Why “Morality and Religion”?

While there is little doubt that many historically recent religions (i.e., those that have appeared in the last 2,000 years) are heavily invested in morality, it does not follow that earlier forms of religion — which might be called proto-religions —  were grounded in morality.  This is a logical and historical fallacy that afflicts much of the work being done by group level selectionists (i.e., David Sloan Wilson, Nicholas Wade, and Matt Rossano) who contend that the moralizing aspects of religion resulted in more tightly knit groups whose individual members had increased evolutionary fitness.

This may be true of Axial Age religions and their progeny, but these theorists have yet to demonstrate that the supernatural or religious beliefs of hunter-gatherers (and by inference, Paleolithic foragers) are much concerned with moral issues, and thus played in a major role in group cohesion.  Indeed, it is demonstratively the case that many forager religions are not especially concerned with moral issues, and that hunter-gatherer “morality” or ethics often spring from sources other than the supernatural or religion.

Another line of work in this vein links social behavior with moral behavior.  Frans de Waal and Stephen Pinker have each, in their own way, argued that prosocial behavior evolved naturally and that this behavior forms the basis for what we call “morality.”  In her book Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion, the primatologist Barbara King contends that primate social behavior includes a yearning for “belongingness” and that this yearning eventually resulted in human religion.

This copious Category will examine the many recent articles and books that address these and similar issues.

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