Thanks Mitchell for the response. I’m totally onboard with the notion of religion being a state of mind rather than a coherent set of myths regarding one or more invisible magical creatures. That’s why I argue in my own book that Nationalism, Communism, National-Socialism, and all the other -isms are at root forms of religious belief. Indeed, there was a research paper a few years back that seemed to indicate via MRI studies that people who are devotees of Apple products experience their devotion, and have strong beliefs equivalent to, standard religious mythologies.
I’m just unclear about the idea that if, as we both agree the data strongly indicates, most of our behavior is in fact preconscious, why we’d have to evolve a temporary set of methods for quietening the conscious mind. Given the huge resources diverted into religious activities (including persistent social structures enforced with repression, huge artifacts & buildings, etc.) it seems we’d need a much stronger case for the efficacy of such edge-case rituals. My own suspicion is that religionism is akin to the human birth problem: we don’t look at this and say “what’s the evolutionary advantage of a problematic birth?” but instead recognize that it’s the unfortunate consequence of two competing priorities: bipedal ambulation and comparatively large brain. Equally the famous peacock tail problem: we don’t ask “what’s the evolutionary payoff for the male being captured & eaten so easily?” because we see that the animal has been driven down an evolutionary alley in which being eaten by even a somewhat lethargic predator is the inevitable consequence of the female’s selection strategy.
Hence my own suspicion is that religionism is the unfortunate by-product of our ability to imagine (from which we get very significant benefits including the capacity to form very large groups of people within a single conceptual structure, the ability to trade by means of fungible tokens, etc.) coupled to our relative inability to reason coherently. As there have been very few selection pressures to encourage the fundamentals of reason (formal logical coherence, consistency checking, etc.) we’re caught in the middle.
But in the end, we’ll have to wait and see what additional studies into this area reveal. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of funding available for studies that might end up saying, “OK guys, it looks like 90% of you believe in stuff that’s not real.” No politician wants to be associated with anything that would lead to an outcome of this kind as the consequences for re-election would not be favorable!