Let’s take a look at the major components of religious belief according to scientists working on this problem:
1. Hypersensitive Agency Detection (HAD or HADD)
This is one of the things that almost always gets mentioned in the evolutionary psychology of religious belief. Basically, it’s a “false positive”—a default assumption that some event is caused by a conscious entity rather than by random chance. It is thought that such “constructive paranoia” helped us avoid attacks from predators and other hostiles:
Scientists working in the cognitive science of religion have offered…explanations, including the hyperactive agency-detecting device (HADD). This tendency explains why a rustle in the bushes in the dark prompts the instinctive thought: ‘There’s someone there!’ We seem to have evolved to be extremely quick to ascribe agency – the capacity for intention and action – even to inanimate objects.
In our ancestral environment, this tendency is not particularly costly in terms of survival and reproduction, but a failure to detect agents that are there can be very costly. Fail to detect a sabre-toothed cat, and it’ll likely take you out of the gene pool. The evolution of a HADD can account for the human tendency to believe in the presence of agents even when none can actually be observed. Hence the human belief in invisible person-like beings, such as spirits or gods.
There are also forms of supernatural belief that don’t fit the ‘invisible person-like being’ mould, but merely posit occult forces – eg, feng shui, supernaturally understood – but the HADD doesn’t account for such beliefs…
2. Theory of Mind (ToM) and Existential Theory of Mind. (EToM)
Theory of Mind (ToM), or Theory of Mind Mechanism (ToMM) is basically our intuitive ability to read other people’s minds. It’s “the understanding that others have beliefs, desires and goals, influencing their actions. ToM allows us to have sophisticated social relationships and to predict how others will behave. You couldn’t “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” without it…” 
…we can think of ToM as the cognitive system that humans typically use to engage in social interactions with other people. By engaging your ToM when you interact with someone else, you are able to attribute human mental states – such as thoughts, emotions, and intentions – to that person.
It’s adaptive to engage your ToM when interacting with another person, because your ‘theory’ will usually be correct: the other person usually will, in fact, have a normal human mind. So if you assume they do have such a mind, you’ll generally be able to have a more successful social interaction than you would if you assumed that they had no mind, or some kind of non-human mind.
What religion is really all about (Psychology Today)
Humans, due to their social nature, possess the most sophisticated Theory of Mind in the animal kingdom, and this gives rise not only to the ability to model other people’s inner states and intentions, but also our own, leading to reflective self-consciousness:
It therefore appears at present that human beings, although probably not unique in possessing Theory of Mind, are nonetheless unusual in the degree of its sophistication, specifically in the extent to which they can accurately model the minds of others. It seems highly likely that those who possessed an accurate Theory of Mind enjoyed an advantage when it came to modelling the intentions of others, an advantage that continues to this day, and was an active ingredient in the evolution of human consciousness.
Furthermore, “Humans…show extreme ToM, ascribing minds to inanimate or imagined things…”  In real life, people apply ToM to forces of nature, ancestor spirits and invisible gods. And they seem to think about these supernatural actors the same way they conceive of fellow humans: “fMRI studies have found ToM-related regions of the brain activate when people hear statements about God’s emotions and involvement in worldly affairs.” 
Experiments have confirmed that we attribute human characteristics and intentions to objects that we know do not have them, such as balloons and abstract shapes. A famous experiment in the 1940s demonstrated that even abstract shapes moving around in a film were perceived as having intentions and could be used to tell a story that the researchers wished to tell.
For example, there are a large number of movies where an inanimate object becomes a “character” in the film, and we apply our theory of mind to it just as much as we do for the flesh-and-blood characters. If we couldn’t do so, such films would make no sense. Take the French movie The Red Balloon. It is all about attributing human characteristics to a rubber ball filled with helium. Or take the “Herbie” movies by Disney. Herbie was a Volkswagen beetle who got into all sort of adventures with his human friends.
Functional MRI scans have confirmed that, in contemplating religious ideas, the theory of mind mechanism of our brain is engaged:
…researchers gave 40 religious volunteers functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans as they responded to statements reflecting three core elements of belief. …Overall, the parts of the brain activated by the belief statements were those used for much more mundane, everyday interpretation of the world and the intentions of other people. Significantly, however, they also correspond with the parts of the brain that have evolved most recently, and which appear to which give humans more insight than other animals.
“Our results are unique in demonstrating that specific components of religious belief are mediated by well-known brain networks, and support contemporary psychological theories that ground religious belief within evolutionary adaptive cognitive functions,” say the researchers.
“It’s not surprising that religious beliefs engage mainly the theory-of-mind areas, as they are about virtual beings who are treated as having essentially human mental traits, just as characters in a novel or play are,” comments Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist at the University of Oxford.
‘Theory of mind’ could help explain belief in God (New Scientist)
Existential Theory of Mind (EToM) is the related idea that our theory of mind is so complex that we engage it not just with people, animals, and inanimate objects, but even with existence itself!
The idea of EToM is that people tend to engage their ToM in interactions not just with other people, but with ‘existence’ in general.
That is, humans seem naturally inclined to perceive their lives as ongoing interactions with some kind of transcendent mind(s) that, at least in some respects, seem(s) human-like. Across cultures, this transcendent mind-like power may be conceptualized as an explicitly-specified god or gods, or in more abstract terms (such as a universal spirit, karma, or ‘the force’).
It appears that more complex “higher order” religions may be connected with more recursive modes of Theory of Mind:
According to Robin Dunbar, it is through Theory of Mind that people may have come to know God, as it were… Dunbar argues that several orders of intentionality may be required, since religion is a social activity, dependent on shared beliefs. The recursive loops that are necessary run something like this: I suppose that you think that I believe there are gods who intend to influence our futures because they understand our desires. This is fifth-order intentionality. Dunbar himself must have achieved sixth-order intentionality if he supposes all of this, and if you suppose that he does then you have reached seventh-order…
Interestingly, both the concept of the “soul” and such “higher-order” religions, religions where the participants are united by mutual self-professed beliefs in some sort of transcendent doctrine –emerge at roughly the same time. This appears to reflect the dawn of something approaching self-consciousness. I’ve previously argued that this has to do with recursion—see my review of The Recursive Mind.
Another consequence of Theory of Mind is that under times of stress, people often perceive a kind of conscious “presence” around them, somewhat analogous to the feeling of being watched. For example, the some of the members of Shackleton’s expedition independently experienced an invisible “felt presence” watching over them:
On 20 May 1916, Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley, and Tom Crean reached Stromness, a whaling station on the north coast of South Georgia. They had been walking for 36 hours, in life-threatening conditions, in an attempt to reach help for the rest of their party: three of their crew were stuck on the south side of the island, with the remainder stranded on Elephant Island. To reach the whaling station, the three men had to cross the island’s mountainous interior with just a rope and an axe, in a journey that few had attempted before or since. By reaching Stromness they managed to save all the men left from the ill-fated Imperial Transantarctic Expedition.
They did not talk about it at the time, but weeks later all three men reported an uncanny experience during their trek: a feeling that “often there were four, not three” men on their journey. The “fourth” that accompanied them had the silent presence of a real person, someone walking with them by their side, as far as the whaling station but no further. Shackleton was apparently deeply affected by the experience, but would say little about it in subsequent years, considering it something “which can never be spoken of”.
Encounters such as these are common in extreme survival situations: guardian angels, guides, or even Christ-like figures have often been reported. We know them now as “third man” experiences…
The strange world of felt presences (The Guardian)
3. Minimally Counterintuitive (MCI) Concepts.
Minimally Counterintuitve Concepts (MCI) ultimately stem from what some researchers have called non-reflective beliefs. There are beliefs which are so ingrained in our psyche that we don’t even think twice about them. Of course, these intuitive beliefs are not always correct. For example, before Galileo, people assumed that heavier objects would fall to earth faster than lighter ones. It turns out that they were wrong.
HADD (see above) is what [Justin] Barrett calls a non-reflective belief, which are always operating in our brains even without our awareness of them. Reflective beliefs, on the other hand, are ones we actively think about. Non-reflective beliefs come from various mental tools, which he terms “intuitive inference systems”.
In addition to agency detection, these mental tools include naive biology, naive physics, and intuitive morality. Naive physics, for example, is the reason children intuitively know that solid objects can’t pass through other solid objects, and that objects fall if they’re not held up. As for intuitive morality, recent research suggests that three-month old “infants’ evaluations of others’ prosocial and antisocial behaviours are consistent with adults’ moral judgments”.
Barrett claims that non-reflective beliefs are crucial in forming reflective beliefs. “The more non-reflective beliefs that converge the more likely a belief becomes reflectively held.” If we want to evaluate humans’ reflective beliefs about God, then we need to start with figuring out whether and how those beliefs are anchored in non-reflective beliefs.
But how do we go from non-reflective beliefs like HADD and Naive Biology to reflective ones like a God who rewards good people and punishes bad ones? It’s here that Barrett invokes the idea of minimally counterintuitive (MCI) concepts…
A Minimally Counterintutive Concept is one that is congruent with our non-reflective belief systems. It’s something that’s very similar to the things we encounter in everyday life, but just different enough to be more memorable. “MCI concepts are basically intuitive concepts with one or two minor tweaks.”
Barrett gives the example of a flying carpet, which “behaves” like a regular carpet in every way except one. “Such ideas combine the processing ease and efficiency of intuitive ideas with just enough novelty to command attention, and hence receive deeper processing.”
It’s not surprising, then, that cross-cultural studies have shown that MCI concepts are easily recalled and shared. There are two reasons for this, says Barrett. First, MCI concepts maintain their conceptual structure. Second, MCI concepts tend to stand out from among an array of ordinary concepts. “What captures your attention more,” he writes, “a potato that is brown, a potato that weighs two pounds, or an invisible potato?”
Religious beliefs are shared – and they’re shared by human animals with a shared neural anatomy. Our mental toolkit contains built-in biases, such as HADD, which is responsible for a number of false positives. (Most of the time it is just the wind!) For brains that seem wired to find agency and intention everywhere, religion comes very naturally.
A Maximally Counterintutive Concept, by contrast, is one which we have a hard time relating to, so we tend to dismiss it as false, instinctively, regardless of its actual veracity.
I think this explains a lot of the stubborn resistance surrounding Darwinian evolution, as well as a lot of other scientific concepts. The idea that slow, incremental change over time gave rise to the teeming multitude of life around us (including ourselves) seems impossible to believe, as even evolution’s staunchest defenders acknowledge. This is because we think on time scales of years, or maybe decades, based on our lifespans. We simply cannot understand—except at the most abstract, intellectual level—a thousand years, let alone a million years. (1 million is a thousand thousands).
Thus, I would call biological evolution a Maximally Counterintutive Concept.
By contrast, the idea of a creator god is minimally counterintuitive, since we humans intentionally create things all the time. Often, in ancient mythology, God creates the world and man the same way we might create, say, a clay pot or a loaf of bread. That’s not hard for us to understand at all, hence it’s a minimally counterintutive concept. And the concept of a “loving, caring” God is really just a step removed from our own parents.
Another way of putting this is that MCI’s are “viral” from a memetic standpoint; they are especially good at becoming memes. Minimally counterintutive concepts make excellent memes, and so they spread more rapidly and easily than their maximally counterintutive rivals. We’ll take a look at memetic theories of religion a bit later.
In fact, it turns out that a great many scientific concepts are maximally counterintutive. The earth is billions of years old? The universe is expanding? Time slows down with your velocity, or moves faster the higher up you go? Solid matter is mostly empty space? Invisible particles in the atmosphere are changing the climate? Really??? Even simple concepts—like the fact that the earth revolves around the sun and is a sphere—are the opposite of how we actually experience them in daily life.
Richard Dawkins may well be right when he describes the theory of natural selection as one of our species’ finest accomplishments; it is an intellectually satisfying and empirically supported account of our own existence. But almost nobody believes it. One poll found that more than a third of college undergraduates believe that the Garden of Eden was where the first human beings appeared. And even among those who claim to endorse Darwinian evolution, many distort it in one way or another, often seeing it as a mysterious internal force driving species toward perfection. (Dawkins writes that it appears almost as if “the human brain is specifically designed to misunderstand Darwinism.”)…
What’s the problem with Darwin? His theory of evolution does clash with the religious beliefs that some people already hold. For Jews and Christians, God willed the world into being in six days, calling different things into existence. Other religions posit more physical processes on the part of the creator or creators, such as vomiting, procreation, masturbation, or the molding of clay. Not much room here for random variation and differential reproductive success.
But the real problem with natural selection is that it makes no intuitive sense. It is like quantum physics; we may intellectually grasp it, but it will never feel right to us. When we see a complex structure, we see it as the product of beliefs and goals and desires. Our social mode of understanding leaves it difficult for us to make sense of it any other way. Our gut feeling is that design requires a designer—a fact that is understandably exploited by those who argue against Darwin.
Is God an Accident? (The Atlantic)
It turns out that Dawkins is right, our brains are designed to misunderstand evolution. It’s much easier to attribute things like thunder and lightning to the “anger” of Zeus or Thor than to something like static electricity differentials, and so forth. It’s a lot easier for the average person to comprehend God’s wrath than plate tectonics. As Insane Clown Posse declared, “I don’t want to hear from no scientist; you fuckers are lyin’ and gettin’ me pissed!” For them, and many others like them, biological reproduction and magnets are simply “miracles”.
4. The Intentional Stance (IS):
This is similar to Theory of Mind: attributing deliberate intentions to other human beings and animals, but also to many things that do not have—and cannot have—intentions and beliefs of their own. This idea was developed by the philosopher Daniel Dennett.
According to Daniel Dennett, there are three different strategies that we might use when confronted with objects or systems: the physical stance, the design stance, and the intentional stance. Each of these strategies is predictive. We use them to predict and thereby to explain the behavior of the entity in question. (‘Behavior’ here is meant in a very broad sense, such that the movement of an inanimate object—e.g., the turning of a windmill—counts as behavior.)
The physical stance stems from the perspective of the physical sciences. To predict the behavior of a given entity according to the physical stance, we use information about its physical constitution in conjunction with information about the laws of physics…
When we make a prediction from the design stance, we assume that the entity in question has been designed in a certain way, and we predict that the entity will thus behave as designed…we often gain predictive power when moving from the physical stance to the design stance…
Often, we can improve our predictions yet further by adopting the intentional stance. When making predictions from this stance, we interpret the behavior of the entity in question by treating it as a rational agent whose behavior is governed by intentional states.
The intentional stance (Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind)
A good example might be crossing the street. You can predict from the physical stance how fast you can walk, or how quickly a car can stop taking inertia into account, and so on. You also know the basic mechanics of how a car operates by using the design stance—a car has an engine, brakes, a transmission, an ignition, rubber tires, and so forth. It was designed deliberately by human beings for their use. You know that stoplights are designed to change color to regulate traffic. But to really predict what’s going on, you need to understand what’s in the mind of the driver. For that, you adopt the intentional stance to ascribe beliefs, intentions, motivations, and limitations to the driver. This will ultimately tell you whether the car will stop or not, beyond just the physical and design considerations.
Dennett’s argument (as I understand it) is that the benefits of using the intentional stance cause us to apply it to all sort of things where it does not belong. For example, we tend to attribute intentions, characteristics, and deliberate behavior even to inanimate objects that we know are inanimate objects (like the geometric shapes in the movie, for example). Taken to its logical conclusion, you get things like animism and pantheism.
As Rupert Sheldrake points out, young children often draw the sun with a smiley face in it, like on the box of Raisin Bran. This indicates, according to Sheldrake, that children are “instinctive animists,” attributing human mental characteristics to all sorts of inanimate things in the world around them. Indeed, toddlers will often explain scenarios involving inanimate objects in terms of intentions—i.e. the box “wants” this, or the pencil “feels” that. Cloudy days are when the sun “doesn’t feel like” coming out, or “refuses to shine,” for example.
5. Full Access Agents (FAA):
We’ve previously talked about how we are “instinctive dualists,” dividing the world into one of bodies—subject to the laws of physics and physiology; and one of minds—subject to the laws of human psychology. But for some reason, we attribute superior knowledge to the invisible minds which surround us. These “invisible minds” can be in places we cannot, and can read the beliefs and intentions of others in a way we cannot.
These beings have been called “Full Access Agents”: “By full access agents I mean agents that have an unlimited access to other person’s minds: they are omniscient in the sense that they know all mental contents there are to be known.”  p. 31
Closely related to the idea of agency is what Dennett refers to as a cards-up phenomenon. Agency detection carries with it certain risks: do you know about that bad thing I did? How can I be sure you know, and how can I be sure about what you think about me because of it? These are complex questions and human beings aren’t good at managing all the options.
What’s needed for learning how to navigate these muddy waters is for everyone to be taught the rules of the game by placing all of our cards face up on the table. The teacher, then, is something of a full-access agent: they see everything and can instruct us accordingly.
The original full-access agents, says Dennett, were our dead ancestors. But eventually, the seeds of this idea became more formalised in various theologies…
Furthermore, such Full Access Agents have disproportionate access, in particular, to something called “socially strategic information.” Socially strategic information is “information that activates the mental systems used for social interaction. And, “Some theorists have argued that humans throughout history have committed themselves to “the gods” rather than countless other anthropomorphized and supernatural beings (e.g., dragons, trolls, and Mickey Mouse), precisely because the gods have access to socially strategic information.” 
Put another way, FAAs help resolve what are called “Multipolar Traps” where equilibrium depends on people not defecting from sort of collective social norm. A multipolar trap can be described as, “a situation where cooperating is in one’s interest only if doing so caused everyone (or almost everyone) else to cooperate.” However, there is always a risk of defection where the defector benefits at the cost of everyone else. Thus, to prevent the defector from winning, everyone needs to update their behavior, and the equilibrium falls apart: “If you cooperate in an environment where most people are defecting, you are only hurting yourself, both in the short-run and in the long-run. If you defect in an environment where most people are cooperating, you benefit yourself in the short and long runs, as well.” Full Access Agents, then, may have helped us escape from the consequences of this trap, allowing for greater cooperation:
“Humans are not very good at behaving just because you punish them for not behaving,” says evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, “otherwise we would all be driving well under 70 on the motorway.” The real problem isn’t how bad the punishment is, but how risky it is to be caught.
If the risk is low, he says, we’re prepared for the punishment. This would have been a major issue in prehistory. As hunter-gatherer groups grow, they need to be able enforce a punishment mechanism – but the greater the size of the group, the less chance there is of being found out.
Enter full-access agents: “We don’t see what you do on Saturday night, but there is somebody who does, so beware,” as Dunbar puts it. This idea was consonant with the intuitive mental tools such as HADD and intuitive morality, so it was well-received by our ancestors’ evolved brains. Plus it had the added bonus of regulating behaviour from the bottom up. “You always get better behaviour from individual commitment,” says Dunbar, “not coercion.”
Full Access Agents (FAA), or later, the “Universal Mind” (see EToM, above) were the enforcers of proper behavior: they were the original “Big Brother” from George Orwell’s 1984 (and, in the case of ancestor worship at least, it might literally be your big brother!). While we are fully aware that flawed, flesh-and-blood human beings can be tricked, deceived, and possess false knowledge, for some reason these invisible spirits are not subject to the same deficits:
Across cultures, even children seem to think that gods know more than normal humans. This is borne out by experiments using what psychologists call the ‘false-belief task’, which tests whether individuals can detect that others have false beliefs.
In one version of the test, researchers put a bag of rocks into a box of crackers, showed children what’s inside, and then asked what various entities would think was in the box. If the children said: ‘Mom thinks rocks are in there’, then they haven’t passed the false-belief task. If they said: ‘Mom thinks crackers are in there, but there are really rocks’, they have a handle on the incorrect mental states of others.
What’s curious is that, with age, children come to know that Mom, dogs, and even trees will have incorrect thoughts, but they never extend that vulnerability to God. In fact, the quality of omniscience attributed to God appears to extend to any disembodied entity…Louisville Seminary researchers found that children think imaginary friends know more than flesh-and-blood humans. There appears to be a rule, then, deep in our mental programming that tells us: minds without bodies know more than those with bodies.
Furthermore, we also seem to instinctively believe that the Full Access Agents’ knowledge about moral intentions is superior to that of any other actor, and this belief is consistent across cultures:
Christian students from the University of Connecticut who claim that God knows everything will nonetheless rate His knowledge of moral information as better than His knowledge of non-moral information…As reported in a 2012 article in Cognitive Science, our lab at the University of Connecticut examined what might be called this ‘moralisation bias’ of omniscient beings…What these studies suggest is that we intuitively attach moral information to disembodied minds. And this subtle association can alter our behaviour in significant ways.
In one study, in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology in 2011, the psychologist Jared Piazza of Lancaster University and colleagues told children a story about a ghostly princess living in their lab. Though these children never heard a peep from the ghost, they cheated less on a difficult game than a control group of children who were not told the story. This suggests that gods, ghosts and other incorporeal minds might just get us to behave – particularly if we assume that the gods know about our behaviour, and especially if we think they can interfere in our affairs.
From an evolutionary perspective, the gods facilitate social bonds required for survival by raising the stakes of misconduct. Having a cosmic Wyatt Earp on the beat aids survival and reproduction by curbing others’ banditry. If you’re tempted to steal from someone, but know that God cares and has the power to do something about it, you might think twice. If God knows your thoughts, perhaps you wouldn’t even think twice. The Abrahamic God appears to be a punitive, paranoia-inducing Big Brother always watching and concerned with our crimes…
As the above essay points out, exactly what the full access agents are interested in tends to vary based on the cultural norms. Some are not particularly concerned with sexuality; others are quite judgemental. In either case, they are hitched to basic human feelings of guilt and shame to enforce pro-social norms. For example, in Tuva (a culturally Mongolian society in Russia), gods are tutelary deities rather than all-knowing patriarchal fathers. Nevertheless, they still enforce social norms concerned with environmental stewardship that cannot be enforced by any external living entity:
The [Tuvan] spirit-masters aren’t as vindictive or punishing as the God of Abraham. However, if you disrespect them or forget to make an offering, your luck can quickly change. They also aren’t omniscient. ‘Does the spirit-master of this area know what happens in another area?’ I would ask when in the field. Responses often consisted of: ‘No, but those spirits know what happens in that area.’
The local gods in Tuva aren’t concerned with morality in the Abrahamic or Western sense; instead, they care about rituals and protecting resources such as natural springs, lakes and hunted animals in their area of governance…through conversations, interviews and a variety of other questioning techniques, Tuvans communicated that their gods care about rituals and practices associated with resource conservation. But when asked, for example: ‘Does this God care about theft?’ they’re more inclined to give affirmative responses than to non‑moral questions ..
It looks as if gods can tap into our mental moral systems regardless of what our explicit beliefs tell us. Even though Tuvans might think that their spirit-masters are unconcerned with how they treat each other (or simply do not talk about their gods in this way), these gods might still contribute to co‑operation. If they trigger Tuvans’ moral cognition, the gods might curb ‘immoral’ behaviour especially when associated with territory.
Unlike the God-as-Big-Brother model of the Abrahamic faiths, spirit-masters follow more of a God-as-shy-but-watchful-landlord model…
Once societies became to large for external enforcement agents, it is thought, these invisible spirits stepped in to enforce pro-social behavior: “representations of full-access agents have directly helped reciprocal altruism to evolve because they can help one view things from others’ point of view and can make systems of moralistic punishment possible.”  p. 32
…morality predates religion, which certainly makes sense given what we know about the very old origins of empathy and play. But the question remains as to why morality came to be explicitly connected with religion. [Pascal] Boyer grounds this connection in our intuitive morality and our belief that gods and our departed ancestors are interested parties in our moral choices.
“Moral intuitions suggest that if you could see the whole of a situation without any distortion you would immediately grasp whether it was right or wrong. Religious concepts are just concepts of persons with an immediate perspective on the whole of a situation.”
Say I do something that makes me feel guilty. That’s another way of saying that someone with strategic information about my act would consider it wrong. Religion tells me these Someones exist, and that goes a long way to explaining why I felt guilty in the first place. Boyer sums it up in this way: “Most of our moral intuitions are clear but their origin escapes us…Seeing these intuitions as someone’s viewpoint is a simpler way of understanding why we have these intuitions.” Thus, Boyer concludes, religious concepts are in some way “parasitic upon moral intuitions”.
Full access agents, thanks to their all-knowing nature, can also be consulted when big, important decisions need to be made and there is a large element of random chance:
Representation of full-access agents help in strategic decisions: as these are often difficult to make because people do not believe their strategic information is perfect or automatic, they consult full-access agents for advice. In addition, a decision is sometimes difficult to make because the issue at hand is relatively trivial or no alternative stands out as superior. Should I buy this or that gift from my wife? Your place or mine?
Finally, some decisions are difficult to make because too much is at stake. Should I go for the operation when the risk of paralysis is 50 percent? Should we try to bust the terrorists at the risk of losing the hostages lives?  p.32
The religion equation.
So, then, our “religion equation” ends up looking something like this: HADD + ToMM + FAA = Religion; or at least the basic form of it.
In Supernatural Agents: Why We Believe in Souls, Gods and Buddhas, Iikka Pyysiainen derives a slightly different, but similar, equation:
I distinguish three overlapping cognitive mechanisms that contribute to agentive reasoning. The first is hyperactive agent detection (HAD): the tendency to postulate animacy–this mechanism is triggered by cues that are so minimal that it often produced false positive, for example, we see faces in the clouds, mistake shadows for persons, and so forth. Second is hyperactive understanding of intentionality (HUI): the tendency to postulate mentality and to see events as intentionally caused even in the absence of a visible agent. Third is hyperactive teleofunctional reasoning (HTR): the tendency to see objects as existing for a purpose.  p. 13
When HADD, HUI, and/or HTR are triggered, giving a false positive, three alternative supernatural explanations are available: the triggering event was caused by (1) a natural agent acting from afar, (2) a present but invisible and intangible agent; or (3) some impersonal force or very abstract kind of agency. The first alternative is represented by beliefs in telepathy, psychokinesis, clairvoyance, and the like; as well as the example of a picture miraculously falling off from the wall. Examples of the second are beliefs about gods, spirits, and other supernatural agents. Third would be a “numinous” force or a very abstract agent such as “the ground of being”.  p. 30
These beliefs in noncorporeal beings (agentive reasoning), in whatever form they take—ancestors, nature spirits, or ‘the universal spirit’—who can see into our inner souls and car about our moral choices, is the scaffolding upon which all subsequent religion is erected. Of course, the forms that it takes will vary greatly across cultures and across time. But such universals which give us clues as to religion’s fundamental nature and origin, while looking past the myriad superficial forms it may take.
In the next part of this series, I would like to briefly discuss some other ideas that were not mentioned in the BBC article, but have also been posited as giving rise to religion. These are Terror Management Theory (TMT), Bicameral Mind Theory (BMT) and the Memetic theory of religion.
 The Human Brain Evolved to Believe in Gods (Discover Magazine)
 The Recursive Mind by Michael Corballis, pp. 137-138
 Supernatural Agents: Why We Believe in Souls, Gods, and Buddhas by Iikka Pyysiainen