Religion as the Ultimate Human Evolutionary Survival Strategy


Author: Baskin, Ken
Almanac: Evolution:Evolutionary Trends, Aspects, and Patterns

Abstract

This paper begins exploring an alternative model for thinking about religion. In this alternative view, religion emerged as our evolutionary ancestors faced a challenge common to members of all species: evolving body structures that enabled them to know exactly what they needed to survive in a highly complex, continually shifting environment. In this way, bats rely mostly on sound to model the world, and dogs depend mostly on smell. For our evolutionary ancestors, natural selection chose the genes that would create a brain that transformed the world around them into story-like constructions. Religion emerges in myth as those ancestors faced the powerful forces that often overwhelmed them, driving events such as birth and death, abundance and famine. Moreover, as our ancestors moved out from the rainforests of East Africa to the savannah, natural selection further chose for the ability to cooperate, first through brain developments and then rituals. The stories and rituals that developed as these two developments intertwined enabled hunter-gatherers not only to survive, but to spread across Eurasia. In fact, these myths and rituals proved so powerful that they would enable human beings to create societies of increasing social complexity, as their communities skyrocketed from bands of 20 to cities of 20 million.

Keywords: natural selection, umwelt, ritualized behavior, social complexity.