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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

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

Scott Atran (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

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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