In God Is Watching You: How the Fear of God Makes Us Human, the evolutionary biologist and political scientist Dominic Johnson argues that the religious impulse is a fact of human nature that can be explained in Darwinian terms, and that belief in supernatural punishment in particular is conducive, and perhaps necessary, to social order. John Gray examines the implications in his review:
The belief that we live under some kind of supernatural guidance is not a relic of superstition that might someday be left behind but an evolutionary adaptation that goes with being human.
[This] conclusion . . . is anathema to the current generation of atheists—Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and others—for whom religion is a poisonous concoction of lies and delusion. These “new atheists” are simple souls. In their view, which derives from rationalist philosophy and not from evolutionary theory, the human mind is a faculty that seeks an accurate representation of the world. This leaves them with something of a problem. Why are most human beings, everywhere and at all times, so wedded to some version of religion? It can only be that their minds have been deformed by malignant priests and devilish . . . elites. Atheists have always been drawn to demonology of this kind; otherwise, they cannot account for the persistence of the beliefs they denounce as poisonously irrational. The inveterate human inclination to religion is, in effect, the atheist problem of evil.
But what if belief in the supernatural is natural for human beings? For anyone who takes the idea of evolution seriously, religions are not intellectual errors, but adaptations to the experience of living in an uncertain and hazardous world.