Religion As An Instinct, Not The Result Of Study

A branch of science is trying to unravel why religion is so pervasive and persistent. Why is it that, although there are periods when religion lapses in popularity, it never disappears?

Evidence suggests religion does not disappear because it  is part of human’s evolutionary makeup. If it were reality one religion or god would come to be seen as the “real” one. Instead, there remain hundreds of religions.

The link suggests religion, like sex, is hard wired into human brains because it was or is needed. That is, the need for religion came about through evolution. One of the interesting side issues of this is it requires more effort to be not religious than to be religious because a “natural tendency” needs to be overcome.

So often I’m told here that I need to study religion, or various versions of it, to better equip myself to write about it. It would not hurt me to do this. But, it is hard to envision what it would accomplish if the subject matter itself is not a product of intellect and study but one of instinct. Better would be to study instincts.

The founding fathers talked of religious impulses. Many of the had traveled overseas and knew to the wide ranging kinds of religions. They knew none of them had a monopoly on the “truth”.

It would be helpful if all religions themselves could come to see their support, at least possibly, as something other than their claims to superior morals or knowledge.

7 Responses

  1. morgan christian

    What may be hard wired is a sense of being looked after. That some entity outside ones self is involved in ones care and well being. The “Thinking Atheist”, did a piece a while back where the author of a book talks about this. Animals have instincts that provide for their survival, such as when horses are born, they have to get up and start to walk. Or they become a meal for the carnivors that stalk the plains. Or sea turtles who when hatched head for the brightest thing on the horizon which happens to be the ocean. If humans didn’t have the instinct that we belong and are being looked after, perhaps we would wander off and be eaten by something instead of being brought back to the tree and protected.

    1. morgan 8:16 If humans didn’t have the instinct that we belong and are being looked after, perhaps we would wander off and be eaten by something instead of being brought back to the tree and protected.

      I watched a documentary years ago of some aboriginal people searching for food. What kept them walking was their belief their gods were going to help them eventually. From that comes a theory the most religious people survived because they kept moving until they found food–others may not have.

  2. Juan Ruiz

    It would be pretty damn hard to prove a religion gene, given that there are no blank slates; everyone learns a religion from family and others.

    1. Juan 7:17 It would be pretty damn hard to prove a religion gene, given that there are no blank slates; everyone learns a religion from family and others.

      Good observation. When we are born we don’t believe in God. We are taught later. There are societies that are called “not religious.” But, are they superstitious?
      Animals in the wild, like birds, are always looking around for danger. I suppose that is one of the ways they survive. We are often “anxious”, worrying about things. Maybe being anxious kept us looking for danger and helped humans survive. Superstitions and religion may have been an outgrowth of this helpful worrying.

  3. Wolfy32

    Great thoughts! I did a paper in a college Sociology class on the history of Societal fears. One piece of research I found is that nearly all societies on the planet, in times when land barriers and human civilization had not yet started branching out, still had depictions of their greatest fears being some type of Dragon. Each culture or branch of humanity had different types of Dragons. Asian Dragons were various types of snake like creatures, European of the type that could do things like breathe fire (fire representing it’s greatest fear of wood buildings…. This fear of fire maybe led to why stone buildings were used for the elite… ).

    Societies as a whole had group fears, but what was interesting about this is that the fear manifested as some type of “dragon” in almost all societies. Some would argue that religious instincts means that “God made us to believe in God.” At the same time, if independent civilizations all could come up with the concept of “dragons” mythical beasts that could destroy their civilizations, then were we genetically created to believe in Dragons as well?

    I surmise that our fears stem from circumstances beyond our control. In ancient times controlling fires were difficult. Controlling massive predatorial beasts – snakes, bearded dragon lizards (that can be very massive), and many other creatures that maybe their popultations were not so controlled in ancient times. The society created one thing to represent that fear…. A massive dragon.

    Well, that concept / manifestation of fear, could not be controlled or handled without something greater managing the manifestation.. After all tell a kid about some massive dragon that could destroy the world and what do they jump to? “Will it eat me too?” We need explanations, something to help us sleep at night or the fears could overwhelm. Well, if there’s a God or deities managing those evil manifestations of fear. . . Then the fear now doesn’t seem so overwhelming. I heard someone say just recently “Whatever you need to tell yourself to move forward.”

    To move past overwhelming fear requires individuals and human kind to find ways to move past the fear – real or imagined fear. My step son, thanks to many news stories, is now terrified of North Korea blowing up the world. He mentions it at least once a day… Do I tell him God won’t let that happen? or that Human civilization won’t let that happen? That we have many ways to destroy any nuclear bombs they launch before they reach us?

    Fear is real, regardless of the manifestation of that fear being real or imagined.

    “Fear is the mind killer”. I would add, fear is the destroyer of civilizations.

    1. Wolfy — I liked that reference to fear of animals which must have considered humans to be a food source early in human history. Cave drawings from 30-40,000 years ago show animals with what is thought to be religious characteristics.

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