Higher Orders: The Natural Origins of Religion and the Decline of its Utility
Series: Religion and Society
Higher Orders is a book about the natural origins of religion and the prospects for its future. The central claim presented is that religion is a human universal that emerged from the co-evolution of the human brain and increasing social complexity. Human history runs much deeper than the 5,500 years of written history and this book strives to reorient the reader to the timescale of the six million years since our common ancestry with chimpanzees. Religion is not a monolithic entity; rather, religion describes a family of phenomena characterized by supernatural beliefs and ritual practices that mediate the way humans relate to the world around them.
Ritual aspects of religion have their roots in the affective emotional and attachment circuitry of the limbic system that arose in mammalian evolution to care for dependent offspring. Ritual behavior is found at the level of primate consciousness and early hominids began to gain voluntary control over social rituals that served to bind the tribe together and suppress defection. With the advent of the Neolithic Revolution 11,000 years ago, agriculture gave rise to large anonymous civilizations that developed high frequency, low arousal rituals that served to create shared identity and to unite society under shared beliefs in an imagined higher order that provided uniform rules for diverse societies no longer bound by kinship ties and reciprocal altruism.
This book explores the Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR), which demonstrates that supernatural agent concepts are supported through universal inferential mental tools that were adapted to detect agency and to ascribe mental states to other minds. Religion operates as a function of evolved cognitive hardware upon which cultures have authored religious software to enable their societies to function harmoniously and to address ecological dilemmas beyond their control. Many of the problems our ancestors faced are now being addressed through modernization and urbanization, and the second part of the book takes up the declining utility of religion for both the individual and society.
Religion developed and flourished in relative regional isolation and its tribal form may be maladaptive to the modern global world. Religion is not a single entity, but rather a multidimensional category of component parts on both the individual and societal levels. Accordingly, High Orders is an attempt to formulate a comprehensive interdisciplinary explanation of religion drawing on research from evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, paleoanthropology, neuroscience, neuropsychology, cognitive science, political science, sociology, history, and philosophy. Religion has arguably been the most important feature of human social interaction in the development of our species and the tone of this book endeavors to avoid gratuitous praise or unnecessary criticism of religion; it seeks only to understand this most important and fascinating aspect of Homo sapiens, the religious animal. (Imprint: Nova)
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. The Cognitive Science of Religion: The Brain’s Religious Hardware
Chapter 3. Building Religious Brains: Evolution from Ape to Human
Chapter 4. Early Modern Humans and the Natural Origins of Religion
Chapter 5. Religion as Adaptive Cultural Software
Chapter 6. The Natural Origins of Christianity
Chapter 7. The Declining Utility of Religion
Chapter 8. Cognitive Bias
Chapter 9. Conclusion