When did faith evolve and is it an advantage for evolution ?

1> So following the evolution line : Homo Habilis to Homo Sapiens - when do we see faith emerge ? For the purpose of this thread, I am defining faith as the belief that an higher power exists that is non-physical : it maybe evidenced by worshiping deities or objects (like primitive tribes) etc.

2> So I’ve read a bit on emotional intelligence and recently have been reading “the power of habit”. It seems there is a common theme: Jews that survived the death camps believed (or had faith) that they will make it since a bigger power watches over them, successful kids growing up in slums have the same faith and in the book “The power of habit”- the author ascribes the success of Alcoholics Anonymous to a large degree in faith in a higher power.

I am fairly convinced that faith helps people get through emotional / natural tragedies. If this is true, then is it an evolutionary advantage ?

3> Do any animals have faith ? In the sense that do they plan/worry about the future ?

I don’t know if there’s a factual answer to this. My guess would be that faith is NOT an evolutionary advantage for an individual human, but does provide an advantage for the social superorganism (religion) to which he belongs, and although membership in a superorganism is often not advantageous to a given individual (for example, someone burned as a heretic), it is probably advantageous statistically to members of the group. They derive status, security, and other benefits if the superorganism prospers.

I thought evolutionary advantages were defined in context of species and not individuals - am I wrong ?

I’m strongly anti-religious but I can see the value of a faith/evolution correlation. Particularly in days gone by when the world was much harsher and more dangerous than it is now, I mean before we lived in cities to protect yourself and were at the whims of nature and beast at all times.

Firstly, does the author offer even a shred of proof for this claim? Not just anecdotes, but actual data?

How could the author possibly know what percentage of Jews who went into death camps had a faith in a bigger power? And without that information, how could they possibly know whether the percentage that came out was higher or lower? Without that information, even if 99% of those coming out had faith, it could still be that as a percentage more of those that lacked faith survived.

The second problem is that those Jews who were lacked faith were presumably much less likely to get taken to a death camp in the first place. If you’re Jew who works in a small mining village, has no Jewish friends and never goes to services or wears distinguishing clothes, then you’re going to be much better at hiding than than the Chief Rabbi of Berlin. That’s a huge confounding factor right there.

The same sorts of problems occur with the “kids growing up in slums” anecdote. Did the author really collect data that showed that while 60% of children in slums had faith, 98% of successful children did so? If not then they just have anecdotes.

And even if they did, how did they control for the fact that people tend to lose faith due to adversity, so successful people are less likely to lose their faith? That would produce a situation where successful people are more likely to have faith, but fiathis an effect of success, not a cause.

And how did the author control for the fact that in that environment religious parents are a self-selected group that more likely to be law abiding? Did the author compare children of law-abiding agnostic parents with children of law-abiding religious parents and still find that successful children usually had faith. If they didn’t, then any correlation is vicarious, not causative.

Well yeah. To be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous you have to subscribe to faith in a higher power. So of course 100% of the success of Alcoholics Anonymous is due to faith in a higher power. :dubious:

That’s like saying that 100% of the success of bloodletting is due to having blood removed from your body. That doesn’t demonstrate that having blood taken out of your body is beneficial. All it demonstrates is that when you try only one treatment, you can only ascribe success to that one treatment.

Did the author provide any evidence that AA works better than non-faith-based treatments? If not, then all you have is a tautology. The effect of X can be attributed to an effect of X.

Why are you convinced of this? Can you provide any evidence for this position? There are certainly plenty of examples where faith has led to people giving up during emotional/natural tragedies because they knew that an afterlife awaited them. And there are even more examples of where faith has demonstrably led to people making poor choices in tragedies, refusing medical treatment for example, or refusing to eat “unclean” food during a famine.

So can you provide evidence of even a single emotional/natural tragedies where the performance of people with faith has been disproportionate to their abundance in the population?

You are asking “If it is true that faith leads to higher survival rates, is it an evolutionary advantage.” The answer to that is, of course, yes. It is once again tautological.

The real question is whether there is any evidence that could lead us to the conclusion that faith leads to higher survival rates. So far we’ve seen none.

But that is not the definition of faith that you chose to use. Your definition was that faith is a belief that an higher power exists.

Many animals plan for the future. All you have to do is look at a dog burying a bone to know that is true. That isn’t faith. The most ardent atheist still saves money. In fact atheists statistically save more money than theists. So planning for the future isn’t evidence of faith. Similarly, atheists are more likely to worry about things like future Climate Change.

This is probably better suited to Great Debates than GQ.

General Questions Moderator

Evolutionary advantage can be defined in the context of the gene. In fact Gould argued for many years that it can *only *be defined in that way. So long as the gene prospers it can be an evolutionary success even if it kills all the individuals can.

This is seen most clearly in the suicide tactics of social animals like bees and termites. The genes cause the individual to kill itself, but it is a success because each suicide saves more than one copy of the gen in other organisms.

In the case of humans, if religion permits the survival of a *group *of related people it’s successful, even if it kills large numbers of individuals, because other copies of the gene will still exist in the survivors.

The only meaningful definition of an evolutionary advantage is that it allows the holders to outreproduce the non-holders. Therefore there might be an evolutionary advantage in a trait that enables survival for those of child-bearing age. “Getting through” tragedies might mean anything and it’s not at all clear how you are using it.

Establishing that a true survival advantage exists is impossibly hard. First, how do you define what a natural or emotional tragedy is or how long it has to last to affect reproductive ability? Second, how do you define faith, or its strength? Third, how do establish whether that faith existed before the tragedy or developed because of it? Fourth, how do you know whether that faith is a genetic or a cultural construct? Fifth, how do you determine whether it was that faith or some other trait that led to survival?

I would say that 90-110% of “power of habit” writing is total pseudoscientific bullshit. And that number isn’t a typo. There’s not even any proof that the things you mention even work in the first place. Do a search on “AA doesn’t work.” There is a long and growing body of work that says that it doesn’t.

On preview, Blake is saying many of the same things.

I figure faith/religion is a byproduct of the human brain’s pattern recognition engine, which itself evolved because it’s a good thing to be able to tell when a vine is not a vine but a snake, or tell which berries just give you the shits from the ones that kill you stone dead.

Whether or not this byproduct of an evolutionary plus is itself an evolutionary plus, we can only idly speculate since we don’t have a control group of “species with a highly developed pattern-recognition mechanism but no faith” to use as a baseline.

As for it helping w/ emotional issues and tragedies : so what ? So does booze (as even animals know). And our pattern recognition engine also allowed us to synthesize and store booze instead of just waiting for the one time of the year where the right ripe fruit festers to get our drink on, asthose poor elephantshad to.
But I rarely see people suggesting boozing as an evolutionary advantage. Barkeep, another round !

Another way that religion could (and I expect did) evolutionarily outcompete non-religion is by the religious types feeling inclined to kill anyone who didn’t make a sufficient display of their piety. Exterminating rival genes is one way that genes can and do out-compete other genes. After tens of thousands of years of believers killing anyone who didn’t believe, I expect humanity was thoroughly selectively bred into being a nearly compulsively religious species.

How Beer Gave Us Civilization. And people have in fact argued that we are evolutionary adapted to drink alcohol, at least in moderation.

A woman’s clitoris appears to be the only organ in humans whose sole function is to provide pleasure. Why did a woman’s Clitoris evolve? It has no vital role in reproduction. And, why are we privileged to be able to engage in and enjoy sex long after we can no longer produce offspring?

Of course it does. Sex being pleasurable for both participants (or more :)) means more sex having, means more kids.

More like why our genitals dry up before we do ;). In the wilds, animals die off before that happens, be it from disease or predators or accidents.
I’m confident there’s a zoo with a menopaused giraffe out there.

Spiritual concepts arose in humans about 50,000 years ago when we first discovered hallucinogens.


Stoned Ape Theory:

‘We speculate that the self-sustaining dynamics may account for why these geometric hallucinations were experienced as more significant than other phenomena, and that at the same time their underlying neural dynamics may have served to mediate and facilitate a form of imaginary sense-making that is not bound to immediate surroundings,’ the scientists said.

Are Neanderthal burial rituals sufficient to indicate some kind of (probably religious) belief system (one that would justify expending resources on a dead person)?

It has been suggested (by modern humans, highly selected for religious belief as noted above by Der Trihs) that the CroMagnon cave paintings portray an element of magical thinking (that is, religeous thinking).

Not necessarily. Maybe they just noticed dead people smell bad.

None of that even mentions when spiritual concepts arose in humans. All it mentions is why and when certain drawings were used. And the authors specifically state that even use of those drawings became prevalent “shortly after the emergence of our biological species”, which was at least 200, 000 years ago, not the 50, 000 years that you claimed.

So I ask once again, any evidence for your claim that spiritual concepts arose in humans about 50,000 years ago.

Your own reference has already debunked the claim that we first discovered hallucinogens at that time, since it clearly states that it occurred shortly after the emergence of our biological species.

In that case it would make more sense to drag the corpse off into the scrub, as we do today for cattle and horses. Digging a hole, carefully aligning the corpse and burying it with flowers is pretty clear evidence of belief in an afterlife.

Not really. I don’t believe in the afterlife, in fact the very notion of an afterlife pisses me off, but I still care what people do with my meat. 'Cause it’s mine. Which in turn leads me to not interfere with how other people’s wishes about their corpse, that way they maybe won’t try and mess with mine. Which will be booby trapped, I’m warning you all.

Then there’s the survivors, who *might *just care a bit about the new corpse. Burial ceremonies are for the benefit of the living, not the dead. Whether or not you believe Ma’s in a better place, you have a biological incentive not to piss on what’s left of her.