Science, religion and the human social mind

A Seminar for the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion

The majority of humans hold to some kind of supernatural belief system. According to numerous authors these systems will disappear as we embrace scientific thinking. But this standpoint might be wrong.

Research into young children’s emerging proclivities for imitation and tool innovation reveals a strong reliance on social motivations. Evidence from the archaeological record indicates that such reliance is anchored deep in our evolutionary past. That we have evolved to rely heavily on socially motivated copying is a basis for scientific ideas to be passed from generation to generation. It also means functionally irrelevant behaviours can be easily maintained. Rituals, and by extension religious practices, are another expression of this.

This means science and religion are connected in ways that (paradoxically) ensure the latter will continue to thrive in the face of advances in the former.