Roots of Religion from the Evolutionary Perspective
By Syed Manzoor Alam, New Age Islam
December 08, 2013
Throughout history and across all cultures why have humans been so prone to believe in higher powers and to be religious? Religion has many aspects but for this article the basic idea is related to supernatural powers with “agencies” to affect human behaviour.
It is clear that these beliefs and practices have appeared in some form since we became species, primarily on evidence from burial rituals, existing about a hundred and twenty five thousand years ago. Much more elaborate organisation of religious practices emerged with the advent of agriculture and civilization, around ten to twelve thousand years ago. All known societies have been permeated with religion, even in “secular” countries like India and America, where over 90% of the general public believes in Higher Powers.
The sentences to follow does not want to deal with the controversial topic of whether there is or not a Higher Being, and if there is, then of what sort or what your believes may or may not be. Let us consider this universal human tendency to have such believes and associated religious practices. Now number one, from the perspective of evolution, what capacities would be needed to hold such religious believes: one would be symbolic communications, including language and narrative; second would be the ability to have a sense of continuity between past, present and future; third is the tendency to attribute causes and intentionality to events in the world and more specifically to sense some mysterious force operating behind every day events; fourth would be the ability to ascribe mental states of others, even in inanimate objects and perhaps fifth would be complex emotions like awe.