Interest in the scientific study of religion has surged over the past decade. While this development is positive in many ways, it comes largely for an unfortunate reason – global terrorism, exemplified most clearly by the September 11th attacks of ten years ago. Since many terrorist attacks since then have been committed by hardline Muslim believers, researchers have put extensive effort into elucidating the complex relationship between religion and violent acts. Now, a team of investigators is applying the principles of evolutionary psychology to help explain why the two are so often entwined.

James R. Liddle, Lance S. Bush (both Florida Atlantic University), and Todd K. Shackelford (Oakland University, Michigan) argue in a new paper that, while many small-scale explanations for terrorism have been offered, researchers now should be looking for deeper explanations that tap into evolutionary motives. Their paper, published last month in Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, focuses specifically on suicide terrorism – a particularly thorny problem for evolutionary explanations (since it’s very difficult to successfully locate a mate and produce healthy offspring if you’ve just blown yourself up outside a café or embassy). That is, since the driving mechanism of all biological evolution is the successful passing of genes into the next generation, how can an action like suicide terrorism – which makes it impossible to contribute anything to the next generation’s gene pool – make any evolutionary sense at all?

Read more at Science on Religion

Published On: May 2, 2012

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