Is faith in God just a holdover from our evolutionary past? . . .
Once upon a time on the African Serengeti, our Australopithecine great-great-grandparents heard a rustle in the tall grass. Those who shrugged it off were frequently killed and eaten by lions. But those who got spooked and ran away survived to pass on their genes.
It’s sabre-tooth psychology alright — just with real lions. But the story continues: Scientists tells us the instinct that led early humans to decide the rustle in the grass was not the wind but a predator, gave rise not only to a population of paranoid primates, but to our belief in the supernatural — and in God!
How? Kelly James Clark, a research fellow at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, explains that this instinct — what he calls a “hypersensitive agency-detecting device” — causes people to see intention behind not only rustling grass, but behind daily phenomena, like the weather, disease, and failed crops. Gradually, humans began detecting agency everywhere, and came to believe that supernatural beings inhabited the water, sky, and earth. Nature came alive with “gods, ancestral spirits, goblins and fairies,” he says, and these formed the basis of religious belief, or what Clark calls “the god faculty.”