THE NEW SCIENTIST SITE IS A GREAT RESOURCE for those who like to be au courant about all sorts of stuff scientific.
Born believers: How your brain creates God,
by Michael Brooks, is an interesting look at the basic propensity of the human mind to conjure up the god concept.
An alternative (to religion-as-an-adaptation theory) being put forward by Atran and others is that religion emerges as a natural by-product of the way the human mind works.
That's not to say that the human brain has a "god module" in the same way that it has a language module that evolved specifically for acquiring language. Rather, some of the unique cognitive capacities that have made us so successful as a species also work together to create a tendency for supernatural thinking. "There's now a lot of evidence that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired," says Bloom.
Much of that evidence comes from experiments carried out on children, who are seen as revealing a "default state" of the mind that persists, albeit in modified form, into adulthood. "Children the world over have a strong natural receptivity to believing in gods because of the way their minds work, and this early developing receptivity continues to anchor our intuitive thinking throughout life," says anthropologist Justin Barrett of the University of Oxford.
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The ability to conceive of gods, however, is not sufficient to give rise to religion. The mind has another essential attribute: an overdeveloped sense of cause and effect which primes us to see purpose and design everywhere, even where there is none.