Red Dog:

          You seem to have difficulty understanding the difference between a subjective and an objective explanation. Subjectively he loves his wife, objectively (from the genes “point of view”) the love he feels is a mistake (though not a sufficiently costly mistake for his genes to get too “upset” about it).

        • In reply to #93 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #90 by phil rimmer:

          In reply to #87 by Red Dog:

          If you give it some thought it seems obvious to me that many behaviors we think of as moral can’t really be explained by kin selection or reciprocal altruism.

          On the contrary it is explicable given our collective experience of our very a…

          OK. Take a look at the post #63 with the Caspari and Lee link. This is the start of runaway cultural evolution, before which ditching the used up mum for a younger model could possibly be a fruitful alpha male gene activity. But with fast track culture through sophisticated language we also get a mushrooming of old folk (400% increase in grandparents) who of course now bring up their grandchildren, freeing the hunter gatherer parents to bring in more bacon. Extended families as a genetic strategy are pretty nifty. The oxytocin is multiply capable of securing the extended families with stabilising monogamy at all levels. This also leaves the procreation of your genes in younger fitter hands, your kids’ (your own go down hill rapidly before you do). So, cad-mode superficially looks good for alpha males’ genes who could pull off the stunt but lousy for any young woman’s genes. Given a crappy kin detection system we extend kinship, create stability and secure the longterm future of our own genes to the benefit of all in the extended family.

        • In reply to #93 by Red Dog:

          How can you possibly use kin selection or reciprocal altruism to explain my example of Joe and Mary in comment 87?

          Sorry about coming late to this party. But for your example, seems Joe and Mary hadn’t been hitting it off for a while, or the oxy-whatsit bonding would have kept them together, looking out for each other, as long as they could. Mary would find a new role as grandmother, and Joe would get by on bullshit, like any grandpa.

          But since they weren’t getting along, who’s going to condemn Joe, having done his duty as a father, from dumping Mary and getting himself some fresh Russian nookie? And maybe even launching a few more vehicles for the genes he’s carrying.

          Well, I suppose a lot of Religious Folk would be scandalized. But, hey, worse happens in Hollywood all the time. As long as Mary wasn’t left destitute, what’s the beef? Let Joe have his fun, he’s earned it.

          What was the point of that example again?

    • In reply to #87 by Red Dog:

      In reply to #83 by Neodarwinian:

      In reply to #81 by halucigenia:

      “Band of Brothers” = kin selection, no?

      One would think so. Does Red Dog think so?

      I want to say one more thing on that topic. I used the Band of Brothers example only to show that there are some examples of behavior humans typical…

      ” Now I imagine most of you would say this is not an example of moral behavior. Why not? According to reciprocal altruism Mary has nothing important to offer Joe at this point. (She can’t have more kids and the kids they have are on their own) “

      Huh!!

      Have you done the calculations here of cost to Joe verses benefits to Joe? Seems their may be a confusion between what is ultimately moral and what is proximately moral here, aside from the fact that your scenario, Joe and Mary, does not really seem true in light of the two concepts under discussion and may be better placed into the sexual selection concept of general evolutionary theory.

      I will give it further consideration and get back to the discussion then.

  30. No.

    Morality is new. Sin has nothing to do with morality. Where religious codes coincide with morality (don’t kill, don’t steal) is simply a matter of evolution, perhaps described by Kant’s Categorical Imperative. A society that endorses murder will have no members, and a society that endorses theft will cease to function and disappear. Correct answers to moral questions emerge as a matter of survivability. This is the Darwinism of memes.

    When I imagine the birth of religion, it’s some narcissist or pervert who wanted the adoration of others. The eventual benefits (structure, rules, culture) are incidental and would occur in the absence of mythology.

    • In reply to #92 by This Is Not A Meme:

      Morality is new.

      Shouldn’t there be a “not” in there? On evolutionary time-scales, religion is a lot newer. Religious memes must have exploited and manipulated a pre-existing genetically evolved moral framework to have become successful.

      • In reply to #94 by Peter Grant:

        In reply to #92 by This Is Not A Meme:

        Morality is new.

        Shouldn’t there be a “not” in there? On evolutionary time-scales, religion is a lot newer. Religious memes must have exploited and manipulated a pre-existing genetically evolved moral framework to have become successful.

        As a meta-ethical question, you are right. We can observe what we call morality in other animals and in human babies. It seems to have an intrinsic root in consciousness. Our concept of morality is new, like romantic love or adolescence is new. It’s our perception and appreciation of it that’s new, thus it could not have been an inspiration in the development of religion.

        • I’m certainly no expert, but could it be that morality, fairness, etc. evolved and early man created religion to account for it? In reply to #112 by This Is Not A Meme:

          In reply to #94 by Peter Grant:

          In reply to #92 by This Is Not A Meme:

          Morality is new.

          Shouldn’t there be a “not” in there? On evolutionary time-scales, religion is a lot newer. Religious memes must have exploited and manipulated a pre-existing genetically evolved moral framework to have become…

  31. Much of the discussion here seems to concentrate on which single survival mechanism generates which type of behaviour, and I think the probable answer is: they all do. Each one of us carries the potential for everything from extreme selfishness to familial altruism to tribe altruism and even species altruism, and a gamut of personality types which blend varying degrees of every conceivable trait from psychopathy to Oxytocin-generated obsessive love, (generally understood to ensure parents stay together for about seven years of child-rearing).

    Across time, a vast array of threats will be encountered by any given group which each require a different response: the selfish gene will ensure “I survive”; reciprocal altruism may mean “we survive” and kin selection might best be described as “at least they’ll survive”.

    Evolution doesn’t care if individuals exhibit inappropriate, (socially or morally), responses, so long as the general trend is towards survival.

  32. If you are talking about organised religion then the earliest evidence seems to be from Göbekli Tepe.
    http://www.academia.edu/1606875/Gobekli_Tepe_-_A_Stone_Age_ritual_center_in_southeastern_Turkey

    This archaeological site has been subject to some wild speculations, Here’s mine: It looks like it marks a transition from shamanism to organised priesthood. The large pillars with carvings are more likely to represent ancestors than gods. Possibly all that was needed by the first priests to impose their version of morality was a teaching like this “If you hide your food and don’t give your portion to the priests, etc. blah, blah, the ancestors in the sky will see you and punish you”.

  33. Here is a book that you might find interesting (Ijust found out about it.)

    Frans de Waal recently published a book called “The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates,” which synthesizes evidence that there are biological roots in human fairness, and explores what that means for the role of religion in human societies. Here’s the link to an article about it: http://lightyears.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/12/science-seat-where-morals-come-from/

    • In reply to #109 by wsayeth4:

      Here is a book that you might find interesting (Ijust found out about it.)

      Frans de Waal recently published a book called “The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates,” which synthesizes evidence that there are biological roots in human fairness, and explores what that mean…

      Title which possibly makes no sense.

      • I suggest you take that up with Dr. de Waal. In reply to #111 by maria melo:

        In reply to #109 by wsayeth4:

        Here is a book that you might find interesting (Ijust found out about it.)

        Frans de Waal recently published a book called “The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates,” which synthesizes evidence that there are biological roots in human fairne…

        • In reply to #116 by wsayeth4:

          I suggest you take that up with Dr. de Waal. In reply to #111 by maria melo:

          In reply to #109 by wsayeth4:

          Here is a book that you might find interesting (Ijust found out about it.)

          Frans de Waal recently published a book called “The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primat…

          I rather prefer to read the book “Wild Justice” actually, and plan to that had it not yet been published, sense I attended a conference in 2006 (I guess), and even sat near Marc Bekoff, the author.
          That´s a shame I didn´t do it yet.
          I don´t plan to read the book of Frans de Waal, I am sorry, but I have many plans and books to read, and life is so short.

          • I’m not suggesting that you read de Waal’s book.In reply to #120 by maria melo:

            In reply to #116 by wsayeth4:

            I suggest you take that up with Dr. de Waal. In reply to #111 by maria melo:

            In reply to #109 by wsayeth4:

            Here is a book that you might find interesting (Ijust found out about it.)

            Frans de Waal recently published a book called “The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Sear…

  34. And replying Red Dog´s statement AGAIN:

    They present overwhelming data from anthropology that in almost ever society we have ever studied religion and morals go hand in hand.

    All of us have the same basic cognitive structures, (as a species), the same that were at the origin of magic and religious thinking (the first Rupestre art, besides being art, had in fact a magical purposes of controlling the chase, reproduction, etc ) and each one of us may have an infancy period when this kind of a confusion between outside world and our will occurs (science is of course the most effective way to take control over outside world phenomena).

    Social facts are in fact total.

    Conclusions such as religion has the sphere of morality and science…. nonoverlapping magisteria (NOMA), as put by S. J. Gould doesn´t seem neutral to me, and it seems that the Templeton Foundation inspires the loss of the ethics of some “science”, I disgust such claims.

  35. One last comment on altruism. To just dismiss my two examples by saying part of your ethical theory is that humans are so dumb that they can’t tell kin from people who they are randomly assigned to work with by the army or that they can’t tell their kin from their spouse is a ridiculous argument. Its one thing to say (as Dawkins does) that a mother bird can’t tell cheater birds from her actual children. There is good theoretical logic that says a mom should be predisposed to think any bird that is even close to her species and ends up in the nest IS her child. We can even model mathematically why it would make sense for her to make that kind of mistake. There is no analogous argument for why a human male would start to think his wife is actually one of his children.

    In fact you even have the argument backwards. What you really mean is that anyone who would criticize Joe in my Joe and Mary example is the one mistaking Mary for Joe’s child. If you really believe that reciprocal altruism and kin selection define all morality you should think that a man who divorces his wife once she can no longer have children is always making the ethical choice. And you should also think its moral to rape women as long as the women are fertile, the rapist doesn’t use a condom, and is sure he won’t get caught.

    • In reply to #115 by Red Dog:

      To just dismiss my two examples by saying part of your ethical theory is that humans are so dumb that they can’t tell kin from people who they are randomly assigned to work with by the army or that they can’t tell their kin from their spouse is a ridiculous argument.

      This is an astonishing misunderstanding and muddling of the experience of feelings emerging from a brain’s chemical bath and an intellectual understanding. The feeling is a feeling and doesn’t come with a tag labelled “kin detected”. More astonishing is the idea that consciously knowing kin from non kin enables you to correctly die for only kin when the time comes (for this is the implication of what you are saying in its converse state of affairs.)

      Incidentally the Dawkin’s quote in #13 is probably some sort of nadir for him in terms of clarity of thought. I’m fairly confident after 37years he would quite like to rephrase this clumsy defence. Indeed I think he has already said as much when talking about mad Mary Midgely.

    • In reply to #115 by Red Dog:

      If you really believe that reciprocal altruism and kin selection define all morality you should think that a man who divorces his wife once she can no longer have children is always making the ethical choice.

      No not all morality as Neodarwinian rightly says BUT in this case the argument for stable grandparenting as the strategy that better secures your own (male and female) genes is thoroughly viable, given the decline in sperm quality with age.

      • In reply to #121 by phil rimmer:

        In reply to #115 by Red Dog:

        Just one final thought on the broadness of application of oxytocin (and just to be clear I am not identifying this as the definitive or the sole kin detect mechanism that facilitates kin altruism, just a strong candidate for one such). This is a multifunctional hormone which evolved from similar chemicals with deep evolutionary roots. As with all of evolution’s products its functions are subject to further evolutionary usage, for instance receptors being developed elsewhere for other appropriate functions. Its presence in the run up to and during childbirth may well have represented a timely signal for those recently adapted sweat glands to release their fatty sugary nourishment. The calming effect on mother and child a later timely facilitation. The extension of its presence in early years may be caused by grooming, with the fairly recently understood functions of C-tactile nerves that terminate at furry patches (or once furry patches) of skin in mammals. These are exclusively sensual, sensory nerves, fur probably acting as a mechanical lever to enhance the calming feel-good of and co-operation in the process.

        That grooming can now trigger oxytocin the birthing chemical, is the beginning of a whole suite of further evolved behaviours often related to bonding. In small societies kin detection is often as right as its wrong, but as we’ve seen most as-if kin reactions are beneficial. One of the most closely related (sic) spill overs is into shared child rearing. We are the only species to entrust our children to others. Having long-term-helpless young kids is hugely demanding on hunter gatherer parents. Building trust with others (beyond grandparents even), as-if kin and entrusting them your genetic immortality is a profound win probably only made possible with this nonapeptide.

    • In reply to #114 by Red Dog:

      In reply to #113 by halucigenia:

      In reply to #86 by Red Dog:

      In reply to #81 by halucigenia:

      “Band of Brothers” = kin selection, no?

      That is the point. They obviously are not kin but they behave as if they are. Why?

      Because they consider themselves as close as brothers, and that is how one instinctually behaves towards a brother … I don’t think that we really differ much in our positions anyway Red Dog

      No we differ a lot. If you don’t see that the arguments I’ve made demonstrate conclusively that there is more to what most people consider morality than can be currently explained by selfish genes and existing biological theories of altruism not only do you not understand me you don’t understand Dawkins either. I looked back over some of my comments and he clearly says that in a quote I left from The Selfish Gene in comment 13.

      Nowhere have I denied that “there is more to what most people consider morality than can be currently explained by selfish genes and existing biological theories of altruism”. Of course people should consider morality in a rational manner and be able to explain morality in ways other than can be explained by selfish genes and existing biological theories of altruism. It’s just that at root I think that this is where the initial concept of morality could actually reside when one understands the selfish gene metaphor.

      As I have already explained that quote from Richard Dawkins that you used was his (unsuccessful) attempt to pre-empt misunderstandings of his book by people who would read it by title alone and suggest that selfishness and greed are good things because they are “in our nature” of course, those people who did read the book only by its title did not read this either and the book was still misunderstood in just this respect.

      My position is similar to yours because I do understand what Richard Dawkins has to say about the subject. You and Richard are correct, we should not be advocating a morality based [exclusively] on evolution. However, we can also read the rest of the book The Selfish Gene and understand that it also does say important things about how selfish genes actually promote altruistic behaviours and learn something which IMHO is important about how animal societies arose and gave rise to both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behavioural traits.

      This next post is really where you go off the deep end, are you trying to troll or something?

      In reply to #115 by Red Dog:

      One last comment on altruism. To just dismiss my two examples by saying part of your ethical theory is that humans are so dumb that they can’t tell kin from people who they are randomly assigned to work with by the army or that they can’t tell their kin from their spouse is a ridiculous argument.

      A ridiculous argument that I suspect no one on this thread actually proposes. I certainly don’t, do you simply misunderstand my posts?

      What I am trying to explain to you is that the innate sense of loyalty that we feel for a group of people that we bond to because we think of them as brothers is at root because a brother shares at least half our genes. That we have evolved to instinctually lay down our lives for a group that can be thought of as a ‘band of our brothers’. We are not so dumb that we can’t tell comrades in arms from brothers, but it is because we consciously or unconsciously treat them as brothers that we have an innate tendency to be loyal enough to them to lay down our lives for them. Where do you think that this tendency comes from? Is it because “society” expects it of us, if so why is it that society expects this?

      The individual, or the genes do not have to mistake comrades for kin, you don’t have to have read the book The Selfish Gene to know that a brother shares at least half your genes to innately behave this way to someone who feels as close as a brother to you. I suspect that you would even agree that it’s not really a rational conscious decision to lay down ones life, but in these situations it is often the ‘reflex’ action. And as such it is something that you must agree requires to be explained somehow. If my (actually Richard Dawkins) explanation is lacking, then how do you go about explaining it?

      As for “can’t tell their kin from their spouse” where the hell do you get that from, it can’t be from my posts, or am I just so bad at explaining this example? What I was explaining was pair bonding, mating for life and the fact that our lifespan is much longer now than it was when we evolved these traits. Nothing whatsoever to do with kin.

      Its one thing to say (as Dawkins does) that a mother bird can’t tell cheater birds from her actual children. There is good theoretical logic that says a mom should be predisposed to think any bird that is even close to her species and ends up in the nest IS her child. We can even model mathematically why it would make sense for her to make that kind of mistake.

      You almost seem to get it, maybe this is why humans tend to have compassion for other species babies too? Then you come out with the next absurdity.

      There is no analogous argument for why a human male would start to think his wife is actually one of his children.

      Where has anyone in this thread even suggested such a thing? Is this is simply a strawman argument to try and misrepresent other’s views?

      In fact you even have the argument backwards. What you really mean is that anyone who would criticize Joe in my Joe and Mary example is the one mistaking Mary for Joe’s child.

      I ask again, where does anyone propose this?

      If you really believe that reciprocal altruism and kin selection define all morality you should think that a man who divorces his wife once she can no longer have children is always making the ethical choice. And you should also think its moral to rape women as long as the women are fertile, the rapist doesn’t use a condom, and is sure he won’t get caught.

      Now, that’s just a fallacious attempt at a reductio ad absurdum, fallacious because it takes position that no one on this thread defends as far as I can see.
      No one in this thread I suspect thinks this; That reciprocal altruism and kin selection define all morality. Is this a genuine misunderstanding or are you just misunderstanding what we are trying to explain to you on purpose simply to strawman our position?

      And this is the exact thing that we both agree that Richard Dawkins warns us about in the introduction to The Selfish Gene; That we should not define all morality based [exclusively] on evolution. However, that does not mean to say that we can find certain behaviours explained by the metaphor of the selfish gene that might help to explain why we have a tendency toward moral behaviour under certain circumstances. Maybe you should read the entire book rather than just that one quote.

      Sorry if I sound harsh but this discussion is becoming very frustrating.

  36. Red Dog, I’ve just read through this thread and – at the risk of completely derailing the conversation– I’d just like to refer to your comment # 76, (pause while everyone scrolls up to read it).

    I would say the reason that cheating never became a dominant trait is reasonably self-evident: almost any type of behaviour can reach a point where it ceases to be an advantage and instead becomes destructive. A society comprised largely of such individuals will not survive for long when the going gets tough and cooperation becomes necessary and, of course, if the group doesn’t survive then the individual loses the benefits that this can bring.

    However, if times get extremely tough then it may reach a point where only the cheaters make it through, perhaps by stealing food for their loved ones from the rest of the group. In this way “bad” behaviour can keep the species going, but only until social behaviour reasserts itself.

    Certain behaviour patterns may appear to be inexplicable or redundant, but they are usually in place because they proved useful under certain conditions, and may do so again the future.

    The link I posted earlier shows how even bacteria possess a genetic switch which enables them to self-sacrifice to ensure the survival of the species, so it would seem that both selfish and selfless actions are fundamental in the arsenal of weapons that natural selection makes use of.

    Thus we see the roots of morality – the notion of what your peers consider “good” and “bad” behaviour in its simplest form – before layers and layers of complexity are piled on top.

  37. First I would not be so sure about morals of the pre-religious societies. I believe, for example that survival of the pack of wolves depend on their ability to cooperate.
    And next, here is how my Mum taught me not to steal sweets from the buffet. There were always some chocolates, the price of a kilo was about 1/40 – 1/30 of monthly income of engineer (it was Soviet Union) and I stole one from time to time. And once my Mum called us, gave a chocolate to me, another to my sister and then added “and none for me, because Ieva (that’s me) ate it. That was end to my attempts to get more than I have earned. And no need of any religion.

  38. People came first, then they invented religion. They invented it on the basis of their own morals. I think most people knew that killing people is wrong….but with no legal system and police I can imagine it being difficult to make sure that everybody acted in a correct way (we are still killing each other today eventhough we know its wrong). So I think religion served as a “police of the mind”. I think it served a good purpose back then…but now we do not need it anymore in the western world.

    • In reply to #132 by FARFARSCHON:

      People came first, then they invented religion. They invented it on the basis of their own morals. I think most people knew that killing people is wrong….but with no legal system and police I can imagine it being difficult to make sure that everybody acted in a correct way (we are still killing ea…

      Robert Sapolsky gives a fascinating account of how chimp trouble makers and interlopers are dealt with by small bands of chimps acting as a proto-police force/army. This is obviously pre-religion. Its all there folks.

      The US has 25% of the worlds prisoners (98% religious)

      The UK has 20% of the worlds CCTV cameras.

      Maybe cameras do a better job (less mind fucking) of looking over our shoulders.

  39. This seems more tribal warefare, as observed by Jane Goodall. Pre-religious would rather be the rain dance, also as observed by Jane Goodall. There´s an episode in which Richard Dawkins interviews someone that confirms what can be considered as pre-religious actually. I´ll look for it.

  40. In many threads on this site, we’ve examined that religion gave answers (bad ones but answers nonetheless) to questions that at the time had no other recourse. So commonly people assume that through fear and of course subsequent punishment driven by religion that things like ethics and morality came about.

    This is sadly more of an oversimplification.

    This is about the origins of civilization at its root, going from wandering tribes to thriving societies and the reasons why that happened. Primarily for the sake of survival we started gathering resources that others had that we needed and had to find a method of coexistence that everyone could agree upon (a system of laws, governance, etc) and obviously it wasn’t going to be perfect at the start. People with more money and resources had more say, those that had nothing were reduced to servitude and minor crimes could have severe to fatal consequences.

    But our methods of ethics and morality developed from it just as our system of laws and government did. It’s why our ideas concerning them are still growing and why religion is so mired in it, because religion did for a very long time tackle the unanswerable (again, badly) and helped shape how people saw the world. It was a part of the culture.

    But not its sole source of morality and ethics, a statement that far too many theists take as both literal and true. There are a multitude of biological and environmental factors as well, but the societal ones are those which seem to get most confused in discussions like this.

  41. long before there is any evidence of religious activity in the fossil record early man flourished through cooperation. like other “pack” animals we hunted, gathered and fed our young just as other species who do not engage in religious ritual.

    I believe the “wiring” for a belief in a supreme being evolved along with the brain. As a late fetus and into early infancy our only exposure to something supreme is the mother or caretaker. The unborn do have a sense of hearing. Infants have poor vision and muffled hearing due to water in the ears. So all of our needs are met by an abstraction that sees to all our needs including a sense of safety. For the early infant oblects or faces move into perception from a “fog” we are extremely near sighted but we pay close attention to faces although we have no concept of object permanancy. This is why peek a boo is so much fun for a child. out of sight…out of existence as far as the infant is concerned. So when all your needs are met by waving or creating an auditory distress signal. And needs are met by the mystical caretaker that manifests from nowhere.The frst prayer is answered.

    This I believe is the precursor for religious belief. Once the other faculties develop and the child better perceives its environment this “wiring” is latent and replaced by Object Awareness. The mother is now an object whereas earlier she was a mere impermanent abstraction that answered to our needs.

    The latent neural network is only reinforced if the child is introduced to a “supreme or otherworldly” being.

    In nearly all religions the mother is a deity. This is a sort of reversal of the earlier process. We create a subjective attached to the objective of mother. The first deity.

    Of course early religions were dominated by men. So the supreme deity or Godhead tends to be a father or manifests in human form as a man.

  42. IMHO, Religion is a primitive way of government. Religion tell you what you can do and what you cannot do. Beliefs is a way to enforce the religion by fear. Why the believers do not challenge the beliefs? because ignorance.

    explanation:
    Religion sets the rules of what is acceptable in the congregation, as well as sets the authority figures. Religion is the law.

    Beliefs: Religion enforces their laws by fear, fear of somebody is going to punish you for eternity for all the wrong things people do after they die. So religion drills in the believers head that somebody is always watching and you have no way to be anonymous. So there is no choice to behave always.

    reasoning:
    Ignorance is the worst enemy, since because you cannot explain natural phenomena. like the sun, the love, life, creation and others events, you automatically associate these events with a divine entity.

    Principles?, Code of ethics?. no Living the life properly has to be done by conviction not by fear. Common sense is the best teacher. don’t kill if you don’t want to be killed, don’t steal if you don’t want your belongings to be stolen, don’t lie if you don’t want people to lie to you and so on. it is just common sense.

    C

  43. Religion is about power. The founders of religions claim that it’s about morality, but in reality it’s about coercing people not to think for themselves but to agree with what the ‘elders and betters’ are saying, which is usually something along the lines of “do as I tell you to”. Morality comes from empathy, not religion.

  44. Asking what religion is for may be the same kind of error as asking what mountains are for. Sure a utility may be found, but thats not the same as saying a thing has a purpose, let alone an intended one.

  45. I think that morality evolved. Morality is very similar in all cultures, no matter what religion is dominant. Even in cultures that never heard of Christianity, for instance. Along with aggression as a survival mechanism, we evolved the ability to cooperate. And because of that, wherever you look, murder and theft are illegal (for instance).

    Religion itself evolved, or at least the tendency to believe in the supernatural. Nothing rallies people together like religion. And nothing makes them so willing to kill the ‘other.’ A tribe with religion was probably far more likely to be cohesive as a unit as well as willing to wipe out other tribes, leading to the spread of the genes for belief and the decimation of lineages without belief.

    Morality, language, and belief in the supernatural are all hardwired into our brains, the result of evolution as evidenced by the fact that, although the details of all three differ by culture, all three exist in every culture.

Leave a Reply