Found via Chris Harrison’s Interrogating Nature

Religion’s evolutionary landscape:
Counterintuition, commitment,
compassion, communion

Scott Atran
CNRS–Institut Jean Nicod, Paris, France and Institute for Social
Research–University of Michigan
Ara Norenzayan
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia

1. Introduction
In every society,1 there are
1. Widespread counterfactual and counterintuitive beliefs
in supernatural agents (gods, ghosts, goblins, etc.)
2. Hard-to-fake public expressions of costly material
commitments to supernatural agents, that is, offering and
sacrifice (offerings of goods, property, time, life)
3. Mastering by supernatural agents of people’s existential
anxieties (death, deception, disease, catastrophe, pain,
loneliness, injustice, want, loss)
4. Ritualized, rhythmic sensory coordination of (1), (2),
and (3), that is, communion (congregation, intimate fellowship,
In all societies there is an evolutionary canalization and
convergence of (1), (2), (3), and (4) that tends toward what
we shall refer to as “religion”; that is, passionate communal
displays of costly commitments to counterintuitive worlds
governed by supernatural agents. Although these facets of
religion emerge in all known cultures and animate the majority
of individual human beings in the world, there are
considerable individual and cultural differences in the degree
of religious commitment. The question as to the origin
and nature of these intriguing and important differences
we leave open.
This theoretical framework drives our program of research.

full paper

Many times I have suggested to discussants to imaginally step back into time one step at a time to that point when their favored religion, philosophy, metaphysical system, ontology, did not likely exist, even could not have existed. One doesn’t have to step back too far even if the stream of evidence itself disappears into the archaeological record. I’m okay with the speculative posit that any symbolic artifacts may well imply existential thoughtfulness.

But, then, the symbolic disappears.

I’m never surprised when I learn people haven’t thought about the historical problem of, (my terms,) cognitive genesis of systematic belief. This problem lurks to encumber the creation myths and folk psychological prejudices of all sorts of unrelated fundamentalists and quasi-fundamentalists, folks like religionists, Jungians, integralists, and esotericists.

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