Big Gods

That is the title of a new book by Ara Norenzayan. I have just started it. It appears to be an account of religion that is based on evolutionary psychology. He argues that the religions that thrived are those with (p. 6-7)

beliefs and practices that reflect credible displays of commitment to supernatural beings with policing powers.

This facilitates trust in strangers, which is otherwise difficult for humans (or any other species) to achieve.

I found the book very persuasive–perhaps too persuasive. I worry that so many of the psychology experiments that provide support for his propositions use “priming” techniques, and I wonder how well they replicate. I also worry that the idea that fasting and other painful rituals help to signal commitment makes for a “just-so” story.

Here is a question to think about. If religions help to create social capital by allowing people to signal conscientiousness, conformity, and trustworthiness, how does this relate to Bryan Caplan’s view that obtaining a college degree performs that function?

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6 Responses to Big Gods

  1. theyenguy says:

    Thanks for the most intriguing post.

    I am a reformed Christian, that is I got remade by God; that is the Sovereign Lord God, the singular God of the Universe, having a unity in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I am also a Hebrew, that is one from the other side, as well as a Spiritual Jew.

    Christianity is based on evolutionary movement of God, where he has created life experience through many fathers, that is starters; one of my fathers is Father Abraham, as he commenced life in genuine faith.

    There be no sovereign individuals, such is will worship of the fiat libertarian mind. Choice and thus self sovereignty died when Adam ate of the fruit of the tree of knowlege of good and evil, and thus sinned, seperating him from the tree of life.

    The physical jews trusted in Yahweh, the nation of Israel, and the community of Israel.

    I trust in Jesus Christ, and trust in Christian brothers and sisters who manifest faithful to God’s New Testament Word. For a lot of reasons, I do not fellowship with others having the like precious faith of Jesus Christ. I keep to myself, occassionally visit some acquaintences, and blog weekly.

    Christians participate in priming techniques, that is the one another lifestyle, where we love one another, care for one another, edify one another, and so on. These replicate the life of Christ in the believer, and pattern the believer to follow the Apostles, as they followed and were taught by Christ, after his death in 33AD.

    Christians signal committment to the Jesus Story, where the best example is the singing, praying, prasing of believers in Sunday morning Communion as practiced by the Living Stream Ministry.

    Christians definitely create social capital, it is termed the Church experience, where they signal conscientiousness, conformity, and trustworthiness. The Church experience is meant to be a daily thing, achieved through one another lilving, its purpose is to build one another up in Christ.

    Perhaps one might consider reading some of Witness Lee’s books, such as The Economy of God, which centers on Dispensation, presented in Ephesians 1:10, where he writes on the recovery experience, that is recovery of the spiritual life experience of living in grace and truth.

    And perhaps one might consider reading daily from Witness Lee’s Recovery Version of the Bible, where he provides verse by verse commentary on the New Testament.

    And perhaps one might consider reading daily from MacArthurs’ Study Bible written by reformed author John MacArthur.

  2. Bryan Willman says:

    A different issue is that there are all sorts of signaling on our society, associated with various levels of enforcement. Religion and higher education are two getting attention.

    But there are others – how one dresses, or that one dresses at all. To some degree, being willing to put on an uncomfortable, costly, costume with useless elements (necktie) is a signal one is willing to work in some sorts of office. Being willing to groom in a particular way is a similar signal.

    Sometimes, there is signaling in transportation choices – drive versus ride a motorcycle versus ride a bicycle.

    There can also be all sorts of signaling in such things as watches, pens, and the like.

    [And all of this often trips a geek like me who doesn’t signal in expected ways…]

    But all of these things are signals that one will “play by certain rules”, or sometimes, that one will NOT…

  3. Handle says:

    One signals capability, the other signals alliance.

    A College degree signals suitability and capability in the workplace, but doesn’t tell us much about ‘what team you’re on’.

    If most employment were manual, and it was hard to tell by looking, and there were certificates that said, “Probably in the top 20% of strength and stamina”, then that would tell you whether someone would be a good worker, but it would not tell you if he would use his strength for or against you if the big teams in your community started to fight each other.

    Religion, like ideology, is closely associated with a particular view of the good in human affairs, social organization, and an agenda of reformation and progress. Trustworthiness in the workplace is of a completely different kind than reliability of cooperation in furtherance of strongly-held beliefs about the desirability of collective goals.

  4. Floccina says:

    If religions help to create social capital by allowing people to signal conscientiousness, conformity, and trustworthiness, how does this relate to Bryan Caplan’s view that obtaining a college degree performs that function?

    Might be why many college professors seem hostile to religion.

  5. andrew says:

    Religion was needed as signalling mechanism for people to cooperate on a large scale. It is a Macro signal that people use much less these days. College is the Micro signal used for fine grained sorting.

  6. guthrie says:

    I’m not sure I understand how fasting and other forms of religious asceticism makes for a ‘just-so’ story… can you elaborate?

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