News FocusORIGINS

On the Origin of Religion

Science  06 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5954, pp. 784-787
DOI: 10.1126/science.326_784

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Summary

How and when did religion arise? In the 11th essay in Science's series in honor of the Year of Darwin, Elizabeth Culotta explores the human propensity to believe in unseen deities. No consensus yet exists among scientists, but potential answers are emerging from both the archaeological record and studies of the mind itself. Some researchers, exploring religion's effects in society, suggest that it may boost fitness by promoting cooperative behavior. And in the past 15 years, a growing number of researchers have followed Darwin's lead and explored the hypothesis that religion springs naturally from the normal workings of the human mind. This new field, the cognitive science of religion, draws on psychology, anthropology, and neuroscience to understand the mental building blocks of religious thought.