Well, the selection pressure is more for doctor-avoidance, but I got a kick out of this speculative short post at Gene Expression. The suggestion is that adherence to religious practices in times of sickness – as opposed to seeking a doctor – was a wise choice since “Basically, before very recent times, doctors were parasites.” So, if you prayed and sacrificed, you would at least avoid visiting a person who might bleed you, apply leeches to you, and who had regular contact with infected people coupled with a lack of familiarity with hygiene and sterile environments. Pre-twentieth century doctors caused more harm than they cured and so there would be selection advantages to people who avoided them.
Interesting thought. My own doctor avoidance is a vestige of evolution. That’s the ticket. But, as Rose Sayer says to Charlie Allnut in African Queen, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”
But wait, put in this world by Whom? Now I’m confused. If it’s just us and natural laws, why does that quote provide me with some uplift? Is that another meme at work – it is pleasurable to think of a benevolent God I don’t believe in Who wants us to improve ourselves? Such a tangled hierarchy in our heads (well, mine certainly).
Whether there are supernatural entities that will help us or not, prayer itself seems to have some therapeutic value – as I discuss in this old post.