Why Do Humans Tend To Believe In The Supernatural?

Why Do Humans Tend To Believe In The Supernatural?

There are all sorts of supernatural beliefs that we invest in. 

Our interest in the supernatural is probably a story as old as our species. 

There’s something about wanting to not be confined by earthly parameters. 

A big cause is the realization of our mortality. There’s a part of me that’s beyond my material existence. 

There are at least three distinct cognitive capacities that make humans intellectually unique: 

  1. We’re very self-reflective. We spend a lot of time turning inward, thinking about the nature of our existence. 

  2. We’re able to mentally time travel. So when I think about myself, I don’t just think about myself in the present, I think about myself in the future. I think about my goals, my hopes, and also my fears. 

  3. We have a capacity for high-level abstract thought. 
    In other words, we have imaginations. You know, landing a rover on Mars would’ve seemed like total fiction and thanks to our imaginative capacities and our intellect, we’ve been able to make that possible. 

angel statue and light

So those three things have really contributed to our existential nature, our ability to seek a life of meaning and purpose. 

When a loved one passes, we gain some sense of comfort in our sadness that we still remain connected to them in some way. 

What makes humans unique is not only do we need to make sense of our external world so we can navigate it, but we also have an internal world. 

We’re highly self-aware.

We wanna make sense of our own lives, and supernatural beliefs can help us make sense of the external world by helping make it more orderly and predictable, but it also plays a critical role in helping us make sense of our own existence. 

self aware woman eating a fruit in a funny way

We know that our time on this planet is very brief in the grand scheme of things.

Supernatural beliefs help us connect ourselves to something that solves that problem of smallness. 

They, in a lot of ways, help us- they help offer guidance, they help us feel like there’s some sense of order or purpose in our lives.

Why The Religious Way Is Declining

That’s one of the reasons people pray, for instance, they want to have a conversation or connection with the divine as a way to help resolve some of their personal challenges and struggles. 

We’re experiencing ‘The Great Decline’ when it comes to religion. 

People are becoming less traditionally religious, but if you look at the reasons people are religious, if you look at the nature of the human brain and the human mind, you’ll find that the human quest for meaning, the human orientation towards the supernatural, towards the transcendent, hasn’t disappeared just because religion has declined. 

black and white cross held by hand

You can see people engaging more in practices such as yoga, meditation, even martial arts, which by themselves aren’t necessarily spiritual, but they’re often infused with the spiritual quality that people feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, and ideally something transcendent. 

Evolutionary Point Of View

Humans believe things like: “Everything happens for a reason,” because we’re an existential species. 

We’re a species that, in a lot of ways, is very goal-driven or very agentic. 

We plan our own lives, we pursue things that we want to pursue. And so, when we make things happen, we see purpose in it. 

And as a result, we often just populate the world with that same type of thinking. 

We assume there’s purpose everywhere, and we tend to exaggerate that sometimes.

When we’re trying to solve problems, we need to approach it systematically using the scientific method, using logic.

Part of what makes humans inspired to improve the world, to improve their own lives, to help others, to take on projects that advance civilization but they might not see complete in their own life isn’t rational thinking necessarily- it’s intuitive thinking. 

And often, it’s supernatural thinking. 

It’s feeling like they have a reason to be here. 

Regardless of how people approach the question of meaning, the critical ingredient is that you feel like you’re an agent of meaning. 

And that is that you feel like you have the power within you to pursue a meaningful life. 

And it’s when we’re making meaning that we’re often at our best, that we’re often the most inspired, the most creative, the most generous, the most hopeful, the most optimistic, and the most willing to make sacrifices for others to advance society and to improve the world.

graph drawn on a piece of paper with a pencil next to it

I drew huge inspiration from the YouTube Channel “Big Think” and Clay Routledge for this article.

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