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Group Selection in the Evolution of Religion: Genetic Evolution or Cultural Evolution?

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In the scientific literature on religious evolution, two competing theories appeal to group selection to explain the relationship between religious belief and altruism, or costly, prosocial behavior. Both theories agree that group selection plays an important role in cultural evolution, affecting psychological traits that individuals acquire through social learning. They disagree, however, about whether group selection has also played a role in genetic evolution, affecting traits that are inherited genetically. Recently, Jonathan Haidt has defended the most fully developed account based on genetic group selection, and I argue here that problems with this account reveal good reasons to doubt that genetic group selection has played any important role in human evolution at all. Thus, considering the role of group selection in religious evolution is important not just because of what it reveals about religious psychology and religious evolution, but also because of what it reveals about the role of group selection in human evolution more generally.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, Purdue University 100 N. University Street W. Lafayette, in47907-2098 USA


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