scilogs Biology of Religion

Religion, Brain and Behavior - The first specialized journal on evolutionary studies of religion

from Michael Blume, 29. May 2011, 10:20

The evolution of evolutionary studies of religion reached a new stage these days: Routledge issued the first volume of "Religion, Brain & Behavior" (RBB), the first scientific and peer-reviewed journal specialized on the topic!

The journal is issued together with the Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion (IBCSR, to which I am a member) and it's interdisciplinary approach is reflected by its editors: Patrick McNamara (Neurology, Boston), Richard Sosis (Anthropology, Connecticut), Wesley Wildman (Theology, Boston) and James Haag (Philosophy, Suffolk). The Editorial Advisory Board is a who-is-who of prominent scientists in the field! 

The first volume is presenting articles about afertlife belifsby Judith Bek and Suzanne Lock, about "sponaneous processing of functional and non-functional action sequenzes" by Kristoffer Nielbo and Jesper Sorensen and about Tyvan cher eezi and the socioecological constraints of supernatural agents' minds by Benjamin Grant Purzycki.

Then, a thoughtfull "target article" is presented by Jeffrey Schloss and Michael Murray, titled: "Evolutionary accounts of belief in supernatural punishment: a critical review". It is followed by no less than eight sound commentaries from diverse colleagues such as Joseph Bulbulia and Marcus Frean, Emma Cohen, Rolando de Aguiar and Lee Cronk, Helen De Cruz and Johan De Smedt, Dominic Johnson, Ryan Nichols, Ilkka Pyysiäinen, Azim Shariff and, finally, another response by Schloss and Murray (cordially referred to as "S&M" by the commentaries).

These last years, articles about the evolutionary roots of religiosity and religions kind of exploded throughout the scientific world, as shown by a graph from the IBSCR:



With Religion, Brain and Behavior, a new journal has come to light which will help to further and focus the ongoing researches and debates in the thriving field of evolutionary studies.

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  1. Torbjorn Larsson, OM Religion, not brain and behavior
    29.05.2011 | 16:40

    Great, except it isn't about further the ongoing researches and debates in the thriving field of evolutionary studies, it is about focus: theology and concomitant accommodationism is the basis for IBSCR and so RBB.

    RBB: "Editorial Staff

    Patrick McNamara (Editor), Associate Professor, Department of Neurology, Boston University School of Medicine and VA New England Healthcare System - website

    Richard Sosis (Editor), Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut - website

    Wesley J. Wildman (Editor), Associate Professor, School of Theology and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Boston University - website

    James Haag (Assistant Editor), Lecturer, Philosophy Department, Suffolk University"

    Only 2 scientists out of 4 editors.

    ISBCR "Reflection on the Institute's Vision":

    "In a sense we seek to make a research-based contribution to the completion of the project of the great axial-age philosophers and religious founders (such as the Buddha, Jesus, Confucius, the Greek tragedians and philosophers). They sought to end the subordination of religion to local ethnicities and polities without severing the link between peoples and traditions, while also attempting to universalize religion’s beneficent effects extending them freely to all who asked for them."

    It is a religious project.

    ISBCR home page:

    "College students: religion and science aren't enemies after all!"

    It is accommodationist, whether the specific researched statistic is valid or not.

    So what use is it, except as a curtain to hide the idea of an unnatural anti-scientific agency behind?

  2. Torbjorn Larsson, OM Worse, Templeton funded!
    29.05.2011 | 16:44

    Michigan State university on IBSCR:

    "Current projects include the Templeton Lectures in Religious and Psychological Well-Being, a doctoral program in science, philosophy, and religion, the Human Relations Area Files (an electronic database), and a weekly journal club."

    Figures. Where Templeton goes, science is pushed out.

  3. Michael Blume @Torbjorn Larsson
    29.05.2011 | 18:39

    Welcome at my blog!

    Well, I would count philosophers and theologians as scientists - Charles Darwin was a theologian, too!

    Concerning the (lack of) conflict between religious and scientific worldviews, you might be interested to read the results of a fresh study reviewed by Matt Rossano:

    Finally, all findings and studies in the field of evolutionary studies are open to testing and falsification. In the RBB, I see atheists, agnostics and religious from diverse faculties and nations working together to get a deeper understanding of the evolution of religiosity and religions. And this perspective is really not new, but has been started by Charles Darwin himself!
    Charles Darwin about the Evolution of Religiosity and Religions

  4. John Jacob Lyons 'Religion, Brain and Behavior' @ Michael
    31.05.2011 | 17:55

    Do you think they would be opened-minded enough to publish an article along the lines of my recent Genetic Priming article that you kindly invited me to contribute to Biology of Religion?

    Somehow I doubt it.

  5. 01.06.2011 | 20:29

    Frankly speaking, I think that your hypotheses would need some empirical studies before they are going to pass peer-review processes. But then, you did a great job in Bristol bringing some ideas and your well-done poster to the conference.

  6. J. A. Le Fevre Not much on Evolution
    02.06.2011 | 17:35

    Looking through their site, their focus seems to be sociology and cultural anthropology rather than biology or physical anthro.

  7. John Jacob Lyons @ Michael
    03.06.2011 | 11:23

    Thanks for that advice and encouraging comments Michael.

    As an independent theorist it is difficult, if not impossible, for me to carry out empirical studies of my Genetic Priming theory. I would like to get a university department interested. If any fellow-bloggers have ideas, please let me know.

  8. J. A. Le Fevre @ John
    03.06.2011 | 20:21

    It appears that there is current work in evolution that could be reviewed from the perspective you have suggested (ie: used as a source reference – that is ‘interpret’ their work/findings). Could ‘genetic priming’ predict the same results?

    Comments 7 and 8 on D. S. Wilson’s latest ‘Evolution for Everyone’ blog suggest work that could be assessed from that perspective:

    Just a thought

  9. Cris Adaptation as Code for Design
    03.06.2011 | 22:47

    Congratulations to Torbjorn for calling a spade a spade. The Evo of Religion project's null hypothesis appears to be that "religion," which signals modern or Axial Age religions, is adaptive. The project appears "designed" to prove this hypothesis true, rather than considering more parsimonious and powerful alternatives. I recently wrote about this project, and its Templeton funding, in a post titled "Evolution of Religion Project: Is Adaptation Code for Design." Nothing like using science to confirm one's supernatural beliefs.

    Michael -- are you really citing and relying on Matt Rossano?! I encourage you to read my post "The Sins of an Evolutionary Psychologist" before tapping that poisoned well.

  10. John Jacob Lyons @J A Le Fevre
    04.06.2011 | 00:42

    Thanks very much for that suggestion. I'll certainly study the blog and associated comments. At first glance it looks relevant and interesting.

  11. J. A. LeFevre @ Chris
    04.06.2011 | 04:56

    As you do not normally support dissent on your blog, I will address your rant here:
    While I cannot endorse Rossano’s arguments, the conclusion that ‘religion did it’ is supported by the evidence. The presence of religion in all ‘modern’ human groups is so widely recognized that that is included as a defining trait of ‘modern’ in most sources (technological innovators, crafting better tools, weapons, shelters, and clothing are also mentioned). I have argued elsewhere on this blog that religion was the catalyst for these other advances.

  12. John Jacob Lyons @J A Le Fevre
    04.06.2011 | 09:34

    Following your very helpful suggestion, I have made a contribution to the discussion in progress on the D.S.Wilson blog. I have simply introduced them to my Genetic Priming hypothesis and referred them to my fairly recent article on the BoR blog that relates the hypothesis to religiosity. See

  13. Cris Religion Did It
    04.06.2011 | 22:53

    All modern humans also have language. Would it not be more parsimonious and powerful to argue that language was the catalyst?

    As an historical/archaeological matter, can you point me to any Paleolithic (i.e., pre-Neolithic) groups that had anything remotely resembling modern "religions"?

    I am not sure what is meant by not tolerating dissent; my blog is open to all views. In fact, I took a long string of Michael's comments (with which I disagree) and made them into a "guest" post of their own.

  14. J. A. LeFevre @ Chris
    05.06.2011 | 06:12

    I did not say ‘tolerating’, I said ‘support’ – I have submitted several (non-dissenting) comments to your site, as many others have – it appears that you allow only a couple select individuals to post to your blog, not including me.

    I see two basic ‘stages’ of religion: Spiritualism (with amateur, Shaman practitioners) and organized religion (with priests - professional practitioners and temples). Organized religion only appears with advanced chiefdoms and city-states, with one (possible) exception: Göbekli Tepe. See: I suspect this was an advanced chiefdom, but they are still looking for the evidence of it. See also my ‘guest post’ on this topic:

    Language is the favored catalyst for ‘modern’ behavior, but I (and very few others) disagree. I have explained my reasoning in the comments to:

    Scroll down to my ‘@ Corneel – Part 1’ post (just over half way through – this entry has a lot of comments).

  15. John Jacob Lyons JALF and Chris: Religion and Language
    05.06.2011 | 17:37

    Your discussion about religion and language only addresses the cultural phylogeny of these entities. You may well know that many theorists, including myself, believe that we have developed a genetically mediated propensity for both of these aspects of culture.

    Since both probably started as adaptive behaviours, you will not be surprised by my suggestion that Genetic Priming was instrumental in both cases.

  16. Cris LeFevre
    05.06.2011 | 17:53

    This is most unfortunate. I have no idea why your comments have not appeared in my blog, or anyone else's.

    I allow ALL substantive comments on my blog and have never deleted one. I cherish arguments, different opinions, and robust debate.

    This must be an issue with my spam filter; I get nearly 200 spams per day, and don't look through them before deleting. Do you type in characters/letters?

    Once you have commented and it gets posted, you have going forward posting privileges. I apologize for this.

  17. Cris LeFevre
    05.06.2011 | 17:55

    Can you post a comment in the next day or two so I can look for it and flag it through? This should fix the problem.

  18. J. A. LeFevre @ John
    05.06.2011 | 18:24

    Correct. I am not surprised. :)

  19. J. A. LeFevre @ Chris
    05.06.2011 | 18:30

    I do like your blog and appreciate the problem with spam. Will try again but in a few hours.

  20. Father Clifford Stevens 751041 Reply to John Jacob Lyons & J.A. LeFevre
    06.09.2011 | 18:09

    Just a few additions to my last Comment, indicating exactly where we disagree:

    Darwinian principles applied to non-human mammalian species is a Theory, and a good one.

    Darwinian principles applied to Homo Sapiens is a Supposition, and a poor one.

    And there are statistical and scientific studies here at Boys Town covering almost 100 years that can prove that. These studies were not made with Darwinian principles in mind, but they can demonstrate that Homo Darwiniosus is a scientific fiction, a methodological blunder and a Darwinian hoax.

    Anyone with an ounce of professional integrity has to denounce the 13th Congress of the European Society for Evolutionary Bioloy, insofar as it touches upon religion and human behavior.

    Every major study of human psychology, especially of the Adlerian School of Individual Psychology, and in particular those of Dr. Franz Plewa, who was in residence here at Boys Town in the 40's, 50's and 60's, indicate that the Darwinian model has no foundation as an explanation of human psychology and behavior. What is indicated clearly, demonstratively and with scienific accuracy is that the model for human psychology and behavior is that of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, because their exposition of the powers, habits and volitional life of human beings most accurately models the empirical evidence.

    I claim that your Homo Darwiniosus is false and scienifically unprovable and leads only to false and unprovable hypotheses about human nature and the human condition.

    Father Clifford Stevens
    Boys Town, Nebraska

  21. Father Clifford Stevens 751041 Reply to J. A. Le Fevre, John Jacob Lyons & Michael Blume:
    07.09.2011 | 06:33

    I would guess that you, or some of your colleagues hold that conscience, too, is caused by evolution, and therefore, is purely subjective and there is no objective right or wrong - that Survival of the Fittest is the first law of life.

    Well, there are gangs of teenagers on the streets of Chicago and Los Angeles who believe this - and there are bodies of dead teenagers on those streets who also believed it. I don't imagine you have thought out the moral and social consequences of Homo Darwiniosus? Well, here at Boys Town and in a dozen mini-campuses around the country, we have to welcome the broken and shattered lives of those who tried to live out that doctrine.

    I don't know where conscience comes into your Darwinian science, and I wonder if a certain brand of Social Darwinism is not part of it.

    Father Clifford Stevens

    Boys Town, Nebraska

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