Re: Another question for athiests.

With due respect, I don't think the first two answers got at the heart of the matter. Keeping society stable is one reason why religion and theism are cross-cultural but independently of this we are already psychologically predisposed to supernaturalism. Even if we lived alone in the wilderness, lacking the need for morality because we'd only be looking after ourselves, we would still be inclined to believe in ghosts and spirits and deities and other things like that.

As the third responder noted, we are inclined towards theism because we tend to see agency and intention in everything. Why we are inclined to do that has an explanation in evolutionary psychology.

Children will often think in terms of agency and intention, and this carries into adulthood, although we shrug off a good deal of it through education. "Why are clouds for?" they might ask. "Clouds are for raining," they might answer. "Why do clouds rain sometimes and not others?" they may ask. "They only rain when they want to," would be the answer. Rainbows could be seen as a happy sky, and tornadoes as an angry sky. Even as adults we find it easier to understand something if we frame it in terms of intention, even if we know what's being talked about doesn't (or might not) have a mind with intention and foresight. Evolution shaped our minds to think in such terms.

Dinesh D'Souza thought it was improbable that religiousity/theism/supernaturalism would be an adaptative trait and, in a debate with Daniel Dennett, explained that, if a rabbit is being chased by a lion and the rabbit believes in the afterlife, it has no reason to fear the lion and may even desire death, making it unlikely to pass on its genes. However, his analogy does not work because very few human theists (jihadis and martyrs aside) would be for or indifferent to being killed and eaten by a lion.

The inclination to supernaturalism is adaptive in a Pascal's Wager sorta way. Hypothetically speaking, if you're a primitive hunter gatherer and you hear a slight rustling in the neaby bushes, it's possible that the rustling means a predator is hiding there, waiting to ambush and kill you. If you think there's a predator there, you can either be right and have saved your life, or you be wrong and mildly inconvienence yourself by expening the energy to run. On the other hand, if you think it's just the wind or a smaller animal that poses no threat, you can either be right and continue resting/loitering or be wrong and die (or be injured).

Those individuals who see predators in the bush more often then there are actually predators will generally live longer and have more chances to reproduce and individuals who see predators less often then they are really there.

This is one evolutionary explanation. There are others. You may want to look up Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Belief.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

10 books to check out from Jordan Peterson's 'Great Books' list

The Canadian professor has an extensive collection posted on his site.

Jordan Peterson with Carl Jung and the cover art of Jaak Panksepp's 'Affective Neuroscience' (Image: Chris Williamson/Getty Images/Big Think)
Personal Growth
  • Peterson's Great Books list features classics by Orwell, Jung, Huxley, and Dostoevsky.
  • Categories include literature, neuroscience, religion, and systems analysis.
  • Having recently left Patreon for "freedom of speech" reasons, Peterson is taking direct donations through Paypal (and Bitcoin).
Keep reading Show less

Radical theory says our universe sits on an inflating bubble in an extra dimension

Cosmologists propose a groundbreaking model of the universe using string theory.

Getty Images/Suvendu Giri
Surprising Science
  • A new paper uses string theory to propose a new model of the universe.
  • The researchers think our universe may be riding a bubble expanded by dark energy.
  • All matter in the universe may exist in strings that reach into another dimension.
Keep reading Show less

Should you invest in China's stock market? Know this one thing first.

Despite incredible economic growth, it is not necessarily an investor's paradise.

  • China's stock market is just 27 years old. It's economy has grown 30x over that time.
  • Imagine if you had invested early and gotten in on the ground floor.
  • Actually, you would have lost money. Here's how that's possible.