( – promoted by buhdydharma )
The science editor of The Telegraph, Roger Highfield, reports on a new study by two biologists from the University of New Mexico. The scientists’ theory is that Religions thrive to protect against disease.
Religions thrived to protect our ancestors against the ravages of disease, according to a radical new evolutionary theory of the genesis of faith…
It seems that people became religious for good reason – actually to avoid infection by viruses and other diseases…
The study is the research of Corey Fincher and Randy Thornhill. In their introduction, they ask: “Why does the country Cote d’Ivoire have 76 religions while Norway has 13, and why does Brazil have 159 religions while Canada has 15 even though in both comparisons the countries are similar in size?”
Their idea is that “the genesis of religions has varied spatially across the globe because religion manifests from evolved behavioural strategies for the avoidance and management of infectious disease. And, importantly, infectious disease stress varies across the globe.”
Or as The Telegraph puts it:
The reason is that religion helps to divide people and reduce the spread of diseases, which are more common the hotter the country, the research suggests.
Any society that increased its coherence by adopting a religion, and dealt less with local groups with other beliefs as a result of cultural isolation, gained an advantage in being less likely to pick up diseases from its neighbours, and in the longer term to have a slightly different genetic makeup that may offer protective effects, for instance by making them less susceptible to a virus.
Equally, societies where infectious diseases are more common are less likely to migrate and disperse, not because of the effects of disease itself but as a behaviour that has evolved over time.
No argument from me that “religion helps to divide people”. From my admittedly quick reading of their findings, it appears to me that the authors looked at contemporary religious associations to contemporary diseases. I think this would be more useful for them to look at historical models of disease and religious diversity.
The article, “Assortative sociality, limited dispersal, infectious disease and the genesis of the global pattern of religion diversity“, is available at the Proceedings of the Royal Society website. From the abstract:
If this argument is correct then, across the globe, religion diversity should correlate positively with infectious disease diversity, reflecting an evolutionary history of antagonistic coevolution between parasites and hosts and subsequent religion genesis.
We present evidence that supports this model…
Some interesting ideas. Some more questions that spring to mind are:
Is the U.S. more “diseased” than Europe?
Did the rise of Protestantism in Europe correspond to an outbreak of disease?
Would not the advance of medicine reduce the number of religions over time?
Religions migrate such as with the spread of Christianity and Islam for example. How does this fit this religion as separation theory?
What are your thoughts?