Over at Slate, the evolutionary psychologist Jesse Bering — who has published numerous scholarly articles on afterlife/soul beliefs and perceptions of supernatural agency, explains why cannibalism may be an adaptation. Because cannibalism is a cross-cultural phenomenon widely spread in space and time, it is hard to argue with his conclusions. Soylent Green is not, in other words, a deviant product for the starving future.
Bering recently published The God Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life, in which he argues that “this religious reflex is not an irrational aberration, and that God is not a cultural invention or an existential band-aid, but an intrinsic human trait, developed over millennia, that carries powerful evolutionary benefits. Breaking new ground, The God Instinct uses hard science to show that God is not a delusion, but a sophisticated cognitive illusion.”
If Bering’s previous publications are any indication, this book will be a valuable addition to our understanding of the origins of supernatural thinking and development of religious beliefs. I will be most interested in how belief in “God,” a concept not much older than a few thousand years and the product of complex societies, constitutes an evolutionary adaptation.