Thursday, July 31, 2008

Religions thrived to protect against disease

by Roger Highfield, Telegraph

Reposted from:


Religions thrived to protect our ancestors against the ravages of disease, according to a radical new evolutionary theory of the genesis of faith.

Prof Richard Dawkins the atheist and sceptic, has condemned religion as a "virus of the mind" but it seems that people became religious for good reason - actually to avoid infection by viruses and other diseases - according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences.

Dr Corey Fincher and Prof Randy Thornhill of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, come to this conclusion after studying why religions are far more numerous in the tropics compared with the temperate areas.

"Why does Cote d'Ivoire have 76 religions while Norway has 13, and why does Brazil have 159 religions while Canada has 15 even though in both comparisons the countries are similar in size?" they ask.

The reason is that religion helps to divide people and reduce the spread of diseases, which are more common the hotter the country, the research suggests.

Any society that increased its coherence by adopting a religion, and dealt less with local groups with other beliefs as a result of cultural isolation, gained an advantage in being less likely to pick up diseases from its neighbours, and in the longer term to have a slightly different genetic makeup that may offer protective effects, for instance by making them less susceptible to a virus.

Equally, societies where infectious diseases are more common are less likely to migrate and disperse, not because of the effects of disease itself but as a behaviour that has evolved over time.

" If this argument is correct then, across the globe, religion diversity should correlate positively with infectious disease diversity," they say.

And the team finds evidence to back this.

"A sample of traditional societies shows that the range of those societies is lower in areas with more disease agents, compared with areas with few pathogens, and in countries religion diversity is positively related to two measures of stress caused by infection with parasites. Religion richness was positively related to disease richness (and significantly so)."

As predicted, "we found that religion diversity is the highest where disease diversity is also the highest and the lowest where disease diversity is also the lowest. To our knowledge, previous evolutionary models do not offer an explanation for why religion diversity varies spatially across the globe.

"Our analysis suggests that the nature of religion needs to be reconsidered. Although religion apparently is for establishing a social marker of group alliance and allegiance, at the most fundamental level, it may be for the avoidance and management of infectious disease."

62. Comment #222210 by crabsallover on July 31, 2008 at 12:45 am

 avataroriginal reference: The Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biology journal


See figure 1 page 5 - shows correlation between disease richness and number of religions in countries.

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