Harm And The Evolution Of The Gullibility For Religion
In entry 547 I compared two videos revealing the atrocities suffered by the children in Kinsey's research. While one was as seemingly unbiased documentary, the other was biased by the christian religion.
This brought me back to the old question, why a level of intelligence in the human brain inventing advanced technology did co-evolve with a level of irrationality causing delusions like the one of the existence of deities and all subsequent nonsense.
Gullibility to delusional beliefs did evolve for a reason. Falling for such beliefs was in some way beneficial in the adaptation to coping with the challenges of the survival of the species, no matter how unfortunate it is for the oblivious individuals.
To declare not harming and not be harmed as the essence of a good life is a part of the wisdom of Epicurus. Harm is the key explanation of the evolved susceptibility to religious beliefs, because the success of the survival of any species is enhanced and enabled by harm to individuals.
Generally speaking, instincts lead often to behaviors, which as a side effect cause harm to the self and to other individuals of the same species.
Procreation: In mammals, pregnancy is a hazard, burden and source of pain for the female.
Ingroup-outgroup: Herds and groups of animals hunt and eat members of their own species not belonging to the own group. They kill outgroup members in defense of their territory. They rob and steal outgroup members' prey from hunting and cause their starvation. All this is done by instinct to enhance the resources for the own offspring.
Hierarchy and competition: Male animals fight to become alpha males and to gain control over as many females as there are. These fights sometimes lead to serious wounds, mutilations and deaths. Sometimes new alpha males not only usurp control over all the females, but also over their fertility by infanticide.
Spider cannibalism is an example.
Male spiders having observed other males being eaten are nevertheless unaware, that by following their instinctive urges to get near the female spider, they will also be eaten. Had the male spiders a conscious choice to run away and keep at a safe distance from all female spiders, they would prevent being harmed as individuals, but their species of spiders would get extinct.
The female spider also has no cognitive option to refrain from eating the male as a choice to spare him harm. Would she do this, this may lead to less surviving offspring due to malnutrition.
Animals are determined to follow their instinctive urges, because they have no cognition sufficiently evolved to allow them to anticipate future events, nor to attribute effects correctly to their own behavior, even in the case of empathy. They lack the consciousness of having a choice. Animals suffer harm at the moment, when it happens, there is no cognitive anticipation. Following their instincts but lacking cognition, animals cannot be held responsible for harming.
In humans, the instinctive behaviors leading to the successful survival of the species are the same as in animals, but the human cognition adds unique aspects to the subjective experience of the collateral suffering of the harm. There is an unfortunate correlation between reproductive success and its price of harm suffered by individuals.
1. Mirror neurons, empathy, remembering own experiences and understanding causality enable humans to anticipate the harm inflicted by their intended behavior before acting. Humans have a conscious choice between harming and not harming.
2. Human cognition includes abstract emotions and intellectual needs, which can be invisibly and non-physically harmed. Humans do not suffer only momentarily, but for a long time and sometimes in advance.
3. The victim and the perpetrator both know, that harm is a decision and a choice of someone being responsible.
Examples of the harm to humans due to the major instincts
Procreation: Jerks harm women emotionally by commodifying and objectifying them due to their need for sexual homeostation.
Men harm women physically by inflicting pregnancy upon them.
Ingroup-outgroup: Victims are seriously harmed by varieties of exploitation like war, slavery, colonization used as methods to acquire resources for successful procreation:
Hierarchy and competition: In every competition, where there is a winner, the loser at least suffers emotionally. But in more drastic fights for higher places in hierarchies, the harm can be much worse, serious material damage, physical mutilations or even death.
The evolution of the cognition and the evolution of being determined as animals to pursue instinctively the advantages for the survival of the fittest seem to be mutually exclusive.
To live without or with reduced harming is possible, when people remain childfree and cooperate in peace and harmony. But with such people, the human species would get extinct.
Being determined by instincts became a cognitive problem as a by product of the evolution of the human cognition. As the result of the developing understanding of causality and the awareness of the self as an actor, at some point of their evolution humans started to comprehend the responsibility of how specific behaviors cause harm to others and of having the option to either inflict the harm or to refrain from doing so. The brain's mirror neurons and ability to experience some empathy added the knowledge of the other's experiencing harm.
From that time on, harming seized to be an animal's automatic behavior, instead it required moral justification, that rationally does not exist.
The evolution of the gullibility to irrational beliefs including the imagination of one or more deities with ascribed responsibility solved the problem. The delusion of the deities justifying harming and the existence of harm has solved the evolutionary contradiction.
Religions are very outspoken to point out the benefits for the recipients of harm. The side effect of the delusion of being rewarded after death does indeed
- make some people more resilient to suffering.
- motivate people to choose to suffer by making specific sacrifices to earn the reward.
But religions seldom admit the other side of the coin. Religions also create, enable and enhance the suffering, which requires the resilience to cope with.
The Milgram experiment has shown, that people are prone to harm others and accept it as justified to do so, whenever someone of authority takes the responsibility. Generalizing this supplies an explanation of the attraction of religion.
The authority of the real life researcher in Milgram's experiment can be replaced by the authority, power or superiority of a delusional and imaginary figure of a deity.
The specific proactive act of harming by the application of electrical shocks when being told can be replaced by the permission to do every act of harm, unless it is explicitly forbidden as a sin. In this case the authority's ascribed responsibility is not limited to one act, but to all behaviors unless they are explicitly excluded. Everything appears as allowed, which the deity has not explicitly forbidden and everything allowed is done under the deity's responsibility.
Taking own responsibility is based upon the subjective conscious and sufficient justification for the choice of a behavior. Acting under someone else responsibility implies to be void of an own justification but considering someone else having a hidden and elusive justification. When the justification is ascribed to a deity, who does not even exist, then anything can be believed, ascribed or defined as justified.
All religions, that I know of, allow harm caused by instincts to a certain degree. The specific definitions of sins have indirectly also favored the evolution of the fittest religions. These are those religions, in which the definition of sin is an optimized balance between enhancing reproduction by disregarding the individual suffering and limiting all harm bad enough to damage the reproductive success.
But the deity as an imaginary figure of authority is not only considered as the one justifying all harming, which is not defined as a sin. This figure is also a bargaining partner for prospective and retrospective deals to earn permission to sin. In such deals, the harmed person is insignificant.
Sin is bought in advance or compensated for afterwards by sacrifices. The definition of sacrifices is also ascribed to the deity. This is most successful in those religions, where sinning and paying is more attractive than not sinning.
In this sense, here is my definition of religion:
Religion is the purposeful invention of an imaginary authority, who is believed to be able to justify harming other people, whenever the own hidden reasons for harming are instinctive and therefore cannot be rationally justified.
The deity's permission serves as a sufficient justification to harm, either due to the deity having alleged unknown rational reason or by having earned it as part of a deal. Religion frees the harming person from any consideration for the victim.
This is a copy from my ERCP-blog: