The Origins of Superstition

I was reading an interesting article recently on the origins of superstition and it seems to go a long way to explaining our invention of religion.

One of the consequences of complex thought - and I don't mean Plato or Hawking - organisms from pigeons upwards to chimpanzees (and of course humans), is that an evolutionary advantage was to be had by a organism that was able to place pattern or see pattern. This ability would facilitate predictive behaviour, and hence a survival/reproductive advantage.

In the case of humans, being able to tell that the markings in the earth are the tracks of an animal that has passed not too long ago would allow us to track down a valuable source of protein. In the case of chimpanzees, being able to recognize the onset of certain digestive illnesses and notice that after ingesting an otherwise awful tasting plant the illness subsided (this amazing self-medication has been observed many times and the exact nature of it's origins are being debated). In the case of some birds, recognizing certain weather patterns etc etc.

There is an unforeseen consequence to this gift, and that consequence is to place pattern on things that are either completely random, or at least truly unpredictable. The animal will attempt to place a pattern on this unpredictable course of events when it involves one of the very important survival aspects to its life. In the case of humans, lucky rabbits feet, horeshoes, etc. You get the picture.

This superstitious behaviour has been observed in the animal kingdom as well, most notably with skinners pigeons. There was an experiment where instead of stimulus response, he simply provided the food pelet at sparse random intervals. What followed was astounding. After carefully observing the pigeons, it was noticed that all developed certain behavioural "ticks" that it would insist on doing becuase it believed that that was what it did to cause the food pellet to appear.

One pigeon kept thrusting its head towards the right corner, others would stomp a foot one time and turn around, others would stay motionless in a corner for a while and do something else.

Several paralells were discovered between the above and human behaviour.

1) It would continue despite the lack of supportive evidence.

2) Whenever the predicted event occured during the acting out of superstitious act it encouraged very much the continuing of said act. ie: If the pigeon believed that thrusting its head to the top right corner brought food pellets it would continue with a certain amount of "enthusiasm". After a random interval of time in some cases a pellet would drop and after gobbling it up the pigeon continued but this time with more fervor!

3) Countless contradictory events are ignored. In the case of humans, the fact that standing on a lucky square didn't always result in his horse winning the race was dismissed. We know because of interviews that these particular events are explained away for reasons such as "Wasn't wishing hard enough", "Didn't start on the square on time", "Lost concentration", "Wasn't meant to be, fate waiting for something else to give me" etc etc. Although we're unable to interview other organisms, this behaviour of ignoring contradictory evidence is also there.

What does this all have to do with religion?

Our thought is a great deal more complex than any other organism, so it's not such a great stretch to see that any behaviour we might have in common - we'll certainly make more complicated.

All three of the above factors are ALWAYS present in religious behaviour. Most notably in how the effects of prayer are interpreted. If it works - "See, I told you!". When it doesn't, there follows a long list of excuses, - ignoring of course the possibility that prayers aren't answered and that just like a broken clock tells the time correctly twice a day - sometimes what you do will be followed with the desired result.

So in our case, it's not surprising that something was formed out of our desire to make sense of an uncaring planet that was indifferent to our success or failure as a species. The most important factors in our life - food, sex, social behaviour, natural disasters, weather etc caused us to form rules, rituals and behaviours in an attempt to place order. With the invention or writing, it's no surprise that these rules became more permanent and codified - and hence organised.

Keep explaining away God and then blame Him for not being in your life. Pretty pathetic Robert...yep, just a bunch of dumb animals stomping on one foot, praying for rain...that's all we are.

Sheesh...

"There is an unforeseen consequence to this gift,..."

A gift requires a GIVER of the GIFT...you can't get away from the notion of a divine creator even in your own misbegotten attempts to explain why animals would be religious (LOL)and why humans would do things that are contrary to "survival of the fittest" mandates (moral laws for example, where humans show fidelity, or give away their own food, wealth, property voluntarily, or where someone dies for someone else...I mean, how do you quantify "love" through evolution, or fidelity, or being chaste, or honest even when it will hurt you).

For the life of me I can't figure out why you are on here evangelizing?!?

"A gift requires a GIVER of the GIFT...you can't get away from the notion of a divine creator even in your own misbegotten attempts to explain why animals would be religious (LOL)and why humans would do things that are contrary to "survival of the fittest" mandates (moral laws for example, where humans show fidelity, or give away their own food, wealth, property voluntarily, or where someone dies for someone else"

rooster, I don't want to get drawn into this again, but there is nothing funny about the concept of us being animals with a large brain. It is a reasonable proposition from a natural physical perspective, although it in no way invalidates your own beliefs. Robert's description is a perfectly good way of explaining what we have without resorting to supernatural explanations. It is fine as a natural explanation, which is what science does.

Can you really not conceive of such a thing as entirely natural explanations, even as an exercise?

robert

i posted this a long time ago...i think i learned it from one of shermer's books but not sure

by studying indigenous people we can observe a glimpse of our ancestral environment...supernatural belief served the function of dealing with anxiety produced by uncertainty...supernatural thinking derived from environmental conditions not inherent stupidity....we find it wherever the elements of chance and accident cause swings in hope and fear

the vast majority of evolution of the human brain took place in an environment of evolutionary adaptation...an envionment in which our hunter gatherer ancestors had to solve real life threatening problems that we spoiled whiners that live in the modern world of science and technology today never faced

superstitious beliefs have survived and flourished in modern times because religious belief is part of human nature...all of us retain elements of our ancestral brains...supernatural beliefs, ufos, esp, faith, gambling, knocking on wood, lucky coins, etc...all part of the same ancestral supernatural belief engine

beliefs about our immediate environments are learned through experience...passing on this valuable info was a very beneficial propensity that left more offspring...the magical medicines and spells used both today and by our ancestors were beneficial because sometimes they got it right and a magical medicine actually provided a benefit (pharmaceutical companies gained the monetary benefit...not the indigenous humans who discovered them)

the process of forming beliefs however is genetically hardwired...forming beliefs that turn out to be true and superstitious beliefs are part of the same architectural framework of the brain developed in ancestral environments

human's able to recognize beneficial patterns, (magical medicines that helped, recognizing that standing upwind during the hunt is bad, that cow chit is good for crops etc) left more offspring and evolved into skilled pattern seeking animals...both the true and supernatural beliefs evolved together...humans are especially attracted to patterns with a spiritual link, ie, virgin mary appears on window in clearwater florida, etc

superstitious belief exists today because of the benefit of pattern seeking and critical thinking...scientific thinking evolved right along with superstitious thinking

there is psychological evidence that pattern seeking, repetition, and superstitious thinking reduces anxiety in uncertain environments...there is medical evidence that prayer, meditation, and worship may lead to greater physical and mental health...and there is anthropological evidence that magicians, priests, shamans, and kings who employ religion as there source of power win more females

and of course there is always the fact that religion sells...people who have tapped into our ancestral brains have made a fortune

lmao at comedian

"you're going to hell and i'm not"

nah nah nah nah nah

if it's not funny then why are you "LOL chaps your *ss"

why do you seek gratification from saying i'm right and your wrong and you're going to hell because of it

why don't you address the substance of the argument presented instead of lashing out like a child

and fyi i never have claimed to be an atheist...i don't have all the answers and neither do you...you only think you do

comedian, people can't go to a place that isn't a part of their belief system. Hell is for sinners who believe in god. Reincarnation is for Hindus. Nothingness is for atheists.

And no I'm not an atheist either. As an agnostic I will simply be a wisp who will drift in perpetual indecision forever. ok that was a joke..

Comedian, you are not going to heaven.

"A gift requires a GIVER of the GIFT" Awww rooster - do I have to use fewer words or something? You need to study language as well apparently. Are you aware that different categories of quarks are referred to as flavors? I suppose you'll deride physicists for not being able to bake cakes with their quarks or something equally as inane.

When I used the word Gift I was simply referring to one of the categories whereby we excell at in comparison with other organisms. I in no way meant that this was bestowed upon us by some higher being - simply that we are in ownership of this higher intelligence and that it has benefits. Your trolling has reached new heights.

rooster has a communications degree I think?

ttt

chance: Can you really not conceive of such a thing as entirely natural explanations, even as an exercise?

me: sure, I believe God set in motion the very laws you refer to.

you: When I used the word Gift I was simply referring to one of the categories whereby we excell at in comparison with other organisms

me: then you concede you misused the word right. There is no "gift" right.

yes rooster, but can you (putting your faith and belief aside for a moment) imagine a world where there is no god and where everything happened according to natural processes? This would require different processes to those in your current ID view of the world. Do you ever give these possible explanations much thought?

rooster - No, I don't concede that I misused the word gift, are you pretending ignorance or something. My point (and if Chance is right that you have a communications degree??? you should know this already) is simply that when I am having a discussion with a normal person the context of a word has bearing on its meaning and they understand this.

If I were to tell you that I really love chocolate, I imagine you getting angry and stating that I should reserve such powerful and true emotions for family and Jesus. I would then be fully justified in slapping you.

It's obvious what I mean to everyone but you rooster. Stop being such a child. I was still imagining that I was talking with adults and that they would understand that gift meant "trait" with benefits in the context it was placed.

chance: yes rooster, but can you (putting your faith and belief aside for a moment) imagine a world where there is no god and where everything happened according to natural processes? This would require different processes to those in your current ID view of the world. Do you ever give these possible explanations much thought?

me: chance, at one time I did, I suspended what I felt and believed that maybe life was a reflection of naturalism. I reject this now as an impossibility. In other words, it would require to much faith for me to believe and conceive such a thing.

robert: rooster - No, I don't concede that I misused the word gift, are you pretending ignorance or something.

me: no, I'm not pretending ignorance. A gift is something GIVEN. Language means something. You borrow and utilze words and phrases that have explicit meaning. "There is an unforseen consequence of this GIFT...". Who gave the gift?

My point (and if Chance is right that you have a communications degree??? you should know this already) is simply that when I am having a discussion with a normal person the context of a word has bearing on its meaning and they understand this.

you: If I were to tell you that I really love chocolate, I imagine you getting angry and stating that I should reserve such powerful and true emotions for family and Jesus. I would then be fully justified in slapping you.

me: you would never slap me. Never.

If you are asking if there are "neutral" or ammoral activities...sure. But all is vanity if you live a life w/out God. So to eat chocolate, or not is really besides the point. I eat, I thank God for my food, the money to buy the food and ask him to bless it. While its not a moral activity, your life, as you like it to be, is a life w/out God, so eating chocolate is just a base pleasure.

you: Stop being such a child. I was still imagining that I was talking with adults and that they would understand that gift meant "trait" with benefits in the context it was placed.

me: I think what is childish is consistently resorting to child like personal attacks. You are constantly angry, accusatory and pejorative. Why? Why are you even on this board, that's what is so weird.

You said, "gift". I don't care that you meant "trait". You said it because the word implied something a little deeper then some random purposeless mechanism of nature. It implied a sublime purpose to what you were saying...a beneficial trait with purpose.

" I think what is childish is consistently resorting to child like personal attacks. You are constantly angry, accusatory and pejorative. Why? Why are you even on this board, that's what is so weird.

You said, "gift". I don't care that you meant "trait". You said it because the word implied something a little deeper then some random purposeless mechanism of nature. It implied a sublime purpose to what you were saying...a beneficial trait with purpose."

Rooster - I respond in a frustrated manner when you are consistently doing the same childlike frustrating things. I will now post a small lesson in language for you so that you may keep it somewhere besides your computer the next time this particular "argument" of yours decides to materialize in your head - so you can stop yourself from writing the nonsense again and wasting time.

1) The usage of words in general conversation can depend to a very large degree on the context where it is found. It is common usage of the word "gift" when refering to talent. Does this mean that atheists can no longer use the word "gift" when referring to talent? Of course not - it is understood what gift is referring to.

How about the next time I'm playing black jack rooster and I really need a 5. Oh look there it is! What a "gift"!! Nope, it doesn't mean that God believed it was right for me to win at black jack so I could spend my money on cocaine and hookers. It was luck - it was pure chance in this case - but again the word gift simply means in this case a stroke of luck.

How about the word "love"? I already posted the above example regarding chocolate. How about all the other times when it's used in a sarcastic sense? If you're reading a letter from the woman you're courting and she says "I love you as much as whales love harpoons" do you read the first three words and say "She said she loves me!!"

How about the word flavor? Well, of course there is the general use of the word - but of course we also have the physicists using the word for varieties of quarks (as I stated above). Are you going to get on their cases as well? Does this mean that God actually means for us to eat quarks as separate entities? Will we now use this as proof for a culinary God?

You want to desperately see purpose in everything because you are desperately clinging to your faith in front of a mountain of evidence to the contrary. You, like your aig friends, will get all pedantic and nitpicky because that's all you have left. This is because what you have to say lacks content entirely - content is the key, and is the reason why you continuatlly to not only resort to the same tired old arguments, but the arguments themselves - like this one - are so horribly flawed and do nothing but illustrate how totally desperate you are to find meaning. If meaning was actually there, do you believe you'd have to sift through paragraphs looking for words to misinterpret? Words that everyone else understands according to context accept you?

Please, your contribution to this thread will get tired very very soon unless you change your angle.

you: Rooster - I respond in a frustrated manner when you are consistently doing the same childlike frustrating things.

me: now that's a sign of maturity ;-)

you: I will now post a small lesson in language for you so that you may keep it somewhere besides your computer the next time this particular "argument" of yours decides to materialize in your head - so you can stop yourself from writing the nonsense again and wasting time.

me: oh great, teach on, oh great one.

you: 1) The usage of words in general conversation can depend to a very large degree on the context where it is found. It is common usage of the word "gift" when refering to talent. Does this mean that atheists can no longer use the word "gift" when referring to talent? Of course not - it is understood what gift is referring to.

me: no, it just means atheist like yourself are to arrogant and stupid to recognize that the GIFT of language is so beautiful because of the implications of the etymology of words. Words have origins and meaning that expressly refer back to a more original meaning and context. You would do well to just not hijack words and try to use them if you don't mean what you say.

you: How about the next time I'm playing black jack rooster and I really need a 5. Oh look there it is! What a "gift"!! Nope, it doesn't mean that God believed it was right for me to win at black jack so I could spend my money on cocaine and hookers. It was luck - it was pure chance in this case - but again the word gift simply means in this case a stroke of luck.

me: right, because you are, by your own definition, FAITHLESS AND GODLESS. So you borrow the word and misuse it, implying some special unseen favor while pretending you have no such presuppositions.

I on the other hand, let's say, barely miss hitting a car. I would say, "thank you Jesus for the Gift of life." I would be using the word appropriately.

Look the word up. You may be a lay scientist but you are certainly no wordsmith. 'Nuff said about that. Just move on please.

you: You want to desperately see purpose in everything because you are desperately clinging to your faith in front of a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

me: LOL. Yes, I'm so desperate that I to to pagan forums and, oh wait, that's you. You come to a religious forum to EVANGELIZE. And your inability to convince anyone eats at you because your desperation is built around 1) the lack of purpose in your life 2) your God given innate ability to sense that God is real and 3) the testimony of the creation-which you spend as much time as possible trying to convince yourself against the evidence so that you can feel good about a pathetically purposeless, godless, faithless life.

you: You, like your aig friends, will get all pedantic and nitpicky because that's all you have left.

me: oh, gosh, I think the AIG website will crash on that one. "nitpickers"

you: This is because what you have to say lacks content entirely - content is the key, and is the reason why you continuatlly to not only resort to the same tired old arguments, but the arguments themselves - like this one - are so horribly flawed and do nothing but illustrate how totally desperate you are to find meaning. If meaning was actually there, do you believe you'd have to sift through paragraphs looking for words to misinterpret? Words that everyone else understands according to context accept you?

me: see Robert, you are to arrogant and stupid to recognize that you CONDEMEN YOURSELF WITH YOUR OWN WORDS. You said, "... how totally desperate you are to find meaning." Do you not recognize that the written word, the ability to send communication as opposed to sending ';lkj4epoiqueureq ip, requires mental purpose, an intelligent sender, an understood language, a reciever who can decipher purpose and meaning etc.

You want to play fast and loose with words, redefine them, dilute their meanings, borrow words and then condemn me for seeking meaning and purpose in what you write?!!? Maybe that's the problem, I was seeking meaning and purpose to what you write. Although I can comprehend your drivel, you are right...your words reek with a lack of real meaning and purpose. You are just another boring atheist, angry, bitter and evangelical who will fall by the wayside while the scrolls of men who lived thousands of years before you, in deserts, caves, etc. will live on, influencing another generation of future political leaders, business leaders, families, etc.

you: Please, your contribution to this thread will get tired very very soon unless you change your angle.

me: oh but rest assured, you hunt me down, for you are "Christian basher-man". Yawn. I wish you had the ability to at least offer up a challenge. Prof is interesting, Chance is sincere, you are just pathetically boring and bitter. Look man, grow up, spend a few days away, or weeks or months. Engrain yourself in your atheistic endeavors. It will never fill the hole in your heart or the lack of self proclaimed purpose and meaning you desire but feign to not have.

"comedian, people can't go to a place that isn't a part of their belief system. Hell is for sinners who believe in god. Reincarnation is for Hindus. Nothingness is for atheists."

Totally baseless and Ive seen you claim this before.

Personal beliefs dont change what is or isnt true.

I can not believe in electricity and Ill still get shocked by putting a fork in the outlet.

We can only perceive the supernatural through belief. Different people perceive different supernatural realities according to what they believe. So belief is the most important factor in what is real when it comes to the supernatural.

It is not comparable to a measurable physical reality like electric current. Electricity can be measured in a repeatable way.

"Personal beliefs dont change what is or isnt true."

How do we know what is true in the spiritual world other than through belief..the whole point is to have faith, yes?

Helwig- You are claiming someone has provided evidence about what happens after we die.