My hypothesis is that dogmas raised human IQs. To explain why, I’ll begin here:
One of the most powerful driving forces in evolution is called an evolutionary arms race.
Suppose one species evolves an offensive measure, and the victim species concurrently evolves a defensive counter-measure. That is an evolutionary arms race. It explains how a species can incrementally develop incredibly powerful abilities.
A few examples:
Rough-skinned newts are extremely toxic. How did they become so? The common garter snake evolved toxicity resistance. At the beginning, the toxin and respective resistance was theoretically extremely small. As the newts gradually become more toxic to poison the snakes, the snakes gradually became more resistant to that toxin so as to continue eating the newts. Over time, these changes accumulated.
The Cuckoo bird lays eggs in the nests of other species, to trick other animals to protect her eggs for her. Other species will discard cuckoo eggs when they are found out. Therefore, cuckoos evolve to become better at disguising their eggs as those of other species. Meanwhile, other species evolve to become better at detecting cuckoo eggs. This is many different arms races that are happening at once; different cuckoo races specialize at disguising their eggs to trick different species.
Another, from Wikipedia:
Bats have evolved to use echolocation to detect and catch their prey. Moths have in turn evolved to detect the echolocation calls of hunting bats, and evoke evasive flight maneuvers
Here is my hypothesis:
There was and is an evolutionary arms race between human reason and dogma.
That sounds far-fetched. Dogmas aren’t species! But I ask you: how different from a species is it really?
Dogmas evolve, like species can. Dogmas can perpetuate themselves. Dogmas can change over time. Dogmas can go extinct. One dogma can split into separate dogmas.
Humans are an extremely unique species in that we have “outsourced” much of our “evolution” to the layer of “culture.”
That last sentence is paraphrasing Bret Weinstein, so I might as well tell you about this absolutely fascinating debate between Richard Dawkins and him:
Their disagreement is quite emphatic and fundamental. It is over a topic that the earliest posts on this website seem to contradict themselves about. It is:
To what extent do dogmas exist to serve human biology, as opposed to the extent that they exist independently to simply perpetuate themselves.
This is the highest-level debate about religion you can have.
Initially fully agreeing with Weinstein, I found myself persuaded more to Dawkins’ side after he explained his core of his view at 53:46.
He argues: the mark of a parasite is whether or not its reproduction is tied to that of the whole organism. If a cell can only perpetuate it’s genetic code through sperm, it will behave much more cooperatively, and display emergent characteristics, compared to those perpetuate their code via some other means (like through being sneezed around).
But they’re both right; dogmas exist in a dance (I believe a competitive one) between serving human interests and their own.
In the below video, Michael Shermer gives examples of how a religion can take advantage of defects in human psychology:
In his argument, superstitions and beliefs in the supernatural are hitchhiking on the propensity of the mind to:
- make snap judgements
- to bias false positive errors over false negative errors
- To attribute agency and intentionality incorrectly
It is possible to explain why these biases evolved. We need to make snap judgements because sometimes we have limited time to make a decision. We need to bias false positives because we face many dangers, and sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry.
But, importantly, these are all heuristics. They’re instinctive, not strictly logical.
As he explains, belief in the supernatural can be attributed to the above heuristics. If belief in the supernatural became a problem, we would have to evolve to loose those heuristics.
Heuristics can be good. But, insofar as heuristics have us create harmful dogmas that can perpetuate themselves socially, we will have to replace them with pure logic, or at least lessen their impact.
So, insofar as humans have the capacity to believe harmful dogmas, we will lose heuristics and become more logical. Heuristics can be “gamed;” logic cannot. In this manner, humans evolve to act less on instinct. The logical part of our brain becomes more pronounced.
So why haven’t we lost the heuristics I listed above? Perhaps the dogmas they facilitate are not harmful, but beneficial or neutral. Perhaps the value of the heuristics outweighs the harm of dogmas. Or perhaps we need more time to adapt, and we will discard those instincts in the same way we discarded many other animal instincts.
I believe an evolutionary arms race between humans and harmful dogmas began the moment humans developed culture. And culture itself is a byproduct of language, such a useful tool that it is worth almost any cost.
That cost, the provision on language’s effective usage, is to become less instinctive. We compensate by becoming more logical, which is actually better for us in the long term. Language forced us to be smart enough that culture can’t destroy us.
Of course that’s all conjecture.