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Is there an evolutionary advantage to religion?

Few deny the sheer significance of religious belief to human society, a topic of study that has provided much insight into how we lived previously, how we live today, and how we will live in the future. However, for what purpose, exactly, did religion originate? Is religious belief just an accidental outcome of human civilization? Or does it affect people’s behavior in a way that is evolutionarily advantageous? We spoke with Dominic Johnson, author of God is Watching You: How the Fear of God Makes Us Human, who suggests science and religion, two spheres thought to be in perpetual conflict, actually evolved together for mutual human benefit.

Image Credit: Original image by latvian. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr. Derivative work by Connie Ngo.

Recent Comments

  1. Peter G Kinnon

    There can be no question but that such a ubiquitous trait as superstition in general and its more organised manifestation as religions is no mere “spandrel”. And that , in functional terms, it provides a counterbalance to belligerence (another pronounced trait in we snout-less apes) inasmuch as it provides bonding within a social group while at the same time fostering hostility between these groups.

    But it in the evolution of technology, rather than that of biology, that these belief systems have had a more marked effect. Because, being essentially mankind’s primitive attempts to understand the workings of the world they represent the precursors from which, by selective processes (not unrelated to belligerence), science as we how it today has emerged. Furthermore, as underlined in chapter 15 of in my recent work “The Intricacy Generator: Pushing Chemistry and Geometry Uphill”, religious institutions have historically been the main repositories for most of written language. And it is the use of information exported from individual imaginations and stored in this way which has provided a database from which has enabled the evolution of technology.

    Human (biological) and technological evolution are, of course, closely inter-related and interdependent. Overlapping phases of an evolutionary continuum which can be traced at least as far back as the formation of chemical elements above lithium in the first stars right through to its present technological spearhead, the Internet.

  2. Karen

    Science and religion are only thought to be ‘in conflict’ by those with confused thinking. A scientific explanation or description does not negate wonder or mystery. Actually, why the two are conflated remains a big mystery to me.

  3. Karen

    Interesting perspective, by the way.

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