I am not sure if I should be posting this in the philosophy section, or the biology section. Anyway though, I was wondering if people think the believing in a deity is part of the evolution process? Not so much physical evolution, but mental.

To illustrate my point, if we ever do come in contact with an alien civilization - which evolved in a similar process as us (not grown in test tubes by an even higher civilization, etc.) Would it be almost expected that in a time in their history they believed in a deity? Is it a inevitable part of becoming self aware? I ask this because sometimes I wonder how peaceful the Earth would be without religion (I am an atheist). Maybe I am wrong about that point but I still contemplate it. It has lead me to wonder if the human race 'could' have gone in another path and avoided believing in Gods all together. Really, we use Gods to make our self's feel better - try to rationalize what we don't understand: death, why we are here, who are we, meaning of life, etc. Just like the ancient civilizations tried to rationalize the Sun, Moon, tides, etc.

I think no doubt one day we will all transcend religion, but I am wondering if all advanced civilizations are likely to go through such a process?

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    We're not really qualified to answer you here. We could speculate about intelligent beings in general, but this would be disingenuous, because we only have one example of an intelligent species with whom we are able to have theological discussions (us), so any divergence from anthropology would be entirely speculative. (Especially as there is no clear agreement as to what 'intelligence' looks like.) That leaves us with anthropology, and speculative anthropology at that, which would be controversial enough without bringing in religion. I don't think you're going to get an answer for this one. Feb 13, 2014 at 11:15
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    +1 to offset one of the negative votes. I think the question needs to be clarified though, such as replacing confusing "evolution and religion" with something like "Is a widespread belief in God a necessary step in the evolution of the human race?"
    – Michael
    Feb 15, 2014 at 4:58
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    @NieldeBeaudrap: I don't think this question necessarily calls for speculative anthropology. An example of an isolated human civilization that never worshipped a supreme being would be a sufficient counterexample to the posed question. Unfortunately, I am not sufficiently familiar with anthropology to bring forth such an example.
    – Michael
    Feb 15, 2014 at 5:01
  • @Michael, actually it wouldn't be. You would need to find a society that never in its history (and in the part before that) believed in a God to make a proof of the possibility of ~Bg (the possibility of beings that reached self-awareness without belief in a deity). But that wouldn't do anything in relation to whether there is a God. It would merely prove it is not a requirement of self-consciousness.
    – virmaior
    Feb 15, 2014 at 5:34
  • Could you tell us a little bit more about what you might have been reading or studying that's made this an interesting or urgent problem for you? What has your research turned up so far? --It's not particularly clear to me what sort of explanation you might be looking for...
    – Joseph Weissman
    Feb 17, 2014 at 0:31

3 Answers 3


I'm going to modify your question in three ways that I hope you find amenable. First, I'm going to make explicit the assumption for this argument that there is no God or that if there is a God, the fact of this God's existence is irrelevant to self-awareness. Second, I'm going to avoid the word self-aware because as I understand the term some animals, like dolphins or chimpanzees, might qualify for this insofar as they can recognize themselves in a mirror. So let's call it evolves socially (as you do at one point).

Third, I'm going to explicitly assume that an individual thinker can have the benefits of social evolution whether or not they themselves believe in God. To wit, there are atheists in our society who are socially evolved, and this means whatever the process of social evolution is / was, it does not need to be repeated individually.

With these three assumptions, the question boils down to whether a belief in a God could at some point have such great utility that it is impossible for a different route to achieve the same benefits (or at least so improbable that it won't happen). I'm sorry for the large degree of couching going on with these claims.

There are two possible benefits for social evolution that I can imagine arising from a belief in God:

  1. a foundation for uniformity in the world. First, it helps to have a psychology where you think that cause leads to effect rather than everything being wholly random. Second, at some point, you will need to start doing numbers-based science in terms of social evolution. A God can help with both of these moments by helping us to have that sort of expectation. (My sense -- and I'm not an anthropologist -- is that this type of benefit is maximized wit monotheism).

  2. A foundation for morality. Here, this view can be seen as an enforcer for why we should not do bad things to other. In other words, this seems to work as a psychology social contract enforcement mechanism. Interestingly, it is also Kant's belief. For Kant, the only way to make it rational for us to act rationally in light of the immorality of others and our witness of the benefits that accrue to them is to believe there is a God who evens things out. (In this respect, Kant's God is more generic than Christian).

Clearly contemporary atheists and others show that this being socially evolved to believe in the uniformity of science and to have morality is possible without God. But that's not quite the same as proof that you can get to atheism without going through some sort of belief in God.

Turning to your alien example, let's say we find an alien society that does not believe in God. Since we are asking about a step in social evolution, that's not enough. We would then somehow need strong proof or sufficient evidence that they never did believe in a God.

On a separate note, Hegel believed that belief in God was a necessary step in social evolution -- a step which is superseded by realizing that we are God (or like God), because it turns out we are the thinking matter that is thought thinking itself. Many Hegel interpreters view the Hegelian project as atheistic for this reason. In the Hegelian system, God is a recurring posit we make when we don't yet have a better explanation, but God gets replaced when we do. To give a rough example of how this works in principle for Hegel (I don't have the text in front of me so I can't give you his text -- not that it would be easily comprehensible):

Step 1: we eat fish from the river Step 2: we reflect and end up wondering why the river has all these tasty fish Step 3: we become thankful for the supply of the river under the name of a god Step 4: we realize that this is a pretty dumb idea and recognize that river supplies us according to a design Step 5: we transition our God to the designer Step 6: we imagine this designer as a thought thinking itself Step 7: a human being takes up this thought about himself (Christ) and we realize this thought is for all of us (Spirit) Step 8: we realize that we are the thought thinking itself and the other stuff was all our ideas Step 9: we ditch the God part of the talk

This is what is normally called the "left Hegelian" interpretation (sketched down and oversimplified -- don't try this at home).


It could be that yearning for explanations is an evolutionary advantage in some environments. Curiosity might kill cats but keep social primates alive (actually my guess is that it helps keep cats alive too). Maybe we have evolved a compulsion to construct explanations, with or without strong supporting evidence.

If this compulsion exists then cultures would tend to explain their origin and their world, and in prescientific cultures the explanations would be based on supernatural frameworks.

Origin myths seem to be universal in prescientific cultures. If you define "deity" as any creation principal (being) then deities seem unavoidable.

But I don't think it can be determined that any intelligent (possibly alien) civilization would tend towards this path. Perhaps in a different environment our compulsion to spin explanations would be detrimental to survival. Perhaps in a species with even more diversity than ours, competing supernatural creation frameworks fuel (more) extreme ethnocentricity, resulting in constant conflict, unending war. A tendency towards extreme loyalty to local supernatural frameworks would be evolved out of said species, as those individuals with a propensity to give and receive indoctrination would kill themselves off.

So it seems supernatural explanations might be universal in our (prescientific) species and environment, but there's no evidence that it's universal to all intelligent species and environments.


I think that religion is a generalization of a human belief need. Our brain works in a complex way but from a psychology point of view, we need certainties. Generally we do not like to feel insecure. It is commom to see people in existential crisis and it's also commom to see young people trying to assert themselves.

These things lead us to seek things in life to fill our emptiness. Some of them become famous, others start a family, others seek drugs, others seek religion... and they are not excludent. You can believe in a rock if you want, and as long as you truly believe, it might even bring you beneficial consequences. It's all about our mental insecurity which I see as a brain mechanism to help us survive.

So I don't think any other living species outside this world are likely to have a religious phase as long as their "brain" does not work as ours. You can easily program a set of robots which help each other and do stuff without feelings (ok, it's not so easy but is almost achiavable by man nowadays). This could lead to a very simple kind of civilization which probably would not believe in anything.

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