DNA of God: Did humans evolve a need for religion?

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[H]ow does evolution explain religion?

Leading scholars propose a two-phase hypothesis (herehere): First, our ancestors evolved certain mental abilities, useful for survival and reproduction, which predisposed them to religious beliefs. Then, from the multitude of beliefs that emerged, particular religions spread and persisted because their deities and rituals promoted cooperation among practitioners.

Many mental ingredients are necessary for religion as-we-know-it. But scholars emphasize three tendencies in particular, which are pronounced in humans, but minimally expressed in other species: We seek patterns, infer intentions and learn by imitation.

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The first prerequisite, pattern seeking, has obvious benefits for finding food, avoiding predators, predicting weather, etc. We constantly observe the world, trying to derive cause-and-effect relationships.

The next prereq, inferring intentions, is known to psychologists as Theory of Mind (ToM), the understanding that others have beliefs, desires and goals, influencing their actions.

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[Humans] show extreme ToM, ascribing minds to inanimate or imagined things.

Finally, our natural tendency to over-imitate predisposes us to adopt religious practices. Rather than relying on experience and trial-and-error, humans learn most behaviors and skills from other people.

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Evolved features of our brains, such as Theory of Mind and over-imitation, likely caused the emergence of religions in human societies. It doesn’t take supernatural beings to explain why so many people believe in them — just natural evolutionary processes.

Read full, original post: The Human Brain Evolved to Believe in Gods

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