Is the 'religious instinct' hardwired into people? & & & Inca ceremonies carried their mummified kings of old, in a procession, thru the streets of Cuzco. When the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire, the Catholic church did not put an end to this 'Pagan' ritual. Catholicism, instead, co-opted the practice. It just replaced the mummified Inca kings with papier-mache Christian Saints. Pope Gregory - in the early days of Christianity's reign as the state religion of the Roman Empire - told missionaries not to destroy pagan temples but build over the top of them. As if to say to the people there ... We are not negating your religion, we are adding to it. Making it better. A better method of 'conversion' than violently destroying all vestiges of the pre-existing religious faith, the one native to the place. Gregory seemed to believe the 'religious instinct' to be innate in people. And sought to shrewdly harness it. & & & Is it innate? A PBS science program, on American television last month, suggested that - yes - the religious instinct is, indeed, hardwired into humans? The Human Spark, narrated by Alan Alda. Or actually ... two - separate, but related - instincts. & & & Chimpanzees are actually smarter than the human child, it turns out, till that child is 9 or 10 months of age. It is at that age that human children begin to seriously manipulate symbols - i.e. learn language. You can teach dogs a handful of words. "Cookie" - the dog will run to the kitchen, expecting a treat. "Car" - the dog will run to the car, expecting to go for a ride. But tell the dog "there is a cookie in the car" - no matter how you try to reword it - the dog will never get the connection. For that, you need grammar. The dog does not have grammar hardwired in its brain. The chimpanzee has a much larger vocabulary than the dog has, but grammar is also beyond the chimp's reach. The human child's vocabulary is even larger, still. But when that child is at a year-and-a-half of age, the child is talking in mini-sentences. And the child will go on to master grammar. & & & Two principal reasons why humans developed such a large brain, thru evolution, involves tool-making and social-skills. The same parts of the human brain involved in tool-making, are also involved in language-production. Language is a tool, one which involves building components in the proper sequence to make it work effectively. Language became an evolutionary necessity for humans, as they began to realize the efficacy of planning, of solving problems collaboratively. & & & In laboratory studies, 9-month-old children would be asked to choose which of two puppets they liked - in a variety of tests. Put two kinds of food in front of the child. The child shows his or her preference for Dish 1 or Dish 2. Then each of the puppets come down and try each of the foods. One puppet likes the food in Dish 1, the other likes the food in Dish 2. Then the child is given the choice which puppet he or she wants to play with. The child will almost always pick the puppet with the same taste in food. (With other parameters, the testers get the same results.) Children (adult humans, too) have a built-in instinct to affiliate with other humans who share similar preferences. To bond with others like ourselves. The sense of belonging which groups give - is a key appeal of religious faith. Studies show that new converts to a religious faith, far less often join that new faith on the basis of that faith's ideas or tenets of belief. (That comes later.) Rather, they convert because they have developed bonds of friendship vis-a-vis those wishing to convert them. He or she joins that religious faith because they personally like the people they have met who belong to the local house of that faith. This new convert connects (first and foremost) with these people, not with their dogma. & & & The 9-month-old child will also pick one puppet over the other for a different reason. Both puppets seem fun pals. But one puppet seems to cooperate more with other puppets. And that is the puppet the child will, later, want to play with. The child has learned to read 'good' and 'bad' in human intent. She is smiling at me. Does that mean she wants to play with me? The child becomes very good at reading intention in other human-being's behavior. Well before adulthood, the child can read multiple layers of intentionality into actions of other human beings, like several moves ahead in a chess game. Humans often overestimate intentionality, have a hair-trigger (almost paranoia) reading the behavior of other humans. But this arises ... not just with their reading of other humans. Is the house going to fall over in the wind? Is the sea too rough for swimming? Intentionality gives humans the ability to anticipate possible-outcomes down the line. Predict the future. (An openness to contingency.) But reading intension, humans also started to think about their world (ask questions): Someone built that tree. (Why?) And instead of just material facts, there are projected - by the individual - a whole bunch of embodied-intentions out there. Ghosts. Gods. Spirits. & & & The 'religious instinct.' 1. Partially the need to bond with people who you intuit as being and believing a lot like you do. 2. Partially the need to find intentional behavior in things, where there may or may not be any. The 'elect' standing in the 'presence' of the divine.