THERE – Theory and Empiricism of Religious Evolution: Foundation of a Research Program

8. Conclusion

The above explanations programmatically show how the combination of systems theory, the theory of evolution and the semiotically informed theory of communication can be used to design and empirically test a theory of religious evolution. The three theories have the following correlations with each other: evolution and system formation proceed within communication, communication is structured by means of system formation—including the relationship with the communicative environment—, and the relation between communication and system formation is mediated through Evolution.

In keeping with the positioning of the three theories in Figure 19, their objects are located in the following semiotic positions: Communication—including semiotic syntax—is situated at the semiotic position of the representamen (sign vehicle), because syntax structures communication; system formation is placed at the position of the sign object, because system formation correlates with the system-specific environment; and evolution is located at the position of the interpretant, for it is social evolution that determines the possibilities of communication in semantic and structural terms—including the possibilities of a scientific description of religion. The study of religion itself takes place within communication (where else?), that is to say under the conditions of today's functionally differentiated society; and the relationship between the study of religion and its research object is regulated by the difference system/environment.

In conclusion, two issues should be pointed out regarding the relationship between modeling theory and empirical analysis. One of these issues concerns the degeneration of semiosis, which also applies to religious evolution. In biological evolution, it was and is apparently very helpful that the genetic code, as already mentioned, has a certain error tolerance. It is called degenerated because a ‘semantic unit’ (a specific amino acid) can be encoded by several different ‘syntactic arrangements’ (codons or triplets). (1) Translating back to communication (2): equivocations, paraphrases, grammatical irregularities (such as anacolutha), semantic shifts, tropes as well as rhetorical ornamentation and parerga, form analogies to the biological degenerated code and to biological systems. (3) Within a sign-chain, the interpretant and the representamen of a degeneration, as well as the immediate object, are, according to Peirce, also subject to certain dynamics. (4) Communication could only develop through the separation of variation, selection, and (re)stabilization by means of degenerated codes.

As with organic processes based on the genetic code, degeneration must also be taken into account in religious processes. In the empirical analysis of religious communication, it is therefore not always possible to expect a double, intertwined, triadic structure of the semiotic code. Rather, degeneration occurs again and again, so that the flexibility of semiosis is constituted by various possible combinations in the interaction between variation, selection, and (re)stabilization. However, in order for the religious system to emerge as self-referential and to reproduce and develop further, a sufficient density of the semantically substantiated religious code in non-degenerated form is necessary. The relationship between modeled pure form and empirical degeneration is a question that can only be clarified by means of empirical analysis.(5) In addition to a high density of complete signs, it is also possible for a pattern of a complete sign to arise within a degenerated semiotic chain (Figure 20); This is a question of semiotic granularity and the relationship between information, decorative parerga, and parasitic noise. (6)

The second issue that shall be pointed out in view of the relationship between the modeling theory of religious evolution and religion as an empirical object concerns the relationship between geometry and topology. Both methods correlate with each other in a way that is similar to the relationship between empirical facts and their theoretical models: namely in a metaphorical relation (Black 1962; Hesse 1966; Boyd 1993; Kuhn 1993; Holland 1998, 202–210; Hallyn 2000; Brown 2003; Drewer 2003; Kretzenbacher 2003; Gutmann, Rathgeber, and Syed 2010, 15–16). Accordingly, the threefold inference procedure—i. e. exploration, inclusion, and (a preliminary) conclusion (German: Erschließen, Einschließen und Abschließen)—moves between geometry and topology according to the distinction made by Michel Serres (Serres and Latour 1998, 60), between geometric precision (modeling theory) and topological, factual accuracy (empirical analysis). In terms of the relationship between analog exploration and digital inclusion, Roy A. Rappaport (1999, 88) states: “Precision is not accuracy, and sometimes there may be loss of accuracy in the representation of analogic processes or entities digitally. The advantage of digitalization is that it increases clarity.” Accordingly, geometric modeling (Figure 21) is one side …

… and empirical reality (Figure 22) is the other side of scientific work in general, and the work on a theory and empirical analysis of religious evolution in particular.

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