Machiavellian Genes, Social Selection, and the Evolution of Religious Behavior

31 Pages Posted: 23 Jul 2011

Date Written: July 22, 2011


This article offers a theoretical solution to the problem of how irrational and distorted thinking can evolve naturally in a social species. It first outlines the various theories that have arisen during the search for the evolutionary origins of religion. It rejects psychological by-product theories because evolution is driven by variation and natural selection, not by psychology. The Darwinian model of natural selection, which sees selection as a competitive survival of the fittest, is replaced by one that sees natural selection as gene cooperation. A new concept, the extranome, is introduced to describe gene coalitions that operate beyond the individual in social groupings. Coalitional game theory is applied to understand behavioral patterns that result from social selection. A basic social behavior, the join-and-share behavior, emerges from the mathematical analysis. Religion, a join-and-share behavior, therefore, can evolve naturally this way and is adaptive in the sense that it promotes greater gene replication; however, it is not the product of competitive selection.

Keywords: natural selection, religion, cooperative game theory, social selection, sexual selection, signaling

Suggested Citation

Dow, James W., Machiavellian Genes, Social Selection, and the Evolution of Religious Behavior (July 22, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

James W. Dow (Contact Author)

Oakland University ( email )

Rochester, MI 48309
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics