The Evolution of Super-Religious Cooperative Theology

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“We knew the world would not be the same. Few people laughed, few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”[1] I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”[2]

-Robert Oppenheimer during an interview on the Trinity atomic bomb test

The human species faces the dawn of a new age, often referred to as the “anthropocene,” where the actions of humanity may have a direct impact upon the very ecosystem of the planet earth.[3]  A changed global ecosystem may, in turn, influence human society.  For example, climate change due to nonneutral human carbon input into the atmosphere may influence the price of agricultural commodities and thereby influence the economic well being of global markets.[4]  Additionally, the terrifying power of modern weaponry, such as the atomic and hydrogen bombs, threaten to make modern warfare capable of becoming quite literally “Death, the destroyer of worlds.”[5]  Humanity may benefit from a rigorous scientific approach to a social practice of cooperation, which would engender in people a deep belief in the importance of environmental and social stewardship.

Language is the framework upon which cooperation is constructed.  Thus, careful linguistic analysis is essential to evolving cooperative frameworks in human society.  At present, religious practices, such as Islam, Judeo-Christianity, and Buddhism, are the largest religious systems, and while they engender cooperation within a finite social network, they also may breed conflict at the intersection of two or more different religious social networks, particularly at the intersection of locations of economic strife (e.g. the Crusades and the current “War on Terror/Arab Spring”[6]).  A super-religious theological system(s) is needed to transcend traditional religious boundaries.  To this end, a careful Darwinian analysis of religious systems may aid in the construction of such a cooperative theology.  According to Darwin in The Descent of Man, “… numerous races have existed, and still exist, who have no idea of one or more gods, and who have no words in their languages to express such an idea. … If, however, we include under the term “religion” the belief in unseen or spiritual agencies, the case is wholly different; for this belief seems to be universal with the less civilized races.”[7]

Since all humanity possesses spiritual language, but only a fraction of humanity possesses language for gods or God, a gradient of ideas exists within which the evolution of a super-religious system of cooperation may occur.  As, E.O. Wilson states, “The final decisive edge enjoyed by scientific naturalism will come from its capacity to explain traditional religion, its chief competition, as a wholly material phenomenon. Theology is not likely to survive as an independent intellectual discipline.”[8]  Generally, I agree with Wilson’s point, and find it interesting to think about developing a materialist theology in complete harmony with modern science.  It is certainly easier to envision extending the boundaries of traditional religious social networks if all people believed that metaphysical truths could be grounded in the physical world.  On the other hand, with approximately 50% of Americans[9] still professing to believe in a form of creationism, this idea would likely not be acceptable to a large portion of the population.   A much more productive approach to developing cooperative theology may be to employ an experimental approach to discern universal language that all humanity could agree upon to describe divinity.  Appealing to the recently discovered five rules for the evolution of cooperation (kin selection, direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, network reciprocity, and group selection), later on in this paper I will propose an experiment to discern language that may aid in the construction of a theology of cooperation.[10]  I intend to provide a rough sketch for a unified framework that connects molecules, neurons, brains-mind-souls, families, local worship communities, religions, and the global populations in such a way as to promote the spread of the true metaphorical meaning of the gospel, thereby building the kingdom of God on earth.  We seek to identify religious language that promotes the wolves lying down with the lambs in harmony with God’s peace and justice.

The key to building cooperative altruism rests in changing the hearts and minds of individuals to treat “other” humans as one’s own kin.  The gospel of Mark is very clear on this matter as Jesus states, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[11]   Why should the best of human efforts be devoted to developing technologies that enhance humanity’s ability to consume and wage war?  Perhaps our best efforts should be committed to the emergence of cooperative theology, which transcends traditional religious boundaries, revealing new social practices and beliefs that help humanity unite to mindfully wield power over the earth in the information age.  It may stand as no surprise to the reader that Richard Dawkins in his book River Out of Eden speaks of the “Cooperative Technology Threshold” as the time when “a new kind of self-replicating entity- the meme, as I have called it in The Selfish Gene– proliferating and Darwinizing in a river of culture” emerges.[12]  Religious beliefs, symbols, and scriptural elements may all be thought of as memes that are subject to the same selective pressures as genes in living organisms.  Some elements, such as religious symbols and scripture, are strictly conserved throughout human evolution, while others such as theology and interpretations of scripture are more malleable and subject to adaptation for a particular time.
This is not entirely different from genomic deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).  Some DNA elements that encode proteins vital to the health of the cell are strictly conserved, while other DNA elements are subject to rapid evolution such as the DNA involved in immune responses.  DNA elements that encode antibodies are subject to a rapid evolution process known as VDJ recombination.[13]  Similarly, I envision cooperative theology drawing upon strictly conserved scripture such as the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Bible, but venturing further into undiscovered territories of scriptural interpretation that interrelate these scriptures.  An excellent example of such as endeavor is the Qur’anic commentary of Abdullah Yusuf Ali in his work The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an.[14]  Within this book, Yusuf Ali provides a commentary on Qur’anic passages with references to the specific verses in the Bible that are contextually related to a particular message.  The next and most important step in developing cooperative theology is to profile the responses of believers to the scriptures.  It is essential for members of cooperating groups to understand each other’s differences in order to be able to appreciate their similarities.

One day in the not too distance future, we may see creators of cooperative theology quoting another more uplifting passage of the Bhagavad Gita than the one as quoted by Oppenheimer above, “I am death, the all-destroying, and the source of what will happen; of feminine things, fame, wealth, speech, memory, wisdom, courage, patience.”[15]  In this way, the male and female attributes of the divine, united together in one verse are held in tension and provide context for death and suffering.  The masculine warrior image “I am death, the all-destroying” gives birth to the “the source of what will happen.”  The feminine powers like “fame, wealth, speech, memory, wisdom, courage,” and “patience” solidify cooperation within and between groups.  For the sake of simplicity regarding the cooperative game theory framework that will be explained further in this paper, a key principle of religious scripture is that masculine imagery when shared between individuals at a time of peace may inhibit cooperation and promote “defection,” which leads to an individual leaving a group to act alone and reducing group unity.  For example, the Protestant reformers, John Calvin and Martin Luther who when they split off from the Catholic Church during the Reformation, may have been appealing to the masculine identity of Christ when he overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple.[16]  Conversely, feminine imagery, when shared between human individuals at a time of peace, may enhance cooperation and promote group unity.  For example, Jesus’s commandment “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” greatly engenders cooperation during a time of peace.[17]  In times of war, however, masculine imagery may promote more cooperation and feminine imagery may promote defection.  The gender identities expressed in scripture do not necessarily map from scriptural gender to biological gender of the person of interest.  Rather, these gender identities map from abstract qualities of humanity to an individual.

Within the Christian tradition, the New Testament scriptures are rich with examples of God’s nature being personified and described with masculine and feminine attributes.  God embodied as Jesus Christ adopts both maternal (female) and warrior (male) attributes at different locations within the Biblical narrative.  For example, Christ adopts a strongly maternal feminine identity in the book of Luke when he states, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”[18]  Within this passage from Luke, Christ laments over Jerusalem’s sins, as a mother would weep over a child’s crimes.  In contrast, in the Revelation of John, Christ returns to defeat God’s enemies once and for all at the end of time, “Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse!  Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.  He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God.”[19] These two Biblical passages represent different personifications of God that, when shared within a particular religious social network, may engender cooperation or defection.  Since the anthropomorphic terminologies of the three Abrahamic traditions, the Asiatic religious traditions (e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc.), and the limits of science point to the same ultimate reality, a similar gender analysis of other religious traditions may reveal similar gender identities of conceptions of the divine.

The shared religious beliefs of society determine how its members will interact with each other and with their shared environment.  Aside from determining how they interact with God, common religious practices aid in promoting group cohesion by promoting fairness in economic transactions and by providing a shared source of identity that transcends that of genetic kinship.  In human societies, in many cases decisions are made in a way that preserves the fittest meme rather than the fittest gene.  Religious memes are subject to the same evolutionary processes as genes.  However, in many cases the correct meme may promote a much greater survival advantage to a human than the gene.  Human populations may encode certain group traits in their religious texts and interpretations of these texts, such as those found in the various diverse strands of theology that exist within religious traditions.  It is fruitful to approach the information contained within sets of scriptural and theological memes in the same manner that was described earlier in the paper: that is by giving each religious meme a gender.  This gender assignment greatly aids thinking about cooperation and defection within a particular religion group.  Different human groups learn different strategies to cope with the world surrounding them; religions are a very diverse class of such strategies.[20]   Different religions may have evolved in distinct environments or cultural contexts thereby leading to different masculine and feminine characters.

Identifying gender references in the sacred scriptures of world religions may aid in developing a greater understanding of how religious knowledge is implemented in religious communities to adapt to changing events within a group’s natural and social environment.  This process of adaptation may be understood best when viewed through the narrative lens of a particularly poetic passage from Darwin’s On the Origin of Species:

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many

kinds, with birds singing in the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with

worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately

constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so

complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.  These laws,

taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is

almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the

external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to

lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing

Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms.  Thus, from the

war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of

conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.”[21]

This passage resembles the Bhagavad Gita verse 10:34 regarding how gender identities, the “exalted object which we are capable of conceiving,” emerge from the “war of nature.”  The destructive (masculine) imagery gives way to the birth (feminine) of life and creativity.

Surviving the “war of nature” often requires cooperation.  Individuals in large human societies created by individuals who are not related to each other by kinship networks regularly engage in mutually beneficial interactions, which emerge from exchanges of cooperative altruism.  These altruistic social interactions are challenging to understand from an evolutionary perspective.  The evolutionary mechanisms associated with kin selection and direct reciprocity, which underlie the core of nonhuman primate social group formation, do not readily apply to the vast scale of human societies.[22]  How does cooperative altruism emerge and persist in large genetically independent populations?  Recent work by researchers has revealed that such large societies require standard norms and institutions to enforce these norms; these norms; and that they are essential to sustain fairness in transitory exchanges.  Religions and their institutions may provide such socializing norms.  Within the Old Testament Biblical narrative, a good example of this principle is the Mosaic Law given by God as part of a covenant relationship to humanity.  God Himself served as the highest institution for enforcing the norms of the Law by punishing the Israelites whenever they were lead astray.  The Mosaic Law may have served an evolutionary advantage during human evolution because it provided a robust framework around which to build an economic system and to develop a national identity.  A recent experimental study has systematically examined the willingness of individuals in an array of different societies to cooperatively share capital.[23]  The authors found that sharing is greater in industrialized countries with monotheistic faith traditions than in societies which are reliant on subsistence farming and have tribal religions or no religion.  The interesting results of this study suggest that religion may be a harmonizing social force, which in addition to giving individuals meaning, may also play a favorable socializing role regarding the fairness of market transactions.  As Darwin noted in The Descent of Man, belief in God or gods may be seen as a profound normalizing force in the evolution of humanity within the extended social networks associated with modern human existence.

Social decision making can be best understood scientifically through the use of Game Theory, which is a collection of quantitative models that attempt to understand and explain situations in which decision makers (“players”) must interact with one another.[24]  Game theory often involves seemingly simple tasks where individual “players” require sophisticated reasoning about the motivations of other players in order to reach  decisions.  Within religious contexts, one is often challenged to consider how altruism can evolve in light of Darwin’s “war of nature” and Dawkin’s “selfish gene.”  To answer this question, it is perhaps best to first ask the question about how similar or different memes are to genes.  Within the context of evolution of religion, memes are strongly conserved if there is a religious authority that is in a direct intimate relationship with the state.  In this context there is a direct selective pressure to hold a particular type of religious meme.  Additionally perhaps more important than allegiance to the state, is the strong unifying force of religious memes beyond familial relationships.  Religious memes emerged in human evolution as ideas, models, and language that promote the sharing of altruistic behavior among a group.   In some cases, religious memes promote altruism between other groups, but this is not always the case as exemplified by the history of interreligious warfare.  Indeed, a recent study has demonstrated that religious faith promotes generosity in economic interactions within large-scale societies.[25]  Altruistic memes ensure that adequate bonds exist within a given social network and ensure that individuals treat each other fairly regarding equitable allocation of resources.  Memes emerge from genes; the two are inseparable when considering the evolution of cultural dynamics.  Altruistic behavior often emerges within evolution to promote the mutual survival of two or more different individuals each with their own set of selfish genes.  As is common in human evolution, genetically distinct individuals come together in community under a shared religious meme, which in turn promotes the mutual thriving of its individual members.  Thus, selfish genes cooperate with each other to promote mutual survival.

According to Southgate, “To use an analogy from physics: human beings are not like particles, with a certain position and a certain mass, but like vectors, having certain strength and a certain orientation.  The Christian conviction is that Jesus gives us the example of what it is to keep one’s orientation firmly and wholly on God, and to derive all one’s strength from that.”[26]  Extending Southgate’s metaphor, religious memes provide strength and orientation to each individual in society.  Even if a person is not an active practitioner of religion, he or she is influenced by the religious context of their given society.  One of the challenges facing today’s ever shrinking globalized world is how do we as a collective human species share planet earth in a fair an equitable way?  For example, there is a growing troubling wealth differential between the Western Christian world and the Islamic world.  Christians and Muslims both have strong altruistic social networks that have evolved over many centuries of history.  However, the sharing of altruistic behavior between these two distinct social networks remains weak on a global scale.  The vectors of both Christianity and Islam are both pointed at God with equivalent strength.  However, differences regarding the perceived identity of Jesus Christ make it difficult for Christians and Muslims to agree on basic issues of faith.  Developing a super-religious cooperative theology requires avoiding both issues of deep doctrinal dispute and scripture which attribute a gender identity of God that is not suitable for a particular set of issues where cooperation is sought.  Masculine identities of God that illuminate God’s ability to enact justice in war are not beneficial elements of scripture to act upon when attempting to foster interreligious cooperation.

Evolutionary dynamics game theory has recently developed five rules for the evolution of cooperation.  All living beings seek to maximize their fitness, the capacity of an individual to survive and reproduce.[27]  Religious systems may promote cooperative behavior that enhances the fitness of all who participate.  Within families, kin selection may aid in the transmission of cooperative religious beliefs and operates whenever the donor and recipients of altruistic acts are genetic relatives.[28]  However, the effectiveness of kin selection as a means of promoting cooperation decreases when the donors and recipients of altruism do not share a similar genetic identity.  As Nowak remarks, “When J.B.S. Haldane remarked ‘I will jump into the river to save two brothers or eight cousins’ he was anticipating a formalism in evolutionary biology known as Hamilton’s rule.’”[29]  Hamilton’s rule states that the coefficient of genetic relatedness, r, must exceed the fitness cost (c) to fitness benefit (b) ratio of an altruistic act:

r > c/b

     In the context of building interfaith cooperative frameworks, kin selection is perhaps the easiest to conceptualize.[30]  In family units children are raised within a particular environment which nurtures their minds at the most vital stages of development.  While a child is still in the home of his or her parents, tolerant religious beliefs may be instilled, which are essential to pass on conservation and stewardship practices that will become second nature when the child is grown.  Relatives within a kinship social network will most likely be of the same faith tradition, although others may be of mixed faith.  Regardless of religious orientation, kin selection operates by favoring the transmission of altruism between members of a single-family social network.  Within these human kinship groups, both genes and memes are shared and are conserved by transmission to the next generation.  Kin selection readily aligns each family member’s spiritual and psychological orientation “vector” in a direction that will collectively benefit the family’s kinship network.

Direct reciprocity describes the cooperative behavior that emerges after repeated altruistic acts are shared between the same two individuals.[31]  Through repeated meetings between two individuals, this mechanism of the evolution of cooperation within social networks does not require participants to be of the same genetic lineage as in kin selection.  Within the formalism of evolutionary dynamics game theory, the individuals undergoing interaction are known as “players” of a “game.”  Each player interacts with the other player in repeated rounds of the game.  On each turn, a player must make a decision to cooperate and act altruistically towards the other player or to defect and behave selfishly.  If a player cooperates, the likelihood that the other player may cooperate at a future time increases.  However beneficial it may to cooperate, there also exists the possibility that it will not.  This game theory framework is known formally as the repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma, which is a very well studied game theory framework.  Many researchers have studied different theoretical scenarios and the requisite strategies that emerge from repeated rounds of the game.  In a computer tournament Axelrod discovered that best strategy for playing the repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma was also the simplest, “tit-for-tat.”[32]  The strategy always starts with cooperation, and then subsequent moves reciprocate whatever the other player’s most recent move was.  Cooperation is returned for cooperation and defection is returned for defection.  Direct reciprocity can lead to the evolution of cooperation if the probability, w, of another encounter between the same two individuals exceeds the fitness cost to fitness benefit ratio of altruism:

w > c/b

     Direct reciprocity and the dynamics of the repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma may be helpful when considering how to evolve cooperative super-religious theological frameworks.  For example, consider a Christian and a Muslim participating in an interfaith dialog on the nature and attributes of God.  The Christian and Muslim are allowed to exchange one verse at a time from their respective scriptures to describe the attributes and nature of God.  The Christian may choose to cooperate and start the exchange with a Bible verse about the vastness of God.  The Muslim may agree and share a Qur’anic verse that matches the Bible verse on the vastness of God.  If each player chooses to implement the “tit-for-tat” strategy, the dialog would evolve according to a depiction of God that agrees and is in harmony.  The shared benefit of reaching a state of cooperation or mutual understanding about the nature of God would benefit both players as they might be more likely to act cooperatively with each other in other areas aside from theology.  For example, they might feel a social bond that promotes economic cooperation.  Conversely, if the Muslim and the Christian choose to defect, they would not establish a social bond and this might lead to future conflict due to economic competition.

Most human interactions within real social situations are not reciprocal interactions as described by the dynamics of direct reciprocity.  Rather, most human social interactions occur within vast groups of individuals and are transient in nature.  A third mechanism for the evolution of cooperation within social networks, indirect reciprocity, exists to explain how cooperation may emerge.[33]  Indirect reciprocity is based upon “reputation.”  Because human beings have vast cognitive memories within which to store accounts of repeated interactions, a helpful individual is more likely to receive altruistic acts from others.  Generous, altruistic, cooperative individuals are remembered by other members of a group, which may in turn lead the cooperator to be favored for future acts of altruism.  Basically, the helpful individual is the individual who is more likely to receive help in the future.  A second human ability, language, is also of vital importance to indirect reciprocity.  Not only do individuals remember the previous actions of members of society, they also share these accounts of previous actions with others in acts of gossip, judgments, and credential sharing.  Together, human memory and language build the reputation of individuals.  A quantitative rule has been derived for determining whether indirect reciprocity promotes cooperation.  It may promote cooperation if the probability, q, to know and understand an individual’s reputation is greater than the fitness cost to fitness benefit ratio of the act of altruism:

q > c/b

     Knowledge of the operation of indirect reciprocity as a mechanism for the evolution of cooperation may help guide the creation and emergence of super-religious cooperative theological frameworks.  For example, in a mission context, consider how indirect reciprocity may strengthen Christian-Muslim cooperation.  A small group of Christian missionaries may live within a much larger group of Muslims.  The missionaries diffuse into the population so that all interactions are with Muslims and not with fellow missionaries.  To aid Christian-Muslim cooperation, the Christian missionaries perform good works by teaching helpful nonreligious lessons to fellow Muslims.  For example, they may teach them how to better grow food.  In time, the Christian missionaries develop good reputations among the Muslims as helpful people in their society, and they receive positive actions in return by the Muslims.  In time, the Christians and Muslims may evolve a strong cooperative relationship despite religious difference through reciprocal pragmatic actions, and are better able to live in peace because a common economic bond is present.

Another rule for the evolution of cooperation, network reciprocity, means that clusters of cooperative individuals may out compete defectors within a well-defined spatial structure.[34]  As human populations are organized into spatially structured networks, individuals live in houses and apartments, which are parts of neighborhoods and towns, which are part of cities, which in turn are part of ever-larger states and nations.  Since today most humans are settled and not nomadic, typical human populations are social networks with well-defined networks of interaction.  An individual is much more likely to interact with his or her neighbor than with individuals who do not live nearby.  In evolutionary dynamics game theory, cooperation and defection within these population structures are modeled by what is known as evolutionary graph theory.  Members of a population are represented as vertices on a graph, and the edges of the graph define who interacts with whom.  Cooperation and defection dynamics can be imagined in such a model by allowing cooperators and defectors with simple strategies to interact in the following manner.  Cooperators pay a cost, c, for each neighbor to receive a benefit, b.  Defectors pay no cost and their neighbors receive no benefits.  In such a situation, cooperators may form dense networked clusters where they engage in reciprocal acts of cooperation.  A rule exists for determining if network reciprocity can favor cooperation.  The fitness benefit to fitness cost ratio must exceed the average number of neighbors, k, per individual:

b/c > k

     A deep insight into the mechanism by which network reciprocity may promote the evolution of super-religious cooperative frameworks may help develop expansive networks of cooperation, particularly in urban environments.  Within urban settings, spatial networks of individuals are structured by the architecture of densely populated neighborhoods, where at their heart are often religious communities.  For example, Spanish speaking Christian congregations are often the center of a neighborhood that is predominately populated by Latino individuals.  Within such a neighborhood, schools, business, and community centers form networks and are all manifestations of cooperative interactions between individuals of a similar cultural orientation.  The same principle may be found in neighborhoods with individuals of disparate cultural backgrounds if the members of such a community share a common religious, social justice, or environmental goal.  For interfaith network reciprocity to thrive, religious communities must identify and act upon those elements of their scripture that promote cooperation and harmony.

The final rule for the evolution of cooperation, group selection, indicates that selection not only occurs for individuals, but also among groups, and that cooperator groups may be more successful than defector groups.[35]  Group selection often operates by what is known in the scientific literature as “multi-level selection.”  This is a general theory for explaining how evolution operates simultaneously on different levels of hierarchy from molecules, neurons, brains-mind-souls, families, local worship communities, religions, and even in global populations.  A specific population of humans is divided into groups, and cooperative individuals help others in their own group.  Selfish individuals, defectors, do not help other individuals in their own group.  Members of each group reproduce according to their payoff and their offspring are added to the same group.  A group may be split into two smaller groups if it reaches a defined size.  In this case, another group may be dissolved to maintain a steady population size.  Only individuals reproduce, but selection occurs at two different levels.  There is competition between groups that leads to selection of groups, and ultimately the fittest groups survive.  Pure cooperator groups grow faster than pure defector, while in mixed groups defectors reproduce faster than cooperators.  Thus, selection within groups favors defectors while selection between groups favors cooperators.  In the mathematically simplified limit of weak selection and rare group splitting, a simple rule exists for the evolution of cooperation.  Cooperation may evolve if the fitness benefit and fitness cost ratio exceeds the maximum group size, n, and the number of groups, m, in the following manner:

b/c > 1 + n/m

Multi-level selection may occur if further levels of hierarchy are introduced into the system analysis.

Darwin discusses group selection in The Descent of Man when he comments on the benefits of morals within a group:

“It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or

no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same

tribe, yet that an increase in the number of well-endowed men and an advancement in

the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over

another.  A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the

spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to

aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be

victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.”[36]

Moral codes, such as those taught by religions, when followed by members of a social group, encourage individuals to act selflessly and to display acts of altruism to other members of the same group.  This in turn, promotes the fitness of the members of a group and enhances its chances of survival.  For example, the Biblical message delivered by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, establishes a strong moral framework to promote cooperative behavior within well-defined Christian communities.

Building super-religious cooperative frameworks from the perspective of group selection requires members of faith groups to reach out to other faith groups and to engage in dialog.  In the rapidly changing modern world, faith communities are being brought into contact at an ever-increasing rate.  While in the past groups of different social and religious identities competed for survival, today these same groups are presented with a global environment that is rapidly changing.  Resources are becoming more precious, and phenomena, such as global warming, threaten to change the very structure of human sustenance and commerce.[37]  To confront these environmental changes, religious scriptures and sources of knowledge must begin to operate with an increased level of mindfulness towards the global ecosystem.  For example, elements of Biblical scripture, such as “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” must be read in a new way that promotes the message “Blessed are the meek, the individuals that conserve the earth’s resources, for they will inherit the earth.”[38]  Groups of cooperators, such as Christians who adhere strictly to Biblical encouragements of moderation in consumption, may live in harmony with groups of cooperative Muslims who adhere strictly to Qur’anic teachings of moderation in consumption.  A central element of group selection is the fact that ecosystems always have a finite carrying capacity.  As the earth’s human population grows, fewer and fewer resources are available for a given community.  It is imperative for groups to act selflessly towards other groups to prevent weaker groups from becoming extinct.

Establishing super-religious cooperative theological frameworks requires extensive interfaith dialog to identify elements of scriptures of the world’s religions that promote mutual tolerance and harmony.  Experimental methods that can profile how people respond to the message of scripture are needed.  A heart rate monitor based experiment for discerning language that is cooperative from language that is of a selfish nature in world scriptures may be one affordable tool that can be implemented to grow a super-religious cooperative theology.  The experiment would adopt a simple format.  Two participants from different religious traditions would each wear a heart rate monitor.  They would then engage in a dialog about the nature of God’s commandments regarding care of the earth’s environment.  Inevitably, the dialog may involve statements of God’s nature or existence.  A speaker would make a statement and the statement would be declared cooperative if the heart rate of the dialogue partner decreases and selfish if the heart rate of the partner increases.  Such a dialog would provide insight into the underlying psychological response to a religious tradition that is foreign and different.  The central element in such a dialog would be identifying elements of religious teaching that members of the global society would agree upon to support the cooperative task of living on a planet that has a finite carrying capacity for human life.  The greater the cooperation between individuals on earth, the less each individual would consume.  Thus, resources could be allocated fairly between each member of the human species.


[1] The full verse 11:32 is also translated as, “I am almighty time, the world-destroying, and to destroy these worlds I have arisen!  Those warriors arrayed in lines opposing your men, even without you, will have perished!”  Gavin Flood and Charles Martin, The Bhagavad Gita, (New York, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012), 95.

[2] “Robert Oppenheimer,” last modified April 4, 2012, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Robert_Oppenheimer.

[3] F. Biermann et al., “Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance,” Science 335 (2012): 1306-1307.

[4] David B. Lobell, “Climate Trends and Global Crop Production Since 1980,” Science 333 (2011), 616-620.

[5] Gavin Flood and Charles Martin, 95.

[6] Isabel Kershner and Rick Gladstone, “Israel Destroys Hamas Prime Minister’s Office,” November 16, 2012, accessed November 20, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/world/middleeast/israel-gaza-assault.html?hp.

[7] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (New York, New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 116-117.

[8] Michael Ruse, Can A Darwinian Be a Christian? (New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 125.

[9] “US Public Opinion Polls on Evolution and Creation Science,” last modified February 12, 2011, http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_publia.htm.

[10] Martin Nowak, “Five Rules for the Evolution of Cooperation,” Science, 314 (2006), 1560-1563.

[11] W.A. Meeks, eds., The Harper Collins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, (San Francisco, California: Harper Collins Publishers, 2006), 1748.

[12] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, (St. Helens, Washington: A Phoenix Paperback, 2001), 184.

[13] “V(D)J recombination,” last modified October 19, 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VDJ_recombination.

[14] Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of The Holy Qur’an, (Beltsville, Maryland: Amana Publications, 1989).

[15] Gavin Flood and Charles Martin, 85.

[16] W.A. Meeks, eds., 1704.

[17] Ibid., 1677.

[18] Ibid., 1792.

[19] Ibid., 2110.

[20] Martin A. Nowak, Supercooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed, (New York, New York: Free Press, 2011), 11.

[21] Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1964), 489-490.

[22] Joseph Henrich, et al., “Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment,” Science, 327 (2010), 1480-1484.

[23] Ibid., 1480-1484.

[24] Alan G. Sanfey, “Social Descision-Making: Insights from Game Theory and Neuroscience, Science, 318 (2007), 598-602.

[25] Joseph Henrich et al., 1480-1484.

[26] Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation: God Evolution, and the Problem of Evil, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminister John Knox Press, 2008), 72-73.

[27] “Fitness,” 2012, last accessed November 20, 2012, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/70772?redirectedFrom=fitness#eid

[28] Martin Nowak, 1560-1563.

[29] Ibid., 1560-1563.

[30] Ibid., 1560-1563.

[31] Ibid., 1560-1563.

[32] Ibid., 1560-1563.

[33] Ibid., 1560-1563.

[34] Ibid., 1560-1563.

[35] Ibid., 1560-1563.

[36] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 157-158.

[37] Baden Copeland, Josh Keller, and Bill Marsh, “What Could Disappear,” November 24, 2012, last accessed November 30, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/11/24/opinion/sunday/what-could-disappear.html?smid=FB-nytimes&WT.mc_id=OP-E-FB-SM-LIN-WCD-112512-NYT-NA&WT.mc_ev=click

[38] W.A. Meeks, eds., 1674.

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About kayaerbil

I am a Berkeley educated chemistry Ph.D. who is moving into the area of working on developing appropriate technology for communities that are subjected to socio-economic oppression. The goal is to use simple and effective designs to empower people to live better lives. Currently, I am working with Native Americans on Pine Ridge, the Lakota reservation in South Dakota. I am working with a Native owned and run solar energy company. We are currently working on building a compressed earth block (CEB) house that showcases many of the technologies that the company has developed. The CEB house is made of locally derived resources, earth from the reservation. The blocks are naturally thermally insulating, keeping the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Eventually, a solar air heater and photovoltaic panels will be installed into the house to power the home and keep it warm, while preserving the house off the grid. A side project while in Pine Ridge is a solar computer. I hope to learn about blockchain encryption software for building microgrids. In addition, it is an immediate interest of mine to involve local youth in technology education.
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