In Evolution We Trust

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The current struggle between religion and science leads to many heated and debated questions and theories.  Many of these questions surround the existence of god and of when and how this existence evolved into being.  The concept of religion and god evolved in human culture as a result of brain structure and survival adaptation. Biologically, god and religion evolved as humans’ first form of consciousness.  Specific brain structures and brain formations allowed and encouraged this.  In addition there are several social and behavioral adaptations in man’s early culture that promoted the existence of god and religion.  Both biological and socially, early mankind was suited for the evolution of god and related concepts. 

In order to understand how early humans were biologically wired for the god concept, it is important to understand and define consciousness.  The dictionary defines consciousness as: “the state of being conscious; awareness of one's own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, full activity of the mind and senses.” (1)  However, Julian Jaynes urges us to consider what we think consciousness is.  Commonly, when asked about consciousness we suddenly become aware of it and we assume that this is consciousness, however Jaynes feels that this is not correct.   Our concept of consciousness is much smaller that one would expect, as we cannot be conscious of those things that we are not conscious of!  There are many deductions that Jaynes makes about consciousness, however, his most important is that “consciousness is the metaphor of our past experience” and therefore, important in introspection.  Following accordingly, consciousness could not be formed or begin to form until the production of language which, allowed for this narration and introspection. (2)  If consciousness is the basis of how we introspect on our behaviors and actions and how we are aware of our existence, the question is how this relates to god. 

 Jaynes theorizes that man originally had no consciousness, the world would be happening to him and his actions would simply be apart of that world and its goings-on.  Every person would be broken into man and god this is the bicameral mind. (2)  In this theory “god” would act as the individuals’ consciousness.  God or gods were simply organizations of the central nervous systems that talked to the individual in a “familiar voice” and told the individuals what to do.  Humans at this time would “experience” god as auditory or visual hallucinations, and sometimes in the form of a friend.  Jaynes cites many classic stories and cultures (such as the Iliad) where he feels that the author, and thus the characters had no consciousness or introspection and therefore were being directed by “god.”  Jayne provides many observations that show that these visual and auditory sensations are simply products of the brain’s structure.  For example, stimulation of the temporal lobe of epileptic patients produces similar visual and audio hallucinations.  Under stress, early man may have experienced these hallucinations interpreting them as instructional messages from their gods, or their king representing god.  According to Jaynes god evolved as the result of the early evolution of consciousness before human became aware of their own introspection.  (2) 

Humans appears to be “wired” to believe in or have a god, however there are evolutionary adaptations that made this biologically constructed concept of god easier to understand and believe.  In the New York Time’s article Darwin’s God, Atran suggests that “hardship of early human life favored the evolution of certain cognitive tools.” (3)  These tools include the ability to identify harmful organisms and agents, arrive at and construct causal narration for events in the world, and the theory of mind, the ability to realize that others have a mind of their own.  By looking for explanations of harm causing agents the brain is primed to presume the existence of independent organisms.  Through the second cognitive tool, humans were able to make causal narrations and began looking for the cause of all events and actions.  Thirdly, by utilizing theory of mind humans were separating the mind from the body; Atran feels that from this distinction it is only a short step to the creation of an immortal god.  All of these evolution adaptations, or “cognitive tools” allowed for the further human development of god and religion.  Atran sums this up by stating “belief was the default position for the human mind, something that took no cognitive effort at all.” (3)  When combined with Jayne’s theory of consciousness, god and the bicameral mind, it is obvious that this belief was the default position, due to brain structure and further strengthened by the development of certain evolutionary adaptations, these cognitive tools. 

In Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind, god is the underdeveloped consciousness of humans, experienced through auditory and visual hallucination.  In modern man’s brain there are still area that may have been previously active in this process and when stimulated, perform as they may have in early man. (2)  In association with this there are several adaptive tools proposed by Atran that lead to and may have been the cause of the belief in god or religion.  Theory of mind, causal narration and the ability to infer the presence of harmful agents were central to the evolved belief in god. (3)  It is likely that these two theories worked in conjunction.  Yes, as Jaynes states early man did have a bicameral mind and was biologically assembled to believe in god, in addition these adaptive evolutionary tools added to and promoted the belief in god.  These evolutionary adaptations intensified the experience that man was biologically predisposed to. 

The question remains, why then do humans still believe in the idea of a god?  Biologically, many natural phenomena can be explained, and as far as humans are aware we do have a fully working consciousness (that at least which we can be conscious of.)  So what is the purpose of a god?  Human may still believe in a god like existence because the evidence of the evolutionary existence of god is not well known, so individuals may simply be following social norms.  Socially, many individuals are raised in a family that is based on religious beliefs or faith.  This religion, and god or gods, provide a backbone for the individual on how to behave and treat others.  God and religion also provide for many individuals a belief or hope for life after death, and act as a comfort during difficult times.  If one were to understand that god was simply an evolutionary creation of the brain and natural adaptation, many individuals would be lost and misguided.  Although the presence of god may no longer be directly necessary for survival, for many individuals it is necessary in order to feel fulfilled and purposeful.  While god and religion are no longer necessary for biological survival as individuals do have a consciousness and can make self directed decisions, it does provided a way for individuals to interact.  The concept of god provides a morality for society and how we should treat each other.  In Western society our government and laws are based on this morality and the presence of a god.  “In God we trust,” (4) a god that is simply the production of evolution of consciousness and survival adaptations.


WWW Sources

1); Definition of consciousness 

2) Jaynes, Julian. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. New York: Houghton Miffloin Company, 1976. 

3); Darwin’s God. New York Times,  March  4 2007.

4); United States Department of Treasury, fact sheet   


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