After you have talked with a few human beings you soon realize that they believe various strange things to be true. These things seem reasonable enough if you accept the assumptions which underlie their beliefs, but quite often those assumptions have no basis in your experience and so you wonder how they can base their world view, their decisions and their actions on these ideas which don’t seem to have a foundation in real world experience.
If we observe animals closely, it is almost always obvious what their motivations are for doing what they do, but this is not so obvious when observing humans. The reason is because we must see inside of other people’s thoughts to know what motivates their behavior. To some degree that is predictable for large groups of people who have been exposed to a known set of ideas and you know their group’s needs. Individual people and groups will try to adjust their behavior to improve their place in the world. That simple observation will guide you to know how an individual politician will vote on any given issue. He will do that which will benefit him personally the most in the eyes of his group of supporters.
What is the underlying reason people have these types of beliefs and animals don’t? It would appear that the human ability to create intellectual beliefs is founded in human evolution of language. Many and perhaps all of those things which are wholly human came into our genetic heritage along with language, and the human type of belief may be dependent upon language. Obviously animals have behavior which is based on observations and some of these observations, such as migration routes, are learned and remembered for years. But these beliefs are more like knowledge of observation of how things are located and not a relationship of abstract ideas like humans have for motivating their behavior. That requires language, and the unique thing about language is its ability to let humans pass thoughts over several generations to people who have no experience of the original motivating situation.
People inherited the ability to believe information communicated to them via the route of storytelling, and have a better memory for information placed in the format of a story. If there is any heritability in the ability to remember stories, and it seems obvious that there is, then it would follow that over thousands of years of evolution people who were incrementally better at remembering stories would survive and reproduce more successfully. Along with the ability to remember stories there comes the ability to act on them and those actions are more adapted to the environment than the actions of a specific individual approaching a problem without the background of having heard stories about similar situations. Thus it is we developed the inherited propensity to hear stories and to believe them.
There arises the problem of most successful humans being too accepting of a good story. When we encounter a problem which is too big for us to cope with then it is easy to be convinced by a good storyteller of some fantasy projection which sounds good and satisfies our needs. Because there is an innate fear of our personal death it becomes easy for a bearded sage to tell us a comforting story which allays our fears. It may be a total fabrication but we want to believe it is true and so we are very easily convinced of its truth. When a culture develops a religion there are traditions dealing with the existential problems and when a person grows up within a culture where everyone either believes or appears to believe the story it becomes the easiest path to a happy life to simply accept the myth. It doesn’t matter to most people that the myth is an obvious fabrication because over the years it has become honed to fit perfectly people’s needs. The belief enables them to perform their duties within the culture more easily and everyone benefits.
Humans inherited the ability to believe stories because it helps the culture survive.