Are cavemen the reason we believe in God and ghosts? Read this: Are cavemen the reason we believe in God and ghosts? Notions of gods arise in all survival Instinct – Die Young – Survival Instinct societies, from all powerful and all-knowing deities to simple forest spirits. A recent method of examining religious thought and behaviour links their ubiquity and the similarity of our beliefs to the ways in which human mental processes were adapted for survival in prehistoric times.
It rests on a couple of observations about human psychology. Does the belief of gods and ghosts in some humans harken back to caveman instincts? First, when an event happens, we tend to assume that a living thing caused it. In other words, we assume agency behind that event. Taking inspiration from the forbidden fruit that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a bio artist wants to create his own version of the tree of knowledge – using Wikipedia.
Joe Davis, 63, from Harvard’s genetics lab has devised a mathematical formula to add layers of data to DNA. He now plans to add a decoded version of the online encyclopaedia into the DNA of a 4,000-year-old strain of apple, which he claims is the closest he could get to fruit from the biblical tale. The top 50,000 pages of Wikipedia will be added into the DNA of the apple in the Malus ecclesia project. Davis, used the roots and leaves of a 4,000-year-old strain of apple to make it ‘the closest fruit to that grown in the Garden of Eden’. If you think of the sorts of events that might have happened in prehistoric times, it’s easy to see why a bias towards agency would be useful. A rustling of a bush or the snapping of a twig could be due to wind. But far better to assume it’s a lion and run away.
Did climate change lead to the downfall of ANCIENT EGYPT? The survivors who had this tendency to more readily ascribe agency to an event passed their genes down the generations, increasingly hard-wiring this way of making snap decisions into the brain. This is not something that people need to learn. The second trait is about how we view others. While living together in a tribe would have had many advantages for survival in prehistoric times, getting along with everyone would not always have been easy. Comprehending others’ behaviour requires you to understand their thoughts and beliefs, especially where these may be incorrect due to someone not knowing the full facts of a situation. This is known as ‘theory of mind’.
This idea says that we automatically assume that there are reasons behind others’ behaviour which we try to work out in order to better understand why they behave the way they do. Not having this ability has been proposed to underlie developmental disorders such as autism. You may be wondering what these two hard-wired processes have to do with belief in gods. Imagine a pebble falling in the back of a cave. Our agency device tells us that someone caused that to happen.