Are we ‘programmed’ to believe in God? Research finds an unexpected link between religion and evolution


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According to new research, it is possible that mankind is ‘hardwired’ to be religious, and the cause of this is EVOLUTION. According to an Oxford University Professor, fear of gods could have helped shape mankind into what we are today. This means that Religion could very well be the result of evolution.

The fear of God’s wrath could have played a key role in the evolutionary development of humans.

If belief in divine retribution is so entrenched among humans, it is because evolution, writes Dominic Johnson, an expert in evolutionary biology and in international relations from Oxford University, in his new book ‘God is watching you’.

God Is Watching You:

  • Proposes a new theory of the origins and evolution of not only religion but also human cooperation and society
  • Explores how fear of supernatural punishment exists within and outside of religious contexts
  • Uses an interdisciplinary approach that draws on new research from anthropology, evolutionary biology, experimental psychology, and neuroscience

According to Professor Johnson’s theory, the feeling of being watched by a powerful supernatural being could have been the cause that our ancestors behaved in a less selfish way. Johnson believes that belief in divine punishment would have helped enhance cooperation among humans, one of the key traits that are based on the evolutionary success of our species. Likewise, Professor Johnson explains why the fear of punishment would have become a more important force in religion than other aspects, such as love and altruism. According to him, this is mainly due to the way our brains establish links.

Professor Johnson says, in his new book ‘God is Watching You’ that that enigmatic belief in divine punishment is something that has been hardwired into us by ‘evolution’ and is one of the main causes that led to the creation and development of ALL world religions.

‘The ability to anticipate rewards or punishments arising from our behavior would clearly have been favored by Darwinian natural selection because it promoted survival and reproduction,’ he said.

‘I argue this extended to the anticipation of supernatural reward and punishment.’

‘God-fearing people were better able to avoid raising the ire of their fellow man, lowering the costs of real-world sanctions, and raising the rewards of co-operation.’

‘It offers a striking twist on the old science and religion debate – religion is not an alternative to evolution, it is a product of evolution.’

According to psychological research, it is shown that negative events in human life tend to have a much more powerful impact on our thinking and behavior than positive ones.

Professor Johnson added: ‘When humans evolved the capacity for complex language and theory of mind – the ability to know what others’ know – our behavior became increasingly transparent and selfish behavior and social transgressions risked increasing costs from retaliation or reputational damage.’

‘Avoiding these costs ushered in a new era in which the suppression of selfishness became a vital ingredient of an individual’s evolutionary success.’

‘The idea that one’s good and bad deeds will be observed, judged and rewarded or punished by God or some other supernatural agent is a recurring feature of virtually all of the world’s religions, both past, and present.’

‘The looming threat of supernatural punishment deterred selfish behavior and increased cooperation, and this was a good thing for individuals as well as society.’


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  1. as for biological I dont believe so , I believe it is implanted by those we as humans grow up around and the environment we encounter as we grow , or the old saying holds true , as in Rome do and think as the Romans do , thus passing this thinking on to extended generations . interesting .

  2. For the record, I am a believer in God and I have never had fear of punishment or that God is watching my every move. I have never had the anticipation of supernatural reward or punishment mentioned in the article and somehow always believed. Faith to me is a fundamental part of myself as a human. Johnson seems to think that we, believers, are of one mindset. I accept Evolution fully as well as the faith in God without fear of punishment or need for reward. In fact, if Christianity did not teach of a life after death, I would still have believed in God. Not believing in God is impossible for me. Johnson should have taken a wider sample of believers to do his study because, in my view, it is a lemon.

  3. in islam, before men born to earth, every single soul is asked. i created you and i am your creator (God). do you recognise it?..every asked soul answer yes.

  4. Our brains are hard-wired to remember ‘bad’ experiences so we don’t do them again, like remembering ‘fire is hot’ so we don’t try ‘playing’ with it again, and our species flourishes rather than dying out from stupidity.
    ‘Fearing God’ is also why our society literally stagnated during Medieval Times, stopped bathing, starvation, the plague, people living in filth and poverty while the church got fat. Logic, learning and progression went backwards.
    And todays’ “Modern Christian God” is different than the vindictive God that Moses and the Israelites faced, the Medieval man faced, and even the one the extremists claim to follow. The face of God has changed very much over the years, but to claim it progressed man is like saying ‘fast food makes us faster’.

  5. ((((((((( this guy is so far off base it’s almost scary …. First of all EVOLUTION is described as the PHYSICAL change of something into something better, to possibly adapt better to the environment around it…. But this IS NOT possible with the THOUGHT processes of the mind, that is changed through the observance of things or being taught.. Evolution can’t possibly have an effect on thought or conscience.. ))))))

    ‘It offers a striking twist on the old science and religion debate – religion is not an alternative to evolution, it is a product of evolution.’