The editors of TVOL are pleased to present EVOLUTION:101, a series of tutorials for viewers who are newly encountering the evolutionary perspective. In this tutorial, David Sloan Wilson explains how the elements of religion can be studied in the same way that evolutionists study biological traits, and how evolutionists who initially disagreed are reaching a consensus.


For more, visit the RELIGION section of This View of Life and resources such as these:

Website: Evolution of Religion
Academic Journal: Religion, Brain and Behavior,
Book: The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures by Nicholas Wade
Recent academic article: Atran, S., Henrich, J. (2010) The Evolution of Religion: How cognitive by-products, adaptive learning heuristics, ritual displays, and group competition generate deep commitments to prosocial religions. Biological Theory: Integrating Development, Evolution, and Cognition.

Published On: March 5, 2012

David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson is SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He applies evolutionary theory to all aspects of humanity in addition to the rest of life, both in his own research and as director of EvoS, a unique campus-wide evolutionary studies program that recently received NSF funding to expand into a nationwide consortium. His books include Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society, Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, and The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time and Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others. .

One Comment


    I wrote the following contribution in response to this excellent piece by David Sloan Wilson. Although I have written similar words on another thread, I have reproduced them here for convenience. I hope Michael doesn’t mind.

    Given that a particular organism exhibits a trait that appears to be adaptive [or neutral], David Sloan Wilson suggests six evolutionary mechanisms that may have been at work over evolutionary time.

    Individual selection and cultural selection appear in his list but I want to suggest another mechanism – an interaction between these two factors – that does not appear in the list. I am referring to Genetic Priming that I introduced to the ‘Biology of Religion’ blog on 24 March 2011. See

    I suggest that Genetic Priming starts to kick-in as soon as an organism hits upon a behaviour that turns out to be consistent and adaptive. This sets up an inter-generational positive feedback loop between the adaptive behaviour and the genome that eventually results in all organisms in the species being genetically primed for the adaptive behaviour. Just a simple trigger from the environment is then needed for the adaptive behaviour to be manifested. Examples range from nest-building in birds to our own predilection for religious behaviour.

    Over several years, I have had informal (verbal/ email) endorsement for the principles of Genetic Priming Theory from several eminent scientists including Prof.Daniel Dennett (Philosopher/ Evolutionary Theorist) and Prof. Sir Patrick Bateson (Biologist). I realize that I need empirical testing before I can publish formally but devising/ expediting such tests has proven to be the block to date.

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