The Origins of Religious Disbelief: A Dual Inheritance Approach

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Citation: Will Gervais, Maxine Najle, Sarah Schiavone, Nava Caluori The Origins of Religious Disbelief: A Dual Inheritance Approach.

doi: 10.31234/ Wikidata: Q79888551




To currently believe in a god, one must:

  1. be able to mentally represent gods (or not: mindblind atheism = relatively lower in advanced mentalizing)
  2. be dispositionally or situationally motivated to believe in some gods (not: apatheism = relatively more existentially secure)
  3. receive credible cultural cues that some gods are real (not: inCREDulous atheism = exposed to relatively fewer credible cues of religiosity in childhood)
  4. maintain this belief over time (not: analytic atheism = scoring higher on cognitive reflection)

Describe different models for understanding religious disbelief:

  • secularization models (sociology and social psychology) predict greater importance of apatheism
  • religion as a cognitive byproduct of other mental adaptations (cognitive science of religion and evolutionary psychology) predict importance of analytic atheism
  • dual inheritance models incorporate insights from the byproduct account while also drawing heavily upon work in cultural evolution (gene-culture co-evolution) predict importance of inCREDulous atheism

We preregistered a set of analyses that directly pit secularization, cognitive byproduct, and dual inheritance models against each other, Specifically, we posed three broad questions:

  1. What are the relative predictive contributions of each pathway to atheism when considered simultaneously?
  2. How do the four pathways interact with each other in predicting disbelief?
  3. Does early work on each individual pathway successfully replicate in a nationally representative sample?

Surveyed nationally (U.S.) representative sample of 1417, found inCREDulous strongest predictor of disbelief.