No one knows just how religious beliefs and practices began, but Sara Blaffer Hardy suggests mutual childcare may have been important. since "It only requires a couple to conceive a child, but a whole village to raise it to maturity".
A plausible explanation for modern religious belief is that like all animals, actions and habits that were effective in promoting survival and prosperity in the past have evolved from previous generations. The ideas and customs of men and women who have been successful would therefore similarly have been passed on to their offspring as 'truths'. Parents tend impose their beliefs as assumptions that serve inhibit questioning or experimentation which might prove be hazardous.
Everyone makes thousands of minor assumptions every day, and normally these all transpire unnoticed. We get up, dress, eat, do chores, go to work, return home, prepare a meal, and so on, continuously making subconscious assumptions that determine the way we act. For example, we assume that other people will behave in much the same way as they always have—and they do. We assume that the bus will arrive, that stores and offices will open, that we still have a job to go to—and we are usually right. Any incorrect suppositions we might make are generally inconsequential, and corrections are easily, and mostly subconsciously, made.
We make assumptions because we can never know all there is to know about any facet of our lives, or about any object or event we encounter. Our true state of ignorance is seldom apparent to us, but our lack of knowledge makes itself known every time there is an important decision to be made, one whose consequences might seriously affect us, or the lives of those we love, for instance. On these occasions we quickly discover how little we really know. Anyone considering marriage or buying a house for the first time, for example, knows this feeling. At such times we may temporarily be unable to make a decision, for fear of the consequences were we to make a “wrong” choice. When such feeling arise, we spend much time gathering and evaluating information, trying all the time to replace assumptions with accurate knowledge. Thus, although we rarely notice that every decision we make has its fringe of assumptions, such is the case.
Early humans would have faced exactly the same difficulty. They knew even less than we do about the true state of most affairs, and making assumptions would have been the only way they could have made decisions. And—just as happens to the assumptions we make—after a while many of the useful assumptions they made would have become indistinguishable from facts.
Since we humans are born of into a society consisting of parents, grandparents and various experts, and that children tend to learn from wise elders, the assumption that there was some ancient, all-wise ancestor or progenitor of mankind is not unreasonable. Claiming some special relationship to this assumed omnipotent wisdom provided a powerful mechanism of social control which allows the sophisticated human organization required to develop ancient empires and modern civilization.For example, monarchs claiming divine intervention or inspiration delivering them victory or a 'bridge' (pontiff in Roman times) whose inspiration is divine and thus infallible.
It is a rather modern (Age of Enlightenment) idea that Oscar Wilde encapsulated: To Assume makes makes an ASS out of yoU and ME!
- Blaffer Hardy, Sarah (2009). Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding. Belknap Press of Harvard University. ISBN 9780674032996.
- Uncertainty is yet another consequence of the universe’s causality. Since causality necessitates everything being related or connected (directly or indirectly) to everything else, we can never know absolutely all there is to know about all things and all events. Consequently we can never know all there is to be known about even the tiniest object or action.