My answer to Why do humans, who are considered to have the most developed brains, believe in religious theories lik…
Answer by Vijayendra Mohanty:
First of all, let me object to the bit about human beings having the most developed brains. Only human beings say that, about themselves. There is no objective and independent standard with which we can measure our superiority over other animals. I have written about that before:
Having said that…
Stories are the glue that kept early human societies together. In societies that lasted, they acquired primary positions and became creation myths. Members began to define themselves and their relationship with each other using these stories.
Later on, they started acting as the human mind’s defence mechanism against ignorance. This was at a time when our understanding of the natural world was limited by our inability to perceive objects bigger or smaller than things of a particular scale.
In these stories, the sun and the moon were relatively small balls of light in the sky, and sometimes they were people who watched over us with love, concern, and sometimes even jealousy and envy. We thought there was nothing older than the mountains, and we thought we were special and that everything in existence was put here for us by the characters in these stories.
Not all creation myths were the same of course. They each developed from the lands that their people occupied. This is why African myth has river gods and animal spirits. Islamic mythology has Djinns, who were spirits that roamed the sandy landscape. Judaeo-Christian mythology was mainly made of ideas and deities stolen from other cultures. Hindu mythology too, is a mish-mash of tribal gods and possibly historical characters recreated for fiction.
Different species took different evolutionary paths to reach where they are today. Human beings took a path that valued the collective and kept it together with stories. You can read more about the social and cultural evolution of human communities in Yuval Noah Harari’s great book Sapiens. I have summarised elements of it in some of my answers here on Quora. You can read them here:
Essentially, stories became the default currency of human thought — things with which we not only understood the world, but also communicated that understanding. Our minds are extremely vulnerable in the face of a story. We can’t resist them despite our biases. The reason creation myths persist in our imaginations despite science presenting a whole new horizon is because old habits are not so easily broken, especially when they are spread out over entire populations and are seen as factual explanations of reality.
Whatever else we may have become, we remain to a great extent the same communal animal we were lakhs of years ago. Our tribes are no longer hunting and foraging for berries together. We are no longer fashioning tools to hunt together. But we are still together. Our new tribes are based on constructs like nation states, linguistic communities, and oh… religious identity. Yes, that one is still strong.
So my best guess is, a part of us still sees these creation myths as things that keep us together. And that is why we sub-consciously push against the naturalistic explanation of the world that modern science provides us.
None of this, of course means that we cannot be more open towards scientific truth even if it seems to be in violation of the myths that we come to love. If we weren’t at least that capable of changing our minds, we wouldn’t be human beings.