Thus far, I've been addressing the fact that belief and experience are embodied. And whatever else we can say about belief, it is at least correlated with brain activity, whether or not that brain activity is a response to real non-physical entities. But neuroscience is just one part of the story when it comes to religious belief and the mind brain. As many researchers are quick to point out, religious belief is far more complex than an isolated phenomenon that can be exhaustively analyzed via brain scans. These researchers argue that while brain imaging techniques offer an important snapshot of the brain's involvement in belief, religious belief cannot be reduced to neural activation patterns. Particularly, the field of the Cognitive Science of Religion or CSR, is devoted to examining the naturalness of religious belief. These cognitive scientists do not rely only on brain imaging technology but study the cognitive, evolutionary and neurobiological basis of belief. The Cognitive Science of Religion suggests that belief is a fundamentally normal phenomenon for human beings. Something that developed within an evolutionary framework. Belief is not simply about the brain lighting up when a person is meditating, these scientists argue, rather, belief involves evolutionary adaptations, social structures, linguistic frameworks and meaning making cognitive tools. Belief is not just brain behavior, but is a multi-faceted phenomenon that needs to be understood in a holistic evolutionary context. One main goal of CSR, is to examine the mental tools involving belief that our brains have evolved over long periods of time and the way that these mental tools have enabled species to survive and thrive. Indeed, CSR is dependent on evolutionary theory, contextualizing religious belief and in an overall framework that emphasizes natural selection and adaptation. Over long periods of time, mental tools and cognitive abilities were tried, discarded, and tweaked to produce increasingly adaptive abilities. CSR researchers suggest that religious belief is a product of these evolved useful cognitive tools. For example, cognitive scientists more generally, might analyze the mind's ability to identify and discriminate between objects, or to categorize certain beings as agents. CSR researchers would then analyze the way that these sorts of cognitive tools contributed to the development of religious belief in particular. One key figure in the cognitive science of religion is Justin Barrett, whose work has largely shaped the CSR field. He and others emphasize the naturalness of religion thesis which views religious belief as a product of cognitive tools that may have evolved for more general survival purposes. In other words, belief isn't a unique or abnormal phenomenon having only to do with the spiritual world, but is an expected product of the same cognitive tools that facilitate the formation of all beliefs. Say, our beliefs about other people's intentions, or about what football team will win the World Cup. Barrett and others argue that our minds are structured in such a way that religious belief is a natural, a sub-type of belief more generally. Moreover, such researchers argue that religious belief does not require mystical experiences but develops naturally from the rather mundane cognitive tools used for ordinary mental tasks. Particularly, when these mental processes are placed in a social cultural context that reinforces religious belief. At this point, specific examples are helpful. One cognitive tool emphasized by CSR researchers is agent detection, or the cognitive response that attributes events to the work of an intentional being. This agent detection can occur whether or not there is actually an agent responsible for the event. So, for example, if I'm alone in the forest at night and hear movement behind me, I am likely to unconsciously conclude that I am being hunted by a bear, even if that movement was due only to the wind in the trees. It's not that I consciously reasoned myself to the conclusion that a bear is following me, this is an instinctual response that helps me stay alive. Though ultimately wrong, my cognitive response in the woods is a helpful adaptation. My ancestors would be much more likely to survive in the forest if they treated all sudden movements as evidence of hungry predators. After all, nothing is lost by falsely attributing agency to a gust of wind. Save a bit of pride I suppose. In other words, our brains have evolved a cognitive bias that it is better to be safe than sorry. This attribution of agency to non-sentient entities is considered a hypersensitive variety of a normal cognitive ability. So, how does this apply to religious belief? Justin Barrett suggests that our hypersensitive agency detection abilities have led humans to attribute causal agency to supernatural beings. Say, for example, that an early human community was experiencing a drought. They might assume that the sign or other celestial body was in charge of bringing rain as it too originated in the sky and so ask the sun to bring rain. Now, if it happened to rain the next day, this might appear as confirmation that the sun was indeed a supernatural agent responsive to human prayers and able to bring change in desperate circumstances. The community might then develop a sort of god concept around the sun. Speaking of this god as though it had thoughts, or emotions, and the ability to effect change in the physical world. A god is born. Of course, this is just one woefully oversimplified aspect of the evolution of religious belief but it demonstrates how religious belief may have developed quite naturally. And indeed, there are many other cognitive tools that may have contributed to the evolution of religious belief. For example, researchers have suggested that belief contributes to pro-social behavior which contributes to the overall well-being of one's community and enhances chances of survival. That is, religious belief systems may motivate and even pressure people to act in ways that are good for the community. It is notable that cultures worldwide share common taboos about many sins. Murder, theft, and adultery are prohibited in a great many societies. The inverse of this is also true. Religious belief systems tend to motivate people to act in self-sacrificial, loving ways that help the overall group even at personal expense. This is known as costly signalling, indicating trust by acting in ways that may put one in a vulnerable position. People might sacrifice time, money, or even their lives for religious ideals and beliefs. But this also serves to build social cohesion and enhance communal well-being. In other words, religious beliefs might be an adaptive evolutionary function, products, or even by-products of cognitive functioning that enhance our ability to survive both as individuals and communities. In any case, what we can say from a CSR perspective is that religious belief seems to be natural. There are various strands of research that suggests our brains are predisposed to religious belief in one form or another. Or at least that the cognitive tools involved in religious belief are evolutionary adaptations that developed for the purposes of survival. These cognitive tendencies toward religious belief seem to run very deep. Indeed, a growing body of research suggests that children are intuitive theists, easily forming beliefs about supernatural beings. Research suggests that very young children can conceptualize God even being able to distinguish between human abilities and God-like abilities. It's not as if children are indoctrinated in a top-down way that God exists and then they believe it, but rather that humans in general are predisposed towards belief. As discussed, there may be good evolutionary reasons for this that have nothing to do with the actual existence of God.