Book Reviewers and Their Victims
A Reply to Ambasciano
Keywords:Adaptation, By-products, Anxiety, Life History Strategies, Big Gods
The article offers a rebuttal to Ambasciano’s commentary on my book Religious Evolution and the Axial Age (Sanderson 2018) included in this same issue of the Journal of Cognitive Historiography. Ambasciano gets much of my overall argument right, but on many specifics misunderstands or misrepresents me and others. One of his most consequential misrepresentations is his charge that I offer a kind of panadaptationism. I am an adaptationist, but certainly not a panadaptationist. I freely concede that there are elements of religion that cannot be regarded as adaptations. Connected to this point, Ambasciano contends that adaptationism is not the default starting point for evolutionary analysis and recommends instead the evolutionism of Stephen Jay Gould – the “gold standard” of evolutionary theory, Ambasciano believes—which holds that most evolutionary change consists of constrained by-products. But Ambasciano fails to recognize that Gould is an odd-man-out among evolutionists, most of whom emphasize natural selection and adaptation.
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