During my doctorate thesis exploring the so-called "neurotheology" (perspectives of brain sciences on religion), I gathered and tested various works and hypotheses on the subject, most of whom turned out to be very exaggerated. But then, I found a thesis which had been presented by German neuroanatomist Prof. Dr. Detlef Linke (1945 - 2005, University of Bonn) back in 1995 on an interdisciplinary conference and had been published in 1999 in a German booklet ("Religion und Identität"). At first, it seemed to me to be simplistic and I expected to falsify it within days.(More)
"Judaism in Biological Perspective - Biblical Lore and Judaic Practices" is a very special book that I count as a treasure in my bookcase. It is combining sound empirical studies on the evolution of Judaic mythologies and rituals with other chapters debating evolutionary studies of religion from Jewish perspectives. For example, the editor Rick Goldberg is comparing the old Rabbinic concept of Yetzer to modern perspectives of evolutionary psychology. And Michael Satlow is demonstrating how Judaism retained its more monist perspective on reality, making it more open to biological discourses than for example more dualist Christian traditions.
In 2001, cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer initiated debates and studies with his book "Religion explained". Therein, he depicted religiosity as a by-product of cognitively interacting brain modules. During the Frankfurt Templeton Lectures 2008, we had the chance to meet and he spoke about the idea of shaping the findings since then into a new book. With "The Fracture of an Illusion: Science and the Dissolution of Religion", Pascal has soundly stood true to his word.
In a recent post and article, I wrote about the high-fertile Old Order Amish and their reproductive success. The United Believers in Christ's Second Appearing commonly called The Shakers are another religious tradition proving that religiosity is able to influence human fertility: They lived all-celibate, with the numbers of births nearly about zero. In fact, the Shakers flourished throughout the 18th and first half of the 19th century due to proselytizing and the adoption of poor children. But finally, the interactive rules of biocultural evolution won out: Without reproducing, the traditions and communities began to overage and to dwindle inevitably.
I vividly remember a scene once described by Richard Dawkins about a scientist listening to a talk, then pondering it and declaring on the spot to the lecturer: "I have been wrong these last years. Your arguments convinced me."
Frankly speaking, I held that one as a legend, as I was sceptical about our psychological abilities to manage such a feat. Most of us human beings tend to interweave their scientific and emotional worldviews as part of our self-concepts, clinging to them even against strong arguments. And this is especially true concerning the evolution of religiosity and religions, where a whole sub-culture of antitheism ignored Charles Darwin for the sake of popular metaphors as e.g. describing religions as "viruses of the mind".
A new study conducted by Swiss scientists found that religious affiliation is lowering suicide rates. Based on data from the Swiss Census 2000, the researchers found that the suicid rate among 100.000 people aged 34 to 95 without religious affiliation amounted to 39. Among protestants, the number decreased to 29 and among Catholics to 20.
The study thus confirmed a classic observation by Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), who assumed that religiosity might offer reproductive and survival advantages and conducted the famous study "Suicide" (1897).
Adrian Spoerri, Marcel Zwahlen, Matthias Bopp, Felix Gutzwiller, Matthias Egger: Religion and assisted and non-assisted suicide in Switzerland: National Cohort Study. International Journal of Epidemiology, 2010, doi:10.1093/ije/dyq141
Among those scientific conferences I had the pleasure to attend, "Explaining Religion" at Bristol University won (and will hold) a very special place. It had been very well-organized by Finn Spicer, Nathalia Gjersoe, Andrew Atkinson and Samantha Barlow, who not only provided for a beautiful yet concentrated space for lectures, debates and come-togethers, but also for a caring, open and humorous atmosphere among all those attending. Thus, the meeting of diverse scientists interested in the evolution of religiosity and religions managed to bring together hypotheses, fresh data and especially people enjoying to share thoughts and findings during captivating lectures and intensive debates right into the nights. Thanks to Bristol, BIRTHA and Finn, Thalia, Andrew & Sam!
During the last years, the increasingly interdisciplinary and international evolutionary studies of religiosity and religions made tremendous progress. 'Explaining Religion 2010' is an interdisciplinary conference run by the University of Bristol's Department of Philosophy and the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre which aims to integrate approaches. The event will be held at the university's beautiful Orangery on the 2nd and 3rd of September (Thursday & Friday).
As more and more among us start to explore the evolution of religiosity and religions from a range of scientific disciplines and nations, e.g. in the Evolutionary Religious Studies-network initiated by biologist David Sloan Wilson, I keep wondering about a peculiar fact: Why are so many dedicated evolutionists (and even declared "darwinists") ignorant or silent about Charles Darwin's own thoughts on the matter? (More)
There are many high-fertile religious communities out there - as, for example, the Old Order Amish. Other religious groups, as the Shakers, who didn't manage (or chose) to have enough children, succumbed to (bio-)cultural evolution. In contrast, we still don't know about a single, non-religious population, movement or group that was able to retain more than two births per woman (the so-called replacement level) throughout subsequent generations. This is relevant from a sociocultural perspective: Secularization is taking place (especially among wealthy and secure populations) - but running into demographic dead ends, followed by religious-demographic revivals (through births and immigration). And it is relevant from the perspective of evolutionary studies: Intergenerational reproductive success is "the" benchmark of evolutionary fitness, promoting biocultural traits as speech, musicality - or religiosity. (More)