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Evolutionary Perspectives on Unbelief: An Introduction from the Guest Editor

author: Kyle J. Messick,
The scientific study of atheism and unbelief is at a pivotal turning point: past research is being evaluated, and new directions for research are being paved. Organizations are being formed with an exclusive focus on unbelief research, and large grants are funding the topic in ways that historically have never happened before. This article serves as an introduction to the state of the
literature and study of evolutionary perspectives towards unbelief, which incorporates cognitive, adaptive, and biological contributors. This article serves to contextualize the subsequent articles, which all have distinct perspectives on the evolutionary factors that contribute towards unbelief.

Atheism and Unbelief: Different Ways to Apply the Evolutionary Framework

author: Lluis Oviedo,
Religion has been intensely studied in the last years inside an evolutionary frame, trying to discern to what extent it contributes to fitness or becomes an adaptive entity in its own. A similar heuristic can be tried regarding the opposite tendency: unbelief and atheism, since these cultural phenomena could help to better adapt to some social settings or become an adaptive sociocultural niche on its own. The present paper examines some scenarios in which that question makes sense: the tradition of sociology of religion, with its different strands, including recent studies on "non-religious"; the cognitive; and the philosophical-theological reflection. The proposed venues show to what
extent the evolutionary model might reveal neglected aspects in the study of unbelief, and at the same time its limits or the open questions that such application raise.

The Biology of Secularization

author: Jay R. Feierman,
For the past 500 years, to varying degrees, the processes of religious secularization have been occurring in what today are the wealthy, highly educated, industrialized nations of the world. They are causing organized religion, as a social institution, to go from being a very important influence on the lives of people and the nations in which they live to being a smaller influence, or almost no influence at all. Various disciplines from theology to psychology to sociology have tried to explain secularization, each discipline contributing something unique. One discipline that has not contributed has been biology. From a biological perspective, based on observation and reasoning, at least one of the ultimate functions of the physical forms associated with religion appear to be that of in-group marker for a breeding population, which, as will be shown, is how all religions start. Religions structure larger human populations into smaller "clusters" that are separate ingroup breeding populations. The clustering into smaller in-group breeding populations prevents the spread of contagious diseases and creates inter-group competition and intra-group cooperation, both of which have contributed to human eusociality, a very rare type of social organization that will be explained. As the physical forms of religion are losing this in-group-marker function of clustering populations with modernity, a general biological principle comes into play, which is "form follows function, and as function wanes, so does form." When applied to religion, "form" means the physical components by which all religions are built. The specific meaning of "physical", as used here, will be explained in the article. This biological perspective, which is counter-intuitive and can generate testable hypotheses, should complement, not compete, with perspectives from other disciplines. Physical forms in biology can and often do have more than one function, so the same form with a biological function can also have psychological and theological functions. The physical forms of religion are its objects of natural (genetic and cultural) selection. As socio-economic modernity spreads through the world, the evolutionary biological trajectory suggests that religion, as a social institution, will eventually become extinct.