William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Evolutionary Psychologists Claim Religion Is Explained By Energy Use. Here’s Why They’re Wrong

An evolutionary psychologist hard at work.

An evolutionary psychologist hard at work.

Today’s post is at the Stream: Evolutionary Psychologists Claim Religion Is Explained By Energy Use. Here’s Why They’re Wrong.

It has become clear that the common statistical techniques used by scientists are responsible for the production of vast quantities of silliness. (For advanced, technical readers, here and here are hints why.)

The press is reporting on the paper “Increased Affluence Explains the Emergence of Ascetic Wisdoms and Moralizing Religions” by Nicolas Baumard and three others, published in Current Biology. It uses a statistical model to “prove” religions like Christianity were created because people got used energy…

Yet Baumard says “moralising religions did not arise until quite late in human history”. Here’s how he and his co-authors explain it in the paper:

[B]etween roughly 500 BCE and 300 BCE, new doctrines appeared in three places in Eurasia…These doctrines all emphasized the…notion that human existence has a purpose, distinct from material success, that lies in a moral existence and in the control of one’s own material desires, through moderation (in food, sex, ambition, etc.), asceticism (fasting, abstinence, detachment), and compassion (helping, suffering with others)…Beyond this material world lies another reality in which human existence acquires a new meaning. In this other reality, humans are not just bodies anymore. They are endowed with a soul and can survive the death of their bodily incarnation. Most importantly, in this other reality, individuals pursuing material success are doomed. Only moderation and moral behavior guarantee salvation.

…Alas, we won’t learn about Judaism, at least not from Baumard and friends. They “excluded Judaism” from their studies because “the Hebrews were rarely politically independent”, and their statistical model relies on highly artificial quantifications of politics (about these, more below).

Instead, the authors focused on eight other societies in antiquity and discovered rough correlations between increased energy usage in these societies and the growth of what they classed as “moralistic” religions. The correlations were verified by an unnecessary statistical model. For these authors, the correlation proves the causation.

And so does evolutionary psychology theory, which predicts the rise of “human motivation and reward systems” when move folks away from “‘fast life’ strategies (resource acquisition and coercive interactions) and toward ‘slow life’ strategies (self-control techniques and cooperative interactions) typically found in” the societies they studied. Theory says slow-lifers need to constrain the behavior of the fast-lifers and so invent religions which provides rules the fast-lifers must follow.

Yet by their own admission the measures of politics and religion used in the study were poor: “affluence and political complexity remain very crude…a very crude measure of urbanization (size of the main city)…[and] absolute energy capture does not take into account the distribution of resources within a given society.” (Their model did not take account of this crudity, which makes it highly dubious on statistical grounds alone.)

…Baumard says,

When Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross, leaving behind a few dozen followers in a remote province of the Roman Empire, few would have guessed that 350 years later Christianity would be the official religion of the Roman Empire and would go on to become the most widely practised religion in the world.

How true! Very few did guess, which is what makes the sweep of Christianity so amazing. Energy use does not appear a likely candidate for its rise. Yet the one theory that explains all available data—that Jesus was who he said he was—is not dismissed, it is not even considered.

Baumard claims his theory could “explain the gradual decline of moralising religion in wealthier parts of the world”. As more “become affluent and adopt a slow strategy, the need to morally condemn fast strategies decreases, and with it the benefit of holding religious beliefs that justify doing so” and thus “Christianity and other moralising religions could eventually vanish.”

Yet…

Go there to read the rest. You know you want to. Darwin would want you to.

34 Comments

  1. I am now embarking on a foray into statistical proof that the average household pet is more capable of reason than science researchers. Yes, this will prove my dog is smarter than me, but I’ll take the hit for team…..

  2. I quote:
    > the common statistical techniques used by scientists are responsible…

    So statistical techniques cause some scientists to produce vast quantities of silliness? Hence statistics does do causality?

  3. Did someone say foray?
    Fauré: Cantique de Jean Racine Op 11

  4. So you throw out the example (Judeo-Christianity) that troubles your thesis, then use your dubious conclusions to predict the eventual vanishing of your discarded evidence? The wonders of evolutionary psychological statistical science…

  5. Joy:

    For me, Foray brings to mind June Foray (Rocket J Squirrel)
    (Rocky and Bullwinkle)

  6. John B ()
    That was kind of my point though wasn’t it?

  7. Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat

    Again? That trick never works!

    Nothing up my sleeve … but let me apply a little statistics …

  8. John B ()
    Absolutely.

  9. Remember that post about luck yesterday? Well, here it is again. From a historical perspective the rise of Christianity is an old, complex story, much of it lost to anti-Christian actions, that involved many different actors acting for many different reasons, over centuries. It would seem modernity and civilization, politics and tribalism, were the main impetus for the spread.

    JMJ

  10. Did the authors of the study deem its conclusions as definitive as Briggs’ asserts they did?

    Here’s the concluding section’s paragraph-by-paragraph, almost sentence-by-sentence, quoting of key qualifying phrases for the substantive themes addressed — observe that nearly every single substantive point is tentative and/or even conceded as being substantially/significantly incomplete:

    “Before discussing the possible interpretations of this analysis, it is important to note that more data would be needed to adequately test the robustness of this conclusion. … The proxies we used… remain very crude, … First, we used a very crude measure of… Second, [ ] does not take into account the … Finally, the lack of reliable and extensive archaeological data precluded the inclusion of …

    “Although our analysis suggests that… it leaves open the question of… One possibility,… could have …

    “Although this hypothesis explains the…it does not account for… and the…. In particular, it does not account for why…

    “Another possibility is that… This alternative ?ts very well with…

    “This alternative ?ts very well with…

    “In this life history perspective, a … may have triggered…

    “In this perspective, it would be relevant to investigate whether… Another possible area of investigation could be to study…

    Reading Briggs I’d conclude that the authors of the study made some pretty dramatic conclusions,
    …however…
    reading what the authors actually said one can only conclude there’s some patterns that might be compelling, but much more data & study is required.

    Big difference between what he said they said and what they actually said.

  11. A great number of authors put such caveats in their studies, which are rarely if ever reported by the press or anyone else. In climate studies, there are many times statements to the effect that the conclusion is not robust. Of course, one then wonders if there were all those caveats and maybes and could be’s, why was the study published in the first place?

    The title of the study is “Increased Affluence Explains the Emergence of Ascetic Wisdoms and Moralizing Religions”. That seems pretty clear. If the authors meant maybe it does or it kind of does or more study is needed, the title should have been “Increased Affluence may be correlated with the Emergence of Ascetic Wisdoms and Moralizing Religions”. Of course, then it probably would not have been published, which would have been better in the long run.

  12. RE: “No previous important figure in history claimed to be God and also demonstrated it.”

    St. Justin Martyr (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08580c.htm) said otherwise in the 2nd century in his First Apology, a plea to stop the persecutions of the Christians.

    There he argued, in part, that the then-new Christianity was basically the same as in the existing pagan religions. In Chapters XXI and XXII he presents explicit comparisons between Jesus and prior pagan deity figures to include virgin birth, death and resurrection as being common – topics so many modern Christians claim as unique in history to Jesus.

    As for a claim that ‘no other figure in history claimed to be a God and also demonstrated it’ … well … that’s just stunningly naively false – and utterly revisionist history that flatly contradicts official Catholic Church history – the Vatican has never disputed St. J. Martyr’s assertions regarding the redundancies of fundamental features attributed to Jesus relative to those of pre-existing pagan deities. The counterargument for the similarities between Christian religious themes and the earlier pagan religions, made by St J. Martyr in his apology, is that the Devil, knowing of Jesus pending incarnation, enticed men to pre-emptively create copycat religions to confuse believers when & after Jesus came & went. Christians didn’t plagiarize pagan themes into a new look-alike religion, the pagans [with the Devil’s help] plagiarized Jesus before Jesus showed up! See Chapter LIV of St. J. Martyr’s First Apology.

    That curious rationalization is the official position of the Vatican … not surprisingly that’s something the Church avoids, preferring to ignore & address other things (like, lately, Global Warming). Best to leave that alone rather than rebut it and thereby call attention to a goofy explanation accepted for nearly two millennia…

    The First Apology is readily available on-line…

    Most have heard of the Labors of Hercules (he being a son of a god). Romulus, founder of the city of Rome, was said in some versions of the story to be a son of the god Mars (along with his brother Remus) and was (in some versions of the history) believed to have ascended into heaven to become the god Quirinus or be closely associated with Quirinus (perhaps ‘sitting at the RH side’ of him?). The ancients believed such stories as true, and the existence of the city of Rome, founded by a son of a deity later risen to heaven with, or as, a deity, was just one tangible example of a human incarnation of a deity’s Earthly demonstrations.

    Of course, all those stories we know are false…but this current one, though fundamentally the same in all its key content, this current one is true…

  13. Ken – Briggs included your bit in his:

    every single substantive point is tentative and/or even conceded as being substantially/significantly incomplete: “Before discussing the possible interpretations of this analysis, it is important to note that more data would be needed to adequately test the robustness of this conclusion. … The proxies we used… remain very crude

    Briggs reported on the reporting as follows:

    The press is reporting on the paper “Increased Affluence Explains the Emergence of Ascetic Wisdoms and Moralizing Religions” by Nicolas Baumard and three others, published in Current Biology. It uses a statistical model to “prove” religions like Christianity were created because people got used energy…

    Meanwhile Christianity and Islam “EVOLVED” from Judaism, yet …

    They “excluded Judaism” from their studies because “the Hebrews were rarely politically independent”, and their statistical model relies on highly artificial quantifications of politics (about these, more below)

  14. Ken, you are emphasising St. Justin’s points about the similarities between Christ and pagan myths, but you are ignoring how he utterly bashes the myths as largely creations of immoral people trying to justify their sins.

    The correct way of reading St. Justin is that he was showing how human reason and imagination can see some of the Divine Truths, imperfectly of course. Christ is the Union of the Divine and the Human, and to reject the products of human reason (philosophy) and human imagination (mythology) in themselves would be on the same level as rejecting Christ’s Humanity. This is the more closely aligned to the position of the venerable Apostles, the other Church Fathers, and the Holy Doctors.

    This theology of course by no means rejects the possiblity of demons manipulating pagans: but rather, the demon thesis ought to be seen as complimenting the theory I put forth above.

    If you want to better understand the Catholic position on mythology, I highly recommend G. K. Chesterton’s “The Everlasting Man:” http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/everlasting_man.html

    Christi pax,

    Lucretius

  15. [quote]Jersey McJones
    May 12, 2016 at 1:48 pm
    Remember that post about luck yesterday? Well, here it is again. From a historical perspective the rise of Christianity is an old, complex story, much of it lost to anti-Christian actions, that involved many different actors acting for many different reasons, over centuries. It would seem modernity and civilization, politics and tribalism, were the main impetus for the spread.[/quote]

    You conveniently overlook the necessity of a start to all the presumed “processes”. If you would convince me that “religion” or “religious sensibilities” spontaneously erupted, or evolved, or “became” autonomously out of a “singularity” of nothingness you will need to provide evidence of some mechanism that can/does do such.

    I contend that nothing of the sort can ever exist according to observations of physical reality and logic.

    I also contend that Man has always had a notion of his contingency from his very beginning but that notion is serially corrupted with the perversity of egomania.

    By such we degenerate from created beings with a purpose to wretched egomaniacs creating a god in our own image and likeness.

    “You shall be as gods knowing (deciding what is) good and evil”, said the Snake. The deception is cunning and pervasive.

  16. Oldavid

    it’s “


    and

  17. thought “quoting” them would prevent them

    [blockquote]
    square brackets probably work as well
    [/blockquote]

  18. Use the above with angle-brackets

    Does “quote” do anything in angle-brackets?

  19. John B(),
    Does “quote” do anything in angle-brackets?

    Depends on the content of angle-bracket, The accepted ones follow HTML syntax.Roughly, &lt code attributes &gt

    Some codes (like blockquote) act like parentheses and a closing one (like /blockquuote) is expected.

  20. Hmm… &lt and &gt don’t work as expected.
    So what does A > B < C look like?
    Or A C ?

  21. &lt B &gt got stripped.

  22. Testing: < is less than >

  23. yeah, You need the semicolons after the &lt and &gt.

  24. so if this works then:

    <blockquote> Stuff in here </blockquote>

    will produce

    Stuff in here

  25. I’m still uncertain what other figure in history claimed to be God and then demonstrated it. I understand that figures in story, myth or legend may have done so.

  26. Acricketchirps,
    Daniel has much to offer in answer to that.
    On truth and power.

  27. @ Lucretius: “St. Justin’s points about the similarities between Christ and pagan myths, but you are ignoring how he utterly bashes the myths as largely creations of immoral people trying to justify their sins.”

    Justin explicitly states that the devil(s) tricked humans into pre-emptively copying the story of Jesus in the form of similar pagan myths long before Jesus existed — to confuse humans when Jesus did arrive. Justin’s explicit explanation is irreconcilable with your attempt at revisionism.

    What Justin establishes (and other early Christian refutations of various pagan myths) is that there’s absolutely NOTHING unique about Jesus or what he did…except the particular mix of things he did. Every single element of the Jesus story (including apocryphal stories) has counterparts in pagan myths.

    That establishes two likely possibilities along the lines of “Occam’s Razor”:

    1) A Supreme Deity sent a part of him/it-self to Earth to perform in a manner that is basically indistinguishable from human-created myths, or,

    2) Humans concocted the Jesus story by plagiarizing elements of pagan myths and applying limited creativity to form a distinguishable myth (probably by superimposing this on a real-life person who while alive did not claim to be divine).

    Considering a number of logical contradictions/inconsistencies in the NT story, the former seems highly unlikely (e.g., if Jesus while alive issued the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, including baptism, then why do we read in Acts 11, “The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.” and because of this outrage Peter is “hauled onto the carpet” to explain why he is sharing God’s word to non-Jews. Does Peter remind the Apostles of Jesus own directive to “make disciples of all nations”? no…he says he had a vision, and based on that vision the Apostles agree that its ok to minister to non-Jews (“gentiles”). That is one logical inconsistency in the NT that illustrates sloppy patchwork revisionism — if Jesus was God AND Jesus ordered the apostles to minister to “all” nations, that directive must include gentiles (most nations were gentile) … so for a Christian (Peter) to be preaching to gentiles would have been consistent with Jesus’ directive. But the NT documents it was not in the eyes of the Apostles. This is a contradiction — either Jesus didn’t give His “Great Commission” and that was added later, or, the story of Acts 10 & 11 was added by those who were unaware of the story of the Great Commission. Both cannot be true at the same time. This is wholly consistent with a fabricated story … not eyewitness or reputable reporting (never mind “divinely inspired” reporting!).

    And there are other such logical contradictions & inconsistencies — all one need to is read & compare the stories objectively as they are, not thru an ever-changing interpretive lens that force-fits plot details into a preconceived storyline that really isn’t there.

  28. “John B()
    May 13, 2016 at 8:55 am
    Oldavid
    it’s “

    and



    Thanks for trying, John, but I doubt I’ve caught the intricacies of this format. I’m a very late starter with these computer gadgets and their associated esoterica.

  29. “Ken
    May 13, 2016 at 2:13 pm
    And there are other such logical contradictions & inconsistencies — all one need to is read & compare the stories objectively as they are, not thru an ever-changing interpretive lens that force-fits plot details into a preconceived storyline that really isn’t there.”

    If all Men are descendants of Adam and Noah it’s most likely that they all had some idea of what it’s all about handed down to them… which information was/is serially corrupted by perverse egomania.

    That the Apostles were all Jew and deeply infected with Jewish xenophobia and jingoism it’s no wonder that it took some time and practical experience for them to ditch the baggage. Jesus’ example and admonition were not immediately effective… indeed, where the bulk of Jews are concerned, not at all effective even to this day.

    If, as you seem to imply, Christianity evolved out of Pagan ideas you will need to explain where the Pagan ideas came from.

    I contend that Pagan ideas would easily be ascribed to a corruption of primordial information relating to the nature and purpose of Creation and Man.

  30. Oldavid,
    “That the Apostles were all Jew (sic) and deeply infected with Jewish xenophobia and jingoism it’s no wonder that it took some time and practical experience for them to ditch the baggage. Jesus’ example and admonition were not immediately effective… indeed, where the bulk of Jews are concerned, not at all effective even to this day”

    Another reason (polite English anti-semitism) to not credit your comments.

  31. aargh…split an infinive… to not credit –> not to credit

  32. Ah well! you see, Bob, when the political correctness, cultural cringe, cultural suicide pills were handed out I was down at the pub swilling beer so I missed out.

    Doesn’t it seem somewhat perverse to you that just about anyone can come along just about anywhere slyly implying that Christians are a bunch of credulous Neanderthals without a whimper of protest but to say that a bunch of Jews think like Jews is a protestable (anti Semitic) offense?

  33. That reply is in keeping with the general tenor of your comments; are you an admirer of Oswald Mosley? Just asking.

  34. Heh! I knew nothing about Os Mos… I had to look him up to see what you were on about.

    Anyway, I have no sympathy at all for Nietzscheite pessimism, paranoia, narcissism and self-determinism.

    And my mildly autistic personality “defects” make me not very susceptible to intimidation by association.

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