Many people are born into a family where religion is practiced. They just assume that is what they should believe in. Not often will one ponder over the question of how religion has become what it is today. Religion’s grasp on the world is extensive. It is found in all societies. Religion has evolved, though, over the hundreds of thousands of years it has existed. It has progressed from the less complex to having over four thousand different types of it. Religion was present during the time of the primitive people, where hunters and gatherers believed that there were mysterious forces were at work, affecting their daily lives. According to Michael Barnes in his book titled The Enduring Quest for Meaning, these mysterious forces included luck, mana, magic and omens. Barnes transitions from the primitive age, to the archaic age to where he describes the slow transformation from polytheism to monotheism during the history of Israel. Despite the facts on how religion has evolved, everything must have an origin, or a foundation, but this a very complicated task when asking about the origin of religion. Barnes explains it perfectly as he says, “There is a dilemma inherent in any attempt to ask about the origin of everything.” There are many obstacles when searching for those answers, especially when religion and science collide. Religion, to some, is derived from a psychological viewpoint because religion’s goal is to anthropomorphize the environment around us. For others, religion comes from fundamentally a supernatural origin of belief. Religion, being at the center, or at least involved in almost everyone’s lives and societies, can be derived from either a psychological point of view or a supernatural one, with both having a strong argument to back it up.
The question of how religious beliefs and tendencies came to be refuels an argument involving two conflicting ideologies: science and religion. Science has offered compelling research that justifies religion being a psychological adaptation for human beings. This compelling research involves how technology allows us to examine brain activity of a human being and helps to draw conclusions about religious origins. Such technology that is being used to correlate religious origins and science are positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and single photon emission tomography (SPECT). According to Dr. Azari and Dr. Slors in their journal article tilted, “From Brain Imaging Religious Experience to Explaining Religion: a Critique”, says that findings from recent brain imaging studies “have been used to draw broad conclusions about religion as such. . . to explain why there is religion at all.” One of the studies that supports the aforementioned statement is called “The Limbic Marker Hypothesis.”3 This hypothesis is basing the foundation of religion on brain activity data gained in studies of religious experience. This idea proposes that if the data can link “lower order” brain systems (neural circuitry) to religious experience, then it can be proven that the origin of religion emerged from the natural ways humans were made. It’s foundation is in the primitive, or psychological, roots of human beings. In the Limbic Marker Hypothesis, twelve subjects were tested, six of whom reported to be religious and the other six on the contrary. The results showed significant evidence that supports the conclusion that humans are already subject to a religious belief. According to the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, “religious experience is mediated by a pre-established neural circuit, involving dorsolateral, prefrontal, dorsomedial, frontal and medial parietal cortex. People are prepared ‘for religious experiences and this readiness’ is probably mediated by the dorsomedial frontal cortex.” Although the psychological connection to religion can be very confusing, this is just one of the many studies that supports those claims. These studies are evolving as technology advances everyday. Along with technology, researchers who study neuroscience and psychology are striving to explain the roots of religious beliefs and how they have endured for hundreds of thousands of years.
The world of science and cognitive religion has offered many insights on how human beings are biased in thought, meaning we have an innate or natural adaption to religion. On the contrary, many people believe that religion comes from fundamentally a supernatural origin of belief. An Article titled “The Cultural Transmission of Faith: Why Innate Institutions are Necessary, but Insufficient, to Explain Religious Belief” presents that supernatural religious concepts are dependent on the cognitive biases that constrain their content. In addition, those concepts are dependent on cultural learning biases that push individuals to selectively attend to and acquire both concepts and degrees of commitment or belief from those around them . To summarize that, there is a combination of both supernatural ideas and cognitive ideas that say humans are naturally predisposed to religion. Although this may be true, some believe that religious foundation is dependent on supernatural beliefs. First of all, what is the supernatural? Common knowledge can say that the supernatural are those beliefs that cannot be proven by that of science. In religion, these are gods. In the Catholic Marianist faith, God is the all knowing, all powerful being that is positioned, along with Jesus and the Holy Spirt, at the center of the faith. According to Eugene Subbotsky from Lancaster University, both religious faith and belief in science can exist together. He says that, “belief in the supernatural world occurs as a result of emergence of the cognitive abilities in primeval human ”(Subbotsky). Later on in the article, Subbotsky brings up an interesting take on why the supernatural is the origin of religion. To summarize it, one has to start with the theory of the Big Bang. What brought that into being? What about dark energy and dark matter? What brought the “emergence of life from non animate matter’’? Subbotsky explains that “these and some other phenomena thus far escape scientific understanding.” Science will try to solve these mysteries of the world, but the odds are unlikely in the discovery of the answers. The logical conclusion is that God, or the supernatural, is the meaning behind those mysteries. This is because human capacity is out of reach of those ideas. The article also expresses the question, why has the belief in the supernatural continued today? Belief in the spirits, mana and magic deciding our lives has mostly vanished. Why hasn’t the belief in the supernatural disappeared? A possible answer to this question comes from fact that the beliefs help serve people’s needs. According to Beth Azar from the American Psychological Association, religion promotes the social aspects of our lives. It “encourages people to be more charitable by promoting [the supernatural]” (Azar). Even if this is true, religion causes much division in the world. It may be that religion eases the fear of death for some who think forward to the afterlife. Wherever one stands on these questions, there is still much to discover about religion and it’s supernatural origin.
Religion can be a very complicated subject, especially when deciding where it originated from. Religion can be derived from a psychological viewpoint because religion’s goal is to anthropomorphize the environment around us. To those who believe this, religion is almost instinctual. Many studies have shown, one being the ‘Limbic Marker Hypothesis’, and supported this viewpoint. Although there are many studies proving this assumption, there is still a long way to go. As technology advances, so will the research. On the other side of the argument, religion comes from fundamentally a supernatural origin of belief. This argument is harder to prove because the argument does not involve as much science. For those who are positioned on this viewpoint, a supernatural being, such as God, is at work in our lives, and they can trace everything back to him. Religion has and will continue to be debated. There will always be an argument for those who believe in the psychological point of view, some who believe it has originated from a fundamentally supernatural point, and also those who are on neither side, which is more of an agnostic third way. Religion, being at the center, or at least involved in almost everyone’s lives, can be derived from either a psychological point of view or a supernatural one, with both having a strong argument. No matter what viewpoint one has, it should be widely accepted that religion plays a heavy influence on society and the way we interact with someone. Due to this fact, everyone should at least contemplate the different perspectives of how religion came to be.
- Azari, Nina P., and Marc Slors. ‘From Brain Imaging Religious Experience to Explaining Religion: A Critique.’Archive for the Psychology of Religion, vol. 29, 2007, pp. 67- 85. JSTOR, www.jstor.org.libproxy.udayton.edu/stable/23909981
- Barnes, Michael. The Enduring Quest For Meaning. Winona, Minnesota: Anselm Academic. 2015
- Gervais, Will. “THE CULTURAL TRANSMISSION OF FAITH Why: Innate Intuitions are Necessary, but Insufficient, to Explain Religious Belief” Thematic section: Evolutionary
- Approaches to the Study of Religion. Volume 41, Issue 3 (2011) 389-410: accessed October 2019. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0048721X.2011.604510
- Mohandas, E. “Neurobiology of Spirituality.” Mental Health, Spirituality, Mind. Volume 6, Issue 1(2008): 63-80.Accessed 0ctober 2019. http://www.msmonographs.org/article.asp?issn=0973- 1229;year=2008;volume=6;issue=1;spage=63;epage=80;…
- Subbotsky, Eugene. “Religion and Belief in the Supernatural.” Science and Magic in the Modern World, January 4, 2016, 121–46. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429490378-7