When you see “evolution” and “religion” in the same headline, certain assumptions about the following article might jump to mind. But this recent study published in Science sets aside the religious critique of evolution and examines how religion itself may be a part of human evolution.
Remember that evolution’s driving force is each individual’s biological urge to pass on his or her own genes. Life is a competitive enterprise wherein everyone strives to be the most successful breeder around. So some scientists have wondered: why do we find altruism and cooperation in human populations? Looking at the question from a purely evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense to help those who share your genes, but what about others in society you have nothing in common with, let alone a family link? They’re the competition! Psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff suggest that religion might be one explanation for why altruism persists in large social groups.
In The Human Spark, we focus a lot on the sociality of human beings, especially in comparison to our predecessors. Take a look at these articles to learn a bit more about how a cultural process such as religion can interact with evolution.