[Fwd: Atran & Norenzayan/Religion's Evolutionary Landscape: BBS Call for Commentators]

From: Bruce Edmonds (b.edmonds@mmu.ac.uk)
Date: Wed 24 Sep 2003 - 16:14:09 GMT

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    Bruce Edmonds,
    Centre for Policy Modelling,
    Manchester Metropolitan University, Aytoun Bldg.,
    Aytoun St., Manchester, M1 3GH. UK.
    Tel: +44 161 247 6479  Fax: +44 161 247 6802
    Email: bruce@cfpm.org Web: bruce.edmonds.name

    attached mail follows:

    Dear Dr. Edmonds,

         Below is a link to the forthcoming BBS target article

                    Religion's Evolutionary Landscape:
            Counterintuition, Commitment, Compassion, Communion

                    Scott Atran and Ara Norenzayan


    This article has been accepted for publication in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS), an international, interdisciplinary journal providing Open Peer Commentary on important and controversial current research in the biobehavioral and cognitive sciences.

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    Religion's Evolutionary Landscape: Counterintuition, Commitment, Compassion, Communion

    Scott Atran University of Michigan

    Ara Norenzayan University of British Columbia

    ABSTRACT: Religion is not an evolutionary adaptation per se, but a recurring cultural by-product of the complex evolutionary landscape that sets cognitive, emotional and material conditions for ordinary human interactions. Religion exploits only ordinary cognitive processes to passionately display costly devotion to counterintuitive worlds governed by supernatural agents. The conceptual foundations of religion are intuitively given by task-specific panhuman cognitive domains, including folkmechanics, folkbiology, folkpsychology. Core religious beliefs minimally violate ordinary notions about how the world is, with all of its inescapable problems, thus enabling people to imagine minimally impossible supernatural worlds that solve existential problems, including death and deception. Here the focus is on folkpsychology and agency. A key feature of the supernatural agent concepts common to all religions is the triggering of an "Innate Releasing Mechanism," or "agency detector," whose proper
    (naturally-selected) domain encompasses animate objects relevant to hominid survival - such as predators, protectors and prey - but which actually extends to moving dots on computer screens, voices in wind, faces on clouds. Folkpsychology also crucially involves metarepresentation, which makes deception possible and threatens any social order; however, these same metacognitive capacities provide the hope and promise of open-ended solutions through representations of counterfactual supernatural worlds that cannot be logically or empirically verified or falsified. Because religious beliefs cannot be deductively or inductively validated, validation occurs only by ritually addressing the very emotions motivating religion. Cross-cultural experimental evidence encourages these claims.

    KEYWORDS: Agency, Death anxiety, Evolution, Folkpsychology, Maya, Memory, Metarepresentation, Morality, Religion, Supernatural



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