How an Advanced Neurocognitive Human Trait for Religious Capacity Fails to Form

Open access


The authors present an evolutionary model for the biological emergence of religious capacity as an advanced neurocognitive trait. Using their model for the stages leading to the evolutionary emergence of religious capacity in Homo sapiens, they analyze the mechanisms that can fail, leading to unbelief (atheism or agnosticism). The analysis identifies some, but not all types of atheists and agnostics, so they turn their question around and, using the same evolutionary model, ask what keeps religion going. Why does its development not fail in one social group after another, worldwide? Their final analysis searches for reasons in important evolutionary changes in the senses of hearing, vision, and general sensitivity on the hominin line, which together interact with both intellectual and emotional brain networks to achieve, often in human groups, variously altered states of consciousness, especially a numinous state enabled in part by a brain organ, the precuneus. An inability to experience the numinous, consider it important, or believe in its supernatural nature, may cleave the human population into those with belief and those with unbelief.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • 1. Acevedo B. P. Aron E. N. Aron A. Sangster M.-D. Sangster Collins N. Brown L. L. The Highly Sensitive Brain: An FMRI Study of Sensory Processing Sensitivity and Response to Others’ Emotions Brain and Behavior 4 2014 pp. 580-594.

  • 2. Alles G. D. Ed. Autobiographical and Social Essays by Rudolf Otto De Gruyter Mouton 1996.

  • 3. Barth F. Nomads of South Persia: The Baseri Tribe of the Khamseh Confederacy Little Brown 1961.

  • 4. Beevers C. G. Ellis A. J. Wells T. T. McGeary J. E. Serotonin Transporter Gene Promoter Region Polymorphism and Selective Processing of Emotional Images Biological Psychology 83 2009 pp. 260-265.

  • 5. Berna F. Goldberg P. Horwitz L. K. Brink J. Holt S. Bamford M. Chazan M. Microstratigraphic Evidence of In Situ Fire in the Acheulean Strata of Wonderwerk Cave Northern Cape Province South Africa Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109 2012 pp. E1215–20.

  • 6. Bruner E. Iriki A. Extending Mind Visuospatial Integration and the Evolution of the Parietal Lobes in the Human Genus Quaternary International 405 2016 pp. 98-110.

  • 7. Bruner E. Pearson O. Neurocranial Evolution in Modern Humans: The Case of Jebel Irhoud 1 Anthropological Sciences 121 2013 pp. 31-41.

  • 8. Bruner E. Preuss T. M. Chen X. Rilling J. K. Evidence for Expansion of the Precuneus in Human Evolution Brain Structure and Function 222 2017 pp. 1053-1060.

  • 9. Bruner E. Spinapolice E. E. Burke A. Overmann K. A. Visuospatial Integration: Paleoanthropological and Archaeological Perspectives In The Evolution of Primate Social Cognition Springer 2018 pp. 299-326.

  • 10. Cavanna A. E. Trimble M. R. The Precuneus: A Review of Its Functional Anatomy and Behavioural Correlates Brain 129 2006 pp. 564-583.

  • 11. Cavanna A. E. The Precuneus and Consciousness CNS Spectrums 12 2007 pp. 545-552.

  • 12. Coolidge F. L. Exaptation of the Parietal Lobes in Homo sapiens Journal of Anthropological Sciences 92 2014 pp. 295-298.

  • 13. Coolidge F. L. Wynn T. The Rise of Homo sapiens; The Evolution of Modern Thinking Wiley-Blackwell 2009.

  • 14. De Waal F. Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved Princeton University Press 2009.

  • 15. Dixon M. L. De La Vega A. Mills C. Andrews-Hanna J. Spreng R. N. Cole M. W. Christoff K. Heterogeneity within the Frontoparietal Control Network and Its Relationship to the Default and Dorsal Attention Networks Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 201715766 2018. Published online ahead of print.

  • 16. Gazzaniga M. S. The Interpreter Within: The Glue of Conscious Experience. Dana Foundation web site Gazzanig’s blog 1999.

  • 17. Gómez-Robles A. Sherwood C. C. Human Brain Evolution; How the Increase of Brain Plasticity Made Us a Cultural Species MÉTODE Science Studies Journal 7 2016. [no page numbers]

  • 18. Goodenough U. The Sacred Depths of Nature Oxford University Press 1998.

  • 19. Gunz P. Tilot A. K. Wittfeld K. Teumer A. Shapland C. Y. Shapland Van Erp T. G. M. Dannemann M. Vernot B. Neubauer S. Guadalupe T. Fernandez G. Brunner H. G. Enard W. Fallon J. Hosten N. Volker U. Profico A. Di Vincenzo F. Manzi G. Kelso J. St. Pourcain B. Hublin J.-J. Franke B. Pääbo S. Macciardi F. Grabe H. J Fisher S. Neandertal Introgression Sheds Light on Modern Human Endocranial Globularity Current Biology 29 2019 pp. 120–127.

  • 20. Hare B. Wobber V. Wrangham R. The Self-Domestication Hypothesis: Evolution of Bonobo Psychology Is Due to Selection against Aggression Animal Behaviour 83 2012 pp. 573–85.

  • 21. Harris E. E. Ancestors in Our Genome: The New Science of Human Evolution Oxford University Press 2015.

  • 22. Hicks J. M. Coolidge F. L. On the Role of Precuneal Expansion in the Evolution of Cognition Published online University of Colorado Center for Cognitive Archaeology Colorado Springs 2016.

  • 23. Hublin J.-J. Ben-Ncer A. Bailey S. E. et al. New fossils from Jebel Irhoud Morocco and the pan-African origin of Homo sapiensNature 546 2017 pp. 289-292.

  • 24. Lachance J. Tishkoff S. A. Population Genomics of Human Adaptation. Annual Review of Ecology Evolution and Systematics 44 2013 pp. 123–43.

  • 25. Lang S. Men as Women Women as Men: Changing Gender in Native American Cultures University of Texas Press 1998.

  • 26. Marx K. A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge 1967 [orig. 1843].

  • 27. Newberg A. B. Principles of Neurotheology Ashgate Publishing Limited 2010.

  • 28. Otto R. The Idea of the Holy Oxford University Press 1923.

  • 29. Pääbo S. Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes NY: Basic Books 2015.

  • 30. Pew Research Center. The Religious Landscape Studies online 2012.

  • 31. _________________. Why Americans Go (and Don’t Go) to Religious Services online 2018.

  • 32. Rappaport M. B. Corbally C. The Human Hearth and the Dawn of Morality Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 51 2016 pp. 835-866.

  • 33. _________________. Human Phenotypic Morality and the Biological Basis for Knowing Good Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 52 2017 pp. 822-846.

  • 34. _________________. Evolution of Religious Capacity in Genus Homo: Origins and Building Blocks Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 53(1) 2018a pp. 123-158.

  • 35. _________________. Evolution of Religious Capacity in the Genus Homo: Cognitive Time Sequence Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 53 2018b pp. 159-197.

  • 36. _________________. Evolution of Religious Capacity in the Genus Homo: Trait Complexity in Action through Compassion Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 53 2018c pp. 198-239.

  • 37. _________________. In press. Importance of the Activation and Deactivation of the Precuneus in Human Theological Thinking and Experience of Immanence and Transcendence Studies in Science and Theology ESSSAT 2019.

  • 38. _________________. In press. Cultural Neural Reuse Re-deployed Brain Networks and Homologous Cultural Patterns of Compassion Proceedings Illuminating Biological Systems from a Network Perspective University of Namur Press 2019.

  • 39. Rendu W. Beauval C. Crevecoeur I. Bayle P. Balzeau A. Bismuth T. Bourguignon L. et al. Evidence Supporting an Intentional Neandertal Burial at La Chapelle-aux-Saints Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 2014 pp. 81–86.

  • 40. Sack A. T. Parietal Cortex and Spatial Cognition. Behavioural Brain Research 2009 pp. 153-61.

  • 41. Smaers J. B. Turner A. H. Gómez-Robles A. Sherwood C. C. A Cerebellar Substrate for Cognition Evolved Multiple Times Independently in Mammals eLife Sciences 7 2018.

  • 42. Spreng R. N. Mar R. A. Kim A. S. N. The Common Neural Basis of Autobiographical Memory Prospection Navigation Theory of Mind and the Default Mode Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 21 2008 pp. 489-510.

  • 43. Tanabe H. C. Kubo D. Hasegawa K. Kochiyama T. Kondo O. Cerebellum: Anatomy Physiology Function and Evolution. Digital Endocasts Replacement of Neaderthals by Modern Humans Series Eds. Emiliano Bruner et al. Springer Japan 2018 pp. 275-289.

  • 44. Todd R. M. Ehlers M. R. Müller D. J. Robertson A. Palombo D. J. Freeman N. Levine B. Anderson A. K. Neurogenetic Variations in Norepinephrine Availability Enhance Perceptual Vividness Journal of Neuroscience 35 2015 pp. 6506-6516.

  • 45. Todd R. M. Müller D. J. Palombo D. J. Robertson A. Eaton T. Freeman N. Levine B. Anderson A. K. Deletion Variant in the ADRA2B Gene Increases Coupling between Emotional Responses at Encoding and Later Retrieval of Emotional Memories Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 112 2014 pp. 222-229.

  • 46. Toffler A. Future Shock A Bantam Book 1970.

  • 47. Wynn T. Coolidge F. L. How to Think Like a Neandertal Oxford University Press 2012.

  • 48. Zhang S. Li C. R. Functional Connectivity Mapping of the Human Precuneus by Resting State fMRI Neuroimage 59 2012 pp. 3548-3562.

Journal information
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 114 114 11
PDF Downloads 98 98 5