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The Innate Mind Volume 2: Culture and Cognition$
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Peter Carruthers, Stephen Laurence, and Stephen Stich

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195310139

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195310139.001.0001

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Religion's Innate Origins and Evolutionary Background

Religion's Innate Origins and Evolutionary Background

Chapter:
(p.302) 18 Religion's Innate Origins and Evolutionary Background
Source:
The Innate Mind
Author(s):

Scott Atran (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195310139.003.0018

This chapter envisions religion, in general, and awareness of the supernatural, in particular, as a converging by-product of several cognitive and emotional mechanisms that evolved under natural selection for mundane adaptive tasks. As human beings routinely interact, they naturally tend to exploit these by-products to solve inescapable, existential problems that have no apparent worldly solution, such as the inevitability of death and the ever-present threat of deception by others. Religion involves costly and hard-to-fake commitment to a counterintuitive world of supernatural agents that master such existential anxieties. The greater one's display of costly commitment to that factually absurd world — as in Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his beloved son for nothing palpable save faith in a “voice” demanding the killing — the greater society's trust in that person's ability and will to help out others with their inescapable problems.

Keywords:   religion, evolution, supernatural agent, folk psychology, module, metarepresentation, intuitive ontology

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