Religion as the ultimate Big Mac


First, a warning: this is a link to a good science article, but it’s hosted on the Suicide Girls site, which contains many pictures of young ladies with attitude and tattoos in a state of deshabille. You may discover you are blocked at work. But do persevere! It will be worth it even if you have no interest in naked women!

Anyway, one of the broad points of dissension in the discussion of the evolution of religion can be split along one general question: was religion directly adaptive in the evolution of humans, or was it more of a side-effect of other useful cognitive and social properties? I’m on the side of the side-effect gang, and so this article on the evolution of religion jibes nicely with my position. And I really like this simple analogy:

The reason religion is so successful is that it taps into our primal-brains in much the same way that a Big Mac does — only more so. Religion gained its foothold by hijacking the need to give purpose at a time when humans had only their imagination — as opposed to the evidence and reason that we have today — to fathom their world. Spirits and demons were the explanation for illnesses that we now know are caused by bacterial diseases and genetic disorders. The whims of the gods were why earthquakes, volcanos, floods and droughts occurred. Our ancestors were driven to sacrifice everything from goats to one another to satisfy those gods.

Greasy, fatty, substanceless, and not at all good for you…but it tastes so good, and it’s cheap and readily available everywhere. That’s religion and fast food.

So read the whole thing, even if you do have to wait until you get home tonight.

Comments

  1. says

    My school doesn’t block any websites from our computers, so we can access anything we want, just as if we were grownups. But that could also be why our connections seem to slow down during the day. Too much going on. We were asked to refrain from using streaming video to watch Obama’s inauguration for fear over overwhelming the system. Instead TVs popped up all over. Probably a good idea.

    Now what was it you said about naked women?

  2. Lotharloo says

    this is a link to a good science article, but it’s hosted on the Suicide Girls site,

    How come?

  3. clinteas says

    Now,

    Suicide girls,

    thats the most erotic bunch of chicks on this planet….

    PZ,you sure trophy wife approves of you accidentally mentioning that particular site?
    LOL

    As to religion being like a big greasy cheesy brain whopper,oh yes,great analogy,it might actually explain a lot…..I like it !

  4. says

    Lotharloo at #2, read the first italicized paragraph from the SG editors for full explanation.

    Great article; a little too detailed to read closely at this early hour, but seemed to jibe with a lot of my thoughts too. Although I do sneak a Big Mac now and again…

  5. clinteas says

    You can also read the entire article on RichardDawkins.net.

    Yeah,great,but does RD.net have suicide girls?????

  6. JY says

    PZ’s remarks and/or those forwarded are correct, but significantly incomplete:

    A basic anthropology course shows that religion is a means of social control — appealing to a divine whatever enables a leader to get & retain power, and ensures more continuity of the power structure, than individual charisma & a leader’s ability to maitain power by coercion & force. People (the masses) fear the all-powerful diety much more than any human–especially where eternal life is concerned. More to the point, this arrangement has proven to enable a ruling class to control surplus (i.e. to “tax” productivity). In primitive societies this means food, which can carry over the community thru the hard times of drought & famine. The Bible’s Old Testatment story of Joseph (sold into slavery, interpret’s the pharoh’s dreams of 7 yrs of plenty followed by 7 years of famine, etc.) illustrates this theme nicely. Other “taxes” on surplus include weapons to secure the community, or, pursue the surplus of others.

    The typical arrangement that evolved was a ruling class and a priestly hierarchry that exercised parallel control. The obvious example in ‘recent’ history were the European Kings balanced by the Pope/Catholic Church…and later by the English King & the Church of England, etc. It is from this the the concept of the “Divine Right of Kings” hails. And THAT concept was espoused as recently as the 1950s with Queen Elizabeth and her possible “takeover” reign over Canada, which apparently some hoped for back then as given by a sappy introduction to the idea in an obscure book glorifying Canada & that queen which my Evil Mother in Law has kept for some weird sentimental reason.

    The oldest record of this involves Akhenaten (Amenhotep), Egyption Pharoh around 1300-ish BC (his son died & became famous as King Tut). He tried to take control from the priests by starting his own religion–worship of a single God (the Sun, Ra)–and went to extraordinary lenghts to pull off the power coup, including moving the capital to a new one built from scratch. This didn’t work out so well & he was striken from the official list if leaders, but eventually historians found him out.

    His power-play maneuver to oust the priestly class by inventing a single all-powerful diety very possibly was the genesis/inspiration for what eventually evolved into Christianity…but that’s another story.

    The other key factor, completely ignored it seems from this & ‘like-minded’ sites, is basic human psychology. As children we’re prone to “magical thinking” (as defined by psychiatry) and this developmental aspect serves some purposes. Elaborating further would take way too much space…but it is a significant factor. In many if not most cases of people holding onto extreme religious views, one can be pretty sure there’s some psychological issues involved and the religiosity is a symptom of some other issues. In layman’s terms, you can be sure they’re “nuts” (though “nuts” is a ill-defined term covering a spectrum of neuroses thru formal disorders thru psychoses).

  7. clinteas says

    In layman’s terms, you can be sure they’re “nuts”

    Yeah,well we figured that out some time ago…….

  8. Patrick says

    Naked girls are also like Big Macs and religion. When I’m around them, I can’t think properly.

  9. Interrobang says

    PZ, I worry about you if you think Big Macs taste good. That “processed cheese food” crap alone tastes like rancid plastic; it would boggle my mind why anyone still eats at McDonalds, except that I know advertising works on most people.

  10. Endor says

    “It will be worth it even if you have no interest in naked women!”

    Or misogyny pretending to be “empowering”, for that matter.

    all hail RD’s site for hosting the article.

  11. dogmeatib says

    Hmmm maybe I’ll mention this article to my students today… [notices them building a bonfire in the courtyard] … then again … maybe not.

  12. says

    I’d have to be gay to be interested in naked women _that_ way. Naturally I can see that they’re more adroitly designed than men…

  13. KI says

    Fast-food burgers (BK macD and slyders, all) give me the runs, much as religion does to my brain!

  14. PlaydoPlato says

    # 16 Interrobang:

    PZ, I worry about you if you think Big Macs taste good. That “processed cheese food” crap alone tastes like rancid plastic; it would boggle my mind why anyone still eats at McDonalds, except that I know advertising works on most people.

    Big Macs do taste “good” in the context of a primarily fast food diet. But compare that industrial swill to a hamburger made from a warm, fresh home-made bun, pastured beef, organic veggies, raw cheese, and home-made mayo… The bar that defines gustatory excellence is raised.

    Likewise with religion, if you’re raised to believe in fairy tales, you can’t really appreciate reality until you’ve actually had a taste.

  15. Bosch's Poodle says

    My explanation for religion is pretty simple: The truth hurts: we are all going to die, and so are our children, and a long time from now, the sun will flare up and earth will disappear. And after that, the universe will collapse. Everything ends and it usually ends miserably.

    Those concepts are extremely difficult to accept, myself included. And religion is a way of avoiding those truths, and in that sense is very compelling. Yes, you may be miserable, abused, exploited, beaten down, and without hope (as most of us throughout history have been), but one day you’ll have justice and you’ll be reunited with your healthy and happy family. In the relative comfort of this time and place it’s easier to recognize what a crock it all is, but had I been born in a shack 400 years ago with no prospects other than backbreaking work, poor hygiene, and lifelong poverty, I’d have found the prospect of eventual justice, peace, and prosperity unavoidably appealing.

  16. clinteas says

    but had I been born in a shack 400 years ago with no prospects other than backbreaking work, poor hygiene, and lifelong poverty, I’d have found the prospect of eventual justice, peace, and prosperity unavoidably appealing.

    Give that man an award,for most concise sum-up of the reason for the prevalence of religion this month…..

  17. Ruth says

    “Yeah,great,but does RD.net have suicide girls?????”

    I hope not, since it ought to be against any kind of bigotry, including misogyny.

    Seriously, PZ, why not link to the RD version of the article, rather than driving up the traffic of a website devoted to the presentation of women as masochistic fuck-toys? Your blog is usually one of the most feminist I’ve seen.

  18. Natalie says

    Or misogyny pretending to be “empowering”, for that matter.

    But apparently you’re cool with hyperbole pretending to be sociopolitical commentary…

  19. Jim A. says

    Well religion would seem to be the anthropomorpism of the physical world. For those asking “Why?”, “God hates us,” is often more satisfying than “Stuff happens.”

  20. Helfrick says

    Or misogyny pretending to be “empowering”, for that matter.

    How do you come to that conclusion?

  21. Paco says

    “Religion” embraces too broad a set of concepts and practices to be completely shoved into either pigeonhole as “adaptation” or “side-effect”.

    And the Suicide Girls article makes too much of the conflict between emotion and reason. Reason and emotion pull together for different mental modules and memes. What makes traditional religion frequently toxic is its harnessing of emotional sentiment and fear together with twisted logic — in defense of an inconsistent grab-bag of ideas. That mixture can be used to justify anything, while scorning the freethinking inquiry that reins one back to reality and dialogue with others.

    Emotion is not evil, nor reason perfect. The core thing that is adaptive or maladaptive about religion, depending on context, is consensus on things that may or may not be so. Consensus is is a powerful and dangerous ingredient in getting things done.

  22. cedgray says

    I agree with JY at #13 – I kept expecting what Dan Dennett called the ‘stewarding of religion’ by ruthless social dominator types with political dreams.

    Good article nonetheless, and I think the metaphor works well. I particularly liked the encouragement to think of the brain – any adaptation, in fact – as a kludge: something made up of lots of parts that developed at different times, and which were bolted on to existing bits.

    If that doesn’t give us Microsoft-like non-integration of function, leaving lots of people crashing with ‘religious malware’, then I don’t know what would. Perhaps we godless heathen have managed to cobble together some decent psychological anti-virus firmware…

  23. clinteas says

    Ruth @ 26,

    Seriously, PZ, why not link to the RD version of the article, rather than driving up the traffic of a website devoted to the presentation of women as masochistic fuck-toys?

    Now,
    I happen to have some knowledge about that website and the background of it all,and I can tell you that you will not find any fuck toys there,rather strong-willed emancipated,kinky if you want,girls that have a very good idea of whats going on in the world.

    Tougher and more open-minded than you,by the sounds of it !

  24. MScott says

    #23 PlaydoPlato:

    Your comment raises an interesting effort vs. reward comparison. Your burger is an order of magnitude better than the Big Mac, but the effort involved is probably a couple or three orders of magnitude better. The Big Mac tastes “good” relative to effort required to get one.

    Makes me ponder the same comparison where religion is concerned. Religion’s pretty much a zero effort investment, at least where critical analysis, understanding, learning, and rational thought is concerned. Contrast that with science where you actually have to use your brain, put things to the test, and hold your own preconceived notions up to objective scrutiny, and that requires a lot more effort; but the end result is the much bigger reward of an fact-based understanding of reality in all its complexity and weirdness, as opposed to just whatever you’ve made up.

  25. Tulse says

    Religion’s pretty much a zero effort investment, at least where critical analysis, understanding, learning, and rational thought is concerned.

    True, but it is typically a huge investment in time and resources on the part of the believer, in addition to potentially serious reduce efficacy (e.g., prayer vs. more practical efforts to achieve an end). Religion comes with a huge cost, just like obesity and addiction.

  26. Natalie says

    Helfrick, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that both Endor and Ruth subscribe to the belief that all pornography is inherently degrading to women, for some reason.

  27. BobC says

    A comment from a young woman on that website: “All the rational people need to start fucking more.”

    I think that’s good advice. I would add that rational people should stop cheering for abortion as if that’s a good thing. I’m for legal abortion, but that doesn’t mean rational people should kill their own fetus for the fun of it, while the religious idiots reproduce like rabbits.

  28. clinteas says

    Natalie @ 35,

    Helfrick, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that both Endor and Ruth subscribe to the belief that all pornography is inherently degrading to women, for some reason.

    It would appear so.

  29. clinteas says

    BobC,

    All the rational people need to start fucking more.

    I couldnt agree more.And I dont usually agree with you…

    I would add that rational people should stop cheering for abortion as if that’s a good thing

    And then you fucked it up with this shit.
    Never seen anyone cheer while aborting a fetus.Just think about what you write sometimes mate.

  30. Ruth says

    “I happen to have some knowledge about that website and the background of it all,and I can tell you that you will not find any fuck toys there,rather strong-willed emancipated,kinky if you want,girls that have a very good idea of whats going on in the world.”

    Oh, so if the fuck-toys are sufficiently brainwashed that they LIKE being fuck-toys, that’s OK, is it?

  31. Cruithne says

    If pornography is degrading to women then it naturally follows that it’s also degrading to men, since indulging in the degradation of any human being ultimately cheapens both the objectified and the objectifier.
    I’d best put my cards on the table here and admit that like a lot of men I’ve used porn as a masturbatory aid but I can still see the merit in the argument that it’s exploitative.There’s two arguments here, the merits of porn per se, and the SG website as some type of female empowerment.
    Without getting into the rights and wrongs of porn I do think it is quite easy to see that the argument a young woman can be empowered by posting photographs of herself on the internet so that men can pay money to masturbate over them is a load of nonsense.
    If you’re selling porn, then at least be honest enough to tell the truth about it.

  32. Ruth says

    “Helfrick, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that both Endor and Ruth subscribe to the belief that all pornography is inherently degrading to women, for some reason.”

    Not necessarily all pornography. But pornography that’s based on the idea that women enjoy being hurt? I fail to see how that’s NOT misogynistic.

  33. dreamstretch says

    Oh, so if the fuck-toys are sufficiently brainwashed that they LIKE being fuck-toys, that’s OK, is it?

    Rumour has it that some girls actually enjoy having sex.

  34. clinteas says

    Oh, so if the fuck-toys are sufficiently brainwashed that they LIKE being fuck-toys, that’s OK, is it?

    Ruth,

    I love being a fucktoy,I must be brainwashed too I guess…

    TMI for Pharyngula anyway….To call self-confident women happy with their sexuality brainwashed does actually not speak well about yourself,but I have no interest in pursuing that further here and now…
    And where is the Naked Bunny when you need her???

  35. Tulse says

    Oh, so if the fuck-toys are sufficiently brainwashed that they LIKE being fuck-toys, that’s OK, is it?

    Did you actually intend to come off as so misogynistic?

  36. Ruth says

    Ruth: Oh, so if the fuck-toys are sufficiently brainwashed that they LIKE being fuck-toys, that’s OK, is it?

    dreamstretch: Rumour has it that some girls actually enjoy having sex.

    The fact that you see no difference between ‘having sex’, and offering oneself as a fuck-toy tells me more than I want to know about you.

  37. Helfrick says

    @Ruth
    “Brainwashed” by some global porn conspiracy I bet. We should definitely save these poor girls from their own poor judgment since we have the good sense they so obviously lack.

    If you don’t like it, you are certainly free to avoid it, but to sit there and claim to know what’s best for people you don’t know is pretty damned pompous.

  38. Ruth says

    “I love being a fucktoy,I must be brainwashed too I guess…

    TMI for Pharyngula anyway….To call self-confident women happy with their sexuality brainwashed does actually not speak well about yourself,but I have no interest in pursuing that further here and now..”

    Surely a woman truly ‘happy with her sexuality’ would prefer being an equal participant to being a fuck-toy.

  39. clinteas says

    Ruth @ 45,

    The fact that you see no difference between ‘having sex’, and offering oneself as a fuck-toy tells me more than I want to know about you.

    And this line tells me more about you that I can bring myself to want to know about you…:-)
    Nite….

  40. Cruithne says

    A lot of people in third world countries are happy to have the opportunity to work for a pittance in some stinking factory, making goods for the rich West.
    Were you to ask them they’d tell you honestly that they do it through their own choice, and they wouldn’t be lying.
    Does this mean they aren’t being exploited, are we patronising them by claiming they are?

  41. ggab says

    ****Jealousy and/or Offence Alert****

    Mrs. ggab was accepted for the suicide girls site a few years ago.
    We ended up backing out because they only paid $200 and wanted full rights for every photo in a set of 40.
    I hope the current girls and photogs get a better rate than that.

  42. Chanda says

    I think of religion as a side effect of our drive to understand our world. And yes it has bad ramifications. But I also think we wouldn’t be human without it.

    That is not to say that we shouldn’t continue to evolve to remove it but it will be a long slow process and we as “non-believers” (thank you Obama) need to be patient and persistent. Change won’t happen over night. And a little strategy on our part might be helpful.

    Calling religious people wackaloons, whether they deserve it or not, might not really be our best approach. Just my opinion of course.

    If you think about it, that wackaloon was letting evolution happen in it rawest sense. I think pointing that out as a brave step forward and a real testament to their faith in the natural process is the best way to quickly make this sort of activity come screeching to a halt.

    Or not. I feel very bad for the child.

    But I must ask, exactly where would YOU draw the line for what a parent must do to help a child and where can it be left to a parent’s discretion? I’ve thought about this and I think letting a child die is too far, but I don’t even have a clue as to define the line between required action and choice.

  43. mayhempix says

    I’ll have a Big Jesus Combo to go,
    easy on the cross and hold the nails.

    (Posted before but I couldn’t resist on this thread.)

  44. Helfrick says

    @Ruth
    I submit that you are the misogynist here. By pushing the virgin vs. whore dichotomy, you are making yourself look pretty bad.

  45. says

    But pornography that’s based on the idea that women enjoy being hurt? I fail to see how that’s NOT misogynistic.

    That is a valid point, but not an accurate description of the content of the Suicide Girls site. The site mainly focuses on ‘alternative’ fashion and style, e.g. tattoos, piercings, purple mohawks, etc. The photos and videos are what many would describe as ‘soft core’ – e.g. just nudity and the implication of sexual acts.

    Additionally, the site is known for the fact that over half of the paid subscribers are women and that there is a fairly active, sex positive community on the site. They also have pretty strict rules for behavior. Acting like a misogynist jerk will get you banned very quickly.

    All that said, it is a porn web site – and I think it’s fair to discuss the positive and negative effects of porn in general – but if you’re going to critique the site, do so on it’s actual content.

  46. clinteas says

    ggab,

    definetely jealousy alert….

    And this is not about the site lords exploiting girls for photo rights lol,you get that…
    Its about the whole moral dimension Ruth is trying to install…

  47. Tulse says

    they only paid $200 and wanted full rights for every photo in a set of 40.

    Would that be different than modeling in other contexts, such as for a department store catalogue? (I genuinely don’t know, and would be interested in the answer.)

  48. Owlmirror says

    Looking at http://suicidegirls.com/about/:

    With a vibrant, sex positive community of women (and men), SuicideGirls was founded on the belief that creativity, personality and intelligence are not incompatible with sexy, compelling entertainment, and millions of people agree. The site mixes the smarts, enthusiasm and DIY attitude of the best music and alternative culture sites with an unapologetic, grassroots approach to sexuality.

    In the same way Playboy Magazine became a beacon and guide to the swinging bachelor of the 1960s, SuicideGirls is at the forefront of a generation of young women and men whose ideals about sexuality do not conform with what mainstream media is reporting.

    Although started as a two person operation out of a loft in downtown Portland, OR in 2001, in five short years SuicideGirls has grown its audience to over 5 million unique visitors a month. With hundreds of thousands of subscribers, over a thousand models, a succesful book and DVD in stores and a new clothing line, there’s no telling what diabolical plan SG will next come up with to seperate you from your hard earned money.

  49. says

    I agree with those who wish PZ has not linked to the sexist site, especially when there was a nonsexist alternative.

    For those of you who think it’s not sexist, try imagining an equivalent site with men – oh, excuse me, boys – same prose, same photo postures, etc. Hard to imagine, because this site plays into engrained sexist stereotypes. Feminism = nothing more or less than equality.

    beyond being sexist, it’s also asinine AND a sell-out. servitude masquerading as liberation? We’ve come a long way, baby…

  50. Guy Incognito says

    Sure, posting a link to the article hosted at RD.net would be slightly more appropriate to this site, but I doubt you will find “Norse Neo-pagan Reconstructionists” taking on atheists over there. I like the change of pace. I’m being introduced to a completely different sort of woo:

    Now, one could argue that Asatru is a barbaric heathen cult, and they’d be right. Killing and sex and revenge and drinking alcohol and eating animals are all condoned activities by Asatruar. However, this does not mean there is a dogma.

    Fucking priceless! Is there such a thing as a pagan Poe?

  51. Eric says

    One thing that seems to be overlooked about the existence of religious tendencies in humankind, even by Dawkins in the God Delusion, is hinted at by David McAllester in his examination of the Navajo Enemyway ceremony. While he doesn’t explicitly address it (at least I don’t rememeber if he does) several socio-economic elements can be argued to be a relevant consequence of the ceremony. 1) part of the ceremony includes social interaction between men and women in a way that potentially promotes pair bonding. 2)Several times the ceremony requires the exchange of goods which has the effect of stimulating economic activity. 3)Perhaps the weakest element, but not without value, is it’s role as a healing ceremony and, for whatever the placebo effect is worth, may have an actual effect of improving the health of the individual for whom the ceremony is performed and possibly the community at large.

    Additionally, it could be argued that the inclusion of material goods into graves, usually part of religious consideration, also has the effect of removing goods from circulation thereby stimulating economic production.

    I don’t discount the religion as by-product perspective, but I’m skeptical that it is the whole story. I’m leary of either/or interpretations of social phenomena.

  52. mayhempix says

    “Surely a woman truly ‘happy with her sexuality’ would prefer being an equal participant to being a fuck-toy.”

    You can tell those who do not understand sexual masochism in relationships. Usually the submissive, whether female or male, is the one in charge and requesting the physical attention.

    “The Secretary” with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader is a good place to start.

    (And no, I’m not in dominate/submissive relationship.)

  53. ggab says

    clinteas
    I understand.
    The only reason I made the point about the money was because I was still irritated about it.
    My fragile ego wanted them to make an exception and offer more for my fine photography work….oh, and the hot wife.

  54. Owlmirror says

    (I don’t know whether all pornography is exploitative or not, but I do note that the Richard Dawkins site is (a) less distracting and (b) less likely to get anyone in trouble at work.

    I’m just sayin’ here… )

  55. C Barr says

    When a child returns to the loving arms of a parent, the brain rewards that action with a rush of oxytocin.

    When adults return to the loving arms of their heavenly father in prayer, that action is rewarded with a flush of warm loving feeling. Any connection?

  56. says

    To all those who labelled me a misogynist on the other thread because of my stance on abortion:

    Let it be known that, in relation to the topic of this thread, I absolutely agree with Ruth. I believe that pornography is degrading to women, and is a hugely detrimental influence on society. I think the feminists (while I disagree with them in some other areas) are absolutely right to oppose the spread of pornography. And I think it’s morally weak and cowardly for men to kid themselves that one pornsite is any different from another, morally speaking.

    I wouldn’t bother mentioning this – since my stance on pornography is well-known here – but I want to make absolutely clear that I am not a misogynist, nor an apologist for the exploitation of women, and that I find such a suggestion highly offensive.

  57. Natalie says

    Ruth @ 39 and 41:

    First of all, some women do actually enjoy physical pain. So do some men. It’s called masochism, and personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. As someone who enjoys being sexually spanked, I can tell you that it’s not in any way incompatible with being a feminist or living in an egalitarian heterosexual relationship.

    Secondly, I find your suggestion that women who pose naked are somehow not making a fully realized choice. Maybe I’m crazy, but I thought the whole point of feminism and gender equality was that women should be free to choose what they want to do with their own life. If that choice includes posing naked and putting those pictures on the internet, so be it.

    I find this argument disturbing because it has so frequently been levied at, say, women who want to get abortions or women who want to live in a same-sex relationship or women who want to get jobs, and so on. One of the most devastating societal attitudes toward women is, IMO, the attitude that they cannot be trusted to make rational choices. How is your attitude any different?

    I’m sure someone will say that women don’t really choose to pose naked, they do it because they need the money or they want a man’s approval or they were abused. Even assuming these are all true, how is the choice to pose naked different than the choice to take any other particular job, the choice to have children or not, the choice to marry this person or that person or not marry at all, and so forth?

  58. says

    But pornography that’s based on the idea that women enjoy being hurt? I fail to see how that’s NOT misogynistic.

    Oh, for the love of. . . Some women, and some men, do enjoy being hurt. Some like to be hurt by men, some by women, and some go either way. There are more things done between consenting adults than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

  59. PlaydoPlato says

    # 23 MScott,

    True, it is an effort vs. reward mechanism in play here. Low quality food seems nearly effortless to acquire and consume (not to mention cheap), while the good stuff requires far more planning, better ingredients, a bit more money, and a fair amount of culinary intelligence.

    Tulse (#34), to follow on your comment: Yes, maintaining the illusion of a god is expensive in time, resources, and the prospects for personal success, but those costs are discounted and ignored by theists in much the same way a game addict ignores the time and resources spent leveling up in World of Warcraft. After wasting his life within the confines of an illusion, he’s got nothing to show for it but obesity, joblessness, and missed child support payments.

    Religion = Fail

  60. ggab says

    Tulse
    That rate would have been close to standard for low level catalogue work(at least it would have been years ago. It really depends on the length of the shoot), but there would have been additional payment for the photographer.

  61. Helfrick says

    I find it absolutely amazing that folks think that somehow what consenting adults do with and amongst themselves is any of their business. This false-front of feminism and cries of “I’m not a misogynist” all the while preaching at women what is acceptable for them is beyond understanding. What I would find degrading is being told how to be moral by people who obviously don’t understand the concept.

  62. says

    Helfrick:

    This false-front of feminism and cries of “I’m not a misogynist” all the while preaching at women what is acceptable for them is beyond understanding.

    Indeed. Stigmatizing women for finding a style of sex they actually enjoy — now, that’s misogyny.

  63. says

    I believe that pornography is degrading to women

    Even gay porn?

    Of course. It’s degrading to their position as viable workers.

    There’s no parts for them.

    MORE WOMEN IN GAY PORN.

    wait..

  64. Nerd of Redhead says

    Jebus, why do the prudes like Ruth, Hillary, and Walton always try to get in the way of people doing their thing. If it is consenting, just avert your eyes, and then go away. We don’t need your hangups to become the norm.

  65. Tulse says

    Stigmatizing women for finding a style of sex they actually enjoy

    Wait…back up a bit…are you saying that women can enjoy sex?

  66. Natalie says

    Feminism = nothing more or less than equality.

    And doesn’t equality include the right to choose what you do with your body? If not, why not?

  67. PlaydoPlato says

    Regarding the SG thread and the assertion that all pornography is exploitive, I’m reminded of a thread last year where a young, attractive atheist female posted a YouTube video, which PZ posted about on Pharyngula. The video was shot in such a way as to display the woman’s breasts, although in a manner no different from what one might see on a stroll down a busy street.

    I was unprepared for the outrage on the part of some posters. You’d think the lady in question had chosen to hump a donkey, while singing God Bless America. Really, some people are seriously over sensitized to images of females that even hint at sexuality.

    If PZ had linked to a parallel site called Suicide Boys(tm) instead, I rather doubt we would hear the same complaints. The truth is that probably half of the visual content on the Internet is exploitive in some way. Everything from Darwin Award contestants to IDiots flaunting their stupidity for all the world to see is exploitive.

    Why is it that some of us are only concerned about “exploitation” when the image is of a sexual nature and female?

    I have a question for those offended by SG: Is there such a thing as a non-exploitive female nude or semi-nude image (please, no pictures of women in head-to-toe black burqas)?

    BTW, I once took a drawing class where we drew nudes, both male and female. Given that these classes took place in a public space (college classroom) before a roomful of strangers, were these women and men being exploited? Are classical painters and sculptures exploiters?

    This reminds me of the recent tempest in a tea kettle where and artist portrayed the virgin mary as having breasts. Naturally the church was upset, because everyone knows that breasts are Satan’s work.

    [Takes a heavy sigh and prepares to be labeled an apologist and a misogynist.]

  68. Pierce R. Butler says

    Is it a bad thing that an article about evolution, culture, and the psychology of religion be published on a pop culture site?

    Go to http://suicidegirls.com/news/all/blog/ and scroll down: this is a group blog with a wide range of interests, including some well-informed political commentary (look particularly for pieces by “FearTheReaper”), drug rehab, bands, Buddhism, etc.

    The “porn” aspect is pretty mild – hardly so much as a nipple exposed – and features real-looking young women, many with small breasts, chubby thighs, and other features loathed by the media which do women the most harm. Devotees of tattoos and punk stylin’ will find Suicide Girl pics just their thing – for serious titillation, look elsewhere.

    Nobody likes everything about a wide-ranging web site, but this one is likely to attract eyeballs connected to active brains. As one who regularly despairs over the crap being fed the younger generation, I’m grateful to know Suicide Girls is out there.

  69. says

    Going back to the subject of the evolutionary role of religion, I tend to agree with Myers that the tendency towards religion in us humans is an unfortunate side effect. Dawkins did what I thought was a pretty good job outlining some speculative ideas about this in “The God Delusion”. The tendency for survival by listening to authority figures (“Don’t swim where’s crocodiles”, was I think his example) and the childish tendency to see purpose and design in everything. The latter shortcuts analytical thinking to make quick decisions that may have aided in early hominid survival. Then there is, as already mentioned, the need to ascribe causes to things not yet understood because the tools to understanding were not yet available.

    Then, of course, couple with with the abilities of certain individuals and groups to leverage these tendencies to maintain control over others and keep power. I don’t think there is a single smoking gun that explains religious tendencies in our species, but rather a complex combination (in various degrees) of unfortunate side effects such as these. It does make for a good discussion, but a difficult subject to scientifically study with any reliability.

  70. E.V. says

    Is sex dirty? Only if it’s done right. -Woody Allen

    I’ve always been leery of people who view pure sexual gratification as wrong and misogynistic in heterosexual terms, and those holistic granola eating types who only go for wholesome and healthy sex as if it was a prescriptive excercise.
    As my wife says, “sometimes you want to make love, but most of the time you just want to fuck.”
    Trying to force eroticism into a box, so to speak, can kill the allure.

  71. John M. says

    Read the whole thing from beginning to end as PZ proposed. Very informative and lots of brain-candy to be sucked on.

    Now I’ve read a few comments I see I missed something important at this site, so gotta go…

  72. Midnight Rambler says

    Hillary Rettig @ 58:

    For those of you who think it’s not sexist, try imagining an equivalent site with men – oh, excuse me, boys – same prose, same photo postures, etc. Hard to imagine, because this site plays into engrained sexist stereotypes.

    Are you serious? I don’t know of any offhand and I’m at a work computer, but I’d bet that if you did a search on “gay porn bdsm” you’d pull up a lot of equivalent or “worse” (for you) sites with men.

  73. Someone says

    Ok, so I looked up the pay rates of porn stars on wikipedia:

    A woman makes $100,000 to $250,000 at the end of the year.” and “Girls can easily make 100K-250K per year, plus stuff on the side like strip shows and appearances. The average guy makes $40,000 a year.”

    So. Exploitation, eh? That’s six to sixteen thousand euros per month, people.

  74. CJO says

    Side effect? But of what, exactly? I tend to think of it as a tradeoff, with an analogy to our visual system. We’re hard-wired (along with the rest of sighted animals, I imagine) to pay disproportionate attention to moving objects, even to the extent of suffering a lot of false positives. The trade-off is easy to understand: false negative: you’re dinner, or you’ve just missed dinner. False positive: you wasted a second or two looking at something that turned out to be unimportant; or, worst case, you’ve been distracted from something that was important. Evolution accepted the false positives as the cost of doing business. (About false positives and movement detection, there was reporting last year about some cool work on optical illusions as being a product of just what I’m talking about.)

    Apply the same reasoning to agency detection instead of motion detection in social primates with some spare brainpower to spend on this kind of thing. In much the same way, false positives (agency, everywhere!) have a lower cost than false negatives (just a coincidence, nothing to worry about) when the most salient feature of the environment in a social setting is the plots and machinations of your conspecifics.

    It’s not much of a stretch to go from there to animism and sympathetic magic. And given those as the baseline, it’s not hard to imagine the evolving role of the shaman or magician as one with special access to the means and motives of all these animistic spirits, and from there to polytheism and capital-R Religion with all the social control aspects discussed in the article. Though I imagine that the last step needs an agricultural revolution with concommitant elites in control of surpluses to provide the impetus.

  75. abb3w says

    I’m not sure; religion also has evolved (at least in the social sense) as a tool which helps instill non-instinctive ethics into human progeny. In the past, the benefit might well have justified the cost. Even now, it’s generally considered “easier” than purely secular methods (although I’m not sure if how much sociology there is showing comparison of results).

    Science doesn’t directly provide an alternative to that yet. (Cue voice synthesized “I’m working on that….“)

  76. says

    There was a really good book published about this in 2005 by Lee Kirkpatrick, called “Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion”. He compares religion to a cheesecake rather than a big mac, but pursues the same argument.

  77. CSN says

    That’s for helping me put a finger on exactly why I hate those “Whopper Virgins” commercials! They’re missionaries!! Why anyone is okay with the lowest form of our cultural being forcibly imposed on tribal communities is beyond me.

  78. Jeannie in MN says

    Wonderful find! I read it through and plan to send out to everyone that sends me holiday letters that go on and on thanking god for the events of the past year. Love it!

  79. says

    At a certain point, in the ancient world, religion was adopted as a mechanism for political control. The question that keeps rolling around in my mind is whether the political class would have come up with something worse, if not religion. My guess is “cheerfully, yes.” It’s better to keep the rubes in line by telling them about the afterlife and whatnot than just the traditional bash on the head with a club. This makes me wonder whether religion will be discarded when the political class come up with something better – some kind of tailored docilator virus or doomsday nanobot that will allow them to just go straight to an eternal slave-city and not have to pretend anymore.

  80. Rey Fox says

    “For those of you who think it’s not sexist, try imagining an equivalent site with men – oh, excuse me, boys – same prose, same photo postures, etc.”

    I’m imagining it. I’m pretty sure such sites exist. I fail to see the problem.

  81. says

    Spirits and demons were the explanation for illnesses that we now know are caused by bacterial diseases and genetic disorders. The whims of the gods were why earthquakes, volcanos, floods and droughts occurred. Our ancestors were driven to sacrifice everything from goats to one another to satisfy those gods.

    Greasy, fatty, substanceless, and not at all good for you…but it tastes so good, and it’s cheap and readily available everywhere. That’s religion and fast food.

    What’s left out is that by “modeling” unknowns with anthropomorphic and spiritual “causes,” the ancients were able to come up with measures for dealing with problematic unknowns.

    The Jews had any number of “unclean” objects and beings, and although some were misogynistic or just plain ridiculous, they also were able to avoid diseases through their taboo against unclean things. Similar avoidance and treatment regimens may be found in any number of “primitive” religions.

    So it was not simply “fast food,” it was an attempt to explain what occurred unseen by early humans.

    Is it pretty much “fast food” today? Almost completely so where explanation is involved today, yes.

    What’s largely missing from the article are the feelings, sensations, and “mystical connections” which religion taps into, and which science mostly does not. We are animals which find satisfaction in “understanding beyond what’s evident,” which is why one of the first steps to understanding mind, the Pythagorian recognition of the then-unexplained (not fully yet) connections between mathematics and music was intensely religious in nature.

    Or to put it another way, psychedelic drugs are damn fun, and “spiritual” as well (no, I don’t any more). The spiritual, the mystical, the “right connections” which exist beyond “mere science” are deeply satisfying and ill-defined pleasures. You can get “high” on religion, and many of its rituals are intended to do just that.

    Most “explanations” of the “origin of religion” are nearly or completely tone-deaf to these factors, so fail miserably. This one is nearly tone-deaf to it, not completely, however it is very inadequate.

    And indeed, it is unlikely that much headway against religion will take place until the non-religious make the point that the pleasures of religious practice and ritual are not at all confined to religion, but were hijacked by religion for communal (sometimes not exploitative) and exploitative power arrangements.

    It will never do to explain religion without dealing with the “spiritual experience,” which, of course, is a shifting and often disparate constellation of human emotions, sensations, and “feelings.” None of these is exactly inexplicable either separately or together, no matter how much remains unknown.

    The Egnorant one constantly claims otherwise. I think we can note that his experiences have (apparently) been narrow and parochial, since anyone who’s tried drugs or a variety of sensory stimuli, will really think that the “spiritual” or any other aspect of mind is actually beyond the range of causation, separate from physics

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  82. says

    I’ll just chime in as an old-school feminist, and point out that a lot of porn *is* exploitative. And crappy, and stupid, and body-fascist. We live in a sexist society, and it’s hardly likely to be the sole exception. The spam emails we all get are enough evidence of that.

    However, not all of it is. I recommend reading Greta Christina and the blowfish blog, and Susie Bright, and hey, there’s the Countess here. Oh hell, just look up sex-positive feminism.

  83. says

    Oops, I wrote “anyone” where I should have written “no one,” in #98. Corrected:

    since … [no one] who’s tried drugs or a variety of sensory stimuli, will really think that the “spiritual” or any other aspect of mind is actually beyond the range of causation, separate from physics

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  84. herr doktor bimler says

    many pictures of young ladies with attitude and tattoos in a state of deshabille
    After examining the pictures carefully, I believe that they’re actually in a state of dĂ©shabillĂ©e·

  85. Dumoustier says

    Glen Davidson @ #98

    This bit seems to hit the mark:

    And indeed, it is unlikely that much headway against religion will take place until the non-religious make the point that the pleasures of religious practice and ritual are not at all confined to religion, but were hijacked by religion for communal (sometimes not exploitative) and exploitative power arrangements.

    It will never do to explain religion without dealing with the “spiritual experience,” which, of course, is a shifting and often disparate constellation of human emotions, sensations, and “feelings.” None of these is exactly inexplicable either separately or together, no matter how much remains unknown.

    It seems to me that when it comes to what we call “spirituality”, organized religion has tried to fence off that part of the commons and claim it for itself.

    As far as I can tell, every normally functioning human being has thoughts, feelings and experiences that fit under the umbrella we call “spiritual”. Watching a sunset, holding your firstborn, standing mesmerized at the rail as the Niagara River rolls over the Falls, singing around a campfire, successfully executing a complicated figure in square-dancing (ritual, eh?), all these and millions more fit rather nicely, it seems to me, under the spiritual umbrella.

    What organized religion (and I’m thinking specifically of the Catholic Church and all its progeny here, since that’s the branch I know best), has done is claim that only those who have joined the Church (accepted God or Jesus into their hearts, as they say), can have genuine spiritual experiences. The explanation, of course, is that God is responsible for all that, too.

    By this definition anyone having another religion, or no religion, might have thoughts, feelings or experiences that “feel” spiritual, but of course they can only be pseudo-experiences, not valid, not the real thing. So the Church takes credit for something that isn’t its doing at all, it’s an emergent property of human consciousness that is owned, personally and in common, by every human being.

    Organized religion won’t give up ownership easily. It’s fighting hard to fend off the New Agers, for example, who in their turn appear to be claiming spirituality for their own. What I try to do, believer by believer, is pry loose the idea of spirituality from any human organizations, which have no claims on it, and put it back into the human beings where it belongs.

  86. Qwerty says

    The Suicide Girls forgot one thing about religion: Survival. At some point we are going to die and religion solves this by providing us the delusion of eternal life. But it is odd that the persons who believe most fervently also believe that taking life is forbidden. It is almost like a rational part of their brain knows life is finite while their religious beliefs provide eternity. It could be that the primitive part of our brain wants survival even if it is delusional.

  87. Susan says

    all hail RD’s site for hosting the article.

    I thank him as well. If Dawkins has the same article up, why not give his site the traffic rather than a NSFW site? Men making a bunch of money off of naked women. SO cutting edge. Never seen that before.

  88. John Morales says

    I’m amused to see the prudes comment regarding the hosting site, and not on the content of the article (which is rather good).

  89. Wowbagger says

    Brandon M,

    You might want to check your link. The post it leads to isn’t interesting at all.

  90. John Morales says

    Brandon @107, yeah.
    Interesting in the sense that I’ve never seen an entire post (including the title) as a single hyperlink. Amusingly, whoever wrote that dreck is under the impression that scientists and the religious are mutually exclusive sets of people.
    Heh.

  91. rsm says

    Why diss the Big Mac. Drop the buns and dressing and you have a cheap, healthy meal (better if it was done in lard rather than the artificial crap they use though) that is great for people and their wallets. McDonalds does good things to feed the poor. Religion is bad for you. Drop the dressing and the buns and the big mac is good for you. Sorry, comparison failed.

    And for those anti-science whackaloons who thing we aren’t meat eaters, they can go watch their brains rot from the lack of the right nutrients. Which explains so much about why most vegetarians are angry all the time. Brain starving just like those religious nuts…

  92. Bill says

    primate brain (social network) + imagination (fear) –> big daddy (god)

    primate tribalism, greed, and aggression –> organized religion

  93. gdlchmst says

    Really now. Fast food are damn good, and especially the big mac. And are quite useful if you are hungry. I resent the analogy to religion.

  94. Facilis says

    Nice.I think we should look at a piece on the evolutionary causes and psychological underpinnings of why people feel the need to embrace atheism. I listened to a lecture by a clinical psychologist yesterday that said atheism was a kind of “oedipus complex”. Many famous atheists and deists (from Spinoza to Anthony Flew) had negative experiences with their father or another male authority figure they grew up in. It makes sense how people would reject a “sky-daddy” if their own daddy wasn’t much of one.
    http://veritas.org/media/talks/196

  95. Nerd of Redhead says

    Facilis the Fallacious Fool, mangler of all logic is back. We need to look at your logical underpinnings, since your god doesn’t exist. That mean you are delusional. Then we need to see why you continue to believe in fantasies like a god. God is not necessary for the real world. But you just can’t see that. What a terrible mind.

  96. Wowbagger says

    Nice.I think we should look at a piece on the evolutionary causes and psychological underpinnings of why people feel the need to embrace atheism.

    I’m giving you a chance by engaging you, facilis. Don’t make me regret it.

    Embrace atheism? I think you’re ignorant of those who make up a sizeable component of atheists – the ‘never-were-theists’. What about the people who, like me, were simply raised without anyone telling them they had to believe in God? I’ve never rejected anything; there was never anything given to me to reject.

  97. says

    Or those of us who didn’t reject religion but accepted the fact it was nothing more than a way for primitive people to try and control the masses. Something that has continued to this day. It’s not a rejection as much as an acknowledgment of it’s ridiculousness.

    I don’t reject religion because i see it as a unnecessary institution. No rejection needed. I judge things using the scalpel of reason. Religion fails miserably.

  98. says

    I’m selfishly glad religion is like a Big Mac, since I dislike Big Macs. I simply can’t understand how people can cling to literal belief in deities functioning in the world, or eat anything with mayonnaise or pickles.

    Don’t get me started on sour cream or vinegar.

  99. Wowbagger says

    Cannabinaceae,

    You probably really disliked it when McDonalds brought out their ‘taco’ version of the Big Mac*; it had sour cream and salsa on it. I normally don’t eat much fast food but they were great.

    I love sour cream. Probably more than I should. I don’t use vinegar at all, though.

    *Assuming they did this in places other than Australia.