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Category Archive: Origin of religion

Jul 27 2010

The origin of religion-9: Real and fictive kinship

For the last post in this series, I want to look at the strategies that religions use to both grow and retain their members. Elisabeth Cornwell and Anderson Thomson in their article The Evolution of Religion suggest that the growth of religion could have been aided by the idea of ‘fictive kinship’. To understand this, …

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Jul 26 2010

The origin of religion-8: Religious observance as obsessive-compulsive behavior

In the previous post in this series, I discussed neurologist Robert Sapolsky’s theory that the charismatic founders of religious cults had schizotypal personalities. He then goes further and tries to identify what traits might be at work amongst the followers of religion. What is it that makes them adopt ritualistic practices that serve no useful …

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Jul 20 2010

The origin of religion-7: Messiahs and prophets as schizotypal personalities

What has been discussed so far is the origin of prototypical religions, the early forms that consist of vague beliefs in supernatural forces and the afterlife. At various points in time, these became crystallized into concrete religions some of which are still extant, each distinguished from the others by their rituals and the specific forms …

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Jul 19 2010

The origin of religion-6: Religion as a by-product of evolution

As with other features in evolution, there are two possible ways that evolution can give rise to some phenomenon. One is that it is an adaptation that came about because it was directly advantageous in itself at some point in time. The other is that it is an accidental by-product of natural selection for some …

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Jul 15 2010

The origin of religion-5: The struggle between the primal and thinking brains

In an article in The New Scientist titled Born believers: How your brain creates God (subscription required), Michael Brooks says: There is plenty of evidence that thinking about disembodied minds comes naturally. People readily form relationships with non-existent others: roughly half of all 4-year-olds have had an imaginary friend, and adults often form and maintain …

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Jul 13 2010

The origin of religion-4: Religion as an evolutionary adaptation

While the growth and perpetuation of religious beliefs is an interesting question, we also need to explain how they originated in the first place. How did such unreal information arise at all? Some have argued in favor of the direct adaptation model, based on Darwinian natural selection principles, that says that the tendency to assign …

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Jul 09 2010

The origin of religion-3: Do people have a ‘god gene’?

It seems clear that people want to believe in religious ideas or at last have a propensity to believe in supernatural phenomena. Is religion a social belief that developed only after complex societies formed or is a predisposition towards religion hardwired in our brains? Those who argue the former think that religious beliefs emerged late …

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Jul 08 2010

The origin of religion-2: The power of religion and other superstitions

When investigating the origin of religion and other superstitions, an important fact to bear in mind is that it is not just humans that base their behavior on imputing meaning to meaningless correlations. There is evidence that even animals do this, suggesting that this instinct comes from a fairly primitive part of the brain, and …

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Jul 07 2010

The origin of religion-1: Superstitions

I think we can all agree that, looked at objectively, religious beliefs result in a colossal consumption of time and resources that, to anyone outside that particular religion, seems like an enormous waste. As Richard Dawkins says: As a Darwinian, the aspect of religion that catches my attention is its profligate wastefulness, its extravagant display …

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