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Thread: Religion as a Human Behavioral Norm -

  1. #1 Religion as a Human Behavioral Norm - 
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    There are many ways we often debate Religion: as a historical process, a divinely inspired construct, an appeal from ignorance, etc. But suppose that it is none of these yet it's function is totally explicable and predictable. What we define as "Religion" really is so broad that it basically falls into the category of "beliefs otherwise not neatly fitting the standards of History, Physics, Biology, & Chemistry that the group in question is using to describe their environment".

    I propose to this forum that Religion is a product of something innately human. That the form of the Religion is actually the least important part (whether Mohammad got the email or Jesus doesn't so much matter as what tradition they were speaking in. these minutiae matter to agents within those traditions but have little analytical value for scientific study [read standardized methodology that is reproduce-able by independent agents] of Religion(s)).

    The interesting part is what do the religions have in common....not in form, but in function? And is the function a purely Homo sapien behavioral trait that can be fulfilled by various institutions without striving to also define the nature of the universe at the same time.

    I do have my thoughts that I look forward to sharing, but prefer to do so in context of discussion rather than an essay on a forum. Look forward to what folks think about this approach


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    if the basic function of religion is to understand the world around you, then why would certain religous institutions maintain beliefs that have less support than others?

    however, all of the following support your view of religion:

    if we look at religions as divinely inspired then they shouldn't have errors(assuming god is perfect), and they clearly do assume he is. and they more clearly have errors.

    as an appeal from ignorance, all religions should follow the same moral code, however this has not always been the case. Hindu people believe that a widdow should commit suicide after her husband dies, and the Bible has a terrible handling of slavery and other issues.

    looking at religion as a historical process, well i'm not a history person so the only thing i have to say on that is that if religion is a historical process it is the most complicated one i've ever seen.


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    I propose to this forum that Religion is a product of something innately human.
    I think this is trivially true since trees and horses don't have religion. The real question is what is the something? - is it a form of hardwiring that makes us emerge from the womb prayer-ready, or is it simply a predisposition that can be formed by the society or family we emerge into?

    I believe the evidence is that it is the latter. Atheism and secularism are on the rise in developed countries. If we are hardwired how could this be? The increasing numbers of non-believers and non-worshippers cannot have overcome hardwiring, but they certainly could have changed their views based on reflection and analysis if there is merely a predisposition.

    However, I think it is implicit in the question in the OP that the natural state for humans is one of religiosity and that the non-religious among us have somehow been deprogrammed. This is wrong. The predisposition that I mentioned above being some feature of brain geometry, probably of the parietal lobe (IIRC), it needs nurturing to come up with the religious outcome. Perhaps in some people the predisposition is stronger than in others and thus needs less nurturing, and perhaps in some people it is almost, or completely absent and thus immune to nurturing. Why assume we are all born with the same mental equipment? After all we aren't all born with the same length of arms and legs or hair color.
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    "if the basic function of religion is to understand the world around you, then why would certain religous institutions maintain beliefs that have less support than others?"

    I don't mean to imply that religion is a basic function, but that religion serves a socio-biological function that is a natural outcome of being human. It's endemic presence raises the possibility of it's function, otherwise we would have human organizations without it on a random basis. We don't. Even the atheist subscribes to normative behaviors within the tolerance of his society. Sometimes individuals and groups may force a change in those norms, but once established they will still be followed.

    "However, I think it is implicit in the question in the OP that the natural state for humans is one of religiosity and that the non-religious among us have somehow been deprogrammed. This is wrong."

    I suppose I should clarify the intent. I actually agree with the proposition that regligiousity has a biological definition (note, I am not saying a particular set of religious beliefs). But I propose that at the basic level religion has a normative function and that function is to establish and enforce norms. The norms themselves seem to fall into a range, a range of successful societies (success defined as being able to perpetuate themselves without extinction in a given environment). The question, how to define religiousity? One could say that some Americans hold to the norms of our society with a "religious zeal". Are they being religious or is it something fundamentally different?
    "The Nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools" ~Thucydides
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chalybis
    I suppose I should clarify the intent. I actually agree with the proposition that regligiousity has a biological definition.
    Well I should think you would agree with it since it is simply a rewording of what you proposed in the OP, specifically: "I propose to this forum that Religion is a product of something innately human." Innately human means it comes with the bod. The bod is biological.

    But I propose that at the basic level religion has a normative function and that function is to establish and enforce norms. The norms themselves seem to fall into a range, a range of successful societies (success defined as being able to perpetuate themselves without extinction in a given environment). The question, how to define religiousity? One could say that some Americans hold to the norms of our society with a "religious zeal". Are they being religious or is it something fundamentally different?
    OK, but this is a different proposition from the one you began with, so what do you really want to discuss? The question of how religions affect society is a completely different one from whether or not it is innate.
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    OK, but this is a different proposition from the one you began with, so what do you really want to discuss? The question of how religions affect society is a completely different one from whether or not it is innate.
    Actually, you hit on the head. I think they are very much two sides of the same coin. Separating something from its effects has to be justified. By way of analogy, the heat from the sun says something about the nature of the sun. It is evidence.

    Biology and society both influence the same subject. And with something like religion it seems that if it is in fact innate and it at the same time shapes society then discovering its nature should be the highest of priorities for science/philosophy. Of course, problem #1 would be to define the thing we are talking about. As I alluded to in the OP we discuss the subject from many different angles but by doing so the broad definition that becomes available
    "beliefs otherwise not neatly fitting the standards of History, Physics, Biology, & Chemistry that the group in question is using to describe their environment"
    is simply too broad to be useful. It seems, in this forum and in general on the subject, people gravitate to the familiar, namely a particular religious tradition, without bothering to define it. It's as if everyone naturally agrees that all the participants know what is being discussed. This is problematic because of the other assumptions. A judeo-xtian talking about religion can and often does limit the definition to that tradition. But that tradition is #1. very sophisticated and comes from a long developmental process #2. very particular to a cultural context.
    Religion in a biological context, however, could be inclusive enough to account for all traditions and variations (in time and space) and at the same time inform on social impact. I suppose that would be the holy grail and its discussion was my intent in starting this thread.
    "The Nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools" ~Thucydides
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    if you wish to learn about religion as a social control mechanism i suggest you read the first book in the foundation series by isaac asimov. it's been i while since i read it, but the last hundred pages describes the birth of a religion for this sole purpose.

    in the book they used religion not only to enforce social norms, but to create them as well. if you disregard the intent behind this action, it resembles current religions. and if you're not fan of the hierarchy of current relgions you may not have to disregard the intent behind the events in the book to see a similarity.
    physics: accurate, objective, boring
    chemistry: accurate if physics is accurate, slightly subjective, you can blow stuff up
    biology: accurate if chemistry is accurate, somewhat subjective, fascinating
    religion: accurate if people are always right, highly subjective, bewildering
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chalybis
    Separating something from its effects has to be justified. By way of analogy, the heat from the sun says something about the nature of the sun. It is evidence.
    So a neuroscientist has to confer with sociologists to understand what he is seeing in brain tissue? I don't think so.

    with something like religion it seems that if it is in fact innate and it at the same time shapes society then discovering its nature should be the highest of priorities for science/philosophy.
    So that we can lobotomize people according to how we think society ought to be?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chalybis
    But I propose that at the basic level religion has a normative function and that function is to establish and enforce norms.
    I think religions have served two functions - to explain the world and to establish and enforce norms. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between the two functions. The explanation part has changed with the advance of science. We no longer explain a lightning strike as a bolt from Thor, or whatever. Now those who still believe in religion are more likely to think of a creator who created the universe along with the laws of physics billions of years ago, and the lightning strike is the inevitable result of subsequent events.

    The normative function is also obvious. Still, norms are enforced without religion. Even among the religious, rules of etiquette are not enforced by the weight of divine punishment or reward. Besides that, the norms change, beliefs evolve. The pre-Civil war Southerner profiting from slavery would be more likely to find passages in the Bible supporting slavery that the Northerner who used the same Bible to argue the opposite view. In that way, I think the religion sometimes serves more to explain to ourselves why we have a belief, than being the cause of the belief.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    with something like religion it seems that if it is in fact innate and it at the same time shapes society then discovering its nature should be the highest of priorities for science/philosophy.
    So that we can lobotomize people according to how we think society ought to be?
    I don't understand this comment, Bunbury. Why would you think someone is being lobotomized? What exactly has been said that you object to?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    with something like religion it seems that if it is in fact innate and it at the same time shapes society then discovering its nature should be the highest of priorities for science/philosophy.
    So that we can lobotomize people according to how we think society ought to be?
    I don't understand this comment, Bunbury. Why would you think someone is being lobotomized? What exactly has been said that you object to?
    I was wondering why discovering if religion is innate should be one of our highest priorities. My lobotomy comment was perhaps a bit over the top, but why do we so urgently need to know this particular piece of information if not to do something with it?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    I was wondering why discovering if religion is innate should be one of our highest priorities. My lobotomy comment was perhaps a bit over the top, but why do we so urgently need to know this particular piece of information if not to do something with it?
    Well, this is the "scientific study of religion" forum, so I would assume all here want to know all there is to find out, especially if it is a fundamental aspect of human behavior.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    Well, this is the "scientific study of religion" forum, so I would assume all here want to know all there is to find out, especially if it is a fundamental aspect of human behavior.
    No disagreement with that basic position; my question was why put it at the top of the list of everything we need or would like to know, and it wasn't really meant to be a rhetorical question.

    Still, I found this article that seems to address the question of innateness, and apparently refute the idea that religion is innate. I've only read the abstract.

    http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP07398441_c.pdf

    The nonuniversality of strong religious devotion, and the ease with which large populations abandon serious theism when conditions are sufficiently benign, refute hypotheses that religious belief and practice are the normal, deeply set human mental state, whether they are superficial or natural in nature. Instead popular religion is usually a superficial and flexible psychological mechanism for coping with the high levels of stress and anxiety produced by sufficiently dysfunctional social and especially economic environments. Popular nontheism is a similarly casual response to superior conditions.
    This view at least seems consistent with increasing levels of atheism in the USA, albeit starting from a very low level, and countered to some extent by immigration from poorer countries. If the article has it right atheism and agnosticism should increase within second and subsequent generation immigrant populations, as their prosperity increases. I wonder if that study has been done. Also I do note that by this argument I'm possibly overturning my earlier argument about sociology and neuroscience. So be it.
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    I've explored this topic in some depth over here for anyone interested.
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  15. #14 Re: Religion as a Human Behavioral Norm - 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chalybis
    I propose to this forum that Religion is a product of something innately human.
    I would go one up on this to suggest that human belief in the "supernatural" was a neccessary developmental precursor to abstract thought.
    See my physics of spaceflight simulator at http://www.relspace.astahost.com

    I now have a blog too: http://astahost.blogspot.com/
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    There is, in fact, a book on this topic, called The God Gene.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_gene

    This book argues that humans are genetically predisposed to believing in some religion.

    An article in New Scientist a year or two back argued the same thing. This idea is certainly not proven, and scientifically lies kind of half way between a hypothesis and a basic theory. However, it is definitely a real possibility, and further research may well uncover 'the God gene'.

    If true, that explains the interminable arguments in this forum section between believers and non believers. Those with the gene are unable not to believe, since they are slave to their own genetics. Those who lack the gene will be unable to be convinced by the gene bearers, since they are convinced only by good empirical evidence.

    I wonder how it is that I so totally lack this gene?
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    I wonder how it is that I so totally lack this gene?
    Aha! you actually have the gene, but it has been rendered inactive. A chicken jalfrezi you eat in two years and eight months time at a small restaurant in the Welsh borders will contain a chemical that suppresses the protein that has rendered your God gene inactive. You will suffer an epiphany in the restaurant and found a new religion, Totally Tandoori, that will sweep Britain, then the planet. You will die seven years later from excessive chilli consumption.
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    Forum Radioactive Isotope mitchellmckain's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    I wonder how it is that I so totally lack this gene?
    Aha! you actually have the gene, but it has been rendered inactive. A chicken jalfrezi you eat in two years and eight months time at a small restaurant in the Welsh borders will contain a chemical that suppresses the protein that has rendered your God gene inactive. You will suffer an epiphany in the restaurant and found a new religion, Totally Tandoori, that will sweep Britain, then the planet. You will die seven years later from excessive chilli consumption.
    I disagree with Ophiolite. You have the gene and it is far from inactive. Skepticism, atheism and agnosticism are themselves some complex and sophisticated expressions of the the same kind of thinking. I think the question may be whether you can develop the faculties of reason and honest self-examination in order to see the truth of this more clearly.
    See my physics of spaceflight simulator at http://www.relspace.astahost.com

    I now have a blog too: http://astahost.blogspot.com/
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    I propose to this forum that Religion is a product of something innately human.
    I think this is trivially true since trees and horses don't have religion. The real question is what is the something? - is it a form of hardwiring that makes us emerge from the womb prayer-ready, or is it simply a predisposition that can be formed by the society or family we emerge into?

    I believe the evidence is that it is the latter. Atheism and secularism are on the rise in developed countries. If we are hardwired how could this be? The increasing numbers of non-believers and non-worshippers cannot have overcome hardwiring, but they certainly could have changed their views based on reflection and analysis if there is merely a predisposition.

    However, I think it is implicit in the question in the OP that the natural state for humans is one of religiosity and that the non-religious among us have somehow been deprogrammed. This is wrong. The predisposition that I mentioned above being some feature of brain geometry, probably of the parietal lobe (IIRC), it needs nurturing to come up with the religious outcome. Perhaps in some people the predisposition is stronger than in others and thus needs less nurturing, and perhaps in some people it is almost, or completely absent and thus immune to nurturing. Why assume we are all born with the same mental equipment? After all we aren't all born with the same length of arms and legs or hair color.
    But we were (mostly) all born with arms, legs and hair.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mitchellmckain
    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    I wonder how it is that I so totally lack this gene?
    Aha! you actually have the gene, but it has been rendered inactive. A chicken jalfrezi you eat in two years and eight months time at a small restaurant in the Welsh borders will contain a chemical that suppresses the protein that has rendered your God gene inactive. You will suffer an epiphany in the restaurant and found a new religion, Totally Tandoori, that will sweep Britain, then the planet. You will die seven years later from excessive chilli consumption.
    I disagree with Ophiolite. You have the gene and it is far from inactive. Skepticism, atheism and agnosticism are themselves some complex and sophisticated expressions of the the same kind of thinking. I think the question may be whether you can develop the faculties of reason and honest self-examination in order to see the truth of this more clearly.
    OR perhaps whether you are arrogant enough to believe that your own view point is correct without being able to prove it?
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    The social function of religion has been discussed on numerous occasions. I quote Durkheim in his book "The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life":-

    "Religion was made up of a series of acts and observances, the correct performance of which was necessary or desirable to secure the favour of the gods or to avert their anger, and in their observances every member of society had a share marked out for him either in virtue of being born within the family and community he had come to hold...Religion did not exist for the saving of souls but for the preservation and welfare of society...A man was born into a fixed relation with certain gods as purely as he was born into a relation with his fellow men; and his religion, that is the part of conduct which was determined by his relation to the gods, was simply one side of the general scheme of conduct prescribed for him by his position as a member of society...Ancient religion but part of the general social order which embraces gods and men alike."

    So yes, you can interpret it as a means of enforcing norms, but you could also go further to say it helps ensure the welfare and cohesion of society. However, this prompts the question as to why there has been increased secularisation throughout the 21st Century. The sociologists' answer to this is that religious institutions are slowly being replaced by other socially cohesive insturments, such as things like thanksgiving day, independence day, international sporting events etc.

    A dimmer view of religious institutions is that they are, in the words of Louis Althusser, "ideological state apparatus" - in that they propagate ideologies that constitute us as subjects. However, my knowledge on Althusser is rather shallow, so maybe a quick google or wiki may help.

    X [/quote]
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    Quote Originally Posted by saul
    if the basic function of religion is to understand the world around you, then why would certain religous institutions maintain beliefs that have less support than others?

    however, all of the following support your view of religion:

    if we look at religions as divinely inspired then they shouldn't have errors(assuming god is perfect), and they clearly do assume he is. and they more clearly have errors.

    as an appeal from ignorance, all religions should follow the same moral code, however this has not always been the case. Hindu people believe that a widdow should commit suicide after her husband dies, and the Bible has a terrible handling of slavery and other issues.

    looking at religion as a historical process, well i'm not a history person so the only thing i have to say on that is that if religion is a historical process it is the most complicated one i've ever seen.
    A religion is a manifestation of man worship of a perfect God.
    The religion need not be perfect as man is imperfect.
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    Quote Originally Posted by smokey
    A religion is a manifestation of man worship of a perfect God.
    The religion need not be perfect as man is imperfect.
    These are statements of superstition and not science. Please stick to scientific or rational discussion of religion or do not post here. Several of your posts have been relocated as trolling and inappropriate for this subforum. Please review the subforum guidelines and accept this as an official warning.
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