A VERY interesting article:

R. Elisabeth Cornwell, PhD and J. Anderson Thomson, MD, who work alongside Richard Dawkins in support of his Foundation For Reason & Science, share their thoughts on the possible roots of religion from a evolutionary perspective....

They hypothesize that religion is merely a psychological hiccup in our development and consider it the ultimate Big Mac as far as our primal brains are concerned.

Click HERE to read.

Tags: Dawkins, Richard, atheism, evolution, religion

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Interesting read and I agree with the author that this is the type of research we need to be doing. We need to understand the full power of religion and understand the hows and whys of it all. In particular, we need to find out what other memes have established themselves within our meme-pool because of religion. Though one might not think of them as religious memes, they may not have survived without religion. They might also be destructive.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that religion's near ubiquitousness is due to certain behaviour religion enables. Consider the ongoing population explosion since the Agricultural Revolution and "go forth and multiply" isn't just some quaint statement in an ancient book. Creation myths place special emphasis on humanity which allow us to act as though the laws of nature do not apply to us. We like to think we are distinct from -- and morally superior to -- every other animal. In my experience, Christians are almost as annoyed by statements like "we are animals" as they are "God doesn't exist." I've also spoken to more than a few atheists who have been convinced of the inherent "specialness" of humanity and I quite honestly don't see how they don't realize that is merely a cultural artifact of religion.
Well, I think for some it's just merely hard to admit that they might mean nothing in a giant universal context. Their existence is in fact useless, taking an absolutist nihilistic stance. I just never understood the notion of degrading the nature though; it's interesting to note that nature has more of a balanced role in more Asian religions and should be respected. Alas, of all things we had to get this thing called Christianity as the major religion on our side of the planet instead of say, Taoism or Shinto... Which I would've preferred a lot more.

Did you ever notice how many people who say "I like humans because of the love?" and something like that? Like love would make humans more special? It's like you can't love unless you're a human. Ultimately though, love is merely just your brain sending out some hormones making you feel a certain way. I wonder how many people would react who believe in the Supreme Human Love™ if we can prove that other animals than human can feel love. I actually don't believe love is as unique as we'd like to think anyway, I am pretty certain other more cognitive species can feel love just like humans do, after all, we have had almost the same development.
Very well said...And I agree...We are very smart mammals,but we are not seperate from the others.We share 98 percent of our genes with apes,45 with chickens...We are more closely related to rats than cats,the list of how we are similar to other critters just goes on and on
The problem is that reason and emotion are tied to the same center in the brain, you cannot have one without the other, really. I'll just randomly coin a new term here, "reasoned emotion". That is, even during our most emotional moments we should strive for at least not getting completely lost in our own emotions but try to keep a level of reason, while I also want to speak for not going completely emotionless for the matter. Also, I think we need to learn where to properly project our strong emotions, and that should be to actual things around us instead of some kind of imaginary friend (ie, spend time with your family and friends instead, because they will at least openly appreciate your care).
Ok, maybe I got my facts mixed up there. However, it seems that we cannot seperate reason and emotion regardless, and it seems that we cannot even seem to make simple decisions if we are void of emotion as seen with the examples of people who have their emotional centers removed and can't even decide which way to go at a roadcross. They just start to overthink all the positions they can take; thus making it impossible for them to actually come up with any conclusion whereas someone with their emotions intact can just say "but I felt like taking the right road".
Hm, that completely contradicts of what I've read regarding studies of people suffering antisocial behavior. I read it quite some time ago though, so it may very well be that the information is completely incorrect or at least, seriously outdated.
I believe that religion is:
1) Fear....fear of death ( humans want to be immortal ), for the multitude of people living in misery, it is the fear that they have nothing better to look forward in life, and for most people raised in a religious environment, it is the fear that they will go to hell if they don't believe.
2) Politics....since the beginning of civilization an elite of smart people realized they can control the masses in the name of a god. Which goes back to fear..."put the fear of god in them"
3) Ignorance....if you can't understand it or explain it is easy to say "it's god's will"
1) From all that I've read about animist religions, this is not at all the case. Death is understood as being part of the cycle of nature and is nothing to be feared. Fear of death only seems to have crept in along with religion during the agricultural revolution which is when we began to realize our potential for global dominance and began to think of ourselves as being outside the laws of nature. (Read the story of Adam and Eve again. Clearly it is the story of the agricultural revolution.)
2) Food surplus is what enabled hierarchical social structures. "Civilization" as we know it is only 8000-10,000 years old. but we've been around a lot longer than that. So what changed?
3) Which worked especially well when we said the gods we invented had a special plan for us, enabling us to do what we previously knew to be wrong.

We can't dismiss religion so easily. We have to study its origins as thoroughly as we can.
I would like to clarify 1) further; of what I have seen so far from my cultural studies the only truly well-known religions in the world who overfocus on death are the Abrahamic religions. One could wonder why and there is probably some kind of analytical answer to that, something I don't personally would like to go into due to lack of knowledge etc but maybe someone else a little more well-read than me on this area could clarify? In my experience, also notice here, my experience, I don't claim to have studied every single religion in the world who have existed and exists, monotheists in particular seem to fear death more than in other religious forms.

Even in pagan religions death was never to be feared of; death just occured when it did. A simple example are the Vikings who even revered a death in battle: their worst nightmare was to die in bed as a cripple because that meant they couldn't enter Valhalla and feast with Odin. Other pagan religions also consider either the underworld as a waiting hall for rebirth, others again just as that, an underworld where dead people resided in peace (no hell with tormented souls here, that's a very poor Christian concept of other forms of underworlds.) It's also interesting to note that in other societies there is no thinking like "I am supposed to be 75 because statistics says so"; when death occurs it occurs. It's not something people are overly obsessed with and if they say, are found to have a certain disease at the age of 50, they won't say "but those 25 years are robbed away from me!", but just accept that it is that way.

As for your comment about Fall From Grace, that's an interesting analysis of it. I also made an analysis from a more feministic point of view, I guess it is very well possible both views can reconcile as many societies already were agricultural at this point, but they revered a female goddess who symbolized fertilization which was more or less dirtied down (symbolized by Eve). I should add here, the landscape in Israel and countries nearby isn't very suited for agriculture; many of them were pastoralists, ie, they probably had a some kind of small farm but they mostly lived on their cattle. How does that fit into your own analysis of agricultural revolution?
I think the problem is that religions are very different from each other, some being quite harmless and benign and others being like a cancer that can do nothing but want to consume all of humanity. If we take the most primitive of religions such as the animism you mentioned, this is certainly pretty benign. It was probably one of the first and this quote from Hume sums up it's attraction pretty well.

"There is a universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object those qualities with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious"

I don't think there is a question that this is correct in explaining animism. Really less a religion than simply a way to explain the wondrous world primitive peoples saw around them. Even today we can probably understand their thinking by going out into the middle of nature all alone and with none of our technologies (even the most simple) and then imagining we had no knowledge at all of what this place was or where we were, or how anything worked. You might just feel the life force in the nature all around you too.

We can then traverse through more complex religions, but also still pretty benign religions, such as the polytheism seen in early Greek and Roman societies. More a way of uniting people, but still very flexible and accepting of other people Gods.

The game changer was Christianity. Now all of a sudden other Gods were a no, no. there was only one God. and he required your complete and utter devotion, but in exchange he would give you everlasting life, but refuse and you will be tortured forever. All of a sudden all those of other religions or of no religion became vessels of the Devil capable of sending ones children to everlasting torture if they got too close. The nonbeliever or heretic became unacceptable, and the lowest form of life. Children were pounded with the thoughts that to not believe would mean the loss of the love of their god, their family and friends and that they would be burned alive to boot. Can anyone think of a better system of beleifs to enslave humanity, and ensuring a continuous supply of the faithful. Is it any wonder the thousand years after it's birth, Civilization came to a grinding halt, with all thought devoted to scripture.

There is little doubt that religion had evolved from a simple belief in a life force in objects, to a the totally life consuming mechanism of a rich and powerful Christian church, which had complete and total control of not only it's subjects actions, but over their thoughts as well. Islam took it cue from Christianity and created an even more powerful way to enslave mens minds. It's hard to imagine a more efficient way to capture and hold adherents than these two mega religions. The foundations so perfectly tuned to not allowing the loss of members.
Excellent article. I love the description of religion as a "psychological hiccup", and the presentation of the brain as essentially a throwing-together of stuff that sort of works, but not in the best possible way.

It's also profoundly frightening to consider that religion is exploiting the primitive, survival-obsessed part of our brain and simultaneously threatening humanity's viability. It does, however, shed new light on the extreme enmity between religion and critical thinking.

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