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Recent findings in genetics and PET studies of the brain make plausible the idea that humanity evolved religious feelings (as well as a sense of morality). Certain brain structures light up on a PET scan when the subject reports religious fervor, and geneticists are finding more and more links between genes and behavior.

From what little I know about the earliest civilizations, they were all very religious, in fact, religion and government were indistinguishable. Civilizations like Sumner and Ur may very well have become strong precisely because of the social cohesion that shared religious feelings provide.

Because religious feelings are easily exploited by rulers, they get everyone on the same page when it came to things like paying taxes (tithes to the church), deciding to take over that village in the next valley that worships a different god, or working hard to build up the city to the glory of god (and the king). Once something like that gets going, it tends to drive its own evolution by eliminating the non-believers and/or forcing competing civilizations to come up with their own strong social bonds.

Of course that evolutionary advantage has outlived its usefulness in modern times, much like our propensity to store energy as fat to get us through the next famine. But I think we should recognize that some people may just be hardwired to believe. Logic is not going to sway them any more than you could logically convince someone with a fear of heights that standing next to the edge of a 1000 foot cliff with a solid railing is no more dangerous that standing 10 feet back.

I used to think that science and logic would eventually put Jehovah and Allah and the Monkey God in the same historical dustbin as Odin and Zeus, but the recent upsurge of fundamentalism in many parts of the world is not encouraging. If religious feelings really are an instinct that most humans have to greater or lesser degrees, perhaps about the best we can hope for is that they can be diverted to something less toxic than some of the current manifestations. Let's hear it for New Age spiritualism. ;)

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