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In Gods We TrustThe Evolutionary Landscape of Religion$
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Scott Atran

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195178036

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195178036.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 29 November 2021

God's Creation

God's Creation

Evolutionary Origins of the Supernatural

(p.51) 3 God's Creation
In Gods We Trust


Oxford University Press

In all cultures and religions, people believe that conscious souls live on after bodies die, like actors in a dream; they survive in the unseen realm of spirit, where the purposes and truths pertaining to all existence are known. Supernatural agent concepts critically involve minimal triggering of evolved agency-detection schema, a part of folkpsychology. Agency is a complex sort of innate releasing mechanism. Natural selection designed the agency-detector system to deal rapidly and economically with stimulus situations involving people and animals as predators, protectors, and prey. This resulted in the system's being trip-wired to respond to fragmentary information under conditions of uncertainty, inciting perception of figures in the clouds, voices in the wind, lurking movements in the leaves, and emotions among interacting dots on a computer screen. This hair-triggering of the agency-detection mechanism readily lends itself to supernatural interpretation of uncertain or anxiety-provoking events.

Keywords:   supernatural agent, agency-detection schema, anxiety-provoking events, agency-detector system

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