Posted by: Dan | February 25, 2008

Coevolution of Religion and War

Basically – the actual study was The Coevolution of Parochial Altruism and War, in an October issue of Science. I only recently heard of the paper, but here’s the abstract:

Altruism—benefiting fellow group members at a cost to oneself—and parochialism—hostility toward individuals not of one’s own ethnic, racial, or other group—are common human behaviors. The intersection of the two—which we term “parochial altruism”—is puzzling from an evolutionary perspective because altruistic or parochial behavior reduces one’s payoffs by comparison to what one would gain by eschewing these behaviors. But parochial altruism could have evolved if parochialism promoted intergroup hostilities and the combination of altruism and parochialism contributed to success in these conflicts. Our game-theoretic analysis and agent-based simulations show that under conditions likely to have been experienced by late Pleistocene and early Holocene humans, neither parochialism nor altruism would have been viable singly, but by promoting group conflict, they could have evolved jointly.

“Parochial altruism” or ethnocentrism are central components to religion, and the observation that these concepts likely co-evolved with warfare represents an intriguing possibility. It also supports Allen MacNeill’s argument that The Capacity for Religious Experience Is An Evolutionary Adaptation to Warfare.


  1. Hi, Dan:
    Sorry I haven’t been visiting your site of late. I’ve had some health problems that have made computer use (and indeed, all forms of writing with my right arm and hand) very difficult and tiring. That said, I greatly appreciate the hat tip and the links, which I immediately downloaded and added to my hoard of references. Still trying to get those two books done…
    Hoping you are liking your island in the sun,

  2. Thanks Allen, and sad to hear about the health issues! I hope that it’s something that will heal in time.

  3. […] hoping to connect these ideas to parochial altruism, but I’ll have to wait and […]


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