Contradictions: Neuroscience and Religion (Springer Praxis Books)

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Whereas Darwinian Theory was able to inspire the "major issues" of Western philosophy and to foster an evolutionary epistemology, evolutionary ethics, and even evolutionary aesthetics, a comparable "boost" with regard to religiousness has not been observed to date. It appears to be the last bastion of the anti-naturalists and is gladly used as evidence that the project of naturalizing human mind and its achievements is ultimately destined to fail.

Evolutionary anthropologists and psychologists do not to accept this, in their view an unsatisfactory situation, and instead are attempting to reconstruct how religiousness came into the world from an evolutionary standpoint. For this purpose, scholars from various disciplines met at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg HWK, Institute for Advanced Studies in Delmen- horst in September , in order to combine their perspectives from evolutionary anthropology, psychology, neurobiology, cognitive studies, religious studies, and behavioral genetics.

Basically, the issue was to find out with which theoretical and methodological tool a naturalistic research concept of religiousness and its evolu- tionary roots could be advanced. Some of the chapters in this book are revised and extended versions of presentations made at this meeting. Other pertinent contribu- tions have been added, and all authors have taken care to present their ideas in a manner accessible to a broad readership.

Once again, the HWK has provided a pleasant atmosphere in every respect and the perfect infrastructure, and thus, has laid the very important foundation for productive and successful scientific com- munication. Our hearty thanks are also to Dr. Ulrich Frey, who, in his capacity as Editorial Assistant, has endeavored to put what the authors supplied into shape.

Angela Lahee for their interest in this project and for their excellent vi Preface cooperation in every phase of producing this book. Palmer, Ryan M. Ellsworth, and Lyle B. Bouchard, Jr. Richert and Erin I. Universitat Trier, Universitatsring 15, Trier, kunz. In most societies religion is a prime motivator of both individual and collective behavior.

This can be "good" charitable, unselfish or "bad" oppressive, cruel, wasteful behavior. The influence of religion in society is to be found throughout the entire spectrum of human activity - from wars and worship to gender roles, eating habits, and art. Religion and religious practices have existed throughout the human history, and persist today in every corner of the world. What caused our species to develop this propensity for religious behavior or "reli- giosity" as we will sometimes call it? How would an intelligent explorer from outer space explain this pervasive yet seemingly illogical phenomenon?

Whereas much of human behavior can be readily accounted for in terms of simple needs or more com- plex evolved strategies, an explanation of the origins and role of religious behavior proves - even for us Earthlings - to be more elusive. Sociologists, psychologists, and philosophers have all sought to analyze and understand "homo religious" and have put forward various hypotheses to explain the strong and often contagious hold that religion has over human individuals and soci- eties. Yet none of these attempts, although providing plausible reasons why religion can help in our daily lives, has so far led to a consistent naturalistic explanation for how religious behavior first developed and became established.

If we wish to under- stand and assess the importance of religion and religious behavior in modern society, then it is imperative that we seek its biological roots and investigate how these could have facilitated the emergence and persistence of this omnipresent phenomenon. Voland, W.

Schiefenhovel eds. Schiefenhovel and E. Voland The observation that religion is ubiquitous in all human societies, with the beliefs of one religion often in flat contradiction to those of the next, already gives us a strong hint concerning their natural origins. Indeed, the contradictory nature of dif- ferent religions is also a main argument used in recent popular works that present religion as an irrational and harmful force. Several of these "new atheist" authors also draw attention to the need to explain why - despite its inherent contradictions and, in part, harmful side effects - religious behavior has evidently been such a successful human trait.

Thus they too have helped to promote interest in the search for a consistent scientific explanation of the origins of human religiosity. It is this search, using the tools of science and rational discourse, but with no presuppositions about the validity, sense, or benefits of religious ideas, that occupies the editors and authors of the pages that follow.

The 18 further contributions to this book provide insights from a wide variety of perspectives, including evolution - theoretical, neurobiological, psychological, sociological, and historical. Together they lead to some preliminary answers about how natural selection could have favored individuals or groups engaging in reli- gious activities. An alternative hypothesis - according to which religious behavior is simply a by-product of another adaptive trait - is also discussed.

The remaining paragraphs of this introduction touch upon the highlights of each contribution. An impressive corpus of works of art, from anonymous accounts in oral history to paintings by great masters and to religion-inspired music, for example by Johann Sebastian Bach, tells of the motivational power exercised by religious beliefs and traditions. For many, the canon of sacred contents and teachings, such as those pre- sented in the Bible or the Koran, must have come from outside our human sphere.

In Chap. Religious metaphysics lies, according to him, outside the adaptational framework and represents a nonfunctional outcome of our general cog- nitive capacities. What characterizes religion? Rudiger Vaas Chap. As they are present in all contemporary and past societies, a reasonable conclusion is that they are adaptive, evolved traits, not just a by-product of other cognitive capacities or a meme-like cultural institution. The advantage of evolutionary hypotheses is that they can be tested: universality, reproductive advantage, and heredity are among the criteria that need to be fulfilled.

The author shows that an evolutionary explanation of religious- ness is possible, but that there is not yet sufficient data to confirm the adaptation hypothesis. He raises the question whether modern disciplines such as evolutionary psychology and neurotheology can elucidate "belief," "hope," and "love," the three main pillars of Christian faith. How can an argument be constructed that proves the evolutionary origin of reli- gion?

Jay Feierman's approach to this task in Chap. Structural design features are identified that build up the four essential components: behavior, beliefs, moods, and feelings. The chapter also deals with the potential levels of selection individual to group of religiosity and ends by hypoth- esizing that belief in divine agents may have shaped the human mind - and not the other way around. As is the case with other human capacities, our obviously hard-wired and hard- to-shed religiousness did not spring into existence de novo. David C. Lahti Chap. One motor for this, he argues, was the increased complexity of interactions taking place in groups of beings with an advanced brain and thereby complex perceptual and behavioral patterns.

From nepotism and dominance, charac- teristic of many social mammals, evolution brought about, as suggested in an eight- step model, religion and, furthermore, the intellectual ability to reflect on moral and religious rules, including the possibility to overthrow the old and create new ones. A key concept in Chap. In contrast to hypothe- ses which hold that adaptive behaviors are brought about by religiosity and that the content of religion is shaped through natural selection, he argues that religions are "all-purpose-cooperation tools," which do not need adaptive functions to evolve and have come about as a result of signal evolution.

Ideational aspects of religion would not necessarily translate into behaviors. In cases where they do, they can have neg- ative effects e. Trust, cooperation, and an obliging cultural value system are seen as the main build- ing blocks of religion, with honest signals and supernatural witnesses serving to safeguard them. All religions contain elements that are, to the mind of a natural scientist, exotic and counterintuitive, for example, the immaculate conception of St.

Mary by her mother Anna and the parthenogenesis of Jesus himself, as well as the many mir- acles defying the laws of nature that have allegedly been brought about by God- like figures and prophets. Craig Palmer and colleagues focus their contribution Chap. The function of speech is to influence oth- ers. In the same way the passing on of religious traditions must have had identi- fiable effects that would allow insight into the proximate mechanisms governing religiosity.

Ultimate explanations may be found in the effects of religious concepts and behaviors passed on through generations: better cooperation among people with the same ancestry, willingness to be influenced by each other, and by the religious teachings of their forebears. Thus, strongly united groups were forged. Increasing brain size and cognitive abilities of our ancestors is also the starting point of Michael Blume in Chap. Cooperative tasks, including cooperative breed- ing, became possible in this process. Funerary rites and offerings, typical of Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens, as well as the belief in supernatural agents whose attributed function is to watch over rules and norms, including those regu- lating reproduction and marriage, can be understood as behavioral traits that have convergently developed in phylogeny.

Wrongdoers are believed to be punished by 4 W. Voland these agents. Costly obligations function as honest signals, prevent free riding and defection, and create a strong sense of unity. Recent Swiss census data serve as a basis to infer that natural and sexual selection brings about religion-related disposi- tions and can foster successful demographic transitions. When did the first member of the genus Homo start to exhibit religious behav- ior, that is, behavior that could be detected in the archeological record?

Did Nean- derthals bury their dead and place symbols of belonging and empathy in the graves? Matt Rossano Chap. In this time period H. Reli- gion, argues the author, was a crucial factor that helped our species to become finally so successful that it was able to build civilizations in almost all regions of our planet. Archaeology gives us, but little insight into the way early humans thought and behaved, into their cosmologies and religious ideas.

Traditional societies with near- neolithic living conditions, such as the Eipo in rugged highland New Guinea, are good models to fill some of the gaps. Chapter 10 by Wulf Schiefenhovel describes their religious concepts and rituals and the recent change to Christianity. The new religion served as a mental and spiritual base for the new lives they had decided to embark on. The contribution argues that an important function of religion is to explain the bewildering world and, especially, to make sense of threatening events, which will otherwise deeply trouble the mind and psyche of people in a society without an advanced body of natural science.


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The group-binding function of religion is also an important part of the bundle of adaptive advantages that is likely to have caused religiousness and religion to evolve. Studies of monozygotic twins reared apart are the most powerful instrument in assessing the relative strength of genetic-biological versus social-environmental inputs into our perceptive and behavioral system.

By virtue of his large data base Thomas Bouchard Chap. Whereas the tendency to obey authority can be exploited by religious authorities, this trait, which has possibly evolved as part of reciprocity, may still have adaptive value. Children and juveniles are easily "imprinted" by religious convictions and by role models showing religious behavior. This fact is utilized by probably all denomina- tions, which take great care that the next generation grows up in and with the right belief.

Chapter 12 by Rebekah Richert and Erin I. Smith reports research carried out on children. Their concepts, for example of supernatural agents, creation, afterlife, and the soul, can be seen as the outcome of nonreligious cognitive mechanisms and serve as ontogenetic building blocks for later religious beliefs. How strong is the role of culture, the way we are brought up, the social environ- ment around us, in shaping functions of our brain? This question has kept genera- tions of researchers busy and often led to hostility between the proponents of a pre- dominance of either biological or social factors.

Modern evolutionary biology and anthropology stress the fact that what happens always involves interplay between 1 Introduction 5 nature and nurture. In Shihui Han's contribution Chap. He shows that there are clear differences between Chinese and Western individuals in how the self is experienced more part of a family and more independent, respectively and, particularly important in the discussion of possible psychosocial effects of dif- ferent religious traditions, that individuals belonging to the Christian faith exhibit other types of brain activation, in some cases, and thereby different neurocognitive patterns than individuals who have a different religious background.

Specific, well-defined malfunctions of the brain can serve as heuristic approaches to understanding its normal functioning. Parkinson's disease provides such a win- dow into neurocognitive processes and is the topic of Chap. Erica Harris and Patrick McNamara have studied Parkinson patients and found that they report less religiousness than healthy controls. Patients are also less able to recall religious experience, and patients whose impairment is related to the right hemisphere report less detail with regard to religious rituals.

The results support the notion that a depletion of dopamine in delimited regions of the brain, which is typical for per- sons suffering from Parkinson's disease, is responsible for their less developed religiousness.

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Spiritual experiences, facilitated, for example, by mysticism and similar tradi- tions and techniques, may provide valuable insights to some and may lie close to delusions for others. Psychiatry, as Martin Briine shows in Chap. In his chap- ter he examines capacities such as evaluating evidence in support of or refuting hypotheses, propensity for causality, the ability to attribute mental states to self and others the so-called theory of mind and finds a continuum of trait variations from normal evaluation of one's beliefs and readiness to consider alternative hypothe- ses to extreme forms of religious delusions that "detect" divine interference in all spheres of life and resist doubt and re-evaluation.

This condition can be described as "delusional religiousness. Which cognitive and psychologi- cal mechanisms make religions survive is the question that Ulrich Frey pursues in Chap. He states that many of our intuitive assessments of the world, ascribing causality, etc. Specific cognitive steps ensure that beliefs in supernatural entities, once formed, will persist against counterevidence. Religiously motivated behavior serves, as has also been demonstrated by other scholars, as a very effective means of creating group cohesion and preventing the damaging acts of free riders.

It becomes thus evident why religious systems have been quite a success in human history. Keeping traditions seems a classic concern of religion, from those in animist cultures to the efforts of the Vatican and the sacred, unchangeable nature of holy 6 W. Voland scriptures like the Bible and the Koran. Religion can, however, as Purzycki and Sosis argue in Chap.

This is, so the authors argue? Chapter 1 8 by Wolfgang Achtner deals with the historic and epistemic develop- ment of such concepts, especially with the question of how religion has been put into a functional, evolutionary, or quasi-evolutionary framework by thinkers of dif- ferent periods, from ancient Greek philosophers to our contemporaries. The author proposes a model in which he combines essentially inherent features of religion with others that can be explained by an evolutionary approach.

In the last chapter, Chap. According to the author, an over- arching, one may say "grand," evolutionary theory of religion is still lacking.


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  6. He lists different possible approaches to such a goal and critically discusses arguments that have been put forward by a number of previous authors, namely whether group selection can explain religiosity and religion, whether religion really brings about reproductive gains, whether it is really costly, and why it causes people to believe in entities for whose existence proofs cannot be provided. The aim of this volume is to discuss the evolutionary origins of religiousness and religion and to define the status quo of this endeavor.

    It is obvious that many other interesting aspects of religion s are missing: historical accounts of the formation of religions, for example, in the fertile crescent and around the Mediterranean sea; their borrowing concepts and symbols; their mutual syncretism; their political func- tionality; their role as powerful and exclusive ethnic markers including fostering fanaticism ; as institutions promoting social and moral behavior; and in bringing about the first academic institutions, thereby fostering philosophy and other sci- ences.

    This, however, would have exceeded the scope of our undertaking by far. Also missing are positions that do not, to some degree at least, integrate evo- lutionary thinking. Religiousness, that is, the capacity of humans to emotionally connect to religious ideas and rituals, to think along the lines of transcendency and eschatology, and to form religious institutions, has, that is the claim of the two opposing schools of thought, come about in one of the two mutually exclusive ways: a by divine action and revelation or b as a result of adaptive traits that helped our ancestors to survive, have more offspring, and develop more cohesive groups.

    It is indeed fascinating that the first position is still, on a global basis, the predomi- nant one by far and that many intellectuals are able to make peace with its basic statements. An interesting question is whether this will change in the course of time, whether evolutionary, that is atheist or in slightly milder form agnostic, positions will become more widespread in the future. Europe, after the dramatic political changes of the late s provides an interesting model.

    In all former socialist countries but one, religion is booming, churches are being renovated, new ones are being 1 Introduction 7 built in amazing numbers e. Former East Germany is the exception: 45 years of Marxism sufficed to produce a predominantly atheist society, even the communist version of the First Communion for Catholics or Confirmation for Protestants has survived; many juveniles celebrate their coming of age in the "Jugendweihe," a totally secular rite of passage.


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    4. One deeply troubling question plagues the minds of many who are convinced that religion is the product of human need rather than divine intervention: by what should it be replaced? Will an enlightened humanism be a sufficient and effective basis for the human societies on our planet? Or should one continue to adhere to religious dogmas and traditions, even when they are hollow, as is the case even for many believers, because the danger of creating a horrible vacuum is too great? This volume does not provide an answer; it tries to portray human religiosity in the light of the human evolutionary past.

      The paradox of an evolutionary approach to religion is that it shows convinc- ingly, some would argue how adaptive its deeply embedded basic neurocognitive mechanisms have been and still are for the human brain. Should we use its analytic capacity to surgically dissect these age-old adaptations, to finally overcome them? Would this not, in essence, constitute an anti-evolutionary stand? Many questions remain. We can only hope that readers will find the positions and answers in this book interesting, perhaps sparking off or renewing their own ideas about what reli- gion really is.

      Chapter 2 Evaluating the Evolutionary Status of Religiosity and Religiousness Eckart Voland Abstract Adaptations must meet three criteria: they are inherited, are the product of historical selective processes and thus show a special-purpose design, and they solve an adaptive problem or solved an adaptive problem at least at the time of their evolution.

      Central components of human religiosity spirituality, group bond- ing, forming a personal identity, communication by honest signals and morals meet these criteria. The exceptions are religious cognition and its product, religious meta- physics, which has to be understood as a non-functional by-product of mundane cognitive machinery, so that in summary, religious life and practice mysticism, rit- uals, myths, ceremonies and taboos, fear of God, spirits or ancestors are shaped to a very significant degree by biological adaptations. In a far-reaching consensus, experts and laymen agree what the core phenomena of religion are.

      These phenom- ena exist in various forms in all human cultures. Without a doubt, religiousness is part of the canon of transcultural human universals Antweiler ; Brown Religiousness is also very old. When exactly religiousness evolved cannot be pre- cisely determined, because there are no paleo-anthropological fossils or archaeo- logical remains of mental representations, of course, even if Rossano this volume has formulated an interesting hypothesis concerning the possible Upper Paleolithic temporal horizon of the evolutionary emergence of religiousness.

      Pre-Upper Pale- olithic populations are assumed by this author to exhibit what he calls protoreli- gion Rossano The use of ochre to paint the body and cannibalism could perhaps be linked with mental concepts which later developed fully into religious E. Voland metaphysics. Anyway, religiousness is at least as old as other features of human symbolic culture and is inseparably interwoven with human nature Mithen Now, the universal dissemination of a feature, such as religiosity, and its pre- historic origins are by no means sufficient criteria for a biological adaptation.

      The crucial question must be whether religiosity has evolved, because there are very direct and immediate fitness benefits associated with religiosity in the Darwinian competition, or whether the mental basis for religiosity has evolved for completely different reasons instead, and therefore, religiosity would tend to have to be under- stood as a biologically functionless by-product of originally non-religious mental adaptations. If this were the case, all those sceptics who have always claimed that religious behavior cannot be beneficial, from a biological point of view, would be right, because the effort associated with the exercise of religion in terms of time, resources and risks could never pay off in units of reproductive fitness.

      Even if it should prove to be the case, however, that religiosity cannot be assessed as a bio- logically functional adaptation, it will, nevertheless, be necessary to clarify from which evolutionary adaptations religiosity represents a non-functional by-product; i. At this point, there seems to be a need to clarify the terminology. In the following, religiosity is understood to be the mental ability to be religious.

      Religiousness is the individually varying psychic and behavioral manifestation of religiosity and religion is the local and culturally based symbolic niche, in which the development of reli- giosity to religiousness occurs. In accordance with this terminological classification, the question of the evolutionary status of religiosity, i. When evaluating the evolutionary status of religiosity, opinions diverge. Opinions holding that religiosity is to be understood as an adaptation contrast with those opin- ions, which merely classify religiosity as a by-product of an ordinary cognitive and emotional machinery evolved for non-religious, but mundane purposes.

      In my view of the discussions, the reasons for this lack of consensus are not primarily due to the differing evaluations of the sociobiological role of religiosity, but terminological fuzziness instead. The pertinent concepts - adaptation, exaptation, by-product and spandrel - are simply not used uniformly. For the most part, authors agree insofar as adaptations must meet three criteria: they are inherited, are the product of historical selective processes and thus show a special-purpose design, and they solve an adap- tive problem or solved an adaptive problem at least at the time of their evolution.

      Accordingly, an adaptation is defined by the fact that it has evolved for the same reasons for which it is now biologically useful Ridley If this does not apply, one usually speaks of exaptations. Thus, the criterion for distinguishing between adaptations and exap- tations, i. According to this view, it would be false, for example, to speak of bird feathers as adaptations for flying, because feathers originally came about for the purpose of heat regulation in dinosaurs that were unable to fly. Some authors subsume exaptations under the category of by-products, with the consequence that by-products can either be non-functional standard example: the navel or functional exaptation.

      In agreement with Thornhill and many other authors, I do not consider this distinction to be very useful. As is known, adaptation processes start with the building blocks that they find, i. Hardly any evolutionary change could be conceivable which did not occur through a change in the function of existing adaptive traits. This change in function is a constituent element of the process of adaptation and it makes little sense not to describe a naturally selected functional feature of an organism as an adaptation only because it had a different function in its earlier evolutionary history.

      Or would it make sense to not designate the inner ear as an adaptation for the perception of acoustic pressure only because it originated as the sense of balance? Does it make sense not to designate the bonding system of mammals as an adaptation for the regulation of sexual relationships only because it presumably originated from the mother-child attachment system? These examples may serve to illustrate that the distinction between adaptation and functional exaptation is linked to the issue of whether natural selection had suf- ficient opportunity to assess a change in function.

      The ability to use modern tech- nologies is not very likely to be described as a biological adaptation, because it is only a few generations old. The ability to write will also not necessarily be described as an adaptation. Even if this is likely to be generations old perhaps, it is still too recent to have become evolutionarily fixed because of its genuine benefit. Accord- ingly, writing would be a functional exaptation.

      Religiosity is much older, however. Whatever biological adaptations were originally co-opted from this, the change in function coinciding with religiosity was being tested by natural selection for at least as long as the so-called "symbolic revolution" Mithen and had sufficient opportunity to prove itself or fail from an evolutionary standpoint. In this sense, religiosity would have to be referred to as a biological adaptation, if it adequately fulfilled both of the criteria cited, namely "special-purpose design" and "function".

      If the criterion of inheritance does not need to be dealt with any further, because the programmes for developing the brain, the site of human religiosity, are indisputably inherited, then the question regarding the evolutionary status of religiosity concen- trates on the verification of these two criteria, i.

      Voland Religiosity has several components, namely a cognitive, a spiritual, a socially binding, an identity-forming, a communicative and a moral component. Therefore, it lends itself to structuring the question about the evolutionary status of religiosity according to this internal order and to deal with these six partial aspects of religiosity in detail and initially separately from one another. Let us begin with the role of cognitions in religiosity and question their special-purpose design and biological function.

      In doing so, they necessarily have to rely on the whole range and breadth of the human mind which is the result of biological selection processes, so that meta- physical considerations always have to be biologically "earthed". The biologically evolved range of the human mind includes such phenomena as "naive dualism" Bering , "teleological thought" Kelemen and DiYanni , "psychologi- cal essentialism" Gelman , a "theory of mind", an "agency detection device" Atran and Norenzayan ; Barrett et al.

      Frey this volume. When taken together and considering their interactions, this range ensures an adaptive mastery of many real living and survival problems. Children under the age of 5 years attribute omni- science to all of the persons in their immediate environment Barrett and Richert ; Knight et al. Only with the development of a "the- ory of mind" do children begin to understand that different sets of knowledge are at home in different brains. Children under the age of 5 years think teleologically: there are clouds so that it rains; and it rains, so that flowers can thrive Kelemen and DiYanni Finally, younger children attribute mental states to dead individuals Bering Therefore, they not only think dualistically, but at the same time, they store the assumption of a life after death.

      Interestingly enough, these cognitive basic attitudes of early childhood, namely the assumption of omniscient persons and a teleological and a dualistic way of thinking, also form the basis of crucial theoretical assumptions in many theistic systems of beliefs. Thus Bulbulia , p. Accordingly, religiosity would not first have to be arduously learned. On the contrary, religiosity would almost automatically result from the cog- nitive equipment of human beings, whereas the actual intellectual effort would con- sist of renouncing faith as a rationalist. The unique features of the human mind also include what D'Aquili has designated the "cognitive imperative" Newberg et al.

      The cognitive imper- ative forces one to constantly reflect on the regularities and rules of one's expe- riences. The cognitive imperative compels a plausible and coherent design of the 2 Evaluating the Evolutionary Status 13 portrayal of world happenings, without any gaps in explanations, without any islands of irrationality. Human beings obviously cannot stand contingencies, irra- tionality or causal uncertainty, because what is not understood generates fear.

      To avoid this, reasons and causes are seen, even where there aren't any cf. The brain is a permanently working generator of stories. It not only sees rules where there aren't any, but also makes up stories, which allow these rules to appear to be more or less plausible. In this context, cognitive psychologists speak of the "need for closure" or "jumping to conclusions" cf.

      Briine this volume. Basi- cally, Francis Bacon already knew this when he wrote in , The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds. Bacon , book 2, aphorism no. In this way, the basic metaphysical assumptions are merely unavoidable by-products, with consequences that tend to be biologically harmless, of the biologically evolved psyche that is aimed at coping with adaptive problems and which although efficient does not function without making mistakes Atran and Norenzayan ; Boyer ; Kirkpatrick In this context, Nesse Nesse has formulated the "smoke detector principle".

      If a greater harm comes from the non-recognition of a risk than from occasional errors in performance, the cognitive machinery should be adjusted to be super sensitive, just like fire alarms are. An occasional false alarm does not have any negative consequences, for the most part. However, overlooking a danger can be fatal. In this sense, it is more harmless, in terms of biological consequences, to occasionally err and to interpret the mere rustling of leaves animistically, then to go through life without an agency detector. It is more harmless to occasionally suc- cumb to suggestions and to see the wrong thing in twilight than to live completely without any intuitive ontologies and not recognize risks or opportunities that really do exist.

      This fuzziness of the cognitive mechanisms is the breeding ground for a religious metaphysics, which is why they have to be classified as a non-functional by-product of cognitive adaptations. Talented persons are able to achieve these mental states with the aid of special techniques and to explore special worlds of experience. The neurochemical processes which coincide with these mental states are associ- ated with consequences for health and well-being: they reduce the perception of pain, regulate temperature, support the immune functions, reduce the loss of blood, mitigate the effects of psychopathological dysfunctions and activate the bonding system McClenon ; Winkelman Mystical experiences and therapy are 14 E.

      Voland obviously inseparably linked, and this is exploited by shamanism. Owing to the close connection between therapy and mysticism, it is debatable as to whether or not shamanism belongs to the history of medicine or to the history of religion. In any case, mystic elements in day-to-day living can improve one's physical and mental well-being and thus provide for improved mastery of contingencies. This connec- tion has an interesting evolutionary feedback: to the degree that shamanism was therapeutically successful, it selected genotypes which tended to accept suggestions and precisely for this reason, they were also open to unusual experiences that we call religious McClenon There is an extensive literature on the correlation between religious practice and mastery of life events; not only have interesting single studies repeatedly found a positive correlation, but so have statistically reliable meta-analyses.

      Of course, there is also the "dark side" of religious fears and obsessions, which are definitely associated with significant health risks Guthrie ; Magyar-Russell and Pargament Overall, however, the positive effects clearly predominate e. Grom ; Koenig et al. Fear, stress and pain are fended off by mys- tical devotion to religious fictions. Therefore, a first biological benefit function for religious behavior is described: self-preservation through an improved mastery of contingencies. Joint partic- ipation in rituals lends it a social dimension.

      Not infrequently, ritual performances are very rigid, redundant, compulsory and oriented towards "useless" behavioral goals. The whole process is frequently supported by rhythms and ends in a kind of "emotional synchronization" of the participants Hayden ; Winkelman Without rituals that have an emotional impact, religions would lack both an emo- tional depth and a motivating power.

      This means that rituals are used in particular when the intent is to demand collective efforts or special altruistic services from the faithful war, competition or solidarity. Physiologically, this is done by acti- vating the bonding system common to mammals Kirkpatrick ; Winkelman Psychologically, this is done by a form of the loss of self, by the feeling of being at one with the universe Newberg et al. Individuality and egocen- trism are displaced in favour of collectiveness. Accordingly, collective rituals have a lot to do with social coordination and cohesion, with the bundling of forces and with enabling gains through cooperation.

      Ecological and social risks of life can only be successfully countered through coordination under certain circumstances, and in a Darwinian world of personal utility maximizers, the motive of social cohe- sion first has to be arduously implemented. Various empirical studies show a clear correlation in migrant groups e. Van der Lans et al. Thus, there appears to be a second bio- logical benefit function of religiosity: strengthening the community by obligating its members to work towards common goals. This situation also holds true for chim- panzees who engage occasionally in extremely violent group attacks Wrangham Jane Goodall called these aggressive encounters "wars" and found them psychologically similar to human wars.

      A neutral encounter between two groups is practically unknown, there are only friends or enemies, and the accident of group affiliation lastingly determines the personal identity and biography of every individual. However, it is unclear a priori, who actually is a friend or an enemy.

      Reliable markers are required to make this distinction and it appears that the human language makes a considerable contribution here. Essentially, language fulfils two functions within this context. Because dialects serve as cultural and ethnic markers, the "we" is also externally recognizable from "the others". Due to social knowledge being exchanged, every participant in the linguistic exchange is informed about the social ties and tendencies of all other participants. Thus a common social network is created, with the consequence that all members of an in-group play their roles on the same stage and their well-being and lack of well-being depends, in various ways, on the well-being or the lack of well-being of the others.

      What non-human primates typically achieve through "grooming", humans are able to do much more efficiently through the linguistic exchange of social knowledge, namely the integra- tion of the individual into the social web of roles, thus adding a social dimension to one's personal identity Dunbar This is why the common experience with others and the resulting participation in a common culture of memories contribute to one's personal identity.

      This is precisely what myths do. Common stories, common memories and common truths endow a community with a social identity and serve to hold the group together cf. Palmer et al. In short, myths contribute to designing and psychologically maintaining the so lastingly important distinction between "we" and "the others" in human history. This describes a third function of religiosity: by propagating myths and creating a social identity in this way, compet- itiveness is promoted in disputes between social groups. In the animal world, "honest signals" about hid- den qualities have evolved in three contexts Zahavi and Zahavi , namely in the interspecies communication between prey and their predators; in the social competi- tion for positions of rank, where they help to negotiate hierarchies without the need 16 E.

      Voland to fight battles; and finally, in sexual competition, where they permit conclusions to be drawn concerning the health qualities that a partner has. A special human fea- ture is the implementation of the handicap principle in the field of morality Voland , A pressing adaptive problem of early human history was, without a doubt, com- petition between neighbouring groups. Like all public goods, however, group solidarity is also subject to the "free-rider" problem. In a conflict between self-interest and the well-being of the group, the probability is greater that self-interest will win out.

      Although one might be inclined to use the benefits of group affiliation to one's own personal best advantage, there are strong incentives, as personal utility maximizers, for avoiding costs accruing from the social alliance as far as possible. Not only can moral integrity not be seen, but it is even a priori unbelievable in a world of per- sonal utility maximizers.

      This is why group solidarity always runs the risk of being exploited - unless its members and especially the newly joining members express their moral integrity with "honest signals". This function is assumed by rituals, cere- monies and taboos Dunbar ; Knight ; Palmer and Pomianek ; Voland The fact that the "adaptive calculation" of the handicap principle really does work was able to be demonstrated in a series of studies by Sosis and his co-workers e.

      Purzycki and Sosis this volume; Sosis and Bressler ; Sosis et al. In summary, it can be noted that religions offer a matrix for communication via honest signals. Ceremonies and taboos serve to establish reliability within a moral in-group completely in the logic of signal evolution. Religion thus provides another biological benefit. It combats the "free-rider" problem in shared-risk communities by compelling communicative honesty.

      For reasons which are discussed under the label of the "prisoner's dilemma", and for which there is a long history of economic and sociobiological research, cooperation does not occur spontaneously, however. Behavior that serves groups tends to be an improb- able affair, because a recurring moral dilemma is inseparably associated with a social lifestyle. It consists of the fact that short-term self-interest stands in the way of long-term gains through cooperation.

      Internal moral standards that serve groups constantly run the risk of being opportunistically undermined. High internal moral standards must, therefore, overcome incentives for short-term self-interest, so that self-interest can be realized in the long run. This can be successfully done through social controls. Opportunistic breakers of the rules are recognized as such and can be punished.

      This makes immoral behavior expensive and thus reduces its incidence, reinforces the group and promotes long-term gains through coopera- tion. Social controls do not completely dissolve the prisoner's dilemma, however, because the punishment of the rule-breakers is an altruistic act by itself Fehr and 2 Evaluating the Evolutionary Status 17 Gachter Why should someone take the time, effort and risk to sanction a third party, if that someone does not have any immediate gain?

      Accordingly, social control is a form of altruism that cannot be evolutionarily stable. Religiosity may have evolved in order to deal with this problem, namely the so-called second-order "free-rider" problem. When the Gods, spirits and ancestors sanction false behavior, the members of a group are released from the costs of a judi- cial review. Instead, the punishment for breaking the rules is internalized, by achiev- ing conformity with the norms through a religiously fixed conscientiousness.

      Some cross-cultural findings support this hypothesis. Thus Johnson was able to show that the more strongly the members of a group cooperate with one another, the more distinctive the local ideas of all-seeing, omniscient and punishing and omnipo- tent Gods are. The findings of Roes and Raymond also fit into this picture; these findings show that the belief in a punishing God correlates with the size of the social group.

      This belief is practically unknown in simple subsistence groups. Experiments that show that priming God concepts increase prosocial behavior in economic games Shariff and Norenzayan speak in favour of this point of view. The idea that the fear of God could have evolved as the adaptive response to the problem of public goods will have to explain, however, how conscience was actually able to evolve as a moral regulatory instance.

      Why should someone "voluntarily" submit to the dictates of a conscience? Regardless of such issues in detail, however, it really does look like religios- ity helps to overcome the second-order "free-rider" problem Johnson and Bering Sanctions of moral misconduct are internalized by exploiting the perfor- mance of a conscience.

      In Table 2. With the exception of the basic metaphysical assumptions of religions which are able to be understood as by-products of the biologically evolved human cognitive machinery that are use- ful in this life, all of the components of religious practice show biological utility, namely mastery of contingencies, identity formation, social-alliance bonding and the solution to the prisoner's dilemma on two levels. When can it be claimed that a feature has a special-purpose design?

      If one takes Williams' criteria as the baseline, namely, efficiency, complexity and uni- versality, then the question related to special-purpose design can in my opinion be answered in the affirmative for at least five of the six components. Religious meta- physics are generated by special cognitive modules, as discussed. Social rituals acti- vate the attachment system.

      Self-awareness has been designed to form identity. The handicap principle and the conscience are surely subject to a special design, even if it is not fully clear yet what this looks like in detail. In my view, the only question left unanswered is whether the neuronal circuits of the frontal lobe that enable mys- 18 E. Voland Table 2. No Functionless by-product Spirituality Mysticism? Mastering contingencies Adaptation? On the whole, I personally think it safe to conclude that reli- giosity can be seen as a complex conglomerate of evolutionary adaptations and one by-product.

      The question of a possible change in function remains unconsidered - as explained - in this diagnosis. Indeed, there are some indications that there could have been functional changes in the biologically evolved components of religios- ity. For example, it seems as though the neuronal mechanisms which are used by mysticism and which essentially are reward mechanisms originally arose in connec- tion with sexuality and were only co-opted by religiosity later on. It could be that the original benefit of sexually fed excitement is able to be exploited through med- itation techniques.

      The similarity of orgiastic and mystical experiences speaks in favour of this interpretation Newberg et al. Whatever the case may be, this does not affect the validity of the criteria of "special design" and "function". The 2 Evaluating the Evolutionary Status 19 same applies to the handicap principle in analogy. It originally came about in the context of adaptive mate choice; however, it experienced an expansion in the direc- tion of moral communication later on.

      In other words, there is much that speaks in favour of the fact that the individual components of religiosity have pre-religious, and evolutionary roots. The evolution of religiosity has surely not occurred without various co-options of functions that already existed, i.

      However, this should not induce us to designate religiosity a by-product, because natural selec- tion has had enough time during the course of hominization to reassess the results of the co-options itself. This distinguishes religiosity, for example, from soccer games or other modern activities. Even soccer co-opts evolved mechanisms; nevertheless, one would not want to label soccer as an adaptation, because natural selection has previously not had the opportunity to assess the biological consequences of play- ing or watching this kind of sport.

      In sum, the components of religiosity - at least to a significant part - can be recognized as special-purpose design endowed with biological functionality. This view leads to some interesting consequences. Of course, there are also sex- and age-linked adaptations, but apart from these special cases, the adaptations of Homo sapiens overall form what is called "human nature".

      However, both reli- giously obsessive and absolutely unbelieving persons can be observed. From the perspective of adaptation, it cannot be claimed that persons rejecting religion do not have the adaptations for religiosity, but that for reasons which would have to be stud- ied their religiosity did not overtly manifest itself. Adaptations can be "conditional universals" Gaulin , such as corns or fever, which develop their adaptive logic only under very specific biographical circumstances.

      Or could it be that religiosity manifests itself in ways other than through traditional religiousness? Could it be that these adaptations generate behavior in day-to-day lives that are not directly and immediately recognized as being religiously motivated? What about the fanatic fans of a sports club, a revolutionary movement, an ideological basic conviction, a lifestyle, a pop culture, of parapsychology or pseudoscience?

      In short, is there religiosity without religion? Voland is analogous to language here. Languages, like religions, have a cultural tradition and differ from one another historically. All of this is done on the substrate of a biologically evolved ability to speak or to be religious. Taking this perspective seriously means that religions are taken over ontologi- cally in a specially designed way. Just like the individual acquisition of language preferably occurs during specific sensitive phases, during which the prepared brain seeks specific inputs in order to develop linguistic competence, it can be expected that the takeover of the local religion also occurs in prescribed timeframes.

      Alcorta and Sosis see in adolescence a critical period for the learning of emotionally valenced symbolic systems and the rites de passage as the practice hereof. Should it prove to be the case that the individual takeover of local religious practice actually is based on domain- specific learning mechanisms, this would indeed be the best argu- ment for the hypothesis of religiosity as a biological adaptation.

      From the point of view of the by-product hypothesis, religion would only be learned by the way and in a non-specific manner, comparable to a memetic infection - without the brain assembling specific modules for taking over precisely this content. Because adaptations exist in all members of a species, they have a hered- itability which approximates zero Thornhill : Heritability is a term that describes the extent to which the variation among individuals in a phenotypic trait Thornhill , pp.

      The experience may involve the past, as in the person's ontogeny or upbringing, or it may be solely due to cues of the moment. Accordingly, different levels of religiousness would be the condition-dependent manifestation of the adap- tation, so the question is: What specific circumstances and experiences contribute to the development of religiousness?

      However, the variance of religiousness is not completely able to be explained by differential milieu influences, because it seems that religiosity, like other person- ality traits, also has a remarkable hereditability cf. Bouchard this volume. What does this observation mean for our topic? Is religiosity an example of selection in progress? Or is the ratio of religiosity to non-religiosity regulated by frequency- dependent selection?

      Mysticism, for example, is a form of religion that again and again draws attention to this paradox Luhmann and Fuchs Religion can internally develop and support itself in societal communication by designating transcendence with immanent means. The necessary tropical character of religious communication results from this. The main reason is that the transcendent the absent—in whatever semantic designation , which religious communication refers to, is not communicable itself and therefore needs to be designated with immanent known, present means.

      In religious communication, issues that are said to be new and different e. This way, religion can take topics from the social environment and label them with specific religious sense. Religion treats the problem of how to transform the unobservable i. Besides topic-based differentiation, situational differentiation occurs within religious evolution. It brings along an initial self-specification of religion. This means that religious communication proceeds under certain spatio-temporal conditions. Religion binds itself to certain places and times, within which intensive religious experiences are communicatively addressed, evoked, and updated.

      This is the beginning of rituals and ritual complexes in the form of cults. Quasi-objects are a functional equivalent for narratives that are to be remembered, serve as additional safeguards of remembrance, or help to generate narratives. Religion remains strongly and situatively bound, if it depends on cults, but one can clearly distinguish religious and everyday relevant contexts in situational differentiation: If the oracle has bad news, the world of gods must be propitiated via ritual; if one does not have the tools for performing the ritual at hand, one needs to procure them.

      By establishing self-referential religious rituals, there develops a need to reform the other-reference. It is covered by the development of narratives in research mostly called myths The formation of narratives is stimulated by ritualization. However, religious narratives are related to the other-referential environment, which religion gains its semantic energy from, and transfer it into system-relevant information. Narratives gain relevance, if self-referential religious communication becomes in need of meaning within the communicative environment; i.

      This process equals the output 2 of the modeled system described in the system-theoretical chapter cf. The output of narratives serves as the starting point for further system-internal processes of religion, or is released into its environment, where it can be taken up as an offer of meaning e. The evolutionary advantage of self-referential situational differentiation in the shape of rituals for religion is based on the opportunity to bind itself to places and times, without having to primarily orientate itself along topically varying environmental conditions.

      The coordination of other-referential topic-based differentiation and self-referential situational differentiation causes a deeper need for institutional regulation. The more transcendence becomes thematic, the higher the need for mediating the two sides of the emerging distinction between transcendence and immanence, as well as the need for social regulation of what can be regarded as transcendent is. This need is first satisfied by the formation of specific roles. With increasing institutional differentiation , redundancy and variance must equally be secured ritually and narratively.

      Rituals are made flexible by narratives, and narratives are specified by ritual performance. Religious roles especially are responsible for this in relevant literature called, for instance, sorcerer, shaman, priest, manticist, prophet, master, or founder of a religion. The evolving religious system establishes a double distinction via this form of social differentiation: between role self-reference and person other-reference as well as between specifically religious roles self-reference and differently attributed behavior other-reference.

      Furthermore, institutional differentiation enables the accumulation of religious forms; for instance, prophets evolve from trance states, cosmology refers to the distinction between the visible and the invisible to accommodate the world beyond in this word, too, and narratives affect, in turn, organizational change Moreover, reinforced medialization including especially image- and text-based medialization leads to the synthesis of action roles and narratives as well as cosmological programs.

      This happens, for instance, after the introduction of writing, in text-ritual-complexes or in text rituals. In this respect, texts function as more than mere ritual manuals in the sense of instructions for a ritual practice that is based on physical behavior with reference to objects. In fact, reciting and reading of respective texts themselves may function as ritual. In this case, ritual experts become literary actants as part of the plot structure of the text.

      From there, it is not far to the formation of religious doctrines and respective teachings so that ritual behavior, cognition, and everyday life can be coordinated with each other. With increasing organization, the religious system must refer to non-religious activities, include them into the system and designate them with religious interpretation; for instance, matters of administration, physical structures of buildings, exchange of services later payments , coordination of personnel, and certain societal relations that are, however, external to the religious system.

      The system is now based on a twofold systemization, i. On the other, their orientation derived from a construction of the world aligned with the system. This leads to initial approaches of dogmatics, which does not limit religious cognition to only other-referential narratives any more, but rather forms reinforced self-referential concept complexes in difference to everyday life experiences. Besides ritual-oriented behavior, religious cognition also gets into the side of self-reference, which, in turn, reinforces the differentiation of religion.

      In this condition, religion by means of self-observation, and regardless of externally given topics, situations and roles, starts to make decisions itself concerning the question, which operations belong to the system and which are not part of it Figure 4. However, self-referentially directed rituals and other religious institutions then no longer base their follow-on operations on the other-referentially perceived issue, but rather only on the conclusions that are drawn from narratives and cosmologies.

      In the restabilized state, religion proceeds under the condition of system-internal epistemic openness but is operatively closed towards the environment. By stabilizing via semantic and social differentiation in the form of cults, roles, and narratives coordinated to each other as well as cosmologies, it becomes possible for the religious system to systematically distinguish between variation and selection and to coordinate those two evolutionary mechanisms. In this evolutionary condition, however, the religious system does not manage to systematically separate selection from restabilization.

      First, this is because religions of advanced civilizations provide the society with a complete description, which makes it difficult for the society to acknowledge and communicatively process the differentiation of religion. Second, religion in this condition is oriented by the principle of stratified societal differentiation, which is situated transversely to functional differentiation. Then, religion interacts with other societal domains particularly: politics, law, economy, science, education, health, and arts , within which selection and system stabilization are intertwined in many ways; for instance, with regard to politics as the ruler cult in the ancient world Brisch and as relation between imperium and sacerdotium in the European Middle Ages 44 , with reference to the arts in the financial patronage of artistic production Russell-Smith , concerning health as strong interaction between and partially as symbiosis of, ritual and medical techniques Csepregi and Burnett ; Zysk ; Stanley-Baker as well as in the case of education as influence of religious educational institutions cf.

      Concerning the semioticization of materiality, it is of particular importance whether objects are instrumentally other-referentially used as media in religious communication or whether they receive a religious meaning themselves, i. The analytical pattern of the attribution forms of knowledge, experience, materiality, and action may help describe the various figurations of differentiation including its absence und de-differentiation and coordination of the three evolutionary mechanisms of variation, selection, and re stabilization.

      The words written here, when read, are a part of communication—even though they may be assessed as nonsense and rejected. Therefore, the combination of the system-theoretical description of religion and the theory of religious evolution is to be integrated in a communication-theoretical framework. This is the only way the performance conditions of the research program as well as of its object can be considered. Therefore, the next chapter is devoted to the communication-theoretical framework.

      The terminologically reflexive, metonymically condensed, ascription is religion—including family resemblances of this term and respective attributes Kleine Religion is a genuinely communicative matter. Equally, as language itself is not the sum of some phrases of people, religion does not evolve and perform in intersubjective communication, negotiation, or agreement. The addressing of the organic and physical environment as religiously meaningful is also a matter of communication. A religious event, a religious theme, a religious object, a religious time, a religious space, a religious action, and a religious experience do not exist as such, but only in the respectively communicative determination Taves Religion unfolds within the communicatively evolved and communicated distinctions between inside and outside as the founding structuring of the semantic space , between the before and after time as well as between ego and alter ego society Luhmann c, 74— From the communication-theoretical perspective, the epistemology of religion as genitivus subiectivus and obiectivus needs to be newly designed.

      First, it is not about the communication from human to human, but about communication, which, in the self-description, largely originates from transcendent beings and powers and addresses these, which, however, need to be communicated and depicted with immanent means. Second, religious communication itself comes to the fore instead of communication between actors according to the sender-receiver model.

      Religious communication includes persons but addresses them in various ways Kippenberg, Kuiper and Sanders Therefore, persons, including their experiences, intentions and motifs, are not the starting point, but one among many forms of attribution of religious communication. Based on the boom of action-theoretically directed approaches within the social sciences, it has become especially common to emphasize on the analyses of actors as well as their interests, motivations, and intentions within the fields of philology and cultural studies in general as well as within the study of religion in particular.

      The question is, though, who and what counts as an actor, and under which circumstances is which event socially attributed to whom or what. In order to understand religion scientifically and to not only paraphrase it, advancing underneath the surface of the subject-object differentiation is due and to put the focus on the communication processes themselves.

      Actants are thus not the starting point for events, but a communicative product. The metalinguistic concept of agency refers to this. To understand communication as an autonomous agency means that it does not work out in the mere aggregation of individual expressions related to each other by individual actors. Human beings cannot communicate; only communication can communicate. Like communication systems, consciousness systems and brains, cells, and so on, on their other side are operationally closed systems that can maintain no contact with one another.

      This view is not only but especially relevant for the study of religion, because something very often happens in religious communication which, in the self-description, is not or at least not primarily and exclusively attributed to human actors. In the religious domain, one finds superhuman spiritual forces and beings Tylor , 5; Spiro , including ghosts, demons, goddesses and gods or one single god, who are considered to act. If these were pure projections from consciousness Feuerbach, Marx , one could not understand how the vigorous imaginations of different consciousnesses could get together.

      The metaphor of negotiation, taken from economics, or the metaphor of agreement, taken from law, contradict religious self-description and do not suffice to explain its scientific reconstruction. How should issues be negotiated or agreed upon that refer to the unconditional and ultimate? The perspective taken here does not exclude the consideration of human actors as forms of attribution but does not reduce the processes to them.

      Moreover, the focus on processes of the negotiation of interests of individual actors reproduces all too often only object-linguistical semantics outside the religious and therefore prevents the possibility of analyzing religion. What is addressed as a human being is always an amalgamation consisting of numerous and various systemic processes—of physical, chemical, organic, and psychic processes within the social environment. These considerations have important consequences for the scientific description of religion.

      The inner logic of the religious is not congruent with the interests of political power, with class-related status such as age, sex, economic situation, ethnic and cultural belonging, etc. It does not even produce intersections with the issues mentioned above—unless the respective features become parts of religious communication and are transformed into religious meaning. Furthermore, it is not always clear within religion who or what is subject and object of the happening. Abrutyn, Seth. Achtner, Wolfgang. Albrecht, Felix and Reinhard Feldmeier, eds. Themes in Biblical Narrative.

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