Plausible explnation for the emergence of religion?

What are some plausible explnations for the emergence of religion on earth. I know one- Just World Hypothesis, is there any others?

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Emergence of religion in which species?


Well that is a good one; appeals to justice are essentially appeals to magic.

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There are several approaches to this, as far as I’m aware. One would be error in cognition, usually referred to as Type 1 error, or false positive cognitive bias. It is when one perceives some outside stimuli, one also perceives some active agency behind that stimuli. We think that someone is out to get us, even if it’s only wind in a forest. This an awesome channel with lots of fantastic videos.

There is also this approach, which is interesting but kind of populistic

Next would be idea about god gene. Basically idea that it was a useful adaptation and so it was added to our genepool early in our evolution. This is now mostly obsolete, there are still few peddling it.

And finally what I find mostly convincing is biological behavioural analysis. Even tho this is quite old, I just recently discovered it when I discovered Robert Sapolsky’s work. Here is an older video because he agreed not to record those lectures in recent years.

Thank u very much, I watched the MineField video. I will watch the others too.

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I think religion emerged when our ancestors were transitioning from apes into humans (and yes, I know humans are apes), and realized that they could ponder the future and realize that everyone dies.

The idea that everyone dies is at odds with the basic survival instinct (ie: one must avoid death), so the resolution for this double-bind is the conclusion that we don’t really die . . . despite the evidence of our senses.

Thus, religion.

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looks like Standford
eta: a little Googling indicates that it very well might be!

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Yup, there is also an entire playlist of his lectures.

Except that in this series, lecture about religiosity is omitted. He agreed not to record it.

My understanding is that there are two contributory factors to the emergence of religion. The first being that humans, being inquisitive, sought explanations for their surroundings, especially when said surroundings produced spectactular phenomena (e.g., thunderstorms, volcanic eruptions etc).

It’s not that difficult to imagine an early human, comparing a thunderstorm to his own use of stone tools to make sparks and produce fire. Said early human then jumps to what we know now is entirely the wrong conclusion, but which to said early human starting from a point of zero knowledge, made sense.

Namely, that the thunderstorm is the result of an action by a being such as himself, possessing intent. Except that the being in question is [1] far more powerful than him, and [2] invisible. That’s basically how the concept of gods arose - we projected our own intent upon our surroundings, and conjured up a big, invisible version of ourselves.

The second factor centres upon a product of evolution. Namely, children that obeyed their parents in our distant past, stood a greater chance of living to adulthood than children who didn’t. The latter ended up as lunch for various predators. Therefore, childhood obedience and trust in adults was, in the past, selected for in a particularly stark manner.

Combine the two, and the emergence and persistence of religion starts to make sense.


If we are going to be pedantic, we must add that as far as we can see, there was a change from animism, over totemism, and up to shamanism. Still I think it was guided by those “gifted” individuals. Which is still basically the same as modern religions. There is person of trust that you go to. They may had ability to create something, or paint/draw something. Possibly had better vocal ability to attract attention. Combine that with clever post rationalisation of any given “mysterious” event and you get a person of influence.
Sapolsky has a good notion about it. Not all but most influential preachers over time had some sort of semi schizophrenia. As I understood it is a known condition schizo-like or something like that can’t remember. It’s in the video above.
However, in general terms, what you described is certainly one of the contributors.

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Prior to the invention of gods, people long believed in various flavors of shamanism where a priest or “medicine man” would awaken sleeping spirits and call upon them to do good or evil deeds. Shamanism itself was preceded by an even older belief system called animism where every object including rocks and rivers were thought to contain a spiritual force.

The transformation from earth-bound spirits to sky gods followed the invention of agriculture. Agriculture required the precise charting of the sun and the stars in order to track the seasons. Large stone monuments appeared and curious points of light were discovered that crossed the constellations. These lights which are now known as planets became embodied in mystery and eventually into the realm of the divine.

Celestial gods were gradually replaced with supernatural personified beings after the Egytians and Greeks began immortalizing their kings, pharoahs and famous hero warriors. The idea of humans born as gods ultimately sparked the belief that ordinary men living on the fringes of society could also be gods as well - one individual in particular that continues to be celebrated to this day.

The progression of our religious beliefs demonstrate that gods are only provisional ideas - human ingenuities that have come and gone throughout our history - manufactured from previous concepts that faded from popularity as newer and bolder ideas emerged.