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Hum Nat. 2012 Jun;23(2):218-49. doi: 10.1007/s12110-012-9138-8.

The recognition signal hypothesis for the adaptive evolution of religion : a phylogenetic test with Christian denominations.

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Activate Networks, Inc., Newton, MA 02462, USA.


Recent research on the evolution of religion has focused on whether religion is an unselected by-product of evolutionary processes or if it is instead an adaptation by natural selection. Adaptive hypotheses for religion include direct fitness benefits from improved health and indirect fitness benefits mediated by costly signals and/or cultural group selection. Herein, I propose that religious denominations achieve indirect fitness gains for members through the use of ecologically arbitrary beliefs, rituals, and moral rules that function as recognition markers of cultural inheritance analogous to kin and species recognition of genetic inheritance in biology. This recognition signal hypotheses could act in concert with either costly signaling or cultural group selection to produce evolutionarily altruistic behaviors within denominations. Using a cultural phylogenetic analysis, I show that a large set of religious behaviors among extant Christian denominations supports the prediction of the recognition signal hypothesis that characters change more frequently near historical schisms. By incorporating demographic data into the model, I show that more-distinctive denominations, as measured through dissimilar characteristics, appear to be protected from intrusion by nonmembers in mixed-denomination households, and that they may be experiencing greater biological growth of their populations even in the present day.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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